Friday, January 28, 2011

Ode to Edna*

In 1993 a car was born and was brought into a family that cared for her.  She was given too much free time and was only driven a few miles a day, mostly to deliver meals to the elderly or to visit U of M's Yost Arena for Hockey practices and games.  At 15 years she hit a rebellious patch and in defiance against those who loved her, she adorned a mostly-permanent Ohio State window decal**.  In this period of independence and depression, she stopped caring for herself.  She rusted a little around her fender and her parts wore thin.  Her name was Edna and in May of 2009 her family gave her away.

In August of 2009 a recent graduate of the great University of Michigan was in need of transportation for her new life away from campus, for job searches, and for trips across the state.  Edna had acquired 92,000 miles and a small crack in her windshield.  Her interior light had been lost and many of her fuses were irreparable.  She was forced to sit in the hot sun with a "For Sale" sign across her hood for weeks on end while the angry man who now owned her turned away family after family.  She openly needed new tires, as she was still wearing her originals from the early 90s.  She secretly needed an alternator, which she disguised as a weak battery charge, as well as a new steering pump, break pads and break lines.  She didn't dare appear indigent because she desperately wanted a new home.

The recent graduate took her on a test drive and she did her very best to impress.  The graduate took her to a secret auto shop just down the street to give her a check-up and to have her deemed a reliable and safe vehicle.  And that very afternoon, the graduate adopted her from her miserable life at the old auto-shop with the angry man.

In the time shortly after her adoption, Edna and the recent graduate formed a symbiotic relationship.  The girl took care of Edna and Edna took the girl across the state and back.  Edna helped her find a new home and a new job.  She taught her valuable lessons in car repair and gendered favor acquisition.  In fact, the day after her adoption her alternator failed and she taught the recent grad that when you get screwed, its okay to cry your way out of it - the two both benefited from a new alternator with installation at no additional cost.

She became a favorite at the secret auto shop and the owner, Steve, boasted about her efficient archaic design, "they just don't make them like that anymore."  After Edna's headlight warning bell burned out, she taught the recent graduate about responsibility and memory aids - and how to jump a battery at 10 o'clock at night on the highest level of a parking structure...or at 11 o'clock at night in the parking lot of an Urgent Care Center in an unfamiliar city...or at Steve's fact, Edna taught the graduate how to purchase and replace a car a blizzard.

Edna was full of practical wisdom.  She taught the graduate about interior car care, door seals, and how to clean moisture mold from upholstery.  She taught her the sound and feel of a failing steering pump and how to change a tire.  In a particularly surprising lesson, she even strengthened the graduate's relationship with her future husband.  The graduate and her fiance never felt as close as they did on the 4th of July 2010 when Edna's muffler broke from her body and remained partially attached...just enough to send patriotically festive sparks flying from her rear anytime she moved.  The couple spent 90 bug infested, dirt filled minutes on the ground under Edna trying to remove her muffler from its welded and industrial rubber banded grip using nothing but a dinner fork, brute force and a little prayer as twilight approached.  When her muffler finally broke free, the sweaty couple cheered and embraced and felt that if that they could accomplish such a task without argument or passive aggression - surely, together, they could accomplish anything.

It is today that Edna celebrates a major milestone.  On this special morning commute, Edna smoothly rolled past her 100,000th mile.  She is happy and healthy.  And with the money the graduate recently saved by switching car insurance - soon she will have a crack-free windshield.  Edna proudly sports a "University of Michigan Alumni" sticker on her American built body.

*Alternately titled, "A Car and her Girl."

**In case you were worried, the graduate was able to cover Edna's OSU decal, shame from her past, with an Apple sticker.  She continues to wear her well earned meals-on-wheels badge.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Name Change

Last night I was playing around with tumblr for a while trying to decide if I wanted to change my blog over to their format.  I don't think I do.  While there are a few aspects of tumblr that I enjoy - the format is just not traditional enough for me.  I may double post for a while until I make a complete decision.  However, I did decide (been on the fence for a while now) to change my url.

When I first put this blog together, I had quite a few quotes that I found inspiring, but most of their variations in url form were taken at blogger in one way or another.  So, I settled on the quote from Dr. W. Edwards Deming: "It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."  It was not ideal, but it got what I thought was my message through.  It turns out though - having the word "Survival" in your blog when writing about ecological life changing and canning and self-sufficiency is a turn off for a lot of people.  I'm not a survivalist, but I would consider myself on the road to "thrivialist," a word I first read from the very inspiring Kate at Living the Frugal Life.

