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Learning to Feed Ourselves

There's something happening here. Okay, you can quit with the Buffalo Springfield. This ain't a war protest. But, perhaps, it's a call to arms. Because there is something happening, right here in Oklahoma, and all over the country.  People are learning to feed themselves again.

If you follow us on Facebook or Twitter, you know that we've been rather enthusiastic about a certain contest to grant five communities a fruit orchard, complete with irrigation and help with the planting. From what I can tell, Edy's Fruit Bars teamed up with The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and, voila!, the Communities Take Root program was born.  For the communities who enter, this presents an amazing opportunity, and it's a sign of something larger moving through the land.

This hits home for Terri and I in particular because, in this current batch of contestants (this seems to be an ongoing thing... like American Idol... only better), we can vote for one of our own.  Turley, Oklahoma is currently in 4th place.  If they can stay in the top five until May 31st, they can win an orchard of forty trees (40 trees!) for their community.  We don't live in Turley, but they are our neighbors.  And they have been struggling for a very long time.  So long that it almost looked like the end of the line for them.

Turley borders North Tulsa and is one of the poorest areas in Green Country.  They just lost their only school and are fighting now to keep their post office.  The medical clinics in the area have all shut down.  Most of the residents have no health coverage and so end up in the emergency room when something goes really wrong, as it often does.  Health, it seems, is not a right of the underprivileged.  These are our neighbors, citizens of Tulsa County, just like us.  But, as it goes in the eternal war of the classes, most who live south of Admiral Place pay no attention.  North Tulsa and the suburb of Turley might as well exist on another planet.

That is, until recently.  There are some bold moves happening in our “underprivileged” side of town.  People there are getting wise to the injustice of the situation.  They're starting to work together to transform their community into something good and strong.  It seems they've figured out that if they don't do it, nobody will.  They know their children deserve better.  They know they deserve health and education and a community that cares for them.  To this end, a foundation has been formed called A Third Place.  Click on the link to see what they've been working on and what they're up against.  Look at their plans.  These aren't the plans of the meek, the tired, the beaten-down.  These are plans born from strength of spirit and motivation.  This is human audacity at its finest.  They're starting with nothing... less than nothing in a lot of cases, but they have drive and they're on a mission to save themselves.

This is where the fruit orchard comes in.  Turley, Oklahoma is located in what is known as a “food desert.” Per Wikipedia (see food desert link), a food desert is defined as "a food environment unsupportive of health; it is defined by barriers which restrict access to healthy foods."  This means that real, nourishing food is virtually unattainable for the citizens in this area, and what food is accessible and affordable is highly processed, cheap, and nutrient devoid, the kind that leads to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and countless other health problems.  Life on Ramen noodles, mac n' cheese, and hot dogs.  Remember college?  That was eating posh.  So what is this driven community doing about it?  They've built a community garden.  And they're working their hides off to expand it.  Forget hard times and bad luck and being ignored and swept aside... screw government programs that disappear just when you need them... they're going to grow their own food.  And a nice big fruit orchard would fit in just perfectly.

This is a concept that seems to be spreading.  Not just with disadvantaged communities, but everywhere.  All over the country, community gardens and backyard gardens and small farms and ranches are popping up.  It's as if we're all waking up from a very bad dream in which we were held hostage to a system that fed us weak plants from dead soil and the meat of sick, tortured animals, and tons and tons of bleached, processed grains.  We gorged ourselves on this “food” but it didn't nourish us, and the more we ate the sicker we got.  We started dying slow, painful, horrible deaths from incurable diseases.  And the doctors told us we were dying of malnutrition... but we didn't know how because there was all this food... 

And now, in the light of day, we're remembering... we can't depend on any big impersonal "system," not a government system nor a corporate system, to feed us in a way that will keep us strong and healthy.  We have to do this ourselves.  We can do this ourselves.  We can heal our bodies and our homes and our despondent state of mind and go another way.  We can get our hands dirty.  We can grow and raise our own food and, finally, take back control over our lives.

