Tag Archives: food

Seasonal Cooking: Carrot Marmalade

(Don’t forget to enter my little giveaway here.)

Carrot Marmalade is an old-fashioned recipe. I found it in my 1973 copy of Putting Food By.

I’d never heard of such a thing. After I made it, and I offered Kevin a piece of homemade bread with some butter and carrot marmalade on it, he wrinkled his nose and said something like, “I don’t like carrot marmalade.” As if he’d ever heard of it. But I couldn’t get mad, because that was something like my first reaction.

(And after he ate a bite, his big blue eyes widened and he made that little good grubbin’ moan in the back of his throat that means … yes … yes this is good.)

But I had the carrots already grated in my freezer. I’d saved them from wilted trashdom. And I had to do something with them, right?

Also, I really, really wanted to try actually canning something. I’ve made jams before, but I always freeze or refrigerate it.

So I headed to the thrift stores, looking for canning jars. I couldn’t find any, which made me very sad. I ended up paying $10 for a dozen new quilted jam jars from the grocery store. I have a concrete plan this summer to look for canning jars at yard sales.

I tweaked the recipe a little. The original, in the book, called for six and a half cups of sugar. Yowza. Who needs coffee in the morning with that little wake-me-up on their toast, right? So reducing the sugar content by a couple of cups was my one and only change.

Carrot Marmalade

  • 4 cups grated carrots
  • 2 oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 12 ounce jam jars with lids and rings
  • pot big enough to hold all five jars with water an inch over the rim, plus room for not boiling over

Start by getting by filling the pot with water, adding the jars, lids, and rings and putting it on a burner over medium high heat. You want to boil the jars so that they’re hot when you add the jam and to kill any bacteria.

While that’s getting on it’s way, take out your food processor. Cut up the oranges and lemons and whir them until they are fairly finely chopped. It’s going to look like a slush almost. I kept the lemon seeds in there, because they’ll add some bitter to the marmalade, which I like, and their pectin will help the jam to set up. If you don’t have a food processor, you can just use a blender. If you want to totally unplug, use a knife. Just peel the fruit and cut the rinds into tiny pieces, then cut the fruit, saving the juice. If you use a knife, I’d take out the seeds and put them in a tea ball or muslin bag to boil with the jam without adding big chunks of seed to the mix.

You want to grate enough carrots to make 4 cups as well. This is about 6 to 8 large carrots. I didn’t bother with peeling, but I did cut off the top end (where the greens would be.)

Get a heavy pot out and put the fruit slurry, the carrots, and the sugar into a pot. Start is heating over medium heat. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature. You’re looking for 220 degrees, but you don’t need to get there in a hurry. You don’t want the bottom to burn, so keep stirring. I kept the heat at medium and it took about 15 minutes for the jam to get to the right temperature.

At first it might seem like the whole mess is just too thick. But it only takes a little while for the sugar to start to melt and for the fruits and carrots to release their juices.

Meanwhile, start getting your canning area ready. I set up a TV table right next to my stove, because I don’t have any counter space near by. Use some tongs and a towel to carefully take the jars, rings, and lids from the boiling water and set them on a clean towel on your work surface. I put them upside down first, to let them drain.

When the jam has reached 220 degrees, turn the heat off under it. Use a ladle and a funnel (I bought one for $2 at the same time I got the jars) and fill the jars to 1/2 an inch from the rim. This is a little tricky, because the jars are hot and the jam is really really hot. Use kitchen towels or pot holders to protect your hands, and go slow. There isn’t a rush.

(I prepared 6 jars, but only had jam enough for five.)

If you don’t have a canning rack, which I don’t, use tongs to get a kitchen towel down into the same big pot to keep the jars from banging together. When all the jars are filled, use the tongs to set them each down into the pot of hot water. Use a pitcher to add more water if necessary. You want the water to come at least an inch over the top of the jars.

Set the heat to high and wait (patiently if possible…) for the water to boil. You don’t start the boiling time until the water is at a rolling boil. It took ages it felt like, but probably less than ten minutes.

