Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Abyss

"When you come to an abyss, the only safe step is backwards." 

My husband stumbled upon this gem of a quote in a book he is reading about raising hogs on pasture. After reading several books about animal welfare, including "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer and "Righteous Porkchop" by Nicolette Hahn Niman , I have come to the conclusion that the current model for swine production in this country is horrible.  Perhaps you have not heard about how they are raised... and there is a good reason for that.  The pork producers don't want to you know.  If people knew how their meat was actually raised, I venture a guess that there would be a lot more vegetarians out there.  Modern pork production treats the animals like a cog in a machine (notice it's not usually called farming - using words like "pork production" is a sneaky way to distract you from the fact that we're dealing with living, breathing creatures of God, to get you to focus on the end product, not the animals).  While the similar inhumane treatment applies to all meat animals, today let's just focus on hogs. 

There is little concern for the welfare of these creatures raised in confinement facilities.  The fact that animals are being raised behind closed (and locked) doors is alarming to me... we can't help but wonder what is being purposefully hidden from our view. These hogs live a tortured existence, denied the basic pleasures of life, like being outside in the sunshine, feeling grass under their feet and breathing fresh air.  The hogs live their whole lives on concrete and many never see the light of day.  The breeding sows are confined to "farrowing" crates that resemble torture devices. They are meant to prevent the sow from standing or moving, for fear she will crush her young. She lives her entire adult life in this crate.  A pamphlet I received from the Michigan Pork Producers Association (propaganda, in my mind) actually had the audacity to state the crate "is designed to provide the best environment for both the large sow and small piglets."  "Best environment"?!?  Just thinking about these facilities brings tears to my eyes.  After raising our own hogs this summer, I've became acutely aware of the intelligence and social personality of these extraordinary creatures.  Hogs have a more sophisticated brain than dogs, second only to apes and dolphins in the animal world.  It pains me to think of these animals being subjected to such treatment.  Can you imagine the outcry there would be if people treated dogs this way?!?   When dogs are treated this way, locked up in tiny cages, it's called a "puppy mill" and they are shut down on charges of animal cruelty. People that abuse dogs are often sent to prison. Yet we look the other way and ignore the horrors being subjected to our meat animals.  I can't wrap my head around this.   

Our hog Pearl.  Hogs are delightful creatures.

We have come to the edge of the abyss.  I cannot imagine how we could be any more cruel to hogs.  Could we show them any more disrespect for their sacrifice?  If they are going to die for our pleasure, then the least we can do is make their life as comfortable and stress-free as possible.  We have pushed these animals as far as they can go.  We can't keep moving forward - we're teetering on the edge of the abyss!  We HAVE to step back.   There is no other way to turn. 

As Joel Salatin says, "How we respect the least will reflect on how we treat the greatest."  We live in a culture that shows great disdain for the very things that sustain us - starting with the humble soil, all the way up to animals, and even human life.  Disrespect of the life-giving soil leads to disrespect of animal life, which in turn leads to disrespect for human life.  If we closely examine the food industry, we will discover a blatant disregard for soil structure, a disregard for the welfare of God's creatures (both domesticated and wild), and ultimately disregard for the humans who work in the industry.

Now don't get me wrong.  I am not blaming the farmers for this.  It's not like any farmer woke up one morning and said  "I think I'll torture some animals today.  Yup, good plan."  No!  Obviously, no one thinks that way!  But in recent years, many farmers have been told by countless sources that in order to stay viable, they need to follow the advice of the industry.  "Get big or get out", they have been told.  "Here is our formula for success.  Follow it."  So they did.  And in order to become more efficient (or simply survive), they had to adopt questionable practices.   Animals are packed into tighter spaces, forced to grow at increased rates,  constantly stressed, which causes illness, which in turn means they must be medicated.  It's a vicious cycle and many farmers have become trapped.  How do you escape this?  Is it possible?

