Mar 30, 2014

Meat and Egg Share

I've had the pleasure of knowing Katie, aka Farm Girl, for about 5 years.  My kids loooove the sausage, bacon and eggs from Katie.  She "gets" real food and does farming right.  If you're a conscientious meat eater, look no further and sign up for her meat share.  -Julie
Farm Girl Meats is enrolling right now for the 2014 meat/egg share!

What is it? 8 months of meat (pork, beef, & chicken) and/or eggs from our farm, delivered biweekly throughout the season to our Little Rock drop point. Some shareholder perks: a regular newsletter with in-depth updates from the farm, plenty of opportunity to customize their bundles, plus a hefty discount on any additional items ordered.
Sounds great, but it all comes down to the dollaz, right? Here it is:
  • Meat Share - 20 lbs per month - $806 ($150 deposit, $82/mo)
  • Full Egg - 4 dozen per month - $136 ($20 deposit, $14.50/mo)
  • Half Egg - 2 dozen per month - $72 ($20 deposit, $6.50/mo)
Convinced? We hope so, since this is possibly the very best deal you can get from us. You get somewhere around 160 lbs of meat by the end of the season, your choice from our inventory, at about $5/lb. The mix includes bacon, chops, steaks, link sausages, all kinds of things that often run twice that amount. Friends grilling out and you need more brats? Anything additional you purchase is 15% off retail!
To Sign Up: Email ASAP and let her know you want to join the team, she will get you the necessary paperwork to get rolling.
That's it! Now you're a shareholder and you can start picking up meat Tuesday, April 1.

We also allow people (non-shareholders) to preorder whatever they like from our inventory for delivery at our meatshare pickup (1st & 3rd Tuesday of the month, 4-6pm). If folks are interested in this option, they should head over to the website, and subscribe to the newsletter.
 - Katie

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Mar 27, 2014

Easy, Chemical Free Yard & Veggie Fertilizer

I tell tell my kids to "run like mad into the house when you see the poison trucks coming."  Many people on our street use a lawn maintenance company, one that sprays fertilizers and weed killers.  Call me paranoid, but I don't want my kids near that stuff.

So imagine my excitement when I realized that I could fertilize my lawn (and veggies) easily and naturally.  When using once living, or organic, materials there is little danger of burning your plants from over application (common with synthetic fertilizers).  Plus, you will not be polluting the streams or harming anything, like children.  Kids can play in the yard immediately after application.  Or heck, while you're spreading it.

Natural fertilizers, often used by organic or chemical free growers, improve biodiversity and long term improvement of the soil.  These things are translated to healthier plants (i.e. tastier veggies) and more micro-nutrients for human absorption.  The above recipe I used on my yard but will also use in my garden.

As you can see from the picture below, the zoysia is just beginning to emerge here in central Arkansas, after a long winter.  Now is the time to give your lawn a boost of energy.  If you are able to disperse just before a gentle rain, even better!
Synthetic fertilizers contain a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium - otherwise known as NPK.  The recipe I used mimics popular synthetic fertilizer combinations and adds other trace elements.  Win-win.

Wood ash nutrients varies with the species of wood that is burned.  The typical range is
- phosphorous 1 to 3%
- potassium 3 to 14%
- calcium 14 to 28%
- magnesium 1 to 3%
- sulfur 0.3 to 0.5%.

Bone meal brings phosphorus to the table and has small amounts of magnesium, iron and zinc as well as other trace elements - minerals that I would like to have in greater abundance in my diet.

Blood meal packs the highest amount of nitrogen of all organic sources.  If you make it into a "tea" (wet application), the faster it will be utilized by plants.

Depending on the quality and quantity of bone/blood meal purchased, it is possible to fertilize your yard for under $20 - with some left over to use in the garden.  For the remainder that I will use in the garden, I am also going to add a bit of epsom salts for additional magnesium.  (Tomatoes especially like epsom salts.)  The application rate of this mixture in the garden will be about 1 cup per 30 square feet.
Crudely we measured each amount according to volume.  My nine-year-old loved the mixing part.

Mel Bartholomew, father of the square-foot gardening technique, recommends this blend for vegetables:

1 part blood meal
2 parts bone meal
3 parts wood ash
4 parts leaf mold.

The nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium value of this mix works out at approximately 2.6-4.9-2.4 or the same ratio as the standard 5- 10-5 recommended for vegetable gardens.

Check out this link for additional organic mixtures.

As for killing weeds, the only successful non-chemical solution I've found for lawns is elbow grease.  Pull weeds of the yard before they sprout seeds and have babies.  In the garden, mulch liberally around your veggies.

What do you use on your lawn?  In the garden?

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Mar 25, 2014

Plant Something

Even before having access to a community garden, I coerced my husband to build a raised bed in the back yard.  We've since moved and that raised bed is next to the driveway.  This year, for the first time, I planted kale in the fall.  Who would have expected it to survive the winter, let alone this winter?  We have enjoyed messes of greens all winter.  I love gardening is frugal and I know what chemicals are on it (none.)
Gardening is cathartic for me.  I love digging my hands in the dirt, pulling weeds, watering, sweating, everything about it.  What's not to love about a juicy ripe red tomato that you've babied to fruition?
My baby had a blast today at our community garden.