At my high elevation (6500 feet) I boiled the jars for 17 minutes, which is 7 more than the recommended 10. The reason for the difference in time is that the boiling point is lower the higher up you get, so it takes more time to bring the food in the middle of the jar to the right temperature. Since I was starting with boiling jam, it wasn’t as critical as if I was canning raw food. But still, I wanted to get it right. So 17 minutes it was. I used the information in the book for altitude adjustments.

I boiled all five jars, even the one I knew I was going to open right away. I wanted to make sure it had a good, solid seal.

The worst part of the whole process is letting those delicious jars of homemade jam sit and cool. And cool. And cool. It took at least four hours for them to get to room temperature. I could see right away that the lids had sealed, because they pulled inward, away from the rings (you can kind of see it in the next picture.) I’m a little scared, untrusting of my canning skills. But when I finally did open the first jar, it was obvious that it was sealed. I had to pry the top off with a butter knife. And I’m going to have to trust that my nose and my eyes will tell me if something has gone wrong when I open the other jars.

To while away the hours of waiting for things to cool, I made some bread. I used a recipe from Gluten-Free Baking Classics for the Bread Machine by Annalise Roberts. I have a review coming soon, because OMG…yum.

So finally. Finally. I had an amazing treat of homemade carrot marmalade, made from cold storage oranges and lemons and rescued carrots, on homemade bread with butter. I’ve heard of the slow food movement. Now I have really, truly experienced it.

And the best part? Carrot marmalade rocks. It’s an awful lot like orange marmalade, but the carrots add a depth of flavor that is really amazing. The lemons give it a fresh, bright tang, too. I’m glad I didn’t use more sugar because it was perfectly sweet with the sugar I did use.

Was it economical? The jam on it’s own, yes definitely. I ended up with 60 ounces of jam for the cost of 2 oranges (25 cents), two lemons (25 cents), and 4 cups of sugar (50 cents.) That’s a dollar, and the prices are estimated high. (The carrots, 7 large, cost about 50 cents to buy. But I’m not counting them in the cost, because I know without a doubt that I would have thrown them away when they wilted prior to this instance.)

I had to buy the jars though, which cost about 85 cents each. Times five, that’s $4.25. So $5.25 total for five jars of marmalade, or just over a dollar a jar. (A dollar fifty if you count the carrots.)  And, of course, the jars are reusable, so each time I make jam the cost will go down.

I can’t grow oranges or lemons where I am up here in the mountains where it’s cold 9 months a year. (Well, maybe if I had a hot house of some kind? But I don’t.) But I can definitely grow carrots.

Not bad, considering that 12 ounces of marmalade at the grocery store is at least twice that much. And good marmalade that isn’t full of chemicals costs closer to $4 for a jar. This recipe has a lot of sugar in it, but jam usually does. I might play around with lowering the sugar content, or using something other than white sugar. The end result though, was a sweet, brightly tart, delicious treat. And a lesson in canning.

More frugal ideas here. And DIY ideas here. And just fun ideas here.

More recipes here. And here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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My Favorite Breakfast (And a No Weigh Update)

(I’m having a little give away here.)

So I made my favorite breakfast this morning. And as I sat eating it, Dr. Oz was on. He was interviewing Carney Wilson about her weight. And as I’m watching this, I’m thinking–this woman has been dieting since the fourth grade (she said so, and I could feel her pain.) How can this doctor not see that putting her on yet another diet isn’t her solution?

The woman had her stomach stapled in front of the nation. Diets clearly haven’t worked for her.

Know why? Because she’s addicted to food. Dieting is her trigger. I tell my meth/alcohol/marijuana addicted clients to stay busy, make big life changes so that they aren’t spending all their time focused on their substance of choice. I tell them that choosing to let thoughts about their drug linger is the same as choosing relapse.

