Friday, August 13, 2010

A New Blog

I am now focusing my blogging more at Everyday Blessings, a Christian blog that includes spiritual muses, recipes, and ideas for home and family life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Food Journey

Growing up on a small "hobby" farm in Southeastern Ohio, I took local food for granted.

We always had a huge vegetable garden in our own yard. We had chickens to provide us with eggs, and it was my job to collect eggs daily. (I was even able to sell the surplus brown eggs to our local health food store for some spending money.) We drank fresh, unpasteurized milk from our dairy-farming neighbor down the road. We even raised our chicken, pigs, and Angus cattle.

My mom was born in West Virginia, but contrary to the stereotypical hillbilly jokes about her home state, she spent her childhood in towns like Charleston and Huntington. She grew up purely as a city girl, thinking tomatoes came from the grocery store--not a garden. As an adult, she became fascinated with farm life and learning how to make, grow, and raise her own food, direct from the source. So, when she and my dad had the chance to move our family out to a 220-acre Ohio farm, they jumped at it.

Looking back, my parents gave DIY a whole new name. Purchased directly from an Amish family, the old farmhouse lacked indoor plumbing; it had some wiring, since it was not always an Amish home, but, according to my dad, it was just "shoved up" in the walls. Naturally, my parents had a few projects on their plate--not to mention responsibility for me and my sister, then three and seven, respectively.

In the midst of all this home improvement and child-rearing, my parents started right into farming. My dad took main responsibility for the livestock, and the vegetable garden was a joint effort. My mom also dove into food preparation, teaching herself how to make homemade bread, can fruits and vegetables, and even churn butter.

"There was a time when we could say that everything on our table, we raised ourselves," my dad recalls proudly.

As my sister and I got older and more involved in activities, and as my dad traveled more and got busier with work, my parents found that they couldn't keep up with raising so much of their own food. Little by little, the food on our plates changed. The bread was no longer homemade; the meat wasn't our own. But, we still did better than many of our fellow Americans--we got meat from our neighbor who raised her own cattle, and we always kept a big vegetable garden.

I grew up, moved away, and stopped really thinking about my food. In college, it was all about what was cheap and easy. After college, things didn't change too much, until I started subscribing to food magazines and becoming interested in cooking more. But, even then, it was about finding a recipe that looked good and going off and buying all the ingredients--regardless of what was in season, or local, or organic. The food's pedigree didn't even enter into my thinking. Then, kids came along, and I found myself doing things I used to turn my nose up at--making cream-of-mushroom-soup casseroles and crock-pot concoctions that included ginger ale and ketchup, and nuking chicken nuggets and easy mac and spaghettios.

Every now and then--for special occasions and when I got totally bored with our usual food--I'd go on kicks where I'd dig out my cookbooks and make good food again. But, by and large, I'd fallen into the trap again of looking at food in terms of how cheap and quick and easy it was. After all, I reasoned, I had little kids, I had work--what I didn't have was time to prepare elaborate meals.

Then, I got tired. Got tired AND educated. Got tired of sub-par food. Got tired of fixing a meal that I didn't even want to eat. Got educated about our food system in the U.S. and how far away from the source we've gotten. I learned how laden our foods are with preservatives, chemicals, and stuff we really shouldn't be putting into our bodies. I became convinced that it wasn't just a luxury to feed my family well; it was a necessity. Our health--our very lives--depended on it.

I learned to make food shopping and prep a priority. I learned again to take pride in where my food comes from. I'll be honest. It can take more time and money. But, let's take a look at my dinner table, before and after.

BEFORE: canned green beans, a casserole made with frozen chicken and canned cream of chicken soup, and some kind of "faux" golden wheat bread with margarine.

AFTER: grilled, grass-fed organic strip steaks, fresh local spinach sauteed in olive oil with sea salt, baked local potatoes with Amish roll butter and creme fraiche (made from local heavy cream and buttermilk, cultured with a bit of fresh lemon juice--check out this blog's recipe section for the creme fraiche recipe). Simple, but delicious.

What's notable about this kind of meal is not just what it is, but what it ISN'T. It ISN'T mass-produced, genetically modified, or filled with preservatives, MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, or pesticides. It IS hand-crafted--made locally with care by people who are interested in the quality of the food itself, not just how to make the largest quantities the quickest and the cheapest way possible.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that we have become purists yet, or that we are perfect. Far from it.

We still order take-out pizza; we indulge in things like supermarket ice cream in elaborate flavors and with an ingredient list a mile long; and our kids still partake of decidedly non-healthful things like juice boxes and candy at parties and kid events.

But, at least we are informed now. And, we're making a conscious effort to tell our food's story with pride.

"These apples are organic."

"This bread is made at a small bakery that doesn't use preservatives."

"This came from a local farm."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year: Photography, Scrapbooking and Back to the Grind

Well, it's only January 4th, so perhaps it's not too late to still be wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

We had a nice holiday, and today is the first real day back to the old grind. We survived the high-teen temps at the bus stop this morning to get my first-grader back to school, and I even managed to take our Springer Spaniel for a quick one-mile walk. Any more than that, and I'm sure he would've started limping; even dogs can't take the cold--and salt--on their poor paw pads.

I've been busily taking photos since I last posted. I got my early combo Christmas/birthday gift in mid-December and have been loving it! I ended up with the Canon Rebel XSi. I found the best deal at B and H Photo. I got the body with a kit lens for $564.95. 

I'm still far from manual mode, but this is my first foray into SLR photography and even some of the creative zone modes have been giving me results far above and beyond what I expected this early in the game. I've mostly been shooting in Canon's "P" mode with no flash and auto focus. Here are some initial attempts.

My new-found photography inspiration has got me busy digital scrapbooking to showcase some of these photos. I had gotten addicted to Ikea Goddess' blog of digital scrapbooking freebies, just a few months ago to recently find out she retired. Thank goodness Digital Daisy is taking over. This is a great resource for any digi scrapper. Why pay when you can download all kinds of digital goodness for free?!

Here's my new January desktop design, thanks to the Shabby Princess' free download.