Even if you have labeled yourself "a black thumb" give it another chance this year.  I've been playing in the dirt all my life and I learn something new every year.  And there is so much to learn about growing things.  So many teachable moments for children and adults alike.
Above: raised bed by my driveway, almost 3 years ago.
My children?  They love it, too.  Maybe they are not as devoted to watering when it's 110 degrees but they enjoy playing with the hose.
Caroline is my best garden helper.  Saggy diaper and all.

Some have even been known to eat a bit of dirt.  I like to think of it as additional beneficial bacteria. :)
 She no longer eats the dirt but likes to play in it nonetheless.
Reaping a harvest is super fun.  Below is my oldest, when he was 6, with our first cucumber that year.  My daughter will eat cherry tomatoes as quick as she can pull them off the vine.  I love they know where (some of) their food comes from.
Don't have a space for a raised bed?  Try container gardening.  Herbs work great in pots and pack a mighty punch to dinner.  In the pots below I grew basil, thyme, and sage.  Rosemary is another hearty herb (read: hard to kill.)  In the raised bed below, I grew swiss chard, peppers, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers.
One summer I attempted to hide our gas meter with a tomato plant.
This sweet sugar is playing in the pot that grew a billion jalapeño peppers.  Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration but it was prolific.
Whether pots or raised beds, having them close to your house makes for easy pickin's when it's dinner time.  Just last night I ran out and grabbed some green onions to enjoy with our dinner.

Fresh makes everything better.

PS - Argenta Farmers Market opens this weekend.

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Mar 24, 2014

The ONE Thing Every Kitchen Needs

A friend of mine recently asked, "What should I ask for my birthday for the kitchen?"  She's relatively new to the real food scene, and has borrowed a few of my appliances.  Her in-laws are coming into town and want to buy a nice gift.

There are many things that you can "make do" with or simply "do without."  Don't have a whisk?  A fork will do.  Can't afford a food processor?  Usually your blender will get the job done in small batches or use a knife until your arm falls off.  Would love a stand mixer?  The hand-held ones work pretty well - and in absence of those, a giant spoon will get 'er done.

Today as I was chopping, on the heels of attending a free knife skills class at Williams-Sonoma, I thought, I need to tell her to get a sharp knife.

A good, sharp knife is irreplaceable.  

I love mine so much I travel with it (I have a plastic cover for it).  The chef's knife on the far right in the above picture is my all-time-fav.  The brand name is Global, and is lightweight.  It won't break your wrist holding it all day.  I've had it about 12 years now.  It was a gift from my in-laws.  

Believe it or not, I remember using "the knife" for the first time.  Taking a carrot from the fridge and the knife I had been using, along with my new one, I sat the carrot on my chopping board.  First I made a cut with my old knife.  Then I cut the same carrot with my new Global.  Woah.  It went through like butter.  Easy peasy.  

Having a super sharp knife made chopping a fridge full of veggies so fun!  The sharp knife actually made it possible to do the "rocking motion" that professional chefs use when chopping a mountain of veggies.  A dull blade makes that skill virtually impossible.

When visiting other homes, most people will have a relatively sharp paring knife.  Trying to chop an onion with a small knife is like trying to unload a truck full of dirt with a spoon.  It works but takes for-ev-ah.  That's why I bring along my knife.  And when people use it they instantly break into knife envy.  I have to keep an eye on it until it's safe in my drawer at home.

The orange handled knife, above, has a ceramic blade and I've been quite impressed with how sharp it was when I bought it and continues to hold the bevel over 15 months later.  I think it was about $15 at Tuesday Morning.

Try Before You Buy
If you find yourself in the market to buy a knife, let me recommend actually holding a few in your hand.  Go to a store that sells sharp knifes, like Williams-Sonoma, and ask to put your dirty grubby little hands on them.  Even better is to ask if you could take it for a test drive.  Williams-Sonoma usually keeps veggies on hand for this purpose.  What feels awesome in my hand may not feel great in yours.  (Although I think most women prefer lighter knives, like Global.)  In addition, the shape of the blade will influence how you do the rocking/chopping motion.  So at the very least, if you are unable to actually chop something in the store, please put the knife on a cutting board and pretend to get a feel for its performance.

Well, that's the ONE thing I think every kitchen needs.  What do you say?

- Julie

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Mar 20, 2014

Creamy Salsa Chicken

My friend Erin brought this meal after my third baby was born.  Today I'm taking it to a new mom.  I love that this recipe yields a lot of food, has real ingredients, and best of all most people like it (even my pickiest kid!)

There are many variations when making this recipe.  It just depends on your likes, preferences, and let's face it: what's in the pantry or fridge.