So why do we tell women (and men) who clearly have food obsessions or addictions that the answer is to spend all day, every day tightly focused on food? We ask them to make even more food rules. We expect them to do everything that triggers their addiction. And then we call them lazy when they relapse.

I haven’t weighed myself in almost two months. There are moments, when I get that old panicky, can’t-breathe feeling. Like my fat is choking me. (Do you know that feeling?) But I do what I tell my clients they must do to get better. I physically stop the thoughts. I say ‘NO’ out loud, I take a breath, I get through the anxiety. It passes. It always does, if you give it a chance. Acknowledge and let go. It works.

So the Carney Wilson segment is over. Dr. Oz had her dump a bunch of potatoes and red meat and real maple syrup into a big trash can. He had a tough-love lady tell her that her 60-extra-pounds isn’t baby weight. She’s fat because she eats too much. (Yes, that was what was said.) She was given a pedometer (and a second one was tossed to her husband in the audience, so that she couldn’t make any excuses) and told to walk 10,000 steps a day.

Carney Wilson, according to Dr. Oz, has borderline diabetes. She had a pretty aggressive surgery to correct this problem years ago (the stomach stapling) so this news visibly upset her. And of course, the physical dangers of obesity aren’t something to ignore. Just like the physical dangers of drug or alcohol addiction aren’t something to play with. But just like you can’t show an alcoholic their liver-test results and toss their husband the keys to the liquor cabinet and expect results, you can’t tell someone who weighs 100 or more pounds MORE than they did before they started dieting to diet some more and expect good results.

I’m lucky. I don’t have any obesity-related health problems. (Not so lucky that every time I do have a health concern, it’s blamed on my weight without any real thought.) But if I did–even if I did–I know deep down in my soul that doing the same thing that’s gotten me to this point isn’t the answer. It’s actually kind of insane, right?

Okay…my No Weigh rant is over. Thanks for listening!

Onward to my favorite breakfast.

Corn tortillas are kind of a lifesaver to someone who is gluten-free. I consider them my sliced bread. Sometimes I just   heat them up quick right on my oven burner and eat with peanut butter. It took me a long time to figure out how to cook them in oil without ending up with a greasy mess.

Figure it out I did, though, and I’m sharing the wisdom! This recipe calls for cheese and salsa. This is a fantastically versatile technique though, and you can use anything on the inside. It’s actually a little soft-fried taco shell, so of course you can stuff it with taco stuffing.

Cheesey Corn Tortillas

  • 3 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • salsa
  • grated cheese

Start by heating a dry frying pan to medium-high (maybe a little closer to high than medium.) You want it good and hot before you start cooking.

Once you get started, this is a quick moving recipe, so lay everything out ahead of time. Put the oil in a little bowl and get a brush out. Have the cheese and salsa handy, too.

Once the pan is hot, put a tortilla down into it and lightly brush the top side with oil. This is going to be the inside, so be very light with the oil. Just a touch. Flip and be a little more generous with the oil on the other side, which will be the outside and needs to get a crunch to it.

When the side that’s down in the pan has started to just lightly brown, flip again. Put cheese and salsa on half of the tortilla. (Don’t go nuts on the cheese, or these little tortillas won’t hold it all. I think I use about 1 or 1 1/2 tablespoons.)

Now fold the tortilla over in half. You want to do this before the bottom side gets too brown, otherwise it won’t be flexible anymore.  Just push that tortilla to the side and you can get started on a second one.

Cook the folded tortilla until both sides are nice and crispity.

Three of these little lovelies and an orange makes a good filling breakfast. On the weekends I might have two, but add eggs. Some refried beans would make this a great brunch-y breakfast. Sour cream on the side is very nice.

For a long time when I realized that gluten was a no-no for me, I really mourned a couple of things. PB&J was one. Crackers or French bread with soup was another. When I have soup, I use the same brushed-oil technique to make some plain heated tortillas. They give me something yummy to dip with, and don’t leave me feeling at all deprived.

More recipes here. And here. And here.

