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Posts Tagged ‘October Unprocessed’

Alas, this weekend marks the end of October and, for many, the end of the Farmers Market season. Of course the second best place to get your local Unprocessed fix is the Farmer’s Market; the first is obviously the garden out back. I’ll be spending my weekend at the various farmers markets, between various trips out back to my own garden to glean the last of the harvest of kale, brussels sprouts and pears.

We are lucky to live where we do because in Ann Arbor, Michigan there is an outdoor (canopied) Farmers Market that runs all year long, as well as an Artisans Market that runs through the holiday season. We also live within short driving distance of Plum Markets and Holiday Markets, who are two locally owned grocers that are kind enough to post where most of their produce comes from (as well as Whole Foods who does the same, despite being big-box).

Still, almost all of the markets in the area are closing their gates this weekend. This is when I start to peer nervously into my freezer and around my kitchen at the shelves; will there be enough food to keep us eating responsibly through the winter? Oh goodness, No. The frozen fruits and vegetables will be gone, likely used before the end of the year. The apples and pears may last, assuming they stay comfortable in their little makeshift root cellars of sand in the pantry.

So what happens after we’ve run our own supply dry? Well, we definitely have access to local meats and grains – it’s only a matter of 2-3 weeks before the drakes and the roosters go off to freezer camp – and many of the farmers around here are better at putting up food than we are so it’s possible to nab some of their preserved harvest at the markets and co-ops.

My winter rule for non-local produce is that it either has to be something in season that we cannot get here in Michigan, or it has to be grown within a few states of us. That means oranges from Florida are okay over the winter, and things like that. Carrots from Tennessee may have to see us through once I’ve exhausted my own, but I figure at least I am a conscious shopper. If I’m aware of the way I eat and shop, I can improve the way I eat and shop. (This is an edited phrase I use for my horseback riding students – “If you feel it, you can fix it!”)

So this weekend I plan to beat my way through the crowds at various Markets in their crowded “Harvest Weekend” chaos. I plan to stock up on the things I wish I’d already stocked up on (winter squash!) and I plan to take a long, deep breath; look around me, and try to think ahead to the markets of spring.

Do you have access to local produce year-round? How do you plan to forge through the winter without local markets (or are you lucky enough to have a winter market)?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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I figured since today is October 14th, National Dessert Day in the States (okay, this is probably made up, but come on… it’s a great excuse, right?), I would post about baking responsibly in Unprocessed October.

Sometimes a girl’s just gotta make a batch of buttercream frosting. Seriously.

This isn’t to say that I believe that all things sweet should be eaten without moderation. I’m a firm believer in less is more, especially when it comes to baked goods. When I bake, I find myself giving away most of the end results simply because I can’t bring myself to eat more than one or two servings myself. I’ve been taking all sorts of baked goods to the horse farm to hoist off into the arms (and mouths) of unsuspecting students and boarders. Did you know that some horses like yellow cake?

Anyway, today I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve been able to source responsible ingredients for the baked goods I’ve been pursuing. If you don’t follow my regular blog, you might not know that I’ve been working lately to develop a number of baked goods and confections (and skills!) to start a market-based bakery next spring. I’ve been baking several different things a week, from cakes to candies to traditional pastries, and more often than not the results end up tossed out for the chickens because I’m insanely picky about my sweets.

One of the easiest ways to find responsible ingredients in your area is to use a basic internet search engine (I prefer Google). For example, when I plug the words “Michigan Flour Company” into the search box and within the first ten results there are three local milling companies! It’s amazing how well the internet works these days.

Basically when I plan to make something that I don’t already have ingredients for, I spend a good hour or two doing internet research to find out what is available locally, what is organic, what is sustainable and what is all of the above. In Michigan we have this amazing small-scale miller called “Jennings Bros” and they sell primarily at markets. Archibald “Archie” Jennings is a fantastic man who loves to share stories of growing up on a dairy farm, and his flours are locally grown, organic and stone-ground in small batches. They grow their own grains and are just about as sustainable as you can get in our area for grain flours, specialty flours and even pastry flours.

