Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Beginnings, Chemical Free!

Before moving to Nashville, I wrote a list of things I wanted to change about my life. One of those things was "becoming free from all chemicals and unnaturally grown foods." 

We use more chemicals than we realize: 

  • shampoo/conditioner/soaps
  • deodorant
  • toothpaste
  • lotions
  • makeup/beauty products/perfumes
  • cleaning products
  • plastic containers
  • antibiotics and chemicals in food
  • medicines
  • and, yes, even "feminine hygiene products"...
I plan on eliminating all of them. Medicines, of course, depend on the ailment. I'm going to do my best to use herbal remedies until absolutely necessary, and find a naturopathic physician to help with the rest. 

So, what's wrong with "chemicals," anyway? Which ones am I talking about? 

There are too many to list out. My blog is less about educating and more about actually finding ways to fix the problems we already know about. There are thousands of blogs, websites, books and other educational resources to tell you all about what chemicals harm us and what's ok. But, here are a few: 

So, how am I going to do all this? 

One step at a time. I bought this book Make Your Place, by Raleigh Briggs, for myself and my sis who is also interested in this stuff. It's a super cute, little DIY book to get you started in living chemical-free! She also has several other books that go into greater detail on everything. The way she writes it all out (and hand-illustrates!) makes it less daunting and easy to understand. I'm a big fan. 

I just ran out of deodorant and shampoo, so I'm researching alternatives and brands that are safe. A friend of mine sent me this interesting article about ditching shampoo all together! 

I'm going to share with y'all each little step I take while I try out new stuff, make new things, and document how well each thing works (or doesn't). 

Wish me luck! And, please, let me know if the "alternative deodorant" I'm using isn't quite working!!

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Life

Well, I haven't posted on here in quite a while. I have had many life changes in the past few months, among them are:

- graduating from Oregon Culinary Institute

- getting offered my dream job in Franklin, Tennessee

- getting fired from my dream job within 3 days of moving across country for it...yeah

I figured this would be the best way to tell all of you how these events occurred: 

Last September, my sister Alexa, who has been working on a farm in Franklin, told me about an opportunity to work for the cafe owned by the farmer she works for. They were in desperate need of a new chef, as the current one they had did not value the ethics the cafe claimed to stand for - sustainable, local, organic, seasonal food. I had a phone interview with the farmer and he was just as excited about me as I was about the job he offered.

Finally, I could live what I believe in and feed people REAL food! 

The farmer suggested he'd fly me over to Franklin to cook him and some of his regular guests a private dinner, and I did - a spectacular 5-course dinner for 22 people. I was hired. I flew back to Portland to pack my things and the farmer paid for all my moving expenses. Upon arriving, everyone was in a whirlwind, getting ready to reopen the cafe with a bang - new chef, new coffee bar, new decor.

After one particular meeting with the owners, I discovered that their claim of "highest quality organic, homemade and hand raised cuisine" (taken right from their website) was a farce. I was told directly to my face that they do NOT purchase 100% organic food, because "it's too expensive." I was confused, crushed, and angry. 

They LIED to me, and continue to lie to their customers. There is a major problem that we are all trying to fight, and they are making it worse. 

That night, I sent the owners an email saying that it would be compromising my personal and professional integrity to lie to my customers and serve them food that was not organic when they claim it is. Within 15 minutes, they replied in two sentences, saying that I was fired. 

There are many life-lessons wrapped up in all this that I needed to learn and it's a huge bummer. However, I have lived through so many horrific events that this is nothing. When you fall down, you just look like an idiot if you stay laying there crying. You gotta get up, shake it off and make the most of where you are. Obviously I was meat to be in Tennessee because I got a free ride here! All my belongings that I shipped across country arrive here in 3 days. I have two months prepaid to live in awesome house, right in downtown Franklin where there are a myriad of awesome restaurants in walking-distance that I could work at. If I can get a rockin job in Portland, I'll have a job here in no time. 

I'm not sure what's going to happen with this blog. I'd like to continue writing it, and I can when I don't have a job to occupy most my time, but we'll see what happens. I've been focusing on how to free myself from all chemical products and unnaturally grown foods. Maybe I'll talk about how I do all that while starting my life over in Tennessee. So, stay tuned? :)


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Holiday Party Planning

It's that time of year again of cocktails & friends, feasts & fun, games & dinners, under-cooked turkeys & panic attacks - The Holidays. Having a simple dinner party seems easy, until you feel like a one-man failed circus act in your kitchen, scrambling to get it together while all your guests are having fun in the next room. This post is going to help prepare you so you are not slaving away in the kitchen while the party goes on without you. Here are some good steps to plan ahead, make a delicious meal, and keep things easy-going. 

First off, what kind of meal are you going to serve?

