Archive for the ‘Local Food’ Category

Monkey brains and other things

October 9, 2009

I have a recipe of sorts to post. It isn’t really a recipe, more of a meal idea, inspired by another meal idea. I read Cold Weather and Comfort Food at Miss Effie’s Diary. She called her meal Wild Rice Stuffed Squash. I took her idea and changed it a bit, making it more like Tom’s hamburger helper and calling it Monkey Brains. Tim called it “Monkey Brains,” I guess because it looks like eating monkey brains. So that was what we told the kids it was and they were intrigued, just not intrigued enough to try the stuffing in the squash today.

The Monkey Brains had the following ingredients: grass-fed ground beef, onion, garlic, red peppers, celery, zucchini, broccoli, and tomatoes, acorn squash, and wild rice. We also added basil, parsley, salt and pepper. All the vegetables and herbs are from our garden or the farmer’s market. The rice is from a local store called Sugar N’ Spice. Carol, the owner, sells bulk herbs, spices, flour, rice, baking goods, etc. The grass-fed beef is from a family cattle company that is about 30 miles from us, the same people who sold us our cows. Our freezer is full of grass-fed beef.

freezer full of grass fed beef

freezer full of grass-fed beef

So, like Miss Effie, I cooked the rice and the acorn squash while I made the stuffing. The stuffing is really the part that can vary widely, depending on what you have available. It would work with any ground meat, or even stew meat, I would think. She used a white sauce in her recipe and I used a tomato base. She used mushrooms and cranberries, too. Tom doesn’t like mushrooms and we didn’t have cranberries, so that was out. But, then I started thinking about ground beef and veggies and realized that what really sounded good was Tom’s hamburger helper dish. That’s why I called it more of a meal idea than a recipe. In fact, last night it worked out that the squash wasn’t done so we pretty much ate the stuffing, which wasn’t really like stuffing at all, and talked about how we could do something similar with a casserole.

By the way, I have to say that the celery from my garden has flavor. I mean serious flavor. Nothing I’ve ever had at the grocery store compares. I don’t know if it’s the variety I planted (not sure what variety it was as Scott the Farmer gave it to us) or the soil or just the taste of organic celery. I really don’t know, but I know that it has lots of flavor and it doesn’t take much to add flavor to a dish.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade. Go ahead and click to read more interesting posts about food!



A (mostly) sustainable birthday party

September 24, 2009

Aidan’s birthday party is Saturday. In my ideal world, I would be making all the food from scratch or buying all-natural or organic food to serve. We would use real dishes, silverware, and cups. I would bake and decorate the cake myself, make the ice cream, cut up the veggies, make the dip, etc. We would serve only homemade soda, juice, water, and tea. We would decorate with homemade, recycled things.

OK, time to wake up from the dream and be realistic. Maybe someday this will work for a birthday party, but not this year. Tim and Tom have both been working long hours and my mother-in-law is sick. I’ve had to pick up the house and the outside and do the cleaning with only a little bit of help. In fact, it’s still not quite done. I’ve been picking up one room at a time, but of course the rooms get messed up again quickly. It’s unrealistic to expect the kids to not get toys out for two days or to not make messes. And we still need to use the house until the party. So it won’t be perfectly picked up and clean, but it will be better than it was. And, as always, the house cleaning is done without chemicals, mostly using vinegar and baking soda.

Yet I’ve had to compromise on a few things. I think it’s safe to say that this will still be a mostly homemade, sustainable birthday party. I’ve done my best, while also not putting too much on my To Do List (who wants a party to be stressful?) since I do also have two kids to play with and feed.

