Thursday, February 26, 2009

Casting Off--Downsizing in Troubled Waters

I have been giving a lot of thought to this recently, engaged as I am in packing my life into boxes, and parting with much of it--literally and metaphorically. Our world has just been turned upside down by the decision to move sooner rather than later as we had thought previously. We had been putting all of our ducks in a row to move from Miami to Port Angeles, WA, after our high-school senior graduates in June--onto Whale Song, a 35 year old boat we found this summer. But the larger issues of the ecomony have caused a wake that rocked those plans, so off we go, a bit earlier than slated.

This creates some issues that affect our way of eating as well. I am busy sorting, making arrangements, packing. And I am dealing with sadness of abruptly leaving our friends and family after eleven years here, all in this very apartment--where my youngest child was born. I am taking a leave from school and just keeping up with other things. I would like to blog my way through the move, focusing on my favorite issues, such as eating well despite difficulties or unusual circumstances, and being thrify and mindful while we do this. If you have any questions or ideas for posts related to my move (and living on a boat and a budget) please do let me know. And be patient with me, some days I am just so played out from deciding whether my kids' art projects have to hit the trash that I can barely string a sentence t gether . . .

So there are two things going in my mind now related to food. I have to figure out what needs to be used up--no waste, remember? And, I have to juggle needing to eat well while I go through this process, with needing to get things packed. I suppose that will mean that I pack the kitchen stuff last, after sorting and selling what we will not need on the boat. This is a difficult bit of guesswork though, because I have never lived aboard for more than a month.

My experiences on boats so far could been seen as closer to camping than to living full-time. Moving onto a boat means I have to analyze each item: Will it fit? Does it do more than one thing? (it is my policy that everything on a boat needs to do double-duty, especially if it's a space hog) Do I absolutely love it? Do I absolutely need it? Can something smaller/simpler do the job? Will it last in a marine environment? Can I replace it inexpensively (read: can I thrift it?) if need be?

On our last, month-long, stay I did do quite a few ferments and made stock and other staples. I haven't yet figured out the storage for being able to do these things in the quantity that will make my life easier. It's one thing to show off making beet kvass on the bridge, but how to make a season's worth of sauerkraut? Will I need the mason jars I have accumulated? What about my lovely huge kombucha jar? My stock pot--where will it live? I am thinking to take the items that were a big investment (the Le Creuset stock pot) and eyeball it when I am standing in the galley unpacking. Maybe if I stick a cushion on it (with the lid upside down) I can use it as a stool? This might irk my husband, but he does like to eat well, so I will have to keep reminding him of that. Either that, or I will be making stock every few days in very small batches.

Using things up here is another matter. I have so much delicious cream in the freezer that I personally cannot eat doing GAPS. I had thought to throw an ice-cream party for our friends, but the ice-cream maker died a sad death in the summer rains, left outside after a birthday celebration (we have an antique hand-cranked one waiting in the hold of Whale Song). I may resort to making yoghurt with half cream and half milk--which will make the kids and my husband happy, I am sure. The things hiding in the recesses of the fridge have to be incorporated into meals for real now--no impulse shopping when we have a stocked larder. I can't hope to use it "someday"--someday is today! I hope to only buy fresh fruit and veggies over the next few weeks while I cook through our store of pastured chickens and grass-fed meat. I might have to sneak some liver into a meatloaf or two--shh!

After we consume enough of our stored food for me to really assess the situation, I wll have to cook as if we were on vacation (buy small amounts and use them up) and prepare travel food for the 3400 mile drive. Every time I think: "whatever--let's just eat out" I remember that this is a vulnerable time, where I need to keep everyone healthy (especially me!) by cooking and eating the best food possible. Moving is exciting--full of the promise of the new, but it is also stressful--like weddings. Now is the worst time to cut corners!

In fact, I think I need to start extra cod liver oil for everyone . . . because there's another bottle in the pantry, and after all, it will help us all stay strong as we prepare for our sea change.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Camp Belly-Full

Ah, the joys of camping: impossibly starry skies, long walks, mesmerizing campfires, hot dogs on a stick.