The strongest element of the human spirit is our ability to band together to make a change, to help each other through.  The people of Turley and the other communities out there who are coming together to feed themselves are proof of that.  They are the models of how we should all aspire to be.

It never ceases to amaze me how those of us who have the least manage to inspire us the most.

If you want to vote for Turley, OK to win a fruit orchard, or if you just want to see how this contest plays out, go to Communities Take Root and see what a difference you can make.  We only have until May 31st to vote for this go 'round.  Time is almost up.  Vote daily.  Absolutely every vote counts.

If you want to see what others are doing (and what opportunities there may be to get involved), check out the following links:





The Reluctant Vegan...

Well, I had my first round of allergies tests today to see what was making my Eosinophilic Esophagitis worse.  Today's tests were for food allergies.  (I am sure you can tell, this does not end well.)  So far, I have confirmed allergies to: sunflower seeds, garlic, buckwheat, milk, eggs, beef, pork, chicken, walnuts, and pecans.  So, you may notice that the recipes that I post do not have these ingredients (much to my teeth gnashing dismay.)  I will be working with some recipes that I love in order to work within my new food parameters.  This is foodie hell.  I am not kidding here.  So, if you DO happen to have any kind words, feel free to leave me a comment.

On the bright side, at least I can hint shamelessly of my need for one of these cool bracelets from Allerbling...

Gift Ideas for a Red-Headed Foodie with Food Allergies


Strawberry Shortcake Trifle

It is May, and that means STRAWBERRIES!!!  When I declared that it was a Strawberry Day, my oldest child requested a trifle, my middle child pleaded for a strawberry shortcake, and my youngest demanded blueberries and strawberries mixed together.  As I was contemplating how to weave together their "requests," Angela called to inform me that she had gotten four goose eggs from the farmers' market and that it was my job to use them well.  I had not cooked with goose eggs before, but there is a first time for everything...and I had a foodie plan forming.  (Insert maniacal laughter.)

As expected, the sound of me puttering around in the kitchen brought the pitter patter of little feet and the frantic grasping of little hands vying for the "cooking chair" and the prime spot in front of the mixing bowl.  It may have resulted in one or two of the more zealous sous chefs being expelled from the kitchen.  Hey, cooks are short tempered, everyone knows that!  (But if this harshes your warm fuzzy vision of mother and child in the kitchen together, just skim over that part.)

First, for the short cake!  I wanted something tender, but strong enough to hold up to the weight of the berries and the rich custard, so I decided on almonds!

1 c. sweet rice flour
1 c. sweet sorghum flour
1 c. ground almond flour (I just grind it in the food processor until finely ground)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp xanthan gum
3/4 c. cold butter, cut into pieces
1/3 c. buttermilk (or soured milk)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a 9 inch pie pan, and set aside.  Combine all the dry ingredients, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles crumbs.  Add buttermilk and stir until a dough forms.  Spread the batter into the pie pan and bake for approximately 15 - 20 minutes, or until set in the middle and the cake starts to turn lightly golden.  Cool on wire rack; meanwhile...

Next, it is time to start the strawberry and blueberry filling...okay, this part was easy; you just, well, cut up strawberries and fresh, whole blueberries.  How easy is that? 

Finally, for the custard:

Just so you know, my kids were amazed at how much bigger goose eggs were than "regular" eggs...

2 goose eggs (or 3 large eggs...as my kids call them "regular eggs")
2 c. milk
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch salt 

before you start cooking the custard, prepare a large bowl 1/2 full with water and ice and place it in the sink.  Then begin cooking...

Crack the eggs into a medium saucepan...

Then add the milk, sugar, and salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly.  

Cook until the egg mixture coats a metal spoon...

Then remove the pan from the heat and place the pan into the ice water, and continue stirring for 2 minutes to cool.  Stir in the vanilla and pour the custard in a bowl, cover the custard with plastic wrap to keep a skin from forming on the custard.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble and serve.

You can leave the cake in the pie pan.  Cover the cake with the berries

and drizzle the custard over the berries.