I like that Deming's quote says - you don't have to change - you really don't - no one will make you.  But if you don't, you and many around you may, in fact, perish.  *Jon Stewart Shrug* Ya know? Its something I think is pretty true - we cannot keep taking our resources for granted.  We cannot keep living a as if we have a spare planet in the back on which we can rely.  However, I don't believe that standing on a soapbox will bring change.  I don't believe that you can guilt someone in to change - it isn't productive.  Deming's quote, tongue in cheek, elicits those images in my mind of green-purists who can out-eco anyone.  I am not that person, nor do I ever wish to be.

While writing, I frequently have the TV on in the background  because I need the noise (yeah, I use the TV as a talking lamp - but that's for another post).  It's usually playing a TiVo'd episode (yeah, I have TiVo - yet another post) of Golden Girls, Frasier or Dharma & Greg.  I enjoy quotes from all of these show - but two of my favorites are from Dharma & Greg.

1) "You can't fault a pig for having a shorter neck than a giraffe."

2) "Failure is the compost from which we grow success."

I've tried to find credit to these wise words - but the shows are the only thing that come up when I search.  The first, while wise, does not translate well into a blog title but I think the second does.  It seems particularly fitting for this blog.  And so today, I made the change.  I don't really have followers - so it seems to be relatively safe once I've sent out a few emails to friends and family who care to read occasionally.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quinoa Stirfry (and Zim)

1 cup quinoa (soaked for 15-30 minutes, rinsed)
1 cup water
1/2 cup beef stock

1 small onion, diced
3 garlic gloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
2 sticks celery, diced small
2 1/2 cups cabbage, shredded
2-3 green onions, sliced
2 Tbs. coconut oil
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 tsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce (optional - no soy for us)
1/2 tsp 5 spice powder (optional - we had it)
Large pinch of salt
Fresh Pepper, to taste
Small handful cilantro, shredded (optional - we had it)

  1. Let quinoa soak in water for at least 15 minutes - then rinse.  Combine quinoa, 1 cup fresh water and beef stock in a small stock pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let cook until fluffy (20 minutes?)
  2. In the mean time, prep vegetables.
  3. Heat oils and sauces in a pan (or wok) on high heat.  Add onions, garlic, and spices (not cilantro) until aromatic.  Add vegetables and cook for 10 minutes or so - stirring occasionally.  Add quinoa and allow to cook through.
  4. Add cilantro and serve. 

My sous chef, Zim

Zim gets bored when I don't have anything for him to prep

But he checks in regularly.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Beef Stroganoff pictures because I was too busy eating - that and I lost my phone (which is my only picture taking device).  Seriously delicious.

1/2 lb meat (beef tips, ground beef/lamb, etc.)
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. fat of choice (tallow, lard, coconut oil)
3 carrots, diced small
1/4 onion, diced small
3 garlic gloves, diced small
2 cup stock
1 cup red wine (something worth drinking)
1/4 cup creme fresh/sour cream
2 tsp. flour/cornstarch for GF
1 bay leaf

2 cups cooked pasta, potatoes, or rice

  1. Brown seasoned beef in a pan of hot oil; once fully cooked spoon out beef and set aside.
  2. Add beef tallow/fat to the pan.  When fat is hot add aromatics and sweat until translucent.
  3. Add high quality stock and red wine and bay leaf.  Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer until reduced.  (I reduced mine for about 15 minutes - I was in a hurry.)
  4. Whisk in flour until liquid thickens.  Add ground beef back into the pan and mix in creme fresh/sour cream.
  5. Serve beef sauce over your starch.  Oh my goodness.
I've never cooked with red wine before - especially in sauce form.  Sammit and I don't drink - so we never have wine in the house - but this bottle has been hanging out since we received it as a wedding gift.  We'll be having wine in the house from this point forward.  

You could also add mushrooms to this sauce - they would be wonderful!  I just didn't have any.

I licked the bowl.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Goals, #1

In 2010 I made a long term goal that in 5 years I didn't want to have to set foot in a grocery store.  That spring I joined a meat CSA and planted my first solo-outside garden.  I include "solo" and "outside" because my first garden experiences were with my mother when I was 4 years old, helping her plant and weed while she was pregnant with my little sister - and because I attempted some container gardening in my apartment during my college years; those attempts failed.  You can see my first "big-girl" garden in earlier posts on the blog.

Going grocery-store free in 5  years is, in my naive opinion, very doable - but it won't happen over night and it won't happen on its own.  While I think I made decent progress in 2010, also familiarizing myself with 3 of the nearby farmer's markets, I also could've done a lot more.  It is that thought that spurs this post - and a list of 2011 goals to keep my on the path of thrivalism.