Umm. No. Not for me and mine. Yes to the stars, the walks, the fires. But the food, as always, has to be Real (not that we never eat a hot dog in our house, but that's a breakfast or a snack, not a dinner--and it has to be of the highest quality).

When we camp, as whenever we travel, we cook real food and find great pleasure in it. And we continue to use what we have and let nothing go to waste--the Frugalista part of me does not "go on vacation" (or, to be more accurate, she goes with me on my vacation.) Depending on your roughing-it sensibility, you may think that we take a ridiculous amount of kitchen equipment with us, but if you were to come camping with us, I'd bet real money that you'd be among the group that ends up at our site enjoying the wine and cheese and homemade crackers. And maybe staying for the Moroccan chicken . . .

Last weekend we went camping with the kids and another family. We had planned to share the cooking of a few dinners, but I brought lots of extra food, as there is something in me that can't do food in any way except in abundance. I do always sketch out the main meals, but I like to leave room for little serendipities by having an array of choices for lunches-- including leftovers, a few items that keep (such as dry chorizo and canned tuna), and hoping for the kids' fishing expeditions to be blessed by the Cane Pole Gods. My friends brought several dozen of their amazing eggs and some of the bounty from their garden (remember, February is peak growing season in SoFLa).

Our dinners were lovely standby dishes: grass-fed beef chili, Moroccan chicken--with figs, dutch oven chuck roast with dried and fresh mushrooms. All with salads that had Mary's fresh greens with her wonderful salad dressings (inspired by Nourishing Traditions). We also served other vegetables swimming in raw butter. We had flowers on the table, thanks to my sweetheart and Valentine's day. While dinner was simmering, we did have that wine and cheese, also some Belgian beer and pate brought from Europe, and a bowl of Mary's tomatoes and radishes (with raw butter, as I remember from my student days in France).

By bringing the foundation fixings and being flexible, we end up with some great daytime meals. I baked some coconut flour crackers the night before we left, using the bread recipe in Bruce Fife's Cooking with Coconut Flour (when it is cool, I slice it thin and dry in a low oven overnight). I brought a leftover roast pork shoulder, some bacon, lots of eggs, coconut flour and seasonings. There was plenty of fruit: apples, bananas, clementines, strawberries, and Mary's homegrown papaya. In addition to the tuna and chorizo, lunch-y stuff included cheese, hard-boiled eggs, nut butter and raisins.

The deities must have been smiling as the fish were hoppin' this trip:
the kids caught 13 fish between the time we arrived at the campground and breakfast the next morning. This is what we ate for our first breakfast: I cut the pork shoulder, fat and meat, into 1/2" pieces and fried them until really crisp. These got scooped into a bowl and the fish got a turn in the wonderful fat left by the carnitas--dredged first in seasoned coconut flour. I should point out that the kids all clean their own fish, so what I was working with were whole clean small fish, minus the heads (which I did not save because it was so warm the ice was rapidly melting and I was nervous to put anything so perishable into my coolers--normally I would have made stock from them). After the fish were brown and the tails crisp as chips, I fried eggs in the leftover fat. We ate all of that with a fruit salad and tea. Mmmm.

Sunday we only had one fish--a bigger one, so while I did fry the rest of the pork shoulder the same way as the day before, I also made a dish of sauteed green apples and onions, accompanied by scrambled eggs (and the one fish). By Saturday, the dads had arrived--they hadn't come with us the first day due to work obligations. So we had coffee out of the camp percolator pot Sunday--a rare time I allow myself coffee because it just seems to be right, standing next to last night's smoldering campfire.

Our final breakfast was eggy coconut pancakes (no measuring, always different) with local honey and raw butter, bacon, strawberries and papaya. And coffee. Which does not make me jittery at all when we camp--interesting, no? I spent the afternoon sketching and painting--so serene in the breeze. The more intrepid amongst us hiked to the spot where Rick had found a large Diamond-back rattlesnake and got a taste of the Wilderness That Will Not Be Tamed (despite the only 50 or so miles to Miami). I contented myself with the photographic evidence and that fact that I didn't end up driving anyone that 50 miles for antivenin. Yikes. Are pancakes enough fortification for that?