  • plated dinner - this requires much more work. Timing is everything and you will need help, depending on how many guests you plan on serving. Plan on spending more time in the kitchen and being the last one to eat. 
  • family style (guests pull food from platters in the middle of the table) or buffet style - easier in that you don't have to spend time plating each person's meal.
  • hors d'oeuvres/appetizers - most of this can be made ahead of time. Extra food can be waiting in the kitchen to refill when things run low.  

One month before...

Find out how many guests you will be having. 

Finding out how many guests you will be having is key for shopping and finding out how much food & drinks you're going to need. A good rule of thumb: number of guests + 3, is a way to stay prepared. Even if less people than you expected show up, that's just more leftovers for you anyway. 

If you will be holding a plated dinner, this is key - there can usually be a 1-2 spot leeway if there are unexpected guests, depending on how formal it is. But for the most part, individual portions are hard to be flexible with. For family style, buffet style and hors d'oeuvres parties, it's a "you snooze you lose" situation and you should just tell guests to arrive on time if they want to eat. "Fashinably late" = miserable and hungry. At least you can keep your model weight, you skinny b*tch. 

Two weeks before...

Find out what food is in season in your area - go to the farmer's market, talk to your local farmer, search online. Your farmer's market may be closed for the season, but most of them are open the day before Thanksgiving. You can find out by looking up the market's website or going to your town's community center. 

From here you can start planning your menu. Are you going to have the traditional turkey/pumpkin pie/green bean casserole/sweet potatoes with marshmallows? Or are you going to switch it up with pheasant/bourbon pecan pie/cassoulet/roasted beet salad and mushroom tarts? 

One week-3 days before...

Start your prep! 

You can freeze or refrigerate a lot of your prep (unless you're living off the grid with no running water or electricity...wait, how are you reading this anyway?). Here are things you can prep ahead of time to freeze or refrigerate: 
  • pie crust - if you are doing cream pies then you can bake them off and freeze 'em. If you're making fruit pies and such, portion out your dough, wrap them well and freeze or refrigerate. 
  • pie filling - this is not recommended with nut pies (that sounds weird...) like pecan or whole fruit pies, but you can make your pumpkin/squash, cream & citrus pie fillings ahead of time. 
  • brines and rubs - if you're brining your meat you can make it now and refrigerate until a day or two before
  • cookie dough & frostings
  • dips
  • deviled eggs - 3 days before cook them off, peel them, slice them in half, make the mix with the yolks, and keep the sliced eggs neatly in an airtight container on top of a paper towel
  • cocktail mixers
  • charcuterie & cheese - like sausages, pates, bacon, ricotta, mozzarella...
  • homemade pumpkin puree
Other things you can make ahead of time: 
  • candy
  • pickles & jams
  • crostini, crackers, chips, popcorn, snacks - if you have airtight containers to keep them in
  • dry ingredients - if you want to get super-duper organized and ready, portion out all your spices and dry ingredients for your recipes. You can put them in small tupperwares or sealable plastic baggies, label them and have them ready to go for faster cooking. Just makes sure to read your recipes thoroughly to make sure you aren't combining things in the wrong order. 

One day before...

  • bake pies
  • bake cookies & muffins
  • bake bread and dice for stuffing
  • brine/rub meat
  • potatoes - if you peel them ahead of time, hold them in water and refrigerate to prevent from turning brown

Day of...

The day of should be dedicated to meat and veggie dishes. Make sure you do your research to find out exactly how long your meat or poultry needs to cook. The rest of the time should be easy, chopping veg for your dishes, making mashed 'taters, etc. 

Make the kids do the dishes. 

I hated this part of holidays as a kid, but now that I'm an adult I get it. We deserve a break, damnit! You just spent a whole month preparing for this party, it's time to freakin' enjoy it! Or you may get that one friend who insists on doing the dishes, LET THEM. So sit back, unbutton the top button on your pants, sip on your hot buttered rum and enjoy the time talking to your friends and family. Because that is what it's really all about.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

How To: Shop For Meat

Where to go and what to look for when you're buying meat! 

The holidays are coming up soon! What are you going to cook for your dinners? For most homes in the US, the centerpiece of holiday dinners is a roast of some sort - roast turkey, beef roast, rack of lamb...however, not all of us know what to look for when purchasing meat. What is good for the animal and the environment, as well as for me and my family? Here is some basic info and help in defining some of the "buzz words" you see (i.e.: CAFOs, organic, grass-fed). Don't let buying meat be an added stress to your holidays. Explaining your "it's complicated" relationship status to your uncle you haven't seen in a year is stressful enough.

Happy, free-range chickens find all kinds of bugs in grass!

Why is what the animal eats important?

"You are what you eat" applies to animals, too. Just like humans, everything an animals eats goes through the bloodstream and into every cell in their bodies. GMOs, hormones and antibiotics have the same affect on animals as they do on humans. If a cow eats corn that has been genetically modified, those organisms make their way into the fat and muscle tissues that we eat. (Here are some helpful links on GMOs, hormones and antibiotics if you want more info on how they affect animals, humans and the environment.)