In 2011 I would like to...

1) Expand our garden.
My first garden was 100 square feet and consisted of 5 "plots" each divided by a foot wide path of red brick for easy access.  In it, we successfully grew several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, herbs, carrots and a cantaloupe or two.  We unsuccessfully grew broccoli, cauliflower and green beans.  And straight up failed at watermelons, zucchini, and brussel's sprouts.  (The failed watermelons and sprouts are a no-brainer, but the zucchini is still a mystery).  I can honestly say that I have never been as happy or proud as when I was in that garden.  (I was terrified for most of my wedding day, so the garden still wins out, despite my undying love for my partner).

In the last few months of fall, I watched our back yard, filled with beautiful but aggravatingly shady-providing trees, to try and map out another prime location for planting.  It seems that the only ideal location is a bed that existed when we moved in - and in the summer it blooms with purple irises and pink & white peonies.  I don't particularly want to tear into it, though I'm going to see if I can't rearrange it a little next year.  After all, my first garden shared a bed with a beautiful rose bush - so who's to say we can't have aesthetics and function? I'm convinced, again naively, that the perimeter of our garage would be promising for some partial-sun loving plants.

The next few months I will be reading up on gardening and plotting out my beds.  While I have a lot to learn, I sometimes think my lack of education allowed for some great innovation on our first garden.  Had I listened to my seed packets and much of the reading I had done, I wouldn've have been nearly as successful (or just damn lucky.  I'm convinced our success this year came from two factors: 1) Neglect.  I lived an hour away from my garden last spring and it had to learn to live on it's own.  It wasn't over-watered and it developed strong roots of its own.  2) Wasps.  We had a family of wasps living in our fence near the garden.  The more I read about organic gardening, the more I learn that wasps are wonderful for keeping pests at bay.)

In this year's garden I want to...

a) Double our tomato production, especially the sungolds we planted (little orange bursts of awesome).
b) Double our carrot & cucumber production
c) Succeed at the plants that were sub-par last year (Zucchini, Watermelon, Green Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Lettuce)
d) Plant pumpkins in the back (for our 2nd annual pumpkin carving party)
e) Attempt to plant garlic and potatoes
f) Double the herb garden (and preserve by either drying or freezing)
g) Attempt collard greens

Long term (read: When Sammit and I move to our own house) I would like to add corn, asparagus and other greens to our veggies as well as strawberries, raspberry & blueberry bushes, and apple & cherry trees. I'd also like to attempt lemon or limes trees (to be kept in the house during winters).  I dream of pears, grapes, & pinto beans.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Elimination Diet - Wrapping up week 1 (Steak/Risotto Recipe)

Sammit and I have survived our first week of the elimination diet (suggested by my ND to see if I have any food allergies).  While it hasn't been easy, it hasn't been as hard as I thought it was going to be.

Week 1 - Cons:

  1. I'm still really focused on the foods we can't eat.
  2. Dear god I want a glass of milk.
  3. I miss the taste of butter.
  4. I've avoided a few social engagements because of diet restrictions.
  5. This takes a lot of planning - there is no alternative.  If I forget to pack lunches the night before - I'm late to work - eating out at work is absolutely not a fall-back option.
Week 1 - Pros:
  1. I'm eating way more vegetables than I used to eat - now realizing that I didn't eat nearly as many veggies as I thought I was.
  2. I'm eating different foods (celery root, yams, kale, brown and wild rices, fish, salads, olive oils); there's a variety in my diet that I lacked before.
  3. I'm learning to cook in a way I didn't know I didn't know.  I've always thought I could cook - and while I can make food, I'm not sure if I can cook.  I'm picking up new techniques that are necessary now.
  4. While I don't feel completely different - I have felt more energized a few days this week.  Still inconclusive though.
  5. I've eaten some of the best meals I've ever made this week - and here I'll share one:

Simple Seared Steak with Complicated Asparagus Brown Rice Risotto

I started the Risotto when I took my steak out of the fridge (to let it come up to room temp before cooking).  This particular cut (I wish I had taken a picture prior to cooking it) was purchased at a local market.  We typically get our meat from a local CSA - but the storm last month prevented me from picking up our order.  While I love the idea of our CSA meat - I have some trouble with a few of the cuts and I really enjoyed having a nice trimmed flank steak from the store.  This was a grass-fed, grain-finished cut sans antibiotics.