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Seasonal Cooking: Apple Baked Beans

(Hey! Don’t forget to check out my tiny green giveaway over here.)

We love these beans. They are just a pot of apple-y goodness, adapted from my mama’s recipe.

Isn’t it great that apples are in season in the winter? It’s like a little gift to get us through when it seems that spring will never come.

I make these beans a lot. Especially since Adrienne won’t eat pork. (She has had a serious aversion to it since she was a little girl. I’m not sure why.) They give her some protein, and are beautiful with pork for the rest of us. The best of both worlds!

It might seem like there is a lot of oil in these beans. That’s because there isn’t any other fat, like bacon. Without olive oil, we think they’re too dry. Feel free, of course, to experiment to your hearts content.

Apple Baked Beans

  • 2 cups small white or great northern beans, cooked and drained (or 2 cans of beans, drained but not rinsed.)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • olive oil
  • apple juice
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • salt, pepper, and dry mustard to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil

Since these babies bake for so long, I don’t bother with preheating the oven. Save a little energy.

Prepare a casserole or bean pot by oiling it lightly.

Mix the apple and onion in a small bowl. Layer 1/2 the beans in the casserole, then half the apple/onion mix, then drizzle with two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Repeat.

I’ll say here that I use canned beans. I really want to learn to make beans from scratch. I’ve never had success. But I keep trying!

In a saucepan, mix the ketchup, syrup, and spices (I use about a teaspoon of each, but just use your judgment.) Bring to a boil, then pour over the beans.

Don’t worry about covering the whole thing, or mixing. Everything gets blended perfectly during baking.

Carefully pour in apple juice until the beans are just covered.

Just go slow, so you don’t over fill. You don’t want watery beans.

Put in the oven, covered either with a lid or some foil, and bake for 3 to 4 hours. After two hours, I give it a stir, but really it isn’t necessary. Everything somehow gets magically mixed up on it’s own.

You could dump everything in the slow cooker on low for 6 to 8 hours, too. It’s delicious either way.

As an extra added bonus, they make your house smell wonderful.

More recipes here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here.

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Grocery Round-up

I have a giveaway going on!

Gah. I forgot my grocery round-up for this week.

Know why? Because it’s waiting for the weekend. We’re going to Vegas to pick up Ruby and spend the night with Kevin’s mom and dad. That means we get a variety of grocery stores. That’s always a little exciting.

Our pantry is pretty well built-up right now, so we’re eating from it until then.

In Las Vegas, we’re going to stock up on organic, grass-fed, ethical meat. I’m trying to bolster myself for how expensive it’s going to be, by reminding myself that not everything can be about paying the least for the most. There are other costs involved here. I don’t want to be a vegetarian, for one. And it’s fair to pay a fair price for food that doesn’t make me queasy to think about.

My very favorite store in Las Vegas is Sunflower Market. I’ll be headed there. Here are some highlights from their sales flyer.

  • Organic winter squash for .99 cents per pound. I’m going to stock up, because this stuff stores well and is delicious.
  • Organic red and yellow onions for .89 cents per pound. Another stock up.
  • Bulk walnuts for $3.99 per pound.
  • Organic bulk quinoa for $3.49 per pound. (I looked for this in Elko, and the cheapest I saw was $7.99 per pound!)
  • Bulk dried apricots for $2.99 per pound.
  • They have spare ribs on sale for $1.99 per pound. I am hoping (hard) that they are a brand that I feel comfortable buying from. I’m going to call before we go.

I’m not sure what else we’ll get. This feels like some kind of  culinary adventure.

More round-up here.

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Meat, Inc. (Or The Meat Detective)

So I went to the grocery store this morning and braved funny looks in the name of getting to the truth.

I wrote down the names of the companies that provide the meats that I’ve been feeding my family for the last three years.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this little journey was checking out the way my food is packaged. Pictures of sunny farms, or old-world charm. Names that illicit feelings of security and well-being. Advertising-voodoo claims, like hormone-free pork when all US pork is hormone-free. Meat packaged so that it doesn’t look anything like it’s source material. Meat packaged in a way that is meant to squash the questions that I’ve been asking.