Lunches are more relaxed at Camp Belly-full, as the kids come and go from fishing and the grownups graze between walks and reading in the shade. The little ones (7 and almost 4) made themselves "ants on a log" (nut butter in celery sticks topped with raisins), the grownups had leftover-fish-turned-into-salad and hard-boiled eggs, the teens had cheese, chorizo and fruit. I soaked some calabaza (a winter squash) seeds in salted water the first night and pan toasted them two days later for a nibble. We had crackers, cheese and pate for afternoon tummy grumbles. Somehow, all the bellies did get fed.

A couple of highlights particular to this trip:

Mary brought black-ripe plantains, which she and Sammy proceeded to roast in peeled sections over the campfire each night like marshmallows on sticks, until charred and caramelized. Though they lost a few into the blaze, it was both treat and entertainment--something I need to remember for the future. I know the kids want me to bring my homemade marshmallows on a trip sometime, but this was so easy, real food, and even GAPS-legal. Now, that's a treat!

The other cool thing was a miserly-healer-mama's dream: the kids found that our fire ring was surrounded by fire ants. How fitting. And they found this out the hard way, as kids will, with multiple bites to their feet and legs. Ouch. As we were pondering what to do to relieve the pain for our screaming little ones, we remembered the papaya--or more specifically the seeds. Crushed to a chunky paste between two small cutting boards, the seeds made the perfect dressing for the inflamed bites. Did you ever hear of the Florida Cracker remedy to use Accent on bites? The enzymes in the Accent "digest" the toxins that insects leave behind, relieving pain and perhaps preventing the little pustule that red ants bites always seem to create. Well, papaya has these enzymes naturally.

I did get a head-shaking response when I saved the calabaza seeds, but the papaya seeds were acknowledged as a wonderful use of something that would have been thrown away. They actually had been saved to use as papaya "pepper" once dried (see Nourishing Traditions), but the kids were very glad they had such odd and frugal mamas once the seeds were commandeered for first aid purposes.

I really don't want you to shake your head wondering "how does she do it?" because in reality it ends up easier than cooking at home. I bring a camp-stove and a small table, one large cast iron skillet, a dutch oven, and a light enamel pot (for veggies, tea water, etc). I have two picnic hampers with seasonings, tea, coffee, the percolator, a tablecloth, utensils, flatware, cups and enameled tin dishes. Two medium coolers held the perishable food for five people for almost four days, with lots left over, and there were two cloth bags with dry things (the wine, olive oil, tuna, chorizo, nut butter, raisins, etc). Yes, it involves some planning and preparation, which I did the day before we left. But once we are there, I just make the meals we have with us, none takes too long, and anything eaten in the outdoors is delicious.

You may have to come with us to believe me, I know, so let's plan a trip to the Outdoors. We can leave our kitchen perfectionism behind and enjoy real food, however it turns out, under the stars.

And don't worry, there were no snakes in the campground. Really. Gators, now that's another story. . .

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Frugalista Imperative

OK, since I seem to have earned the moniker "frugalista", I am going to start sharing some of my less planned meals with you. You know, the ones that get made 30 minutes past when everyone is asking "what's for dinner." The ones where I have to look at the contents of the fridge as if it were one of those exercises in creativity ("you have a sheet of paper, a roll of tape and a pair scissors. In 30 minutes, can you build a bridge that will support a book?")

So last night was one of those nights. I had thought we'd have the leftover oxtail stew, so I didn't defrost anything. But my sweetheart helped himself to some of the stew for lunch--now that he's working from home I have little control over what he fixes himself, try though I might to influence his choices. And I can't really get away with feeding him the same thing again for dinner--not if I have other options. This called for regrouping, but instead I sat at my computer and ignored the impending disaster until around 7pm. Yeah, very late. Too late to work much magic.