1 cup brown rice
7 cups HM beef stock (can use boxed stock, but nothing beats this gelatinous nutrient filled goodness)
1/2 cup shredded beef (optional, I had a little left over from a roast a few days ago)
1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3rds

Favorite cut of steak - sized appropriately
1 Tbs. coconut oil
1 cup HM beef stock


  1. Pull the steak out of the fridge and let it come up to room temp on the counter.  Bring 7 cups of beef stock to a boil on the stove while browning 1 cup of rice in a large pot.
  2. Add a ladle of boiling stock to the browned rice and stir.  Risotto cooks slowly - so keep stirring the rice until all the stock has been absorbed.  Add additional ladles of stock one at a time, waiting until the last has been absorbed before adding another.  Stir stir stir, keeping the pot on medium-low heat.
  3. After 30 minutes preheat your oven to 500 (F) with an oven proof pan inside.  When the oven comes up to temp - move pan (use an oven mitt!) from the oven to a stove burner on high.  Add coconut oil and let it heat up.  Lay the steak in the pan and DO NOT touch it - let it sear and get back to stirring the risotto.
  4. After 2-3 minutes flip steak and allow the other side to sear for the same amount of time.  Once seared on both sides, put the pan and steak(s) back into the oven and cook for additional time.  I prefer 3-4 minutes or so for a  medium steak (145-150(F)).  In the mean time, stir that risotto.
  5. Pull steak out and allow it to rest on a plate for 10-15 minutes (cover in tin foil).  If risotto looks creamy - test the rice to see if it is soft - if soft, stir in asparagus and beef (and a spoon of butter if you're not avoiding dairy).  Turn heat off and cover.  
  6. In the mean time, deglaze the steak pan.  Add 1 cup of beef stock to the hot pan and scrape the delicious little bits from the bottom until everything is loosened.  Bring stock to a high simmer and allow it to reduce and thicken into a delicious sauce - pour over steak and risotto and serve.

My rice was a little undercooked - but after
putting it back on the heat for about 10 minutes - it softened right up.

Monday, January 10, 2011

52 New-To-Us Soups - #2 Chicken & Vegetable Soup

Shot of my counter amidst this soup affair
1/2 gallon HM chicken stock (highly recommended, though boxed stock or broth will work)
4-5 carrots, chopped (I like slicing diagonally)
2 celery stocks, chopped (1/4 inch thick, including leaves)
1/4 large celery root, thinly sliced
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/4 head green cabbage, sliced into ribbons
3 cups shredded chicken (left over from roasted chicken)
A few large pinches of salt
1 tsp white pepper

All my ingredients - getting to know each other

  1.  Heat stock in a large soup pot.  Add carrots and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Add remaining veggies and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  3. Add shredded chicken and heat for another 5-10 minutes.
  4. Serve Hot.  Reheats well, but looses color. 

I think this would be really cook with a little tomato paste or some dropped eggs (neither of which are available to me while testing allergies).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Poached Pears

Disclaimer: When I was looking for information on the foods Sammit and I could or could not eat while searching for my suspected food allergy I found a lot of conflicting lists.  In the end, I settled on the list of foods to avoid from my ND - so I apologize if this recipe contains foods that you are not able to eat on your elimination diet.

 Sammit and I put together a nice dinner last night (when I say together - I made dinner and Sammit set the table and did the dishes).  I foil baked [Wild Alaskan] cod with some Old Bays & garlic and added a side of wild rice (cooked in HM bone stock) and steamed broccoli.  I was going to take a picture because it was just beautiful - but I'm finding that the better the meal, the less likely I am to have a picture.  I'll work on that.  But the real show stopper was dessert, something to which we thought we'd long said goodbye while looking for my allergy: poached pears!

Now, I've never made or had poached pairs before this, so if you're familiar (and a big fan) you might not like these.  We aren't wine drinkers and rarely ever have it in the house so even though the alcohol would cook off (alcohol is not allowed on the ED) we didn't use any in our recipe.  We also can't have processed sugar, so the simple syrup was out as well.  What to do - What to do?

2 cups water
2 Tbs. wildflower honey (from this Adorable man at the Eastern Market)
1 Tbs. maple syrup (we are using up our grade A and are searching for a local grade B variety)
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed - reserving both the seeds and the pod
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped or grated (less if you find ginger to be strong)
Handful of blueberries
2 firm pears, cored with skins peeled off (skins and core can be composted or used as an ingredient to flavor the liquid)


1. Add all but the pears to pot appropriately sized to house the pears and bring to a boil.  (I used a high walled but small pot that made it easier to evenly cook the pears - however the lack of surface area caused the syrup to take longer to reduce).