Another great way to find ingredients (and I know I’ve mentioned this before) is to just talk to people. Farmers and Farmers’ Market goers alike often LOVE to talk. It’s amazing how many sources I have gleaned just from talking to people at my local market and co-ops.

If you live far enough out from the cities, it’s even possible to source eggs just by wandering the back country roads until you spot a sign for farm eggs for sale, and in many states it is legal to buy eggs directly from the farmers. Or you can go all out and raise chickens or ducks for eggs yourself! Our laying flock consists of various heritage chicken breeds, and next spring our seven Khaki Campbell ducks will be laying in full swing and should provide us with an egg each, daily! Duck eggs are fantastic for baking and if you’ve never tried it, I strongly suggest it.

If you have do to buy non-local and you don’t have a good mom-and-pop co-op or shop around, I’ve found a decent source for backup ingredients can be (dare I say it?) Whole Foods Market, where I’ve been able to find fairly local flours, non-gmo sugars and free trade natural cocoa, which is another difficult ingredient to source. In fact, in some cases I have actually allowed Whole Foods to do a lot of research for me. They pay their own people to go out and source local foods that they can carry in their stores. You can just walk around the stores with a notebook and write down the businesses and farms that are on the the “Made in ______!” stickers and go home to source them more directly! (This is not cheating, however it might be farm-stalking…)

This is how I found the best local butter and milk near us, Calder Dairy. I was having a hard time finding dairy in the area that was small-farm based. We have a number of dairies in Michigan, but none that I could find could boast that they actually knew their cows. They would all source their milk from a gazillion different farms (that might be an exaggeration) and then all of the milk from those gazillion cows would get smushed into a homogeneous sludge they called milk. Okay, I’m a purest – I get that – but in Michigan we aren’t allowed to purchase raw milk, or even pasteurized milk straight from the farms. We have to take what we can get.

Calder Dairy keeps all of their own cows on non-certified mostly-organic pasture (which they are very honest about), and they grow their own hay, and source local grain to supplement their lady-cows. The dairy is open for public visits so you can actually go see the operation and see that the cows are healthy and just about as happy as they can be in a commercial dairy. My favorite part? This 65 year old dairy also offers old fashioned delivery to our door! We get our milk in glass jars and every week we put the empties on the cooler out front and just after noon we hear the dairy truck come rumblin’ up the drive. They even offer “Cream-top” or “natural” unhomogenized milk. It comes with the thick layer of cream at the top of the bottle which can either be shaken into the bottle or used for baking. I love this – I love everything about it!

The biggest sticking (heh) point in sourcing responsible baking ingredients, at least for me, has been sugar. Michigan has been known for it’s beet sugar for a very long time, but in 2008 (I think?) the courts decided to allow genetically modified beets to be grown for sugar in Michigan. Ick. Blech. Ugh. &%#$. Arg. (Am I allowed to say &%#$ on this blog? Hmm.)

There have been a number of movements in Michigan to get gardeners to grow their own sugar, but holy cow that seems like a lot of work to me. Hmm. Then again, I do need another project in my life… maybe I’ll start researching that some more. (Please, somebody talk me out of this!)

Anyway, I have started buying organic cane sugar since it is nearly impossible to find local sugar that is guaranteed GMO free. The fact that it is local at least somewhat makes up for the fact that it is shipped in from far off exotic places and possibly harvested by people with some pretty poor living conditions. Like I said, it’s sticky.

An alternative that I have started exploring is using honey in place of sugar, but in things like buttercream and meringue it’s just not realistic to expect the two types of sugars to behave exactly the same. The honey doesn’t hold it’s stiff form when mixed into eggs and begins to break down quickly in meringues so it has to be served ASAP after finishing – in other words this is not something I can use in baking for market sales. Ah well. I still use it in cookies and cakes to substitute at least part of the sweetener, and because I live in a state with lots of honey farmers (for now) it is easy to get local honey.