Here is what I am making or planning on making from scratch:

  • mayonnaise
  • ranch dressing
  • ice cream
  • tea and coffee
  • egg salad
  • popsicles

Here is what I am planning on buying from the Farmer’s Market:

  • fresh fruit, probably apples and raspberries since that is what is in season
  • any vegetables that can be served raw for a snack tray
  • tomatoes for the sandwiches

We considered getting platters of sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, but I thought buying stuff at the store would be more frugal. I’d have to actually do the math to make sure, but I am pretty sure that I paid less for the amount of food that I got at the store than I would have for the same amount of food at Jimmy John’s. The other things I’ve had to get from the store:

  • carrots, which are not quite in season, and possibly more veggies for a snack tray if I can’t find them at the Farmer’s Market
  • lettuce for the sandwiches
  • lunch meat and cheese
  • bread, though I considered buying this at the Farmer’s Market, but didn’t want to slice it all or make everyone slice their own
  • the cake
  • juice and/or soda

As far as decorations go, I tried not to buy too much but I did end up buying some things at the dollar store. Honestly, I’m just not that crafty. Maybe for Mo’s party in January I’ll try to make some homemade decorations. We will also get a few balloons on Saturday when we pick up the cake.

I am proud to say that we have enough silverware that we won’t have to use plastic, especially since we will only need silverware for dessert. I bought plastic cups that are recyclable and I bought dinner sized paper plates and dessert plates that can be composted. Any food waste can be fed to the cats, chickens, or compost heap accordingly. So the only waste will be wrapping paper and packaging from gifts. The toy I bought Aidan came in a cardboard box and had very little plastic to throw away, and it was not made in China, though Italy is still far away.

What I have realized (or confirmed) is that we have way too much Stuff. It’s quite easy to just see the toys and think we have too many toys, which we do. However, it’s more than that. It’s too much clutter and too much stuff or not places for the stuff we do have and want to keep. I try to declutter and donate things all the time. It just seems that things come in faster than they go out. I have been telling the kids that we won’t buy something if we already have it at home or can make it at home. It’s time to seriously start thinking about all our purchases and questioning whether we really need that item.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.



September 18, 2009

Ever since I posted something last Friday for Fight Back Friday, I couldn’t wait for this Friday to arrive so I could write a new post and read posts by others. However, last Friday inspired me so much that I spent a lot of the weekend and early part of the week cooking and blogging about what we made. Now I don’t feel that I have much to write. I can tell you that in the last week we’ve made two batches of tomato sauce, chicken noodle soup, curried butternut squash soup, “hambuger helper,” grilled cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, pancakes, and salad dressing. There’s probably something I’m forgetting, but once you start cooking at home it becomes so natural that you don’t think much about it. Or at least it seems so in our case. We’ve always cooked a few times a week, but honestly we went out or got carryout once or twice a week and ate convenience meals at home, plus all the Starbucks we used to enjoy! So now we are barely going out to eat and are seriously avoiding fast food and it feels really good.

By the way, the “hamburger helper” is just browned beef and whatever veggies and leftovers we have. Tom has made this twice now and it was really yummy both times. It doesn’t always look yummy, but it is. He’s used homemade tomato sauce and/or broth to keep it from getting too dry. I think the next leftover surprise will be a quiche, assuming we get enough eggs from our chickies in the next few days. Also, the meatballs I made included one of our own chicken’s eggs, bread crumbs from bread I bought at the farmer’s market, and beef from grass-fed, locally raised cows. Our freezer is full of beef right now.

And yet, let me make some confessions.

  • Confession 1: On Tuesday or Wednesday we took the kids to Granny’s house and ordered pizza while Tom and I went out to dinner. We did go to a local restaurant rather than a chain (not that there are a lot of chains in Macomb). We were both tired and needed some time to talk, so going out to dinner seemed perfect.
  • Confession 2: On the way to Peoria last week, we purchased cookies at the gas station. I love cookies, but these cookies were god-awful sweet. It made me want to make cookies at home more often.

So, while we aren’t perfect in our quest for local, organic, sustainable food I feel we are doing great. We are doing better than we did a year ago and that counts for something. I suspect that a year from now we will be doing even better and I hope to hardly go to the grocery store at all and only go out to dinner every once in an while. Sometimes I wish we could make big changes all at once or go cold turkey, but baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

This post is part of Fight back Friday. Click on the link to find other interesting posts!