2. Turn the heat down to a simmer and gently add the peeled pears (as they cook they will become easier to bruise).  Place a lid on the pot and let simmer for 20-30 minutes (I let them cook while I made dinner).  Alternately you could put them in an oven-safe pot and let them bake at 250 for several hours.

3. When pears are soft (20-30 minutes on stove top), gently remove them from the sauce and let them cool.  Strain out the solid contents and keep the liquid in the pot - placing over medium heat and allowing it to reduce (stirring regularly) to your desired syrup thickness - I like mine to coat a spoon.  Now - you can keep the blueberries to serve, but we composted ours - they looked too much like Violet Beauregarde for my taste.

4.  Spoon syrup over pears and serve.

Liquid reducing into a syrup
Sammit and I loved the taste of these - pears, honey, ginger with hints of cinnamon and specks of vanilla and blueberry - not to mention the gorgeous color.  A true compliment from Sammit is him remarking on the food without me having to ask if he likes it (he likes everything).  Not only did he think they were delicious, he suggested we serve them at a dinner party; we don't really have dinner parties, but the thought was touching and I'll put these on the short list of things to serve his parents someday.  We also both agreed that as long as it doesn't turn out I'm allergic to dairy, these would be fabulous with some real whipped cream or a dollop of ice cream.  And should I ever decide to get really crazy, I thought about coring ice cream and serving it INSIDE the pear.

Our final product

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kelly the Kitchen Kop Link

There are a few bloggers I've been following for some time now - people who've inspired me to keep my own journal of change - and while I'd like to take the time to talk about them all (and I will), Kelly (from Kelly the Kitchen Kop) has created a give-away, bringing her to the front of the line.

Kelly is located in the Grand Rapids, MI area - where I grew up and where my mother still lives.  She is one of my food heroes and she regularly totes the Weston A. Price Line.  She is holding a giveaway for one of her sponsors, Green Pasture.  You should check it out - and here's a link!

And because I don't like posts without pictures - here's a shot of Kelly and her husband - taken from her About Me section on the site.

Aren't they cute?  Seriously, check it out.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

52 New-To-Us Soups - #1 Carrot Soup

  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken stock (home made)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh dill weed (or 1 Tbs dried)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • Big pinch of salt

  1. In a medium sized stock pot, over high heat, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until carrots are soft.
  2. With a stick blender, puree the soup, return to stock pot and simmer for an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Season with additional dill or garlic if needed.

Step 1 - all ingredients in the pot

Step 2 - Blend ingredients (I use my stick blender)

Enjoy - garnished with extra dill

Monday, January 3, 2011

Changing Our Diet - Elimination Diet Day One

Sammit has committed to completing an elimination/challenge diet with me this month.  My Naturopathic Doctor (ND) suggested I do this to tease out any food allergies or intolerances I might have that are causing  a slew of symptoms (headaches, chronic fatigue, mood swings, difficult weight loss, low body temp).  The biggest suspects are gluten, soy and dairy but as a precaution we're removing a plethora of foods.  Sammit doesn't think he has any allergies, so he's completing the diet for moral support - also because I prepare 100% of the household food.

We're eliminating: corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes (other than sweet), citrus, melons, bananas, strawberries, all gluten (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, barley, breads, pastas, pastries, etc.), all soy, peanuts, pistachios, cashews, sesame seeds, red meat, smoked meats, shellfish, catfish, deli cuts/hot dogs, sausage, all dairy, eggs, refined fats, sweeteners (other than honey and small amounts of maple syrup), caffeine, and alcohol.

It sounds like a lot - and in all honesty, it is - but I'm realizing that a good part of it is because I don't know how to cook much beyond meat and potatoes.  We're left with a large variety of fruits and vegetables, rice and grains (amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet), some nuts and seeds, pastured poultry and wild fish, olive and coconut oils, fresh herbs and spices and teas - this is delicious stuff, if you know what to do with it, and I'm slowly learning (slowly being the operative word).

Today's menu included:

Breakfast: Blueberry/Cherry/Grape Mix

Lunch: Fresh Greens Salad with HM Italian Dressing, Rice & Beans w/ Shredded Chicken sauteed in  Coconut oil and seasoned with cumin and cilantro

Dinner: Sweet Potato "fries" and roasted chicken breast.

Snacks: Herbal Tea, Raw Seed/Nut Mix (Brazil Nuts, Almonds, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds), Apples

I made the mistake of putting red pepper flakes in my rice & beans mix, not making the connection that it contained "peppers"and Sammit made the misstep of eating a mini-snicker's bite - so we're off to a rocky start.

Mexican Fried Beans & Rice with Chicken and Cilantro