The Great Locavore Dinner Party Challenge

We all agree (right?) that there are environmental, societal, nutritional, and taste benefits to getting your produce and animal products from local farms, but how many locally-sourced ingredients are actually in *your* average dinner? The always-entertaining Cheenius, Mr.Dr. Cheenius, Butter Boy & Butter Babe (aka the Tiny Twosome), and friends challenged themselves with a special dinner party to see how local their cooking could get. Here’s Cheenius to tell you more…


lakeside dining

Locavores . . . eating local . . . blah blah blah local.  Cheenius and friends decided it was time to meet the challenge head-on and hold a Local Food Only Dinner.  Each guest made something that was primarily sourced from near-by foods, which gave us an interesting menu:

Local beer, wine, and cider (duh)
Baba Ganoush
Deviled Eggs
Tomato Mozarella Salad
Potatoes Au Gratin
Roasted Corn/Black Beans/Peppers/Tomato/Feta Salad
Roasted Potatoes
Blueberry Pie
Peach Honey Ice Cream

(No main dish, but did we really need one?)

local beverages

local caprese

Everything was quite tasty, especially the Potatoes Au Gratin from Butter Babe, and we were having fun (discussing Ebola, etc.) until Cheenius ruined it with . . .

MATH.

She and Mr.Dr. Cheenius made everyone score their dishes as follows:

  • Grown or made yourself = 3 points
  • Grown within 50 miles = 2 points
  • From anywhere in VA = 1 point

It was a weighted average, so you had to consider the percentage each ingredient made of the whole dish, and then multiply by the point system, and then add them up.  All this on a Friday night?  Ridiculous.

corn, tomato, avocado, bean salad

local blueberry pie

Obviously Cheenius, with her own garden and eggs, won, but she graciously bestowed jars of local honey as prizes to the 2nd and 3rd place winners.  One lucky guest also won for most local human (if you count Northern VA as Virginia).

Good times, may have to make it an annual event!

Coursera course “The Meat We Eat” meat cooking project

Over the past several weeks I’ve been participating in a basic overview meat sciences and technology course from the University of Florida, via Coursera, called The Meat We Eat. The course description, from Coursera, is:

The average American is now at least three generations removed from production agriculture.  This leads to the disconnection between how the public views agriculture and how scientists and producers view it, resulting in consumer distrust of science and commercial food production.  It is this lack of trust which leads to consumer confusion and the urge to grasp at multiple solutions.  However a growing number of consumers in developed countries are aspiring to “know where their food comes from”.  Animal agriculture needs to explain the technology which will be used to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

As a proponent of sourcing meat and meat products from local, sustainably run farms raising pastured, ethically treated animals rather than from massive industrial operations where output, rather than animal/environment/worker welfare and product quality, is prioritized, I thought it was important that I understand more of the details of large-scale commercial meat production. I’ll type up some lecture notes in another post; here I will discuss my final meat cookery project.

The Assignment

Document preparation of a meat recipe, discussing the details of the type and cut of meat, its packaging and appearance, storage, cookery method, sanitation, and food safety issues. I chose to cook a steak dinner, as beef is currently the only non-fish meat I am eating, and as an extra challenge, I wanted to grill the steaks. I’d never grilled steaks before, myself. (See here for another recent foray into cooking steak–I’ve only recently added steak into my pescatarian-for-over-ten-years diet.)

What I cooked

The Charlottesville, Virginia farmer’s market has several local meat vendors; I chose Wolf Creek Farm based on their wide variety of cuts of beef, and a prior positive experience. Wolf Creek breeds and raises their own cows on a pure (chemical fertilizer-free) grass diet, without antibiotics or hormones. They value environmental stewardship, healthy animals, and happy workers and community, while creating products customers will enjoy.

