Archive for the ‘food’ Category

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Chocolate: Good for everybody

July 13, 2010

The perfect vacation activity – sitting on a beach? – hiking in the mountains? –watching a show?  how about touring a chocolate factory – including plenty of samples?  Oh Oh! That’s the one for me!

Theo Chocolate Factory

On our recent vacation to the Northwest my family had a chance to tour Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle, Washington.

The factory is in the old trolley barn.  My husband’s cousin said it was once a microbrewery also.  Now it’s a chocolate factory.

Theo Chocolate is the first (and so far only) organic and fair trade “bean to bar” chocolate factory in the United States.  They roast their own cocoa beans, something most chocolate makers don’t do, combine the crushed beans with sugar and other flavorings and – ta da- chocolate to die for.

We checked in for our tour with time to spare so we had a chance to look around the shop. We were warned to avoid trying the many samples in the shop because we would be getting a lot of samples during the tour.  image The guide was under the silyl impression that I could actually become sick of eating chocolate.  I tried really really hard not to try the samples – but every now and again one slipped between my lips.  I mean how could I not try the  chai tea milk chocolate?

The tour was fun and interesting.  We saw beans, and the antique roaster beans and roaster and big pieces of factory equipment that was simultaneously industrial and amazingly clean.

fancy factory equipment

We saw where they make their genache confections – the fancy candies – and we got to try one.  I chose a fig, fennel, and almond one – – heaven in a tiny square.

Theo Chocolate Summer Collection 8 piece boxAs if the organic/fair trade/make the world a better place mission and the amazingly wonderful chocolate weren’t enough they have also teamed up with Jane Goodall GOOD FOR ALLthe Jane Goodall Institute and a portion of the sales of some specially marked bars (milk chocolate and 70% dark chocolate) goes to the Jane Goodall Institute. When my husband and I were deciding what to get whom as thank yous and we thought of yous we decided that a quality candy bar for a cause was just the ticket.  [By the way, chocolate that is 70% chocolate or more is considered a health food.  Oh, and if the chocolate wrapper says that it was alkalized or involved Dutch processing than apparently all the good antioxidants are killed off regardless of the percentage of chocolate – so read those labels!]

And for ourselves? It was a really hard decision.  We each picked our favorite candy bar – I chose the Nib imageBrittle. And, as one of the two grown ups I also got to buy something else for myself – chipotle spice sipping chocolate.  It is midsummer and we’re looking at a heat index of over 100 tomorrow, so sipping chocolate hasn’t been high on my list of treats this week, but soon.  Maybe I should just crank up the a/c and make a cup – – -I’m kidding, I’m kidding.  I will not toss my green efforts aside even for spiced sipping chocolate.

Whole Foods carries Theo Chocolate as well as a number of other places, none of which are closer than 90 miles from my home. Luckily, you can buy it online also.  I’m afraid I can’t afford a constant Theo fix – handmade organic and fair trade chocolate does not come cheap, but perhaps Santa will leave some in a few stockings.  Visions of nib brittle dance in my (chocolate Buddha) head…

Chocolate Buddha Head

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Produce Labels

January 29, 2010

In a recent edition of Mary Jane Farms there was a page on produce labels. I learned something new!apples with PLU

Those little stickers on the produce – those little oval jobs on your apples  – they have numbers on them called price look-up codes or PLU – and they tell more than just a code for the cashier  – it contains important information for us consumers too.

On that little sticker is a four or five digit number.

…A four-digit number means the produce has been conventionally grown using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  A five-digit number beginning with 8 means the produce was genetically modified.  And a five-digit number beginning with 9 means you’re getting organically grown goodies.  (Note: This number isn’t found in barcodes. It will typically be printed on a sticker affixed to an item.)

So – keep an eye out for 5-digit numbers beginning with a 9.  And remember, it is most important to aim for organic when the produce has an edible skin.

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Better Butter

January 23, 2010

I had good success once making butter from cream and a miserable experience the next time.  So I turned to the Internet and searched butter making. 

There are a bazillion sites – and apparently putting marijuana in your butter is a way to incorporate that medically sanctioned stash you have into your diet –but I just wanted to know how to make it.

First I realized that I could make it in the food processor rather than the blender or with a hand mixer or standing mixer (or the old standby – shaking it in a jar).  And then I stumbled on a 1978 piece from Mother Earth News on making butter.  It had several pieces of information that I found useful.  For instance, use room temperature cream.  In retrospect it makes sense that the temperature would matter – for best whipping you should your cream should be cold.  I don’t know that I would have figured that warmer was better for butter though.

I’ve done it twice now.  Room temperature cream in the food processer is FAST!  You zip past the whipped cream stage.  The fat separates from the butter milk and I save the butter milk for my husband to use in baking.