Curried Butternut Squash soup

September 14, 2009

This last batch I made turned out pretty well. I did it in stages because I ran out of time and energy. The first step was to cook the celery, onions, and garlic. I may have used less celery than the recipe calls for, since I got it from my garden and it is not nearly as big as the stalks in the store. I think I added 3 or 4. Then I added the spices and cooked for a minute, then added the stock. At this point I think I let it simmer a bit and then turned it off. I let it cool then put it in the fridge. That was on Friday. I finished the soup on Sunday. I warmed up the onion and broth  mixture while I cut up the squash. Then I put in the squash and I just let it cook. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to how high the heat was or whether it simmered. I left it uncovered and just kept checking it, stirring it, and testing the squash. Anyway, it worked just fine and turned out yummy.

Curried Butternut Squash soup


  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • garlic to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • cayenne to taste
  • 4 cups broth of your choice
  • 2 small or 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2 in. cubes (or so)

Toppings (optional):

  • Sour cream or yogurt, chives, cilantro, tomato


  1. Heat oil in large pan over the stove.
  2. Add onions and celery; Cook about 5 minutes or until soft.
  3. Add garlic and cook another minute.
  4. Add curry powder, cumin, and cayenne; Cook until fragrant or about 1 minute.
  5. Add stock, butternut squash, salt, and pepper.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until squash is fork tender.
  7. Let soup cool a bit, then puree (You can also do this while the soup is hot and do it in smaller batches if you would like).
  8. Serve with toppings of your choice.

I think it would be possible to make the base (the onions, celery, and garlic with the spices and stock) and then keep that around to add any kind of vegetable or beans, such as zucchini, lentils, or black beans. I think a curried zucchini soup would be yummy, though not as creamy as butternut squash. I might have to experiment a bit since I am a bit overrun with zucchini at the moment!

Chicken noodle soup

September 13, 2009

I’m going to attempt to make chicken noodle soup today. This presents two challenges for me: first, I have to compete with a cheapo version from the store that cheats with MSG. Second, I have to get the skin off the chicken and the chicken off the bones. I personally don’t think the store kind will compete with mine, but we will see what Aidan thinks.

We have chicken broth that Tom made from the bones of the last chicken we roasted. We have several whole chickens in our freezer. So far the only way we have cooked them is to roast them, which is super yummy. However, now I have to de-bone this chicken and I really don’t know how to do that. I’m not worried. I know I can figure it out and do it. The interesting thing to me is that many people, myself included, are used to buying skinless, boneless chicken at the store that we don’t know how to cook with chicken that is whole. I am going to figure it out, though. I do know exactly what to do with the skin – feed it to the cats – and bones – make more broth.

When we start processing our own chickens, I think we will leave some whole for roasting, but we will de-bone and skin the rest so that we don’t have to cook an entire chicken every time we want chicken. Anyway, I am in search of a recipe so that I can have a starting point. I find that The Joy of Cooking – 75th Anniversary Edition is a very good resource. This cookbook has detailed sections on vegetables and spices, along with all the recipes (including a kick-ass brownie recipe). For instance, it has a short section on tomatoes and how to skin them. It has a section on canning and probably has information about how to de-bone a chicken.

Tomatoes from our garden

Tomatoes from our garden

Another cookbook that keeps coming up is Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats. If I can find this at the library, I will check it out and see if it is worth buying. I’m very tempted to just buy it, since I’ve seen it recommended in so many different places.

Anyway, so far today I have made pancakes and bacon, watched a dance show by Moira, listened to Aidan sing into a microphone, and wrestled with the kids. Now they are occupied with the guys so this is a good time to go finish the curried butternut squash soup, the tomato sauce, and to start the chicken noodle soup. I’ll try to write an update today about the various foods I made and maybe even post a recipe for the butternut squash soup.

Homemade food

September 11, 2009

We’ve gone to several carnivals and fairs this summer. The latest was in the small town closest to us. The kids love to get lemon shake-ups, which is basically lemonade that is shaken, I guess. I suspect these are made with corn syrup, but I am not sure. It’s some kind of sugary water with ice, squeezed lemons, and cut lemon. The vendors also sell lime and strawberry shake-ups. The kids love these so much that they’ve been asking us to make them at home. To my surprise and delight, Aidan said the ones that his dad makes are much better than the ones at the carnival. Tom usually makes them with stevia, water, and lemons. Sometimes we use honey or cane sugar. I really think that better ingredients make better food, and it seems that the kids agree most of the time.

