One young Catholic family on a Journey towards Intentional and Communal Sustainability. One Artist, one full time Mama and two babies, we'll tell you about all our successes, and failures, as we try to make it in our overly Consumeristic society on just the bare necessities.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eat Your Colors: Eggs

Britt keeps up with the food hippie stuff more than I do, but I have heard from time to time that the new trend in deciding on what type of diet one should be eating is to "eat your colors."

The main intent of this notion is that each color in a food represents a different vitamin or mineral and that by eating a variety of colors you are also consuming a variety of necessary nutrients.

This seems awfully simplistic but as a ceramic artist I am accustomed to the visual cues that certain mineral oxides display in a given clay body or glaze recipe. While these days we order mined or purified forms of minerals (red iron oxide, cobalt, potassium carbonate etc.) from specialty shops, in the initial stages of glazing ceramic objects early peoples had to rely on the naturally occurring mineral deposits found in trace amounts in the materials around them.

In fact, the first glazes weren't even applied to the ceramic objects at all, but rather each object was given a vitreous, glossy surface simply by the ash from the wood used to stoke the fire achieving such high temperatures that it began to melt and left behind trace minerals such as calcium and potassium, which when left to cool, hardened to a glassy finish.

Because of my background in ceramics as well as my identity as a Catholic I have a intimate understanding of the hidden inner essence of things which are often only hinted at by outward appearances.

That being said, the thing which finally convinced me to foot the bill for cage-free eggs wasn't animal rights, wasn't ecology, but rather it was the fact that factory produced eggs have less food in them.

Sure, a dozen cage-free eggs is still 12 eggs as much as a dozen industrial eggs. But within each egg which came from a chicken who was allowed to actually walk around and maybe even scratch around to eat a bug or two there is a substantially larger amount of nutrients.This became most evident to me when I compared a run of the mill, industrial egg to one of the cage-free eggs we purchased. The color difference was striking, the yolk of the industrial egg literally paled in comparison. It was yellow, barely yellow, where as the cage-free egg was what one might call orange.

According to Real Food University , which sites studies from two articles published in Mother Earth News, an egg produced by a pasture raised chicken versus an egg produced in an industrial egg factory contains:
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
  • 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D
Of course, as with all dietary guidelines, understanding vocabulary is half the battle. I mentioned above how we had decided to switch to cage-free eggs over standard industrial eggs. However, after re-watching The Natural History of the Chicken (a splendid and highly entertaining mini-documentary by the way) I saw a scene of a huge industrial barn swarming with chickens and lamented the practice to which Britt said, "yea, well that's technically cage-free."

Sure enough, the rolling lush green hills littered with frolicking chickens which I had imagined was an utter fantasy compared to the actual practice of cage-free egg production. Now, don't' get me wrong, when given the option between a cage of chickens huddled unhealthily close together who are never allowed to walk around or even touch solid ground and the crowd of chickens I saw milling around the floor of the vast barn complex, I'd gladly choose the latter, however its still not quite the ideal I had in mind.

In comes Val, our new Transylvanian Naked Neck, and her lovely large brown eggs. Because we were saving some to give to the priests who serve our parish we actually had yet to eat any of Val's eggs until this morning. Charlotte eagerly helped crack them and was excited to make breakfast with me, however we only had two of Val's eggs to the third egg I added to the skillet was one of the cage-free eggs we had bought. The difference was stunning, in fact I had flashbacks to the day we compared industrial eggs to cage-free eggs. The difference was so stark that while our typical breakfast conversation is Charlotte asking for more "yellow egg" (yolk) today she was asking for another bite of "orange egg."

I'll give you 1 guess as to which 2 are Val's
Why are Val's eggs so much deeper in color? Because not only is Val not confined to a tiny cage, not only is she allowed to walk around and scratch up the dirt to eat bugs and rocks (both of which have a wide array of mineral contributions to her diet) but she also gets to see the light of day. Whether you care about humane animal practices, if you care about your food you'll quickly realize that a happy chicken, is a productive chicken, in both the quality and quantity of her eggs.