Wolf Creek Farm

Wolf Creek Farm’s website describes the stark contrasts between their small-scale beef production and typical industrial beef production:

“Our grass-fed, natural beef is a result of carefully selected herd genetics, that:

  • enjoys animal husbandry based upon intensive personal care and respect with no force-fed hormones and no antibiotics
  • is finished only on lush natural grass pastures with no grain or other supplements
  • is processed calmly with artisan skill in a small and clean rural abattoir with no need for irradiation and no antimicrobials
  • produces cuts that are dry-aged, safe, and nutritious

Contrast this with the beef produced by the industrial beef conglomerates who control 98% of the US beef production, where:

  • animal husbandry consists of force-fed hormones and constant antibiotics in a mechanized process
  • finishing is accomplished in confinement feed-lots by feeding grain that is produced under significant chemical fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide loads, combined with feed supplements containing antibiotics such as Rumensin to inhibit rumen gas build-up and bloat from the grain and Tylosin to reduce liver infections caused by bacteria from pH imbalanced rumens, ionophores, synthetic estrogens to promote growth such as Revlar which are banned in Europe, liquefied fat, and other protein supplements
  • processing is accomplished in an industrial slaughter-house with minimum wage labor on a disassembly-line where the emphasis is on speeds reaching over 400 animals per hour and requires irradiation and hot steam chamber antimicrobials at the end of the line to ensure the meat is “safe”
  • cutting these tens of thousands of wet-aged carcasses produces co-mingled meat containing high levels of saturated fats”

Beef prices by cut

Not being very steak-savvy, I asked the purveyor to recommend a steak for grilling. His immediate response was “rib steak.”

Beef retail cuts

How is a rib steak different from the better known ribeye steak? They’re basically the same, but the rib steak is bone-in while the ribeye is not. Rib cuts are harvested from the rib primal, which covers the upper rib cage. A rib steak is comprised of three major muscles, Longissimus Dorsi, Spinalis Dorsi & Multifidus Dorsi, and as this area of the cow is not used for locomotion or weight-bearing, the meat is naturally tender and marbled with fat.

Rib cuts

The meat is butchered at the farm’s abattoir, hung in cool storage for 21-28 days to dry age–wherein natural enzymes tenderize and flavor the meat–and then vacuum sealed and flash frozen. The steaks at the market were stored frozen in clean coolers. I chose two steaks: one was 0.98lb, for $16.57, and the other was 0.82 lb, for $13.87. Rib steaks are $16.50/lb plus tax.

Frozen steaks

In addition to the two steaks, I picked up some shiitake and oyster mushrooms (1/4 lb for $4), and an avocado ($2), and two tomatoes ($1.50) to go with some cucumbers from a friend’s yard.

How I cooked it

My initial plan, based on the meat purveyor’s suggestion, was to sear the steaks over high heat on the grill for 10-15 seconds a side, and then let them cook a couple minutes per side over 250-300 degree heat. But then a friend told Trusty Sous Chef Mr HP and I about reverse searing and we were intrigued.

‘A small but vocal population of steak lovers swears by the “reverse sear” technique. The theory behind this method is that cooking the steak in the oven first will dry the outside of the steak while slowly cooking the inside and keeping it tender. If the outside of the steak is dry, it will then sear faster and more efficiently in a hot pan.’ — from Mark’s Daily Apple

The new plan: start the steaks in a 275 degree oven until they reach 100-110 degrees, and then move them to a hot grill to sear the outsides.

Step 1: Thaw the steaks.

In the fridge, overnight. Our fridge is around 38 degrees.

Thawed steaks

Step 2: Unwrap the steaks and pat them dry. Then wash hands.

Pat the steaks dry

Step 3: Salt and pepper both sides of the meat.

Salt and pepper the steaks

Step 4: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Preheat the grill to high. When the oven is ready, load in the steaks on a rack to facilitate air circulation around the meat.

Steaks go in the oven first

(Meanwhile, chop cukes, tomatoes, and avocado. Mix in a large bowl with a bit of olive oil and balsamic or wine vinegar.)

Chop the veggies

(Then chop up the mushrooms, keeping the shiitakes separate from the oysters, as cooking times differ. Heat a dry skillet to medium, add the shiitakes first, and then the more delicate oysters a couple minutes later. When the mushrooms are almost cooked, add some butter to the pan for a boost of flavor.)