The book my husband is reading is called "Dirt Hog" by Kelly Klober.  The author advocates a move towards outdoor hog farming, instead of indoor confinement facilities.  He argues that this method results in happier, healthier, less stressed animals and eliminates the need for toxic manure lagoons - the hogs spread the fertilizer themselves, reducing pollution and oil consumption (tractors to spread manure).  But of course, he gets lots of people thinking he is crazy because, well, it's more work to tend and care for the hogs in their pastures.  Many indoor confinement facilities contain thousands of hogs, but are managed by only a couple of people.  They are set up like factories, fully mechanized.  For some, this sounds great.  But remember, these are living, breathing creatures, not factory components.  And one of human-kind's commands in Genesis 1:26 is to "rule over the livestock".  Rule, not exploit and torture.  If you don't think living on concrete you whole life, not being able to do what you were created to do (dig in the dirt), crowded together with other anxious intelligent bored animals that chew off each others tails in frustration isn't torture, then what do you call it?

Dirt Hog: A Hands-On Guide to Raising Pigs Outdoors....Naturally

Some people say that Klober is "anti-progress", "anti-science".  Because he suggests returning to a "old school" system (that works! and is healthier for hogs, humans and environment), he is often ridiculed and scoffed at.  He says this:

"When accused of this sort of regressive thinking, I take great comfort from the old adage from the French that says "When you come to an abyss, the only safe step is backwards."  I can't think of a better image to describe the state of affairs in the swine production of late than a great abyss."

Just because we can do something doesn't mean that we should. Just because we have the capability to imagine it doesn't mean that it's ethically and morally acceptable to DO it.

What can you do to take a step back?  Lots!

1.  Reduce your meat consumption.  Many Americans eat meat at every meal (bacon at breakfast, turkey sandwich at lunch, chicken breast for dinner).  Try cutting back to eating it just once a day, perhaps at dinner time.  Maybe you even go meatless a few days a week. 
2.  Buy better meat.  Now that you have reduced your meat consumption, you can direct that money towards purchasing more humanely raised meats.  I'm sad to tell you that almost all meat sold at supermarkets/grocery stores comes from animals raised in confinement facilities.   You might be able to find some better options.  Coleman Natural meats seems to be a safer bet.  The company has high standards for animals welfare. 
3.  Purchase meat from a local butcher shop.  Often, the shop will stock meats from locally raised animals.  The beauty of buying at a butcher shop is that you can ask questions and they should be able to find out exactly where that meat came from.  Supermarkets often cannot do that.
4.  Buy meat directly from the farmer.  In a perfect world, we would all buy our meat from a local farmer.  In a perfect world, we would all go visit the farm, see how the animals are raised, talk to the farmer about their farming practices, maybe even meet the animal you intend to consume.  Most farmers arrange for you to buy a large part of the animal (half a hog, quarter of a cow, etc.), but some will sell meat by the cut.  Buying part of an animal is a fabulous deal if you can save up the money (set aside $10-15 a week and by the end of the year, you will have a good chunk of cash to buy some good meat). Admittedly, this option takes the most work on your end, as you have to actively seek out a farmer and decide how you want your meat processed, but it's worth it.  It's lovely having a freezer full of dinner options, instead of having to run to the store.  Check out this link to West Michigan Coop to find information about local farms that raise animals humanely.
5.  Pay more, eat less.  Vote with your dollars and support farmers and companies that treat animals humanely, protect the environment and use sustainable practices.  Your dollars DO make a difference.  Food industries are paying attention and want to please the consumer. 

So, let's step back from the abyss.  Let's take a hard look at what we have done and admit that we've gone too far.  Let's realize that taking a step backward is actually taking a step in the right direction. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Homemade Yogurt