I can only imagine what it would be like to compare Val's egg to an industrial egg, it would be like seeing a yolk's ghost.

Moral of the story? Don't just eat your colors. Eat vivid, deep, rich colors, because there's more food in there than their pale counterparts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Chicks (and one Chicken)

List of new characters in Our Live Active Culture:

Val: An 8 month old Buff Transylvanian Naked Neck (sounds salacious, no?). She was procured for free from a family who is thinning their flock a bit. Since getting Val she has survived temperatures as low as 14F and all the while has dutifully supplied a large brown egg 5 out of 6 days. Val was promised to us on Valentine's Day (hence her name) but we picked her up Saturday.

The rest are chicks which we received Tuesday, though they arrived early Monday morning to our friend's house from McMurray Hatchery (a great resource for chicks with incredible service and excellent breeding stock by the way.)

Charlotte finalizing names
Lady: A 5 day old Pearl Leghorn who happens to be Charlotte’s favorite, this coincides well with the fact that she is the prototypical chick: fluffy, cute and most importantly yellow (Charlotte’s favorite color). Eventually she will become white, but Charlotte need not know that yet. I have also been warned by Britt’s brother (who has raised chickens most of his rational life) that she may end up suffering from a bit of a “Queen of the Roost” complex. She is also predicted to be our most prolific layer of large white eggs, so it may be a title well deserved, but only time will tell.

Biscuit: A 5 day old Rhode Island Red who is also generally yellow, but has a blushing of red on her top “coat”. Biscuit is somewhat unmemorable other than the fact that her name was inspired by the story of the Little Red Hen (in Britt’s southern version the hen makes biscuits instead of bread *shrug*) and therefore is one that Charlotte often recalls. She is supposed to grow up to be the largest chicken, in close contention with Lady. I am interested to see how she’ll turn out as Rhode Island Reds are enormously popular chickens because of their strong capacity to produce large brown eggs as well as meat.

Bird's Eye View (hyuck, hyuck)
Betsy: A 5 day old Barred Rock, she is one of two black chicks but since the other has no feathers on its neck she is easy to discern. Betsy is probably the most docile of all the chicks, she still is energetic, but compared to the rest she is markedly more subdued. She will eventually become black and white…checkered (for lack of a better word) which is the very definition of “barred”. Barred Rocks are another popular dual purpose (eggs and meat) breed.

Mango: A 5 day old Buff Araucana, by far the largest chick of the batch, Mango stands nearly a full head taller than her brood mates. She is likely to continue to distinguish herself even after everyone’s height averages out because of her pastel colored eggs. Because the exact tone of the egg shell depends both upon the individual chicken as well as the individual egg we’ll have to wait in anticipation to find out if she’ll lay pink, green or blue eggs. 

And Finally, after much suspense…

Pesto: A 5 day old Black Transylvanian Naked Neck. She was the star of the teaser comic book cover featured in last post. At the end of day 2 (after being shipped from Iowa, and then taken home in a home-made pet crate along with her 4 brood mates from our friend’s house to her new home at an undisclosed location) Pesto looked a lot worse for the wear. She was gasping and lethargic and frankly looked like she would likely die in my hands, let alone survive another day. However, after deciding to leave her be and give her some rest and then having a discussion with Charlotte about the possibility of her death, followed by night-time prayers beseeching St. Brigid (patroness of chickens) to spare Pesto if it be God’s will, Pesto seems to have made a full recovery and is just as chipper and chirpy as her friends. Praise God! 

Other than the fact that it would be sad to lose any of the chicks, Pesto was the one I was most looking forward to, Naked Necks are actually incredibly versatile birds who are great layers, decent meat birds (with the added benefit of having less feathers to pluck when it comes to dressing). However, because of their looks (which I find entertaining rather than offensive) they aren’t as popular as they should be. Maybe that’s part of the allure too, I have a certain penchant for “heirloom” and “unique” livestock and crops (just wait till you hear the list of seeds we ordered…)

Pesto the Chick

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cardamom makes me Chai-ldish!

I hate snow!

And this week we had 2 snow storms.  The first dumped a little more than this much:

And the second added another 4 inches.