Mixed mushrooms

Step 5: When the steaks reach 100-110 degrees (not the 87 pictured below), remove them from the oven onto a clean plate.

Checking temperature in oven

I found that when the steaks hit the target temperature, they took on a grayish color (see image below), which I will use next time as an indicator that it’s time to check temp, rather than the paranoid stabbing of the steaks every couple minutes that I employed here.

Steaks out of the oven

Step 6: Drop the steaks on the hot hot grill to sear for 2 minutes each side.

Grilling the steaks

Check the degree of doneness using a meat thermometer. As we learned in class, palatability is maximized at 145 degrees, which is right between rare (140 degrees) and medium rare (150 degrees). My steak, being smaller than Mr HP’s, would be a little more cooked, but that was ok with me as I’m just getting back into the eating steak swing of things.

Checking temperature of steak

Step 7: Move the steaks to a clean plate and cover loosely with foil for ten minutes, to let the juices reabsorb into the meat.

The picture of that wasn’t interesting so I am sparing you.

Step 8: Serve and enjoy!

Dinner is ready

Cooked rib steak

Storing Leftovers

The steak was fantastic, and the only “leftovers” were fatty bits and the bone from each steak; luckily we knew a certain dog who would be very interested in helping take care of those. The gristly pieces went into a sealed container in the fridge to be portioned out over the next few meals, but he got to enjoy a bone right away.

Steak leftovers

Leftover rib steak bone

Leftover rib steak bone

Summary

This experiment was a great success. The quality of the steak, the ease and results of the reverse-sear cooking method, and the simple but complementary sides (which were completely local except for the avocado, so that’s a potential place for improvement) all exceeded our expectations.

Estimated costs

Steak 1: $16.57

Steak 2: $13.87

Mushrooms: $4

Cucumbers: free

Tomatoes: $1.50

Avocado: $2

Total meal cost: $37.94

Total meat cost: $30.44

Meat’s percentage of total cost: 80%

Recent reads about food, farming, and health

Local Foods: From Fad To Force And What It Means For The Food Industry

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-zacka/local-foods-from-fad-to-f_b_5502757.html

“The trend has gone viral, as consumers are voting ‘local’ with their dollars and having a profound influence on the nation’s food systems. Their enthusiasm has led suppliers, grocers and restaurants to change and adapt by adding locally produced goods to their offerings year-round.”


What you need to know about P90X, Insanity, Weight Watchers, Shakeology, Cleanses, and Nutrisystem

http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2014/06/23/what-you-need-to-know-about-p90x-insanity-weight-watchers-shakeology-cleanses-and-nutrisystem/

A quick comparison of the trendy quick-fix diet/fitness products–what works and what doesn’t.


Local to the extreme: This project puts the farm right in the grocery store

http://grist.org/food/local-to-the-extreme-this-project-puts-the-farm-right-in-the-grocery-store/#.U6hWaokqWNI.twitter

“Three days a week in downtown Raleigh, N.C., fans of fresh fruits and veggies can pick up their local tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, potatoes, squash, and blackberries inside a 200-square-foot shipping container… In the 8,000-square-foot, scaled-up version, Greene imagines an open bottom floor that would hold the main grocery and a café for selling drinks and deli meats. Above that, eight shipping containers supported by beams and equipped with side panels for growing herbs and greens, nourished by what Greene calls the “Living River Growing System” — a raceway tank that looks and acts like a stream, filtering and channeling nutrient-filled water to the seven-foot-high growing panels. On top of all this would sit a greenhouse roof.”


These maps show where all the world’s cattle, chickens, and pigs are

http://www.vox.com/2014/6/20/5825826/these-maps-show-where-all-the-worlds-cattle-chickens-and-pigs-live

“The Earth currently has 19.6 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle, and 980 million pigs. If you added up all the world’s livestock, they’d weigh more than humans and all other wild animals combined….These maps are useful for tracking the environmental impact of ever-expanding livestock production as well as keeping tabs on the potential spread of disease like avian flu.”