The basic outline is:

 - chicken
 - beans
 - salsa
 - corn
 - cream cheese

Here's how I made it recently.

Cook a whole chicken (mine was about 4.5 pounds) in a crock pot until the meat is falling off the bones.  Mine was still partially frozen when I started at 8am.  I turned it to high then turned it off around 2pm.  I probably would have turned it off sooner but I was away from home from 11-2.

Debone the chicken, saving the bones to make broth.  You could also cook the chicken on low over night and debone first thing in the morning.  And let your broth simmer all day.

If you're in a hurry to get dinner on the table, mix everything else in a stock pot for the stovetop and stir until warm through.  Since it was 2pm, I put it all back the crock pot and stirred every hour or so until dinner.

More details

I used black beans that I'd soaked and boiled earlier in the day.  I just kept adding them until it looked like the ratio I wanted.  If you're using cans, I would plan for 3 or so cans, rinsed and drained.  Of course a mixture of beans would be great, too - pinto, kidney - whatever fits your fancy. Another option is to use only part of the chicken and save the rest for another meal, which would minimize the amount of beans but also leftovers.

As for the corn, I am so fortunate because my mom grows and freezes the corn for me!  If you don't have that option, then buy a bag of frozen sweet corn.  I recommend organic since corn is a very popular GMO.

On hand I had a 16 oz jar of salsa but it wasn't quite enough.  So I added another 15 oz can of diced tomatoes.  It would have been even better if I'd used 28oz.  Or more salsa.  Use what's in the pantry.  If you use tomatoes, be sure to add additional flavor like chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder (or fresh).

I used 1.5 bricks of cream cheese but two whole ones would have made it even creamier.  If using less chicken, one block will suffice.

Taste, salt, and adjust.  This recipe is really about ratios and what your taste buds like.

Optional if you want to get fancy:
I had some frozen diced peppers that I added, as well as a chopped onion that I quickly sautéed with 4-5 cloves of garlic.  Serve with avocado or guacamole.  And of course some kind of ferment.  We enjoy radish relish and banana peppers with Mexican food.

Serve with rice made in bone broth.


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Mar 11, 2014

6 Tips for Busy People to Make Real Food

Let's face it.  We're all busy.  And we all need to eat.  Here are some tips for getting real food on the table.

1.  Meal Plan
A mentor once said to me, "Fail to plan?  Then plan to fail."  The adage is especially true when it come to getting real food in your belly.  If I spend 10-15 minutes once a week thinking through our meals, the dividends are priceless.  Grocery shopping is easier because I have a list.  There is less stress during the week because I have a plan at dinner time (or the hours before) - a plan that does not include a "quick trip to get that one thing."

2.  Start early in the day.
Usually, if my dinner meal isn't mostly prepared by noon, we aren't having anything to rave about for dinner.  I'm a mom of little children and we are all tired and needy during the dinner hour (as well as the few hours prior).  It has become my habit to begin dinner as I am cleaning up from breakfast.  Depending on the meal, I may chop here and there, wash a few dishes, stir the pot, etc. and eventually dinner lands on the table after several hours.  They aren't continual or stressful hours.

If you aren't a homemaker,  just five minutes of prep (or chopping) before work can help.  Set out bowls or other equipment you will need once home from work.

3.  Use the weekends to get a jump start on the week.
Normally Sunday night is when I meal plan and grocery shop.  Sometimes on Saturdays I will have a marathon cooking day - mostly because Hubby is home to help meet the needs of our little children.  But you don't have to sacrifice your entire weekend for the sake of food.  Doing small chores can reap huge gains.  For example, recently, I peeled and chopped two butternut squash and stuck it all in the fridge for later meals.  I didn't even use the squash that day.  I had a bit of extra time in the kitchen so I took advantage of it.  Other things I might do in advance are:

 - soak and cook several pounds of beans (freeze in smaller portions)
 - roast and debone two whole chickens (freezing some meat in smaller portions)
 - make broth from the above chickens (freeze extra in smaller portions)
 - brown two pounds of ground beef instead of one.
 - chop several onions or other veggies all at once.
 - cook a double portion of rice (depends on your meal plan for the week, I don't freeze rice).
 - wash/chop greens
 - roast several sweet potatoes at once (or more than one dinner's worth of veggies)

You are more likely to eat veggies if they are prepared and waiting to be cooked.

4.  Double a recipe and freeze half.
If you're going through the motions and mess to make a meal, why not double the ingredients and save yourself time in the kitchen?  Some recipes that I have doubled and work well to freeze:

 - beef tips and rice
 - beef or chicken enchiladas
 - chicken pot pie
 - curried chicken
 - red beans and rice
 - soup of all kinds!

5.  Use a crock pot.
Do I need to convince anyone?  Find some recipes you like and put them in your rotation.  This blog is dedicated to slow cooking.

6.  KISS = Keep it Simple, Silly.
I'm preaching to myself here.  If I'm going to regularly put real food on my table, I need to keep it simple.  Save gourmet for special occasions.

Cheering you on towards real food,

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