What should animals be eating? Each animal has evolved eating certain things. With cows, for example, they have been eating grasses for millennia, but many confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have been feeding cows corn. Though, this adds a lot of fat to the muscles (which is a good thing for flavor), cow's stomachs cannot correctly process corn. It makes them sick, then they are given antibiotics, then they become immune to antibiotics, then they get sick again and we're eating sick animals...it's an ugly cycle. Here is what animals should be eating: 

Cows: grasses

Sheep: grasses 

Poultry: grains, grass, bugs 

Pigs: "slop"- roots, fruits, veggies, plants, grains...just about anything. Pigs are the garbage disposals of farm animals. 

Meat that is "certified organic" comes from animals that have been fed an organic diet with no GMOs, antibiotics or hormones. This is what you want to look for. However, as I have mentioned before, not all small farms can afford to become certified organic. So, talk to your farmer to find out what their practices are. Butchers always know what's happening with their meat sources as well. 

What are CAFOs? 

Confined Animal Feeding Operations = no bueno. This is where all the ugly stuff happens: hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, animal maltreatment, e-coli, toxic waste & poop lagoons. Yes, poop lagoons. This is where thousands and thousands of animals are crammed together, walking around in their own crap and then get slaughtered for our hamburgers. In my opinion, there is nothing good about a CAFO. Sorry I'm not sorry. 

Temple Grandin in her natural habitat.

What about animal treatment? 

This is where it becomes a matter of personal conviction, mostly. One point I will make, is that if an animal is under stress, they release toxins into their bloodstream, which makes the meat taste bad and is not that great for us to be ingesting. Temple Grandin is the patron saint of animal slaughterhouses. She invented humane livestock handling procedures that are used today. (You should watch the movie about her, it's awesome!)

So, where do I find meat that doesn't have all the bad stuff? 

I think Mr Butcher has the hots for mom! 

Local Butcher - The "local butcher" is different from your chain supermarket butcher at Fred Meyer or Publix. While, most supermarkets these days will carry organic meat options, they are very limited and are almost always imported from far away. The local butcher I'm talking about may be a tiny little hole-in-the-wall shop that specializes in local products. Do an internet search for butchers in your local area. The benefit of going to a smaller butcher shop is that they can tell you all about where your meat came from, how it was raised and what it was fed. The pimple-faced kid behind the counter at the supermarket doesn't care to know any of that stuff. 

Farmer's Market - Sometimes local butchers set up a booths at the local farmer's market. They'll have a smaller selection to sell (usually cured or frozen), but from there you can find out where their brick and mortar shop is located and what other items they sell. 

Local Farms - This requires the most work, but it will be worth it, I promise! You're going to have to do an internet search for local farms in your area that raise animals (or ask around at the farmer's market). Local Harvest is a great resource to get you started. This is the best way for you to get the inside scoop on animal care - you get to talk one-on-one with the farmer and ask them all the questions your heart desires about their practices. And if you have trust issues, you can even go and visit the farms, pet the animals and even name your dinner (just kidding, that is not recommended). 

The cost per pound for buying retail meats vs. purchasing a whole animal is significant. Buying meats retail can cost upwards of $15-$20 per pound whereas the cost of whole animals is $5-$7 per pound. If that doesn't convince you, nothing will. 

Depending on the farm, if you're purchasing larger livestock you can choose to buy a whole, half or quarter animal (I've had groups of friends all pitch in for a whole cow and divide it between everyone). Just a word of warning if you purchase a whole animal for yourself - unless you're feeding a whole village in one night, remember how big a cow is and think about the freezer space you're going to need. 

That's the gist of it...

If you don't want nightmares and panic attacks from worrying about your unborn children having three eyes from you eating McDonalds when you were a broke college student, then refrain from investigating any farther. I'm like your mom who covered your eyes in the movie theater during the sex scenes - you don't need to see it. 

So what's for dinner? A delicious turkey who spent it's life frolicking in a picturesque field with all his best friends, or an e-coli infested Franken-Bird? The blood is off my hands. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Most Frightening Part Of Halloween...

Happy Halloween! Time for tricks and...treats? 

It's a shame that most Halloween candy is basically poison, and ingredients like chocolate are not fair-trade. This can especially be a bummer for kids. Here are some good alternatives that you can fill the trick-or-treater's candy bags with that will keep them smiling:

    Beware of tricky treats!
  • Here is a great website for organic candy! They also have categories for fair trade, vegan, gluten-free, and many other options!
  • How about dollar store toys?
  • If you live in a friendly community where everyone knows you, you can also make your own treats. 
  • mini pumpkins
  • snack sized savory treats like organic chips or popcorn. 

Have a fun and SAFE Halloween!