Finally, after being asked by one too many kids what would be for dinner, I peered tentatively into the fridge. I was looking for a couple of small lamb steaks I remembered, that I was hoping were shoved into the back. They were there, untouched--ok, a start. Some leftover mashed cauliflower with garlic, some other fresh vegetables, but how to make the whole thing hang together? There wasn't much meat, and though there were plentiful veggies, that would not impress my carnivores one bit.

In the end, I turned the meat into carnitas by cutting it into 1/2 inch cubes and frying until they were really brown and crisp. I mixed a couple of eggs and a handful of coconut flour into the cauliflower puree (one 1/2 cups maybe) and fried dollops of the mixture in a cast iron pan greased with lard--they brown like pancakes but are a bit firmer.

The broccoli was steamed in florets, and I tossed the green pepper strips on top at the end, to soften them a bit. These were piled in a serving bowl, surrounded by artichoke leaves (from the one leftover cooked artichoke I found somewhat forlorn in the fridge) and topped with a basket of sweet cherry tomatoes. Even the veggie haters had to admit it was pretty. The veg were served with a garlicky mayonnaise on the side. And, as always, there was kimchi and water kefir (my kombucha is taking forever in this cool weather).

It wasn't the most elegant or coherent of meals, but it was nourishing and satisfying. Nothing was wasted, we had fun dipping veggies in copious mayo, and we topped it off with Florida strawberries (hard to believe, but they're in season!) and raw cream.

Easy Garlic Mayo
1 egg
1 garlic clove
1 cup of oil (I used 1/2 olive, 1/2 cold-pressed sunflower)
Sea salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a blender, blend the egg and garlic for 10-15 seconds. Start pouring the oil in the thinnest stream you can manage. Some blenders have a smaller hole that makes this easy, or you can keep the lid partially covering the opening; in any case be careful of splattering, or you will find mayo on the underside of your cabinets the next day. As you pour, you will hear the mayo thicken; it will sound like the blender is choking. At this point you can add the oil slightly faster. When it is all incorporated, add the sea salt. I may have used about 1/2 teaspoon, but I didn't measure. I taste it! Start with a bit, you can add more if you need it. Add the lemon juice, being careful to avoid the seeds, as they are bitter. Blend to mix in the salt and lemon. That's it. Now you don't have to buy mayo ever again! Leave out the garlic to make the plain stuff. Add a bit of honey if you are used to those sweet brands.

I won't say that homemade mayo is cheaper than the regular boughten stuff, because I have never costed it. I do know that it is cheaper than the commercial mayo of equivalent quality, with no additives and using real food ingredients. And it tastes better, is better for you and you have no jar to throw away in the end.

This morning my husband commented that most of the makings of that meal would have gone to waste in many homes. Everything was in our house in bits and pieces, some of it salvaged because I am unable throw anything away, some of it purchased to be part of my usual staples. It was the perhaps the mayonnaise that was the glue that held the meal together, as it added flavor, the satisfaction that good fats give, and something to physically do.

Or maybe it was just the Imperative of the Frugalista that made it work. Either way, they ate it. And that is a thrifty Real Food victory.

Lessons in thrift from an old-fashioned cook: GAPS, Real Food and Me.

Yesterday's Herald had a great article for spreading the word about real food for real people . . .

Posted via web from justine's posterous

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Salt of the Sea: The way salt has always been harvested . . .

When my daughter Hannah shlepped home several kilos of salt from Britanny, after experiencing real salt with her French family on a foreign study program, she triggered a minor obsession for me:  I can never again cook with, or even eat, processed "salt."  The stuff that pours when it rains is just as refined as white sugar or white flour and equally destructive to health (and taste!).  I love the damp graininess of my coarse Celtic salt and I crave the deep flavors it brings out in my food.

This NYT article describes a current revival of the traditional Portuguese ways harvesting one of our most essential food elements:

Posted via email from justine's posterous

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