We love yogurt. We eat it in some way, shape or form nearly every day!  Real deal yogurt, mind you, not that sugar-laden, artificially flavored stuff you find in the stores, that doesn't even come close to resembling yogurt. Eating just one serving of flavored yogurt might put you over the limit of your recommended daily sugar intake! Did you know that the average American consumes 22 tsps of added sugar each day?  22!!!  That's about 88 grams of sugar.  Go into you kitchen and measure out 22 tsp of sugar into a bowl - it's almost 1/2 a cup... that we are blindly dumping down the hatch everyday.  Yikes!  According the American Heart Association, they recommend the following guidelines for added sugar consumption (we're talking about sugar added to foods, not naturally occuring sugars in food like fruits and milk):
  •   Men should consume no more than 9 tsp a day (35 grams)
  • Women should consume no more than 5 tsp a day (20 grams)
  • Children should consume no more than 3 tsp a day (12 grams)
Take a minute to let this sink in...  Read the label on the yogurt you're packing in your kid's lunch (or your own lunch).  Bet that one tiny yogurt cup has more sugar than you are supposed to consume in your TOTAL diet for one day.  "But wait!", you say, "Every one out there tells me that yogurt is such a healthy food!!!".  Well, it is healthy, once you remove all the added sugars, thickeners and artificial colors.
Real yogurt has two ingredients - milk and cultures.  Real yogurt is tart like sour cream, not overly sweet.  Real plain yogurt is such a versatile food, delicious on it's own or in other foods.  We eat it mixed with fruit and honey, use it to make veggie dip, salad dressing, use it as a sour cream substitute, use it in baking and even make "cream cheese" with it.  We love yogurt so much that we eat about 3 quarts of it a week.  And since we eat so much of it, I prefer to buy Organic yogurt (foods that we consume on a regular basis I try to buy Organic).  But sometimes our food budget starts to complain - that's about $15 a week for yogurt!  One gallon of milk can make 4 quarts of yogurt, so if you make it yourself, the savings is significant - even if you are buying Organic milk. I decided it was time to try making our own.  Lo and behold, making yogurt is not nearly as scary or complicated as one might think. 
It's pretty simple, really.  All you need is milk, a "starter" (yogurt from a previous batch or powdered culture) and a way to incubate the milk so the starter can "grow" and multiply in the milk ("incubate" is a fancy way to say "keep warm").  Making your own yogurt is a great way to control your sugar intake - if you want flavored yogurt, you can flavor it yourself and know exactly what you are eating!  Also, it cuts down on waste.  I'm guessing that lots of people don't bother to recycle all those little yogurt containers.  I pack yogurt everyday for my kindergartner in a reusable small glass jelly jar with a screw top lid. Easy peasy. 
When I started researching methods for making yogurt, I discovered there are dozens of ways to do it.  Seems like everyone has a favorite method for incubating the milk.  I was searching for a method that 1. Involved minimal amounts of dirty dishes, and 2. Didn't require me to babysit the milk.  This method I'm sharing with you works best for me! 
Here is what you need to make yogurt:
  •   Milk.  Whole milk is best, but you can use 2% if you'd like.  Low fat milk yogurt really does not taste good.  That's why almost all low-fat yogurt in the store is loaded with sugar!  You can use raw milk or pasteurized milk, un-homogenized milk or homogenized milk, organic milk or conventional milk... but you cannot use Ultra-Pasteurized milk.  Read labels carefully.  Many organic milks are Ultra-Pasteurized, which gives the milk a longer shelf life, but also means it's been heated so long and so hot that there are no bacteria left in the milk to turn into yogurt.  This is "dead" milk.  Avoid it.  Remember, most bacteria are actually good for us!
  • Starter.  This is yogurt from a previous batch, store bought yogurt or culture packets available from some health food stores.  If you are starting with store bought yogurt, make sure you buy "plain" yogurt, that clearly states on the label "Made with Active Cultures" or something along that line. If you like thicker yogurt, you may want to buy a Greek yogurt starter. 
  • Thermometer.  A handy tool that helps you regulate temperature.  Make sure to get the kind that clips onto the side of a jar or pot. 
  • Incubator.  There are lots of ways to incubate your milk (keep it warm).  My preferred tool is a cooler (keeps cold foods cold and hot foods hot!),
Here is the basic process of making yogurt.  While the steps may seem a little funny, I assure you they will save you time and work in the end. The beauty of this process is the lack of clean up - the only thing you need to wash is the thermometer and the bowl/spoon for the starter!  The yogurt is made directly in the container you will use to to store it. 
1.  Prepare the pot.  Select the largest stock pot you have and lay a clean dish cloth in the bottom.  Now fill the stock pot with as many clean quart sized mason jars as you can comfortably fit (mine fits 3).  The jars should not be touching each other.  The dishcloth on the bottom keeps the jars from rattling around.
2. Prepare the starter. You will need about 2-3 tbsp of starter (yogurt from a previous batch) for each quart of milk.  I measure this out into a small bowl and set it on the counter so it can come to room temperature.   

3.  Fill the jars and the pot.  Fill the mason jars with milk, about an inch below the ring.  Now transfer the pot to the sink and fill the pot with water until it is about 2/3 the way up the mason jars. 

