Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fishy Thoughts & a Book Recommendation

If you haven't read Eating for Beginners by Melanie Rehak, I highly recommend it. I checked it out from the library this summer and read it in a couple of days. In it the author has a child, which begins a journey for her to find out about her food and make sure that she's feeding her child the most nutritious food she can. She discovers sometimes that's organic and other times it's not.

In the book, she works at a restaurant that uses local ingredients and has a menu that changes with the seasons. While working there, she visits most of their vendors and learns about the food she's eating. There's also a lot about her child, the beginning eater, who is extraordinarily picky and refuses to eat most of what she's trying so hard to get him to eat. I really related to that part of the book because I am such a picky eater, though I am getting better.

In the book one of the chapters is dedicated to fish. In it she actually goes out on a fishing trip with the commercial (though small and local) fishermen and gets loads of great and helpful information about choosing and eating fish. It taught me tons of information and I became aware of loads of issues that I wasn't aware of in the fish industry. Unfortunately, I didn't really get a good sense of what to eat - especially in Tennessee, so we haven't had fish since our last frozen fillet from the grocery store. I guess you could say it raised lots of questions and warned me of what to avoid, but it didn't fill in any answers. I feel like I only know what to stay away from, with plenty of good reasons, but that doesn't tell me what I could try.

I follow a great blog called and they are big fish advocates with great information about fish. If you're interested in this kind of thing, here's a great link to some of their writing about fish. Again, the information is wonderful but only goes so far bc they're in Canada and I live in Tennessee. The concerns, challenges, and values related to eating fish may be universal, but the fish themselves are not. Their info. would be very helpful though if you lived anywhere near them.

What a difference time off makes.

Update: This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago about some of the struggles I was having. It's funny to me to read it after I've spent the week cooking and stocking up. Hopefully my work in the kitchen this week will help me fight these battles more effectively when I go back to work next week and when my family comes home the week after that.

Well, this week was a train wreck in more ways than I can honestly count. I worked way too much and saw my family far too little. I cooked 2 (count them: 2!) meals for my family. I am giving myself some slack on the night the power went out and we had sandwiches, but the rest of the week there was no excuse to not do any better than I did. Breakfast? Where are you my long lost friend?

By Tuesday I could already tell that something was off and our little family just wasn't in the groove. After giving it more thought than should have been necessary, I have come to the conclusion that the answer is really about balance. I let my balance shift from center and should not be surprised that the results were less than stellar.

Let's be honest - if you leave your house at 6 am and get home at 6 pm, you're probably not whipping up a stellar from-scratch food experience. You, like me, might instead plug in the little grill, slap some cheese, greens, and tomatoes on bread and call it supper. The problem is that the next day's lunch isn't much better and by supper the next day, you're going out to eat because you forgot to thaw the chicken again.

I misjudged how much we would eat on a few occasions and didn't make and caught myself putting part of meals in lunch boxes before I was full so I would have leftovers for lunch the next day and not have to do more cooking at 10 o'clock?m Has anyone else done that? Fear not - that lasted all of 2 meals, maybe. Turns out my love of eating is stronger than my dislike of fixing lunches at 10pm. Leftovers be hanged, I'm filling myself up from now on!) So now, here I arrive at the end of the week on empty with little energy and the stirrings of a sore throat.

I have got to do some baking. I need some delicious muffins and cookies and treats. Some will be breakfasts that keep my car on the right path. Some will be desserts that I can enjoy guilt-free. I'm planning to put one of Michael Pollan's food rules to the test this week - eat all the sweets and treats you want as long as you make them yourself. (paraphrasing a bit there) His theory is that if you make it yourself, you'll eat less b/c of the effort involved. We'll see - I know my recipe for PB cookies is calling my name. I know some muffins and breads will be welcome respite from pancakes.

This week was a setback in so many ways. I let my priorities get out of alignment with my values. (Do chiropractors have a fix for that? Well, come to think of it, that may be a large percentage of what they do in a sense.) I am optimistic for the week ahead. I have 2 really good books that I'm reading and both have some wonderful recipes for quick meals with simple ingredients that I can make on my own. I'm hoping not to need any chicken noodle soup, but also hoping to restore my energy and my health this week. I'm hoping to limit time spent on some things which should immediately open up time for better things. Here's to a better week ahead.

Catching Up (if there is such a thing)

I have worked so hard this week to get ahead on some food things. I am really proud of myself in some areas and disappointed in others. To be fair, I knew my goals were probably less than realistic.