Widespread impacts of neonicotinoids ‘impossible to deny’

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27980344

“The scientists say the threat to nature is the same as that once posed by the notorious chemical DDT.” Neonicotinoids could be poisoning bees, and aquatic invertebrates, which are the basis of many food chains. Their use in a prophylactic way is compared to antibiotics abuse in farm animals.


Why the locavore movement’s next big move is seafood

http://grist.org/food/why-the-locavore-movements-next-big-move-is-seafood/

“Something like 86 percent of America’s seafood intake is imported (most of that is farmed), while we send away most of our own wild-caught fish.”

“We eat more shrimp than almost the next two most popular seafoods combined (salmon and canned tuna)”

“[Alaska] by far produces more seafood than any other state, probably by an order of magnitude.”

“I was trying to figure out if there was a Michael Pollan-esque line like ‘eat food, not too much, mostly plants.’ The best I could come up with was: ‘Eat American seafood, a much wider variety than we currently do, mostly filter feeders.’”


16 Things That Affect Your Gut Bacteria

http://www.marksdailyapple.com/16-things-that-affect-your-gut-bacteria

Foods (red wine! dark chocolate!), sunshine, exercise, antibiotics, probiotics, Roundup (in GMO soy and corn and CAFO animal products), smoking, time, dirt

Marfrig: World Cup sponsor and global meat corporation

This post’s target demographic is the huge population in the center of this Venn diagram with me. Hello? Anyone else there?

target demographic venn diagram

While watching the World Cup, I noticed a curious ad plastered across the pitch-side advertising boards: Marfrig, qualidade em carne.

Marfrig sponsors the World Cup

(source)

I know zero Portuguese, but my Spanish-based powers of deduction suggested that Marfrig might be a major Brazilian meat company worth checking out. Brazilians love their beef, so I figured Marfrig might be focused on quantity rather than sustainability and ethical treatment. Here’s what I learned:

Blah blah blah. Lots of businessy speak about profits and brands and diversification and portfolios, but what about the animals?

The Marfrig Group is managed by an experienced team committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and environmental responsibility.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Please go on.

We currently operate 183 processing plants, distribution centers, feedlots and offices in 17 countries in South America, North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.  We have a daily slaughtering capacity of 20,730 head of cattle, 3,726,860 chickens, 11,179 head of pork, 41,000 turkeys and 11,900 lambs.  

So they can churn through lots of animals quickly. That doesn’t make me optimistic about their treatment of those animals. Oh, but wait, the first item on their Strategy page is this: Invest in organic growth. That’s promising! No… they don’t mean that kind of organic, they mean they’re going to invest in their current infrastructure. Reading on… what about their sustainability practices?

EUREKA!

The Marfrig Group considers it a moral duty to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals. The Group’s animal welfare programs seek to guarantee the safety and humane treatment of animals, through internal rules and regularly audited procedures, as well as investment in the implementation of modern technologies, which led to the upgrade of facilities and pens, the laying of anti-slide floors and new forms of rearing and logistics.

The Company also seeks to implement innovative techniques to improve the welfare of animals. For example, transportation equipment in the United States was recently fitted with temperature controlling technology. This effort led to an increase in live birds on arrival during instances of extreme climates.

The Company offers to its integrated producers and partners qualifying courses ministered by professional instructors in the areas of animal nutrition, rearing and well-being, aiming to provide new tools and knowledge to maximize production in a sustainable way.

In 2013, a report from the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare commended Marfrig in improvements in animal welfare policies and reporting. Said Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, about the report: “The Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare has played a catalytic role in putting farm animal welfare on the business agenda. It has pushed companies to acknowledge farm animal welfare as a business issue and, critically, it has forced them to take action.” As a result, farm animal welfare is becoming both a business risk and a source of competitive advantage.

Last year, Marfrig joined with The Nature Conservancy to promote sustainable cattle farming in the Amazon. That program is mostly concerned with forest management and water and soil use, but also, interestingly, includes a tracking system so consumers will know where their beef was sourced from, giving more transparency to the production process. They have worked with Greenpeace to decrease the impact of cattle operation in the Amazon, with Walmart to improve energy use and reduce waste and emissions, and the treatment systems at some if its facilities generate carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol.