4.  Heat the milk.  Transfer the pot to the stove top.  Turn on the burner and heat the milk to 180 degrees.  This is the beauty of having the milk in the glass jars - no need to worry about scorched milk on the bottom of a pan - and you don't get a pan dirty!.  You can do something else in the kitchen while the milk heats - you don't need to babysit it. 

5.  Cool the milk.  Once the milk reaches 180 degrees, use a canning jar lifter to carefully remove the jars from the hot water.  Set the hot jars on a clean dish towel on the counter.  Allow the milk to cool until it reaches about 100-110 degrees.  If you are in a rush, you can try cooling them more quickly by immersing the jars in lukewarm/slightly cool water in the sink (don't transfer hot jars into cold water - the glass might crack). 

 6.  Prepare the incubator.  While you are waiting for the milk to cool, place the lid on the stock pot and transfer the whole pot full of boiling water to a cooler lined with a thick bath towel.  Wrap up the pot in the towel and shut the lid of the cooler to "preheat" it.

7.  Add the starter.  Once the milk cools to 100-110 degrees, you can add the starter. If you add it when the milk is too hot, the heat will kill the bacteria in the starter and the yogurt will fail (just like hot water will kill yeast when making bread).  Add about 2-3 tbsp of starter to each quart and stir gently to combine.  Place a lid on each quart and transfer the jars to the warm cooler.  Wrap them up in the towel snuggled next to the warm pot of water.  Shut the lid and now you wait!
8.  Refrigerate the yogurt.  Once the yogurt has incubated for the appropriate amount of time, you will transfer the yogurt to the fridge to chill and firm up.  How long do you incubate?  Tricky question to answer.  Some people incubate for 4 hours, some for 6, some 8, some 12.  The longer you allow the milk to incubate, the thicker the yogurt gets... but it also gets more tart (which is good or bad, depending on your taste).  I usually let mine incubate for at least 8 hours, sometimes closer to 18 hours (I often forget about it until I notice the cooler the next morning).  It is perfectly fine to incubate it for 24 hours. 
There you have it!  Once the yogurt has chilled, it's ready to eat.  You may find that real yogurt is runnier than you are used to.  If you read the labels on most store bought yogurts, you will find that they add all sorts of ingredients to thicken the yogurt (remember, yogurt should have 2 ingredients - milk and cultures).  Real yogurt will have a different consistency and texture than that "fake" yogurt.  If you prefer thicker yogurt, you can set a colander over a bowl and line it with cheesecloth or a tea towel.  Scoop the yogurt into the lined colander and allow it to drain for a few hours on the counter.  The whey will drain, leaving you with thick Greek-style yogurt  (Greek yogurt is not a special type of yogurt - it's simply yogurt that has had most of the whey drained off).  I usually drain 2 of my quarts of yogurt and keep the remaining runnier yogurt for making smoothies or salad dressing.  The drained Greek yogurt is used for dip and eating with fruit and honey  If you allow the yogurt to drain for a long time, you will end up with yogurt cheese, which is much like cream cheese.  Add some savory spices and you have a delicious spread for crackers!  Or add honey and cinnamon and you have cream cheese icing!
If you don't have the time to make your own yogurt, but still want real yogurt there are some options out there in the store (but you will have to look hard).  Seven Stars Farm Organic is my favorite, though Dannon also makes a good plain yogurt.  Stonyfield Organic Plain Whole Milk yogurt is also good, but be aware that they add pectin to the yogurt to create a thicker consistency. 
Do you make yogurt too?  What is your favorite method???

Thursday, January 17, 2013

"Yes Michigan!"

"Yes, Michigan, the feeling's forever!"  Anyone else remember this advertising campaign from 1986?  As a child of the 80's, I distinctly remember seeing these commercials and 26 years later, I still sing the chorus of the song all the time (which I'm told is the marker of a successful advertising campaign.  Nicely done, Michigan Department of Tourism).  You don't have to watch this whole clip... it's a bit long, but fun to watch for old times sake... and to giggle at the awesome 80's fashions.  Make sure you at least listen long enough to get to the chorus.

Michigan has been my home since birth.  Though many people who live here often find a million reasons to grumble about Michigan, I've got nothing but love for this gorgeous place. Call me crazy, but I love everything about it... even the snow. I love blizzards, snow storms and horrible weather. I love the dark, dreary days of winter. Why? Because they make me appreciate and savor the beautiful spring, summer and fall months. Michiganders have the chance to experience the fullness of each season.