Here's what's finished:
15 pints of tomatoes!! (Whoop! Whoop! I am so proud of myself for not letting a single tomato rot! It's so sad though b/c we used to have 2 shelves in the door and the entire windowsill covered in tomatoes and now there are literally 2 tiny green tomatoes left in sight. I am proud they didn't go to waste, but their visual absence is screaming at me that summer is ending and fall is coming ahead like a freight train. Sylvia suspects 2, maybe 3, more weeks and then no more tomatoes. I had some guilt this week with the quantity I purchased (13 dollars in heirloom and a 1/3 of our CSA box) but I know I won't regret the money spent in a few months' time. They did smell lovely and I am actually getting faster at canning them. It's pretty crazy to me that 4 months ago I didn't even eat or like tomatoes and now I know how to can them in bulk batches. Wild!

3 batches of from-scratch buttermilk biscuits
2 batches of from-scratch buttermilk cornbread
3 batches of from-scratch cream scones (if you are familiar with, then you know the o is short for some reason, so it's really scon. Never heard that before visiting her site, so I'm just passing that along.
1 batch of chocolate chocolate chip cookies (I made these with Olive & Sinclair 67% dark chocolate broken into pieces for the chocolate chips, they turned out to be pretty perfect!)
2 big batches of peanut butter cookies (Thank you Produce Place!) When I grabbed our tub of PB this week, it was warm from just being churned. 2 days later is was frozen in the form of cookie goodness! How exciting is that?
*Side note about PB - lots of people know that we used to patron Trader Joe's a lot, and so lots of people told us about the recall on their PB. It was such fun to me when it would come up because A: we didn't eat it or need to be worried about it, B: I got to tell lots of different people in different circles about the Produce Place. There's a chance a few might even check it out b/c of our fun conversation about how lovely it is! C: It was a kind of validation that we're moving in the right direction with our food and it feels really good.
I also made a batch walnut brittle-but-not-quit-brittle-enough-brittle :-) First try at brittle and it's a great flavor and a nice special treat. I didn't cook it long enough, so it's a little chewy rather than the brittle, but I'll get better. I'll know for next time to go much longer on the cooking time (i.e., I'll probably burn the next batch, but it's all a learning process on the path to getting it right sometimes. I'm not giving up when the fails taste so yummy.)
I made a batch of yogurt (3 pints) but the starter I used didn't take too well, so it's pretty runny; like a drinkable yogurt version. Disappointed but not wasting it. I'll keep trying to find the right starter; it's out there.

Now in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that we ran our of local flour middle of the week and I used a bag of King Arthur flour for the rest of the baking. I also used a pack of horizon organic butter for something (can't remember what now...) I bought a bag of White Lily for the biscuits, but everything else was local.

Point to ponder - we buy our butter at Produce Place and it just comes in a slab wrapped in plastic and priced by weight. I had forgotten how convenient the sticks can be when you're cooking and need 1/2 cup or 1/4 cup.

Still on the queue:
I need to make a big batch of alfredo sauce to freeze but out of milk and butter. The Produce Place gets fresh milk delivered on Friday's so we'll go in the morning.

I didn't make any "meals" or casseroles like I thought I would. I made mostly sides. Lots of treats and snacks. I think it's because that's what we've (maybe just I've?) been missing most. I'm hoping to get some of these things made next week while the family's away. Time will tell on this.

Muffins: I have 3 cans of TJ's pumpkin to use up so I see some pumpkin muffins in our future. I'll make some other kinds as well - maybe blackberry with some of my reserve berries. Need to get as many breakfast options going as possible b/c that's been one of my biggest struggles.

Okra: must bake okra ASAP! I refuse to let it rot!

Soups: I found "simple" recipes for a couple of different soups that would use up some of the squash in our pantry.

Sweet potato... I have a lot that I want to puree and freeze b/c most things require the puree. I wonder about putting it in muffins, soups, etc. Seems like it would be easiest to cook & puree it and freeze to use as needed. This would be mostly an attempt to prevent spoilage. Also wonder about freezing some of skillet sweet potatoes with garlic and onions that B makes. They are insanely delicious, but I wonder how well they would freeze... I guess that's another point to ponder.

Food loss: this we lost some corn this week. I know we let a couple of potatoes spoil and the herbs are officially toast. We lost our bag of basil last week and that was hard to take. I was so excited to make pesto but it just turned on us so quickly. Hate that, but we do the best we can. We try really hard not to waste anything and to get to things before they turn, but sometimes things just get away from us before we realize it.

I'm hoping to stock up on a few things this week. I am having a hard time accepting the end of okra, green beans, and tomatoes, but will do my best to snag all of their summer goodness that I can.
So anyway. Lots to be proud of. Lots to show for my efforts. Made some small concessions with ingredients, but stuck to the core of what we're about with all of this. Learned a LOT about cooking, cleaning, and myself this week and I'm excited to see what the next few weeks bring. Happy catching up to you all! Again, if there is such a thing! I think it's more accurate to say I'm less-behind than to say I'm catching up.