So as I continue to experiment with my baked goods I will also continue to develop recipes that include responsible ingredients. It never even crossed my mind to buy conventional or lower quality ingredients. Despite the sometimes added cost of the “good” stuff, it seems logical to me that in order to produce the highest quality and most ecologically responsible baked goods, I often have to sacrifice economy. People who taste my finished goods can taste the difference, and so can I. I prefer to eat my baked goods with a glass of (Calder’s) milk, a smile on my face and a clear conscience.

Have you ever tried to source local ingredients? What has been most difficult for you to source?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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With the first week of October Unprocessed behind us, we wanted to let you know how we’re doing!

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I (Xan) was already pretty unprocessed, but I confess that since last year I’ve slacked off quite a bit, mostly on the label-reading front.  So I made the discovery that you cannot buy unprocessed pasta at chain grocery stores. I’ll try the mercado, but I’m not holding out much hope, since pasta isn’t really a biggie in hispanic cuisine. But you never know. Suzy thinks I should make my own, but I’m not there yet. Will try the specialty shops.  The good news is our favorite tortilla chips, El Ranchero, unexpectedly have the following ingredients list: corn, lime, corn oil, salt. Here are the things I made this week, to keep me unprocessed:


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I have a terrible thing to admit. We ate out last night. Living here in town I find it increasingly difficult to avoid dining out on occasion. We ate at a Mexican style restaurant and I chose a real chicken breast topped with chorizo and real cheese. Sure, I could’ve avoided the processed chips … and the margaritas…, but I feel I could’ve made a far worse decision. At least it wasn’t typical fast food.

For the most part, meals around our house are pretty unprocessed. We make our own butter, breads, and even cheeses. Meat is purchased at the local butcher instead of the meat department of the grocery store, and our milk is from a local farm – and it’s raw. But that doesn’t mean that all of my meals are gourmet works of art or some Foodie delight. Lunch the other day was simply some rolled out dough from the bread that was rising, baked into a pita and topped with ground peanut butter and homemade jam.

school day lunch

Experimenting is fundamental at our house too. We get bored easily eating the same things over and over. This week I came up with a recipe for Shepard’s Pie. It needs some refining, but it was sooo much better than the mashed potato and canned veggie casserole I grew up with.

Better Shepard's Pie

And as a special treat this week, Hubby and my daughter made dinner for our Sunday guests! It’s one of our favorite meals from our restaurant days. I adore that she loves food as much as we do. It makes it simple to teach her how to eat healthy and gets her thinking about where and who her food comes from.

teaching

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Here at Chiot’s Run we were 98% unprocessed as usually. Last month (before the challenge started) her purchased a few of his favorite cookies at the health food store (Newman’s Own Organics Ginger-O’s) and he finished off that pack. At the beginning of the week I made a big batch of beef stew that we’ve been enjoying eating on, and a pot of chicken soup. When I’m busy, I like to make a few big pots of soup each week and we rotate between for quick meals.

This afternoon we went to the Algonquin Mill Festival. We enjoyed some pancakes made from flour they grind right there at the the steam powered mill (we took some of our homemade maple syrup in a jar so we didn’t have to eat the fake stuff) and Mr Chiots enjoyed some pumpkin pecan ice cream, it was also made by steam engine and contains only: milk, sugar, pumpkin, eggs, spices, nuts and vanilla. It’s really nice when you can find something to buy while out and about that’s not highly processed and full of chemicals & preservatives!

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How is your October: Unprocessed coming along? Have you learned anything or experimented with new foods?

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silos

Computers and modern transportation have made this world of ours seem a lot smaller. It makes luxuries that many of us might afford seem commonplace. I can order shea butter made from nuts handpicked by African locals, wool from the “Highlands of Peru”, and water bottled all the way in Fiji and have them shipped to me here in the midwest. But do I need them… especially when I can get a comparable item from somewhere closer to home?

It’s a mixed blessing. Modernization and change can be good thing, but I wonder, “At what cost?”. Not just the cost to my pocket book, but the cost to our surroundings – the local industries and businesses, job rates, fuel prices, and the impact on the environment.