Michigan is a land of serene landscapes and natural wonders. From dense forests, to towering sand dunes overlooking the Great Lakes, to vast meadows and farmland, to waterfalls and mountains, this is a place of utter beauty. It will take your breath away. In fact, in 2011, ABC's "Good Morning America" voted Sleeping Bear Dunes, MI as the "Most Beautiful Place in America".

My husband and son playing on the beach of Lake Michigan at gorgeous Ludington State park

And really, what other state looks like a cute cozy mitten?    We Michiganders grew up being able to show people where we lived simply by pointing to a place on our palm, as in "I'm from over here, by the Thumb."  Yup, I'm smitten with the Mitten.

Not only is this state full of natural wonder, it's also full of agricultural wonder. Did you know that Michigan is one of the top fruit and vegetable producing states in the America? Michigan boasts a unique climate, unlike any other place in the world. The lakes surrounding these peninsulas regulate temperature extremes, delay the onset of spring and provide much needed moisture. This one-of-a-kind climate makes Michigan an ideal place to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Did you know that according to Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Agriculture :
  • Michigan is #1 in the U.S. production of blueberries (producing over 50% of the total crop nation wide)
  • #1 in production of tart cherries (producing nearly 80% of the total crop nation wide)
  • #1 in production of pickling cucumbers and squash
  • #2 in the production of apples (tied with New York and California. Washington comes in 1st)
  • #2 in production of beans, carrots and celery
  • #3 in production of sweet cherries
  • #3 in production of plums and prunes
  • #3 in production of asparagus (there is even a documentary about Michigan asparagus!)
  • # 4 in production of grapes (used mostly for juice and winemaking)
  • # 5 in production of strawberries
  • # 6 in production of peaches and pears.  

An impressive list, no?  It's no wonder that so much of Michigan's booming tourism is centered on good food and those who are celebrating Michigan's unparalleled bounty in their restaurants, specialty stores, wine houses and breweries. In fact, there is a whole new genre of tourism taking shape - agri-tourism.  That's right, people are going on vacation for the food!  They are visiting places around the world to experience not only the cities and landscapes, but they also want to see where and how food is grown, and taste the food for themselves, whether it be straight off the farm or served in a local restaurant.   One great example of agri-tourism is the hoards of people that flock to Traverse City Cherry Festival.  Or the thousands of people that go on wine-tasting tours on the Leelanau Peninsula (which I highly recommend!).

Fresh picked Michigan apples at Historic Bowens Mills

Recently, I picked up a book at the library, titled "Tasting and Touring Michigan's Homegrown Food", written by Jaye Beeler and photographed by Dianne Carroll Burrdick (click on the link to find out more about the book and links to Michigan producers). What an adventure! These two women went on a "culinary" roadtrip around Michigan, visiting small farms, CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture farms), restaurants, specialty food stores, farmers markets, fish markets and dairies. I was utterly amazed and inspired to learn about all these hardworking people who are shaping the future of Michigan, our agriculture and our economy. I was delighted to see photographs of farmers I have run into at various events and even discovered there is a highly acclaimed goat cheese farm and creamery quite literally 1 minute from my house! Such a lovely book, with gorgeous photography and helpful guides to connect you to Michigan food producers. Be sure to check it out!

Last year, I happened to pick up another book from the library called "The Feast Nearby: How I lost a job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on $40 a week)" by Robin Mather. The title piqued my interested and as I started reading it, I was delighted to find out the author wrote the book while living near Middleville, MI, not far from where we live. It was wildly fascinating to read her thoughts about local farms, butcher shops and dairies that I am familiar with. Not only was it informative, it was also incredibly entertaining (and her recipes are mouthwatering)!

Michigan is a culinary wonderland, my friends! Let us not forget what goodness and beauty we have here. Let us not fail to acknowledge the gifts we have been given.