Here’s are some highlights:

  • Most of the fresh beef came from Hereford. Despite the fact that there is a whole ranch full of grass-fed, open range cattle behind my house, my local grocery store sells beef from a company in Missouri. A big company whose website ensures me that they “support the judicious use of vaccines and antibiotics to maintain good animal health. After twenty years of research, the Institute of Food Technologists in 2006 found antibiotic-free foods are not necessarily safer for the consumer.”
  • The store carries some unmarked beef. The butcher told me that it is from the same source.
  • All of the fresh pork comes from Premium Standard Farms, which I’ve already discussed.
  • The fresh chicken comes from Gold’n Plump. They sell a brand, by the same company, that is called Just Bare Chicken. Just Bare Chicken is raised without hormones or antibiotics, vegetable fed, and cage-free. Cage-free, in this case, means in a barn but not in cages. These Just Bare chickens are raised on family farms, and interestingly you can put a code from the package into a box on their website and find out exactly which family farm. That’s pretty cool. The Gold’n Plump website claims a ‘family’ of 1500 employees, which indicates that it’s a pretty big operation. They also have an employment add for a “catcher” that can work in dusty, adverse conditions.
  • The turkey available in my store is either from Jennie-O or Honeysuckle White. Both are giant corporations and make me uneasy. Jennie-O is owned by Hormel. Hormel’s website states a pretty comprehensive list of principles. Their page about animal welfare says that the hogs and turkeys are raised with ‘judicious’ use of antibiotics provided by eight on-staff vets that work with the family and corporate farmers. The hogs are raised in group pens in a barn and the turkeys are cage-free in a barn.  Honeysuckle White is part of Cargill, a huge producer of meat. Specifically Cargill Meat Solutions. Cargill has some pretty scary brushes with e. coli if that second link is correct. Cargill and Hormel are the two leading turkey producers (is that the right word?) in the US.
  • The main supplier of deli meat is Birchwood. I had a hard time getting information about them at first. But then I got excited because they are a Salt Lake City company, which is damn near local to me. But I called, and was told that their meat comes from IBP. From Iowa, not Utah. Which is Tyson Foods.  Tyson, which has some pretty interesting stuff on their Wikipedia page. “In 2005, journalists Sally and Sadie Kneidel reported on their tour of Tyson broiler farms in their book Veggie Revolution: Smart Choices for a Healthy Body and a Healthy Planet. According to their report, each windowless shed on a typical Tyson broiler farm is approximately 42 by 400 feet (120 m) and holds around 24,000 chickens, giving each chicken 0.7 square feet (0.065 m2) of floor space.”
  • A company called Falls Brand, part of Independent Meat Company from Idaho, supplies process pork like hot dogs, sausages, and hams to my grocery store. I called and spoke to a very nice lady there who told me that their pigs are raised on family farms in Idaho. They are raised in barns, she said, “because they would freeze to death here in the Mountain West.” It was about 10 degrees today, about 200 miles south of them, so that might be true. She made a point of telling me that their company does not have a rotating array of under-paid workers. The farms are run by families, there is no corporate farm. She told me that the pigs raised for this company are antibiotic free.

So, again a meaty story with a moral.

Companies use the term ‘family farms.’ It sounds sweet and idyllic. It makes me think of the things I want in my life. In reality, many of these family farms are controlled by massive corporations with one agenda. To provide Americans with the cheap meat we demand.

If we start to demand meat raised ethically and humanely, the corporations will provide. They aren’t raising cows and pigs and chickens and turkeys for the hell of it. They want to give us what we want. They want our money, and that’s how they get it.

I do not have access on a regular basis to the kind of meat I’d like to feed my family. Somewhere along the way things have gotten skewed enough that the free-range cows in my backyard don’t make it to my grocery refrigerated case. I’m not 100 percent sure what to do about this.