I started off my random little research project expecting to find Marfrig to be a cold corporate behemoth, but despite being a multi-national processor of thousands of animals per day, it has some really positive qualities, and is a leader in showing other companies that improving animal welfare can be a good business practice. The moral of the story is: Tim Howard is a beast. 

References

Marfrig corporate profile

Marfrig corporate strategy

Marfrig corporate sustainability

Marfrig animal welfare

The Provisioner Online

The Pig Site

FIFA

South American crop report

Floyd Tiny House Tour

Guest post from the swashbuckling Tiny Twosome. Thanks, Tiny Twosome!

Last month, the Tiny Twosome (formerly known as Butter Boy and Butter Babe) attended the Sustain Floyd Tiny House Tour.  This fun self-guided driving tour of six private tiny homes in and around Floyd, VA, gave us a peek into the homes, and lives, of a few folks who have made the choice to scale back on their material possessions and expand their time and resources for other things.

We left Charlottesville Friday after work and hit the road toward Floyd, stopping in Lexington for a little dinner before finally reaching our destination: the Bent Mountain Lodge Bed and Breakfast.  Even before the Tiny Tour, this place seemed expansive.  We had a good night, though somewhat interrupted by a sound outside that made us think of a barking seal, and after a minimalist breakfast the next morning – slightly supplemented by food from the “family” refrigerator, before Butter Boy noticed the sign on the other fridge that read “Guest Refrigerator,” we headed off bright and early for the first house on our list.

The Twosome’s Favorite Tiny House

316 square ft house

The 316 square foot house, built by Christy and Ricardo, powered by a solar system installed by Ricardo, was our first – and favorite – of the houses.  The couple spent a year building their house – living in a tent for the first six months.  Ricardo said that ten months out of the year they are able to feed power back into the grid and have the electric company send THEM a check. The couple lives mortgage-free, paying for projects and upgrades as they go, without going into debt.  This cute two-story house sits on a on a permanent foundation.  Some of our favorite features were the “big” wrap-around porch, cozy feel, and red metal roof.  Inside, it was small but very livable for two.

The Tiny Farm Cabin

Our next stop was the Riverstone Organic Farm to see the tiny cabin where a farm worker (Kat) lives for the season.  Although it is insulated and has electricity, this cabin has no indoor plumbing and is heated by a small woodstove.  The little cabin has a sitting area, a curtained-off bedroom area, and a loft, and is decorated with Kat’s found treasures from around the farm and beyond.  Kat said she does her cooking and washing-up at the facilities in the nearby barn / farm store.

Riverstone Organic Farm cabin

Also on the property was this yurt they purchased for use as a guesthouse and special events.  We liked the stump steps up to the platform.

Stump stairs

The Tiny Family Home

Amazingly, Hari and Karl’s family of four has lived in this tiny house for the past four years.  They constructed the 168 square foot house themselves on a mobile home frame, and have been living there mortgage-free while constructing a larger home on the adjoining lot.  This tiny home has a sleeping loft at either end, and the downstairs contains a living area, kitchen, and bathroom.

168 square ft house

Their chickens enjoy a well-crafted home of their own.  The extensive chicken compound looked like just the place to raise happy, well-adjusted chickens.  I’m sure “factory farm” isn’t even in their vocabulary.

chicken compound

We drove into town and had a nice lunch break at the Floyd Country Store, where Butter Boy enjoyed chicken pot pie and tomato soup and Butter Babe had a tasty quiche and white bean and kale soup.  We spotted a few of the other Tiny Tourists who apparently had the same idea.

The Tiniest Tiny House

Next stop was Jim’s 120 square foot self-built home – which was also constructed on a mobile home trailer.  Jim, however, used only a small portion of the frame’s length (about 8 feet) for his home and dedicated the rest to an extensive deck and attached shed.  It was by far the Tiniest of the Tiny homes we saw.  With five of us standing inside, there wasn’t room for much more.

tiniest tiny house

The Roomy-ish Tiny House

The small home of Morgan and Amado has a bedroom area to the right of the front door, a sitting area straight ahead, and bathroom and kitchen off to the left. There is a storage loft over the kitchen and bathroom. The very open floor plan felt roomy for such a modest-sized home.

roomy tiny house

After the tour we had to stop by the nearby Chateau Morrisette to taste some wine before dinner.  Butter Boy abstained from the wine tasting – as he was driving.  Butter Babe, however, was not planning to do any driving that day.