As many of you know, Michigan has been struggling greatly the last few years. Our economy has been floundering as we have suffered huge job losses.  It has been a dismal and sobering time, with people leaving our state in droves, for lack of work and lack of hope for the future. But I see a light. I see a new future for Michigan. And it means going back to our roots. This state is an agricultural delight. It's land will help revive us, bring us back into the land of the living.  According to Senator Debbie Stabenow in a January 2013 NPR interview, 1 out of 4 jobs in Michigan are related to farming, food and agriculture. I envision this number climbing even higher.  There is a rapidly growing segment of the population that wants good food, that wants to buy local and dine local... that wants to believe in Michigan... that wants to show the rest of the world that we have not given up. Food and agriculture can be one of the ways to rebuild Michigan.  It's time for Michigan to look towards a sustainable future, a future that centers on stewardship.

Now is the time to examine your pantry, read the labels and find out where your food is coming from. Now is the time to seek out Michigan grown goods. Now is the time to support your local farms. Now is the time to try a non-chain type restaurant with seasonal menus that features food that was grown right here, not shipped frozen in trucks halfway across the country (I just went to Grand Rapids Brewing Company last night and they have some great local food options on their menu!). Now is the time for us to take a hard look at our buying habits. Now is the time for us to support sustainable agriculture, farmers who realize agriculture is a huge part of Michigan's future... and that we had better starting treating this irreplaceable land with the respect and reverence it deserves.  We are ALL called to be stewards of God's creation. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.  You may never be a farmer, you may never get dirt under your fingernails, but you too can be a steward of the land by carefully and thoughtfully directing your food dollars.

Join me as we invest in Michigan's future. Let us make this great state a better place for our children and grandchildren. A place where they will want to stay and put down roots in this fertile ground. We can start today. Each time you go shopping, try to find one item produced in Michigan. When you're at the produce department, check the label on the food - on products grown in the U.S.A., often the state will be listed on there. Better yet, start buying your produce from a farmers market or farm when it's in season and preserve enough to last you the rest of the year (most fruits and veggies can be frozen, which is ridiculously easy). Start buying your meat at a local butcher shop (but be sure to ask specifically where the meat came from). Check out food buying cooperatives, like the West Michigan Cooperative, which allows members to shop for local food from local farms on-line, with a once a month pick-up, where you can meet the farmers that produce your food face-to-face. Brilliant. 

I love Michigan. I believe in Michigan. Do you?  Let's say "Yes!" to Michigan!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Homemade Taco Seasoning

Sometimes, when walking through the grocery store these days, I feel a bit like I'm wandering through Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.  What?  Oh boy, Lori's gone crazy again...  Ok, hear me out.  For the last 2 years, I have given up added sugar completely for Lent... and let me tell you, THAT has been an eye-opening look into our food supply (fruits were allowed, as well as bit of honey for tea and coffee, but everything else was off-limits).  As I became an obsessive label reader (you practically have to have a degree in chemistry to recognize all the terms food companies use to disguise sugar as an ingredient), I was shocked to discover that pretty much all processed foods contain sugar of some kind. Yogurt, canned kidney beans, crackers, cereal, bread, pasta sauce, dried cranberries, seasoning mixes... the list goes on and on. There was even sugar (dextrose) in my table salt!!!!!  What in the world is going on?!?  It's like I've stepped into this strange world - "That's right kids.  Everything in here is edible.  And it's all made with sugar!" 

Sugar is EVERYWHERE.  And EVERYONE knows that sugar is bad for us (sorry Willy - I'm all for having fun and using our imagination, but I could do without the sugar buzz).  No one can deny this. It has absolutely no nutritional benefit.  In fact, it's incredibly damaging to our bodies.  So why, pray tell, is it in almost EVERYTHING we eat? 

As I began my 40 days with no sugar, it quickly became obvious that I would have to make almost all my food from scratch.  It was the only way to avoid sugar.  Thankfully, I was already making my own bread, yogurt and cooking dried beans, but many other foods required effort and creativity.  Our family eats massive amounts of Mexican food, so after checking the label on our taco seasoning and finding - you guessed it - sugar on the list (and some other ingredients I wasn't thrilled about), I decided it was time to ditch the store bought seasoning and make my own.

This is the recipe I came up with.  It's a flexible recipe, that can easily be tweaked for your family's preferences.  You could add a pinch of cayenne pepper if your family prefers something spicier.  If you are trying to monitor your sodium intake, you could reduce the salt amount.  It can also be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled if you don't feel like mixing up new batches all the time.  The original recipe makes about the same amount of seasoning as one of those single use taco seasoning packets.  We rarely use that much seasoning at once, though.  I simply mix the ingredients in a large spice bottle and sprinkle on the seasoning to taste. 