Seriously?  YUCK!

(by the way, that frame in the foreground is the beginning of our chicken coop.  Our Chickens are coming on the 20th!  wohoo!)

So on the first snow day, Charlotte and I made cookies.  Delicious, whole wheat Chocolate-Chocolate Chip cookies that made the day so much more deal-able.

But by the 3rd day, we were out of eggs.  So on the day of the second snowstorm, when I wanted cookies so bad, we made bakeless, eggless cookies.

Now, this is just a variation on a recipe that has floated around the internet for awhile.  And I love it!  Every time I make it, I make it a little bit differently.  But this time took the cake- or cookie!

Chai-ldish Coconut Date Cookies

2 cups crispy walnuts
about 16 pitted dates
a scoop of coconut oil
5 cardamom pods, shelled and smashed.
Shredded coconut
a little pinch of salt (optional)

In your food processor, process the walnuts and the cardamom together until finely ground, but not so long that they start releasing their oils!  No walnut butter, please.  Actually, is that even possible?  I've never had that issue.

Remove the walnuts to a separate bowl.  Then process the dates, adding the coconut oil about half way through.  Wait until they dates start spinning around in a loose ball inside the processor. Then you're ready.

Add the walnuts back in and pulse a few times to mix.

Now, carefully remove the blade.  Do this now because I have seriously cut my finger before while making these cookies and had to scrap the rest of the batch that was-ahem- not fit for human consumption.  Using clean hands and a spoon, make small, tablespoon sized balls of the goo, and roll them in the shredded coconut.  Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper (or a silicone sheet, or really anything that will protect them from the aluminum)  They can touch, but you don't want them to be smashed together. When you've completed the cookie balls you can choose to sprinkle just a pinch of salt over them.

Now, here's the real trick.  Stick them in the freezer for 20 minutes or so.  Oh, sure, you can sample one before hand, or give your little helper a first bite, but seriously- don't skip this step.  After 20 or so minutes, remove and store in the fridge- if they last that long!  The cardamom adds that extra spiciness to make the cookies taste reminiscent of a chai latte.  Next time I think I'll try adding a little white pepper and cinnamon as well, but simple is always the best place to start.

Variations I've tried:
Chocolate and Pecan.  These were a HUGE hit with my friend who was 9 months pregnant at the time.  In fact, I delivered a batch to her the night she went into labor, and she was thrilled.  Basically the same recipe as above, except add about a tablespoon or less of cocoa powder in with the dates, and use crispy pecans AND walnuts (pecans are too expensive to use by themselves, I think).  We also added a little bit of cinnamon and salt to the batch with the nuts, and rolled them in powdered cinnamon instead of the coconut.  Top notch!

"Rum" balls.  Follow the above "chocolate" recipe, but add half an ounce of dark rum in with the dates.  You may need to up the nuts a little, or use less coconut oil to make sure they aren't too messy to work with.  Roll these in powdered sugar and cinnamon or powdered sugar and cocoa powder.  Great for holiday parties.

These have been a life saver for me lately.  I have been nursing a voracious 8 month old and my need for healthy fats is through the roof, but I've been craving sweets like crazy (probably because we've been using chocolate covered raisins as "potty treats" for our 2 year old!) and eating way too many carbs.  If I pop 1 or 2 of these in the afternoon I'm almost not hungry at all for dinner! (which is a problem in and of itself.  If I'm not hungry, I don't make enough food for everybody.  Oh well!)

Oh, and as an added bonus, they kinda look like little snow balls.


(I was late putting this recipe up, and funny enough, Dyno-mom must have had the same idea.  You can find her variations on the recipe over at her blog this week.  I'm going to try adding the apricots next time and I'll let you know how it goes!)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

it never fails

The second I sit down to write a post, a million disasters happen.  Just now, I sat down, then the phone rang, then my daughter had an accident and an issue with the dog, then the rice burned because I need a new gasket for the pressure cooker, then the girls started crying in tandem.  And now I have a cup of beans and a squash for dinner, and nothing else!  AH!

I guess I'll write my post about delicious snow treats later.