Chateau Morrisette

Dinner was at a local Italian restaurant, Mickey G’s Bistro and Pizzeria, where we enjoyed seafood and pasta.  Butter Boy had a giant half-lobster but was given only a tiny nutcracker to get into the slippery, buttery crustacean.  (Sadly, given that we were in the landlocked little town of Floyd, we’re pretty sure that the lobster was not locally sourced…)

The final activity of the Tiny Tour was the showing of the movie “Tiny: A Story About Living Small” at the Floyd Country Store.  The film followed a young man as he took longer than he anticipated to build his own tiny house – with help from his very patient girlfriend.   A question and answer session followed with a panel of tiny homeowners (the homes, not the owners).

More than a tiny bit tired, we returned to the Bent Mountain Lodge – which felt larger than the night before – for one more night before heading home with lots of ideas and things to think about.

A Tiny Haiku:

Simple tiny house

Smaller footprint larger life

Gentler on the Earth

2014 Historic Farm Tour in Keswick

Saturday was the 5th Annual Grace Church Historic Farm Tour in Keswick. I’d been wanting to do it for years, and this year, when I was actually in town and free, I didn’t even know it was happening. Thank you Cheenius for the spur-of-the-moment adventure!

Having only a few hours, we decided to split our time among the Country Fair booths at Grace Church, the retired racehorses at Old Keswick, the antique cars at Linden Lane (where Cheenius’s father-in-law was an exhibitor), and the foxhounds at Keswick Hunt Club. The weather was ideal for a drive through the countryside, and we had a lovely time.

Farm tour map

Grace Episcopal Church

Grace Church

Grace Church, a gorgeous Gothic church built in the late 1800s, was hosting a Country Fair with craft booths, 4-H animal exhibits, dog adoption corrals, and food trucks. We bought our tour tickets and cruised through the fair, petting some animals and attempting to get some food (wait times were 30 minutes! food trucks are supposed to be fast, people!) before hitting the road to Old Keswick.

Llamas 4-H cow

(check out his drool!)

Old Keswick Farm

Old Keswick, a former racehorse breeding operation, is a foster home to several retired racehorses from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, but there wasn’t much to see at this stop. We walked through the lovely barn where a couple horses dozed in stalls, popped into the Wildlife Center of Virginia’s tent to see a possum and an owl on display, and took off. Fortunately there was a horse near the fence on the way out who was happy to relieve us of the carrots we had picked up in the barn.

Old Keswick Farm Old Keswick Farm horse

Linden Lane

Linden Lane’s enormous front lawn was host to an antique car exhibit, and we stopped by to say hello to Cheenius’s father-in-law and admire his prize possession. It turned out he had dropped the car off and gone on his own farm tour adventure, but all was not lost, because the exhibit turned out to be really interesting (I had been skeptical). The cars were shiny and pretty and so different in layout and design from today’s cars. Clearly, I am a knowledgeable car person.

Antique PackardAntique Corvette

Shadwell Market

Shout out to Shadwell Market for feeding us when the food trucks could not. Cheenius and I shared some Power Balls (nut/date/honey/crack) from Mudhouse, Mr HP got a sandwich, and when I admired the Brussels sprouts in the hot food display case but lamented that they had bacon, the fabulous kitchen crew offered to stirfry me up a batch sans bacon. So nice!

Keswick Hunt Club Kennels

Keswick Hunt Club was the highlight of the tour for us. Foxhounds everywhere! We got to lean into a puppy enclosure and play with some younguns, after they peeled themselves off the pile of napping puppies to come say hi. The kennel was full of happy, goofy adults, half of which got to come out and run around for a demonstration with the huntsman, whip, and kennel manager. Even non-dog-person Cheenius was smitten and confessed she considered puppy-napping on last year’s tour when the resident puppies were tinier.