Then you rinse the remaining butter milk.  I found you can add fresh water to the food processor and mix it up some more, drain, repeat.  Then you squish the remaining water from the butter and you’re done.  Mine is in the fridge at the moment – just because any remaining butter milk will sour eventually and make the butter smell icky and then start to taste a bit sour.  I will probably split this last batch in 1/2 and put 1/2 in the freezer.

I don’t think I have the process down perfectly, not well enough to claim a failsafe approach worthy of pictures and step by step instructions.  But I do say don’t be afraid of trying – the worst it will do is cost you the price of the cream (I start with heavy cream) and you’ll have learned something in the process anyway (at least I did – – don’t rinse with warm water – duh!).  If you want a bit more guidance, the Internet is loaded with it.

I love the taste of fresh butter.  And I love that the cream is from my favorite dairy and is minimally processed, and most of all, hormone-free.  My husband does 90% of the family cooking.  This is one of my little contributions that I’m increasingly proud of.

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Dark Days – Week 2 – Roast Chicken and Bread to Die For

November 25, 2009

A short week at home before heading to family for Thanksgiving, maybe someday we’ll do a SOLEful Thanksgiving – but my husband and I do bring the turkey – a naturally raised local bird processed by Amish food processors). 

We had our Dark Days meal on Monday before I had to run off to a School Board meeting.  I went with a full tummy and a smile on my face.

roast chickenMy husband roasted a chicken (local and organic).  We had salad made with local, organic, hydroponically grown greens, and my husband made whole wheat bread with local, organic, wheat flour and local (and sustainable and ethical, but not organic) milk.  The bread was heavenly.  I couldn’t find any of the local heavy cream, so I couldn’t make butter – but I had my bread without it and it was simply marvelous. [my husband used “regular” butter – – all that can be said for it is that it is local.]  I don’t know if it was the flour or the substitution of organic sugar for the molasses – – but I love love love that bread.  The recipe is at the end of this post.

My son had salad (with above greens, our own carrots, and local cheese) and my daughter had chicken.  Someday we’ll all eat the same thing – like when they are in their 30’s maybe.

To top off dinner I had picked up a pint of Pumpkin Ice Cream at the Farmer’s Market (SLE, but not purely O).

We have another bottle of local wine in the refrigerator, but since I had to do my bit as an elected official, I didn’t feel I should drink wine at dinner. 

I wonder what we’ll do next week?

Here’s the recipe for the bread.  My husband uses a bread machine for this one. 

Yummy Whole Wheat Bread:

[1.5 lb loaf with bread machine]

1 egg white plus enough milk to equal 1 cup +3 TBL (the original recipe calls for this much buttermilk)

3 Tbl oil

3 Tlb organic sugar (the original recipe calls for this much molasses)

1.5 tsp salt

.5 tsp baking soda

3 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp active dry yeast

on his breadmaker (Breadman Pro)

select whole wheat course 3

if you select repaid whole wheat course 4

then use 2.5 tsp dry yeast

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The First of the Dark Days

November 18, 2009

Today (Wednesday) was our last chance this week for a dark days meal (a sustainable, organic, local, ethical – SOLE – meal – – click the button in the side bar for more information).  I am going to Chicago for a conference tomorrow and won’t be back until the first week will have passed – – we couldn’t mess up on a challenge the very first week.

My husband stopped at the year round farmer’s market (heavy on the organic) on the way home yesterday and got greens (hydroponically grown) and pork chops.  chops He also made baked potatoes with our own potatoes.  [I hadn’t eaten the potato yet, just smushed it up with the butter before I remembered I wanted to take pictures.)potato Our son is not an adventuresome eater (as if pork chops and potatoes require bravery) – he had a salad with the greens and some green onion cheddar from a local cheesemaker.  The salad included carrots from our garden.H's salad

My husband also brought home a pint of heavy cream from the sustainable, ethical local, natural (nearly organic) dairy – – as close as we can get, so I’m calling it good.  This morning I made butter with it. butter There was a glass of buttermilk left that my husband will use to make some bread this evening for us to eat whenever.

To accompany dinner, my husband and I had wine made by the Benedictine monks at a local Abbey.agape1

But wait – we aren’t done yet.  We are celebrating my son’s birthday tonight (once my daughter gets back from dance class).  His birthday is Saturday, but I’ll be gone.  I had initially thought I’d bake a cake – and I could have at least gotten an organic mix (I am not the bake a cake from scratch kind of woman).  But, no, that wouldn’t be SOLE – – what to do what to do. 

First I decided on chocolate – an exception to the local part of the SOLE – but organic chocolate is readily available, and my understanding is that if it is organic than it is automatically fair trade and ethical (i.e. all organic chocolate is fair trade, but all fair trade chocolate is not organic – at least that is my understanding, correct me if I’m wrong.)