We could go vegetarian, but I know this isn’t a long-term solution. My vegetarian-ish daughter would go for it. At this point I’m so in shock from all I’m learning that I might not ever be able to hold meat down again. (I haven’t had any in two days and counting.)

My husband and son and littlest daughter would revolt.

But they also understand when I talk to them about what I’m learning. (Well, not Ruby. But she’s five, she eats what’s in front of her.)

So what is the solution? The here-and-now, adapt-in-place solution.

Because we have to start where we are.

I think our best choice is to stock up on high-quality, ethically-produced meat when we’re in a bigger city. That happens about once every three months, maybe more often if I have to travel for work.

In the between times, the best choices in my local store seem to be the Just Bare chicken, Jennie-O turkey, and Falls Brand pork. These companies aren’t perfect. Two are subsidiaries of huge corporations, which I would like to avoid. But Gold’n Plump is making an effort with Just Bare. And Hormel is making an effort to hold to higher standards. If those efforts are supported, maybe they will be expanded on. (Maybe all Gold’n Plump chicken will be held to the same standard as their chicken marketed to the hippies.) Falls Brand, despite being all processed meats, seems the best choice, but I’m not 100 percent sure that their “family farms” isn’t a euphemism for something less warm and cozy than it sounds.

Another part of the solution is to have vegetarian days two or three times a week. Maybe more. To feed my carnivores some meat, but not as much. Perhaps to wean toward vegetarianism, which is more likely to illicit support than a sudden drastic change in our diet.

This will not be how we shop when we are in Seattle. This is not how we will eat there. But it is the best, most informed choice we can make for where we are now.

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Seasonal Cooking: Vegetarian Apple Onion Gravy

(I’m having a giveaway!)

So, if you’ve read my earlier post, you know that there is no way I’m eating what’s simmering away in my slow cooker right now.

(I’m hoping that when Kevin wakes up, he works an overnight shift, and I tell him what I’ve learned, no one will be eating them.)

Adrienne already wouldn’t be eating it, as she’s my semi-vegetarian who feels about pork the way I feel about mayonaise…revultion. I always have some alternative form of protein for her on pork days. Usually baked beans. I’ll be eating them with her tonight.

We’ll also have mashed potatoes. Since I have 80 pounds of apples in my laundry room, I thought I’d see if I couldn’t come up with some sort of apple gravy. Sounds good right?

Mmmhmm. Yum.

I’ve gone ahead and made it up early. Not only does that give me good light for pictures, it lets the gravy mature and the flavors combine. Also, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, so I wanted time to do something different if it was a wash.

It wasn’t.

Vegetarian Apple Onion Gravy

  • 1/2 white onion, chopped fine
  • 1 T crushed garlic
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 pounds (I used three large) apples, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup apple juice, plus more as needed
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, to taste

Start by browning the onion and garlic in the oil over medium high heat. I cooked them about as long as it took me to peel, core, seed, and chop three large onions. About 10 minutes, since I used a knife to peel.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the apples, juices, sugar, and spices. I thought the crushed red pepper would stop this tasting like apple sauce, and I was right. It did add a bite at the end, which we love.

Let all that simmer for a while, until the apples are nice and soft. They’ll start breaking down some. About fifteen minutes on medium.

I put it all into a bowl and used my immersion blender to make it smooth. You could use a regular blender or a food processor. I think you’d get something smoother if you do, so it’s up to your taste. I wanted texture. At first I ended up with spicy, oniony applesauce. Way too thick to be gravy, so I added another 1/4 cup of apple juice and it loosened things up.

The result was a thick gravy that’s spicy, savory, and yummy. It does bring applesauce to mind, because smooth apples will do that. But it is definitely gravy. When I re-heat it for dinner, my plan is to add a little more juice. I’ll add a final picture later.