Keswick Hunt Club foxhounds foxhounds and huntsman

foxhounds

So, in closing, a recap:

  • Food trucks should serve food quickly
  • Old cars are cool, especially turquoise ones
  • Shadwell Market workers are friendly and accommodating
  • Foxhounds are adorable, but probably not good apartment dogs (ahem, Mr HP)

Celebrity sighting: Joel Salatin at the Paramount

poster

Joel Salatin spoke at the Paramount in C’ville last Saturday morning, and Momma HP and I were there. Here’s the official event description:

Field School of Charlottesville is hosting Joel Salatin for a talk on “Healthy Boys” on Saturday, May 17th at 10:30 a.m. at the Paramount.  Salatin, who is featured in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma as well the documentary film Food, Inc., is a full-time farmer and the owner of Polyface Farm of Augusta County, Virginia.  An outspoken proponent of non-industrial food production, Salatin will provide his thoughts on what we can do to develop healthy boys, through good nutrition, exercise, and raising good food.  Lunch will be provided to all participants following the presentation.  Field School is a 5th-8th Grade middle school for boys “developing well-rounded boys of character and accomplishment.  The event is sponsored by Field Camp, Blue Ridge Swim Club, Ashtanga Yoga, Mudhouse Coffee, and the Local Food Hub.

The bits specific to raising healthy boys weren’t so applicable to us (although Momma HP has a strapping young grandson), but there was plenty of improve-the-food-system and get-outdoors-and-play talk to keep us happy.

ticket

My main takeaways

Personal health

Eat real food. He told a vermicomposting story where the worms wouldn’t eat the processed snack food and it survived the composting process intact, and asked us to think about 1) why would we eat something a worm wouldn’t eat, and 2) why we would want to eat food that won’t rot–meaning, there’s nothing alive in it.

Or think of it as fueling your system with real food. We humans are host to about 100 trillion bacteria–in fact, our bodies are only 10% human–and we need to support those bacteria by feeding them quality food. The influence of gut bacteria on your body reaches far beyond digestion. Bacterial health may be related to chronic disease: malnourished digestive bacteria may allow toxins to leak into the bloodstream, causing a low-level inflammation which may lead to many of the chronic diseases prevalent today. Gut health may be linked to neurological health: “leaky gut” may contribute to depression, and gut bacteria may be able to influence our behavior. Salatin also encouraged the audience (who were sitting in a dark room on a beautiful day, I noted to myself) to get outside and play in the dirt, and pet some animals! Expose yourself to a broader range of microbes.

I recommend reading this article by Michael Pollan for a thorough discussion of one’s personal microbiome: Some of My Best Friends Are Germs. It’s a fascinating and important topic about which science is only just starting to learn.

podium3

Food system health

Care about what you eat. We, as a society, have abdicated responsibility for our food production. Why do we spend more time worrying over, for example, who should do work on our house than who produces the food that goes into our bodies? Start a garden and grow some produce, buy from your local farmers markets and small groceries, and even visit area farms themselves to see how the food is produced–and, of course, how the animals are treated. Try to eat food that you can look at and tell what it’s made from. Question the origin of those ingredients you can’t pronounce. Be mindful of what you’re consuming.

Here are some suggestions for simple ways to regain some control over your food.

podium2

Food’s impact on American healthcare

Americans are spending less on food and more on healthcare than ever before. 

This article shows Americans’ decreasing spending trends on food; this articleand this one discuss the meteoric rise in obesity and its associated healthcare costs in this country. People are buying more cheap, processed, sugary, chemically food and paying for it with their health. Do you think the two are related? If you doubt it, here’s another article.

podium

And then we took our enchiladas out to Lee Park and sat on a bench in the sun. If you have the opportunity to see Salatin speak, go! Even if the topic seems slightly irrelevant, and especially if they give you lunch.

Cheenius’ Big Day

Everyone loves a guest post from Cheenius! Thanks, Cheenius!

With a name like Cheenius, you’d expect someone who really knows cheese. But frankly, Cheenius has been more of a cheese dabbler than anything else. Sad. So, you can imagine her excitement when she sourced some local goat milk and decided to hold her very first CHEESE DAY!