Just like I have doubts about processed foods, I have some issues with purchasing food online. Some of these “must have” herbs, oils, seasonings, and out of season vegetables can hardly be better for the environment with all their fossil fuels and packing than all the pesticides and fertilizer a conventionally grown product may have. I have some concerns with purchasing food from places like Amazon, for example, simply because the items are organic, or they fall under the latest diet fad, or are the latest craze in grains. How can it be any better than picking up packaged processed organic convenience foods at your local grocery store?

olive oil

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that these goods are available to those that would otherwise have no access to local organic products or allergen-free foods. I love that my sister, with her gluten- and lactose-intolerances, can easily find alternatives for her diet. But for a majority of us it shouldn’t be an issue. One of my biggest fears is that globalization (in the sense of marketing and shipping) of the organic industry will hinder the local food movements. When we choose to order food and goods online, I feel like we’re cheating our neighboring farmers even the chance to decide if they want to go organic, or sell at the market or even direct to stores.

With all that said, I admit I’m no saint. I have my coffee and teas; I’ve ordered bags of flour and even Meyer lemons; nuts and avocados from the States and Mexican mangoes frequent my kitchen when they’re in season. I keep balsamic vinegar. And wine… I have not given up my wine (hic!). Let’s not even talk about Peppadews. It’s been said many times before, “Moderation is key”.  If you want to splurge on something, choose wisely and limit your purchases and usage. For example, I try to choose Californian olive oil instead of those imported from Italy, Argentina, and Tunisia. I also purchase in bulk any items that need to be shipped – like flour. But I do purchase a majority of my vegetables and fruits from local farmers – and I buy lots at a time to can, freeze, and store*. Doing so is an investment in future meal. Yes, it requires some time and very minimal equipment, but it sure is an improvement in value and taste. I also try to forage when I can, and I’m not shy about asking family and friends if I can pick extras from their gardens and trees. Those Peppadews I love so much? I limit the amount I purchase and keep them as a special treat: a luxury.

Canning SessionSet your own limits. What is acceptable to you? Would you be willing to spend a couple of Saturdays  at the end of summer to put up the products of a good harvest? Can you fit an hour a week into your plans to go to the farm stand or market instead of the grocery store? Is it really okay to purchase organic garlic from Argentina, when you can wait until fall and pick it up locally? Can you get by with eating foods grown strictly in your own country? Would you be willing to eat seasonally and regionally instead of buying out of season fruits and vegetables from California? What ingredients would you be willing to give up, grow yourself, or purchase locally instead of having them imported? Would you be willing to be an activist and get the ball rolling on a local farmers market?

I think it’s phenomenal that so many more small businesses are cropping up and offering organic goods where they weren’t previously available. I love that there are so many alternatives available for people that have food challenges, like allergies and intolerances. I also think it’s important to stay educated and keep questioning how we can make things better for our families, the environment, and our local businesses. Food quality is very important to me, and I frequently find myself researching what I can do to improve it while reducing my footprint. My time and pocket book is also important to me, and I always have to work on consolidating my projects and errands. So while I may purchase a few key items online, you won’t find me getting box-loads of organic meals delivered to my door. Instead you’ll find me bringing box-loads of organic veggies home from the market to put up for those long, cold winter days and searching for ways to advocate local resources.

Farmers Market

(*A note on purchasing and preparing foods in bulk: It’s amazing how much cabinet space is left when you get rid of all those factory processed and packaged foods. Cans and jars of goods stack easily and don’t have as much empty space thanks to settling. Freezer space is nice if you have it, I’m currently storing a lot in my parents’ deep freeze since ours is long gone. I keep 20 pounds worth of flour in air-tight storage bins and have kept long-storing items like winter squash under my bed.

It may be intimidating to spend the little extra cash up front, but the investment of a little money and time up front will save you money and time later down the road. Less grocery shopping, means more time and more money in your pocket. Start small and add more projects as you feel more comfortable and can afford to add more to your project list. Share projects with someone else to save money and time, find canning jars and storage containers at garage sales or look for end of season sales. Over time you will notice a difference in the amount of money you spend on food, but it may take a while depending on how much you actually prepare and store.)

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– Jennifer is also at Unearthing this Life, is on Twitter, and has written for Rhythm of the Home.

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