I spent too much time scanning the Internet and finally decided that I could make something tasty that wouldn’t kill us, would be relatively SOLEful, and would be something my son would like. 

I bought some organic chocolate chips at the health food store (I also found local whole wheat flour – that was a great find for my husband to use in bread making).  I then bought another pint of heavy cream and a quart of 2% milk from the above mentioned dairy of high morals. 

I melted the chocolate and mixed it with a cup of milk (what I’ll do with the rest of the milk I’m not sure – maybe make pudding).  Then I put it in a cake pan (9 x 9).  Meanwhile, I had whipped the cream and then combined about 1/2 of it with the milk and chocolate in the cake pan.  That went in the freezer.  I mixed a tiny bit of organic powdered sugar in with the rest of the whipped cream – that’s in the fridge.

When my daughter gets home we’ll have my frozen chocolate yummy (that will now be the official name) with whipped cream and my son will open his computer-oriented presents (he has taken to making stop action films – at least he was doing that last month – – so we bought him a video capture device to turn analog tapes into digital and a computer game – and this weekend the computer will be upgraded with more memory and a graphics card – plus fixed because all of a sudden it is incapable of accessing the internet and the printer spooler has ceased to function… virus perhaps?)

Back to the dark days – so, what were the exceptions? What didn’t quite stack up on the SOLE criteria. Well, I mentioned the chocolate – that was not local.   And we did have salad dressings and they were just store bought.  I was proud of my son who thought better of mixing blue cheese dressing with green onion cheddar cheese (a pretty strong flavor in its own right).  So he was dressing-less. Oh, and the mustard in the honey mustard for the pork chops was just your basic brown mustard – but the honey was local.

We did ok – we’ll see if we can do better in future meals.

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More Milk, Please

November 8, 2009

So, yesterday I posted about our milk options and our choice being Kilgus milk.

In today’s Sunday paper there is a featured article on their farmstead

The big thing I learned from this article that makes me happier than ever about my milk choice is their emphasis on “cow comfort”.  Apparently the cows on farms that provide milk for the big milk companies are milked 3 times a day.  These cows have a life expectancy of about 4 years.  The Kilgus farmstead cows are milked once a day.  These cows have a life expectancy of 10-12 years.

In general, the Kilgus family and employees (of which there seem to be only a couple), seem to really focus on the comfort of their 70 Jersey cows.  In addition, they pasteurize, bottle, and distribute their own milk.  I learned of 2 other locations where I can buy their milk.  Both are relatively close to where I work (and in the same shopping center – which is a bit silly) – a local meat producer’s retail shop and a natural food store. Handy knowledge for when we’re low on milk.

So – high marks for ethics for Kilgus Farmstead (now if they’d just grow their grain organically…)

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My Milk

November 7, 2009

toy cows and milk jug 

The Dark Days are coming – by which I mean the Dark Days Challenge where my family will eat one meal a week made of SOLE food (sustainable, organic, local, ethical).  The challenge begins November 15th.  My local year-round farmer’s market (which doesn’t have a website or I would link you right to it) will be seeing even more of our business as we try to fill in gaps in our own stocks.

One item we now buy routinely from this market is milk.  We buy Kilgus milk made by the cows on a farm in Central Illinois.  I e-mailed the owners to get a bit more information than I could glean from their pamphlet – and Jenna Kilgus was very forthcoming.  She made clear they are not an organic farm.  They are grain farmers and the grain is not grown organically.  That grain also is fed to the cows, so not organic.  However, the animals do graze on “natural pasture” from April to November, so that is good news.  Also, the cows are not given any growth hormone (rBST) and that, to me, is very important.  Another plus, the milk is non-homogenized, which means the fat particles that are in the milk are not broken down by the homogenization process and so will not pass so easily through intestinal walls.  Apparently there is some evidence that non-homogenized milk helps keep cholesterol levels down.  The milk is pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, which maintains vitamins and enzymes. 

Oh, and by the way, this milk is tasty.  We buy the skim milk and the kids and I go through two gallons a week. 

I have a few other milk alternatives. I can buy organic milk at the bigger grocery store.  I have done so on occasion and when I do I try to choose one with the closest distribution center.  But it isn’t local.

I can buy more “conventional” milk distributed by Prairie Farms.  This has some plusses.  It is a co-op of over 700 farms and the main headquarters is in Central Illinois.  The milk and milk products (butter, yogurt, ice cream) are local, but not organic.  There is no indication that there is anything particularly “natural” about their products, other than the milk comes from cows.  So, I assume the worse – that they are given hormones and graze minimally.

Finally, there is a milk cooperative nearby that produces organic milk.  I did look into it but I couldn’t make times for pick-up, periods out of town, and the money work with our lifestyle. 

So, for the time being we will settle for natural and local but not organic milk.  Life is full of compromises.