First, somewhat sleep-deprived from the anticipation that accompanies Cheese Day Eve, Cheenius got up early to pick up the goat milk. The friendly goat owner provided Cheenius with not only a gallon of fresh milk, but some chevre and extra milk for tasting. Cheenius even got to meet Lavender, the goat who provided the milk!

goats

After Cheenius gathered her mostly-willing Dad, Aunt, and Uncle, goat milk shooters were downed and the work began.

goat milk shooters

We assembled the ingredients, and then discussed our battle plan: One Day. Two Cheeses. We wanted to attempt a simple paneer and then if we weren’t demoralized and/or cranky, move up to a slightly more advanced feta.

cheese ingredients

cheese tools

For the paneer we basically just heated up the goat milk, added lemon juice, let the curds and whey separate, salted, and then squished it for awhile, and voila! Very-bland-but-edible cheese!!

cheese chemistry

curds

kneading the paneer

applying weight to the paneer

[ed: there's cheese under there. took me a sec.]

frying the paneer

Paneer-fortified, and feeling pretty darn confident, we were now ready for feta. We went with Tinkling Springs whole cow’s milk for this attempt, and then hit some tedium: a lot of chemistry, heated discussions about the best way to maintain a temperature of 88 degrees, and then long periods of just waiting.

heating the milk

Luckily, we filled the waiting periods with games of pool or Bananagrams, so no time was actually wasted. We did realize that we should have started the feta earlier, since to stick with the recipe Cheenius had to stay up late to salt the feta at the right time. We were also a little disappointed that for all that work we only got 4 turds of feta (only 2 shown; Cheenius is not an idiot, she know how to count turds).

feta

The next day we bounced out of bed to try the perfectly salted feta, and it tasted like . . . FETA! Evidently our 5 degree temperature swings (yeah, whoever won that argument about temp control didn’t actually “win”) weren’t enough to upset this very forgiving cheese. Cheenius plans to try freezing some to see if she can make bigger batches in the future and get more turds for the same amount of work.

The unexpected bonus to the experience was that two Cheese Day byproducts, the whey and the extra goat milk, were made into Whey Bread and yogurt. Yum!

yogurt and whey bread

All in all, Cheenius was ecstatic that she finally got to live up to her name, AND she got to boss around her family for a whole day. Thank you Family! Special thanks to our goat milk provider, S.S., along with Ricki Carroll’s cheesemaking kits, and Gianaclis Caldwell’s book, “Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking.”

One last thought to leave you with, as HP always says: Remember, you’ve got a friend in cheeses!

Trager Brothers Coffee Roastery

Public service announcement:

If you have a caffeine emergency south of Charlottesville, proceed directly to the Trager Brothers roastery in Lovingston.

trager brothers coffee

Did you know this existed? Mr HP, Momma HP, and I stumbled upon it last weekend when Rapunzel’s was closed (they open at 4, fyi) and we were so desperate we were driving to McDonald’s for some McCafe when we were saved by a sign for the TBC Roastery. What a happy surprise to be able to drink organic coffee roasted on-site while supporting a small, local company. That’s the opposite of going to McDonald’s.

Trager Brothers coffee

From the Trager Brothers website:

 Trager Brothers Coffee is a 100% Organic micro-roastery located in beautiful Nelson County, Virginia. We are family-owned and operated, serving fine coffees and espresso drinks at our four Higher Grounds locations in Charlottesville, Virginia since 1993. TBC is committed to bringing you the highest quality, freshest, environmentally sound coffee on the market. We believe you will notice the difference in the cup.

Trager Brothers menu

bags of coffee beans

TBC patio

The Roastery is open Monday through Friday 6am-3pm, and Saturdays 8 am-1pm.

Location: 486 Front Street Lovingston, VA 22949

You can also get their coffee at small groceries in the C’ville area, and regional Whole Foodses. Here are all their locations if you want to try their coffee and don’t want to trek to Lovingston. We three found it to be excellent. And caffeinated!

TBC Mexican coffee