Updated:

The finished gravy was both beautiful and delicious. After spending the day sitting around, the gravy could no longer be called anything but applesauce. So I added another 1/2 cup or so of juice and blended it into submission. It became smooth and silky. It still had a tiny hint of apple pulp, so maybe the real blender or food possessor or a food mill if you want perfectly smooth gravy.

It topped mashed potatoes perfectly. Everyone loved it. Here’s the final vegetarian meal. Baked beans (recipe later in the week), mashed potatoes with apple onion gravy, and maple walnut Brussels sprouts.

More recipes here. And here. And here. And here.

And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

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Being Aware

While I was at home last night watching Food, Inc. on Netflix.com, Kevin was at our local grocery store.

We have a family tradition of having a big Sunday dinner. Kevin always has Sunday off work, so it’s often the first day in several that we’ve got to spend more than a few awake moments together as a family. He wanted ribs tonight, and I was excited to make them because A. they were on sale and B. I wanted to show you guys how I make them in my crock pot and how juicy and delicious they are.

So he bought the ribs on his way to work last night. (It was less than 10 degrees last night, so they were fine in the car in a hot/cold insulated bag until he came home.) Ribs, brussels sprouts, and mashed potatoes. Yum yum. Right?

I really wanted to share the rub I use. (How cute are my measuring cups that they turn out heart-shaped brown sugar?)

Except I watched Food, Inc. last night.

So it was early in the morning, and my brain was still on autopilot. I got the ribs into the slowcooker before I thought about taking a look at what I was making.

 I looked at the package in a way that I’m not really used to. The package said that the pig the ribs came from was raised without hormones (pigs aren’t raised with hormones, apparently, as the label also said the US Government doesn’t allow it. So hormone-free pork is a little bit of advertising voodo. Like advertising potatoes as being vegetarian) and processed with minimal processing. So far, so good, right? They came from Missouri, which is well outside the West Coast local thing, but he’d already bought them. And Missouri isn’t nearly as far as they could have come from. I made a mental note to talk to Kevin about expanding the West Coast rule to meats.

So I was curious. I Googled Premium Standard Farms.

Premium Standard Farms is a subsidiary of Smithfield. It’s a giant producer of meat. The big giant producer of meat depicted in Food, Inc. The kind that controls everything from the birth of baby pigs right to their slaughter. I had visions of cows with holes in their sides, and pigs eating each others tails off because they’re packed in so tight their whole lives.

I’m reminded of something my clients talk about. They might relapse, but using isn’t the same ever again once they start treatment because they have a belly full of booze and a head full of 12 steps. Even if I eat meat that comes from a mass producer again, it won’t ever be the same blissful mindless eating that I’ve enjoyed in the past. It won’t be that eyes-closed, moan-in-the-back-of-your-throat good grubbin’ experience ever again.

Premium Standard’s website features an idyllic set of farm pictures with sweet little pink piggies looking all happy.

But this article lists some pretty valid reasons for boycotting this company. Now, granted, that article was written in 1996. But time doesn’t erase environmental issues that have already happened. I would hope that they’ve changed, and that they take better care now. But I don’t know.

Just recently, like in the last week, Premium Standard Farms achieved an ISO 14001 certificate for all it’s Missouri farms. ISO 14001 is a set of environmental standards. I spent a good hour trying to figure out exactly what that meant, but even in plain English, it’s very vague. I can only hope it means that they’ve cleaned up their act, at least somewhat.

And while the package sticker said no hormones, it didn’t say no antibiotics. I am assuming that a company that doesn’t use them would announce that if they’re going to bother with saying ‘no hormones.’ I don’t see how they could have 4.5 million hogs to slaughter each year without using antibiotics.

So, I guess the moral of this story is pay attention. Read labels. Then hit Google. Find out where your food comes from.

And please, do it before you buy.

That way you won’t end up like me, with a crock pot filled with ribs that you wish you hadn’t bought.

Tomorrow I’m going to my grocery store. I’m writing down the names of the meat producers offered there. And I’m Googling them, so that I can make informed, ethical, healthful choices about what I feed my family.

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