The one exception seems to be Taco Bell. Aidan has commented that Taco Bell has the best taco meat. I just cannot make taco seasoning like Taco Bell. However, I saw a packet at the store and looked at it and figured out why I can’t compete: MSG. Using MSG is cheating. It’s saying that you can’t make your food flavorful, so you have to cheat by giving it an extra boost. Needless to say, we try to avoid MSG. So now it’s time to avoid Taco Bell (not that we go often, but they just built a new building in our town so it’s been a treat for the kids, though I’ve pointed out that the food is not new, just the building.

Yesterday I bought some tomatoes from the farmer’s market and combined them with the ones from our garden. The sauce is halfway done since I peeled and seeded the tomatoes yesterday. The last time I made the sauce I also used fresh basil and parsley from our garden and it was super yummy. Tom ended up using some of it with some ground beef, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, peas, and green beans. It was like Hamburger Helper from scratch and it was delicious, not to mention way more nutritious.

I also made my own honey mustard dressing yesterday. I had considered buying more honey mustard dressing at the grocery store yesterday, but then I looked at the ingredients again and saw high fructose corn syrup was listed second or third. I figured it would not be hard to make my own and that mine would be completely sweetened with honey rather than high-fructose corn syrup. It had three ingredients: plain yogurt, dijon mustard, and honey. That’s it! Easy and yummy.

The other foods I would like to cook today are chicken noodle soup and curried butternut squash soup. We have a defrosted chicken in the fridge and some chicken stock that Tom made from the last chicken we roasted. These chickens are from a lady that lives nearby. Eventually we will be eating chickens we’ve raised ourselves. I expect our flock of 23 will reproduce nicely come spring.

As far as the curried butternut squash soup goes, I will be using the following from our garden: butternut squash, celery, and chives. The onions will be either from our garden or the farmer’s market (it’s hard to keep track of where it’s from once it’s piled together on the table!). I’ll post the recipe later, once I test it out again. It’s a recipe I found online and modified. I haven’t made it in a while so I’d like to test it again before I post the recipe. I might have to make it in steps since we are heading out of town for the night. I’ve found it works well to do things in steps, like peeling and seeding the tomatoes and then putting them in the refrigerator until I’m ready to make sauce. I think I will probably cook the onion, celery, and garlic part up and put it in the fridge so I can finish the rest later. After all, the squash isn’t going to go bad any time soon!

This post is part of Fight Back Friday.


Three questions

August 27, 2009
Moira with her new bike

Moira with her new bike

Whenever I’m eating something, especially something with vegetables in it, Moira will ask me three questions.

First, she asks, “Is that from our garden?” Sometimes the answer is yes and that’s the end of the questioning. Sometimes the answer is that one thing is from our garden and something else is not.

Question number two is, “Is that from the Farmer’s Market?”

At first she just asked those two questions and if I had to say no twice, I would then tell her that the ingredients were from the grocery store. I felt guilty if I had to say that.

Today I was eating a salad with baby romaine, walnuts, apricots, shredded Parmesan cheese, and honey mustard dressing. It was a pretty healthy snack and I was enjoying it until she started her questions. Today was the first time she asked question three, which is, “Is that from the grocery store?” The answer was yes. All the ingredients were from the grocery store. None of them were local, either, which is a subtlety she hasn’t yet figured out. Soon she will be wondering where the food at the grocery store comes from.

When I told her that all the ingredients were from the grocery store, she was clearly upset. However, the next part of the conversation went like this:

Me: Are your goldfish crackers from our garden?

Mo: No.

Me: Are they from the Farmer’s Market?

Mo: No! (laughing at this point).

Me: Are they from the store?

Mo: YES!

Me: Well, tonight’s dinner has venison from Scott that he probably hunted himself, onions from our garden, celery from the store, and potatoes from the Farmer’s Market.

She seemed satisfied with that. I am satisified with that for now. I hope to cook more and more food that comes from our garden or our land or that of our friends and neighbors. Next summer I hope to have an even bigger garden and to figure out this canning business. I’m sure it’s not hard, but it takes time. In fact, it takes uninterrupted time, which is something of which I have a shortage. Next summer, though, the kids will be a year older and that will make things a bit easier. Plus, Mo will keep me honest.