  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1-2 tsp black pepper

Combine all the ingredients and shake to mix together.  Done!  I usually double the recipe and to make life easier, I wrote out the recipe right on the spice bottle with Sharpie marker, so I don't have to go searching for the recipe each time I refill the bottle.  The chili powder goes fast when making this recipe, so it might be wise to buy chili powder in bulk at Costco or GFS Marketplace.   

So there you have it - simple, easy taco seasoning without additives - no corn or wheat flour, modified corn starch, maltodextrin (sugar), autolyzed yeast extract, whey solids (milk), "natural" flavor (can anyone tell me what natural flavor is ???) or carmel color.  Just real simple food.  How hard was that?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Looking Back

What a year!  I dare say 2012 was the most rewarding year of my life.  Sure, there were hard times, but I cannot remember a year where I was filled with more joy, love and excitement.  After years of dreaming and planning, our little farm is taking shape.  It's amazing for me to look at old photos and see how far we have come in one short year.  In 2011, we had 10 chickens and nothing else - no garden, nothing.  By the end of 2012, we:
  • Added 12 more birds to our flock
  • Fenced in about 1 1/2 acres of pasture
  • Borrowed a cow and a goat to mow said pastures
  • Purchased our own goat, who will be a pasture companion for beef steers we buy in the future
  • Set up two beehives, tended the hives and harvested 5 gallons of honey
  • Built and planted a 4,000+ sq/ foot garden
  • Canned over 150 jars of produce from our garden
  • Filled a 16 sq foot freezer with produce from our garden
  • Raised 3 hogs for pork.  We kept 1/2 a hog for us and sold the rest to friends
  • Planted 4 apple trees
Whew!  It was an exhausting, whirlwind of a year, but I can genuinely say each day was fun.  Each day was an adventure.  Each day we learned something new, mastered a new skill.  We focused on living out the words found in James 3:13 "Live well, live wisely, live humbly.  It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts." 

As we move away from our former consumer-driven lifestyle into more of a production-driven lifestyle, we find it harder and harder to fit in with "normal" society.  Many a time, my husband and I have walked away from a social situation, looked at each other and said "Boy, we are WEIRD!"  Funny thing is, the more we move away from "normal" society, the more "normal" I feel.  Does that make any sense?  It has begun to occur to us that not knowing where our food comes from is weird.  That letting our government dictate what we can and cannot eat is weird.  That blindly allowing massive corporations (who only care about our money, not our health) to nourish our family is weird.  So who is weird and who is normal?  I don't know.  Does it matter?

We are eagerly looking forward to some new "weird" adventures in 2013.  I'm not one to set a lot of goals, but we do have a few things we'd like to accomplish this next year. 
  • Raise Organic pastured meat chickens to fill our freezer.  12-20 birds should last us a year.
  • Raise 4-5 pastured hogs, preferably on Organic feed this year. 
  • Purchase a calf to raise for beef (butcher in 2014 when he is about 18 months old)
  • Plan and plant a fruit orchard - strawberries, raspberries, apples, cherries, pears, peaches
  • Grow more produce in the garden - I think I could almost double my production with careful planning.  I'm already running low on potatoes and onions.
  • Can/freeze/preserve twice as much produce
  • Increase our egg layer flock
  • Raise a few Heritage breed turkeys?
  • Possibly raise meat goats?
  • Add another bee hive/colony to the bee yard
  • Keep working towards my long term goal of growing most of our own food so we are not dependent on the grocery store
Hmmm.... Ok, I'm kind of tired just looking at that list.  But we can do it!  We are fortunate to be surrounded by awesome friends and family who support our crazy endeavours and encourage us each step of the way.  Friends and family that help us as we seek to live well, and discover tangible ways we can display our love for God and our neighbor (when I say "neighbor", I mean "people", all people, all over the globe, even those people who have not been born yet).

I leave you with a slide show of photos taken this past year (you better enjoy it because it took this computer illiterate dummy forever to figure out how to post a slide show!).  Hope you had a great 2012 and many blessings as we enter into a new year, full of possibilities and opportunities!