I meant to take some to Angela as a "thank you" for the eggs.  Unfortunately, we ate it all.  Um, yeah, sorry Angela!


Spring Frittata: How I Suffer for the Cause

Eating seasonally starts to get exciting right about now; though, if you're not used to it, perhaps a bit daunting.  If your diet has heretofore consisted (as it does for most Americans) of food brought to you on a truck from you-really-don't-know-where and purchased at your average grocery store, you get used to eating the same, say, 5 vegetables (maybe 10 if you're really broad-minded), out of season, with a meager amount of nutrients, all the time.  It's convenient.  It's sort of like food.  And it's beyond bland and boring.  (How's that for alliteration?)  But try eating food grown locally and in season, even for just a month, and the world explodes with possibilities.  It may seem like you're more limited at first (what do you mean there are no tomatoes in May?  What will I put in my salad?), but when you start to branch out of your lettuce/tomato/potato rut, you start to see what I mean.  

First of all, early spring is all about green.  Green, green, green everywhere you look.  The produce stands are filled to buckling with every green-leafy imaginable... and some I'd bet you never (if you're on the aforementioned typical American grocery store diet) tried before in your life.  And, oh, are they worth trying.  I've finally updated our What's in Season Now page.  Go look at the list.  Some of the available produce you'll recognize (fresh green onions, anyone?), but I'll bet there are several you haven't tried.  Not much fruit yet (aside from strawberries and, around here, mulberries!), and the only color you'll see is bright red radishes and the rainbow of colors available in Swiss chard.  Limiting, right?  Yes, and no.  

The trick to really experience seasonal eating is this:  find something in season that you Really Love, eat a crapload of it, and don't stop until it goes away.  Remember, also, to try something new.  You never know what strange seasonal morsel may become a new to-die-for favorite.  Asparagus lovers have been in absolute heaven lately, since this shining gem of Spring is at it's fleeting peak right now.  And, believe me, asparagus in season and picked just hours before  you buy it is absolutely incomparable to the out-of-season grocery store variety.  Love mushrooms?  Some cultivated kinds can be procured all year long (especially if you know a good mushroom grower), but others... go see @ Home with Real Food's recent adventures in morel hunting.   Tell me you aren't intrigued.

In my head, it goes something like this.  "I have eaten so much asparagus... asparagus for breakfast in my omelets, asparagus raw in salad, asparagus sauteed with garlic for dinner... I love asparagus SO much, but if I never see another asparagus again... oh, look!  Blackberries!"  And your off!  Of course, you won't be eating only one thing at a time.  This season I've taken full shameful advantage of all the fresh spring salad greens, asparagus, sauteed collard greens, spinach in everything, green onions (which make for KILLER nachos... I wouldn't lie to you), green garlic (such wonderful, fascinating stuff.  You must try it if you can find it at your nearest farmers' market, though this is a spring delicacy you probably won't see at your average chain grocery store) and the most gorgeous pastured eggs I have ever seen.  I even stumbled upon some goose eggs recently, and quickly snatched them up so Terri would make me some custard!  Still waiting... ;)

To show you a little bit of how I'm "suffering" with all these seasonal "limits" (heh heh), here's the kind of stuff we've been eating.  It's delicious, filling, and works with the budget.
Spring Frittata

Spring Frittata

A frittata, for the 5 people left on this planet who don't know (believe me, I was one of them until a few short years ago), are sort of a compromise between an omelette and a quiche.  You can use any fresh vegetables or cheeses you prefer.  Don't like (or can't have) mushroom?  Leave them out.  Want another way to prepare that succulent asparagus?  Throw some in!  Here's what I did:

9 eggs
A little glug of milk (like you'd do to make scrambled eggs... just eyeball it)
Two big handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (Terri - you'll be glad to know these mushrooms met their untimely demise in my mouth... making the world safe for my foodie partner one fungus at a time)
1 small onion, chopped
1 large green garlic, chopped (bulb & stalk - use everything that looks useable)
4 slices bacon
1 c. shredded Swiss cheese
A few dashes of nutmeg

Whisk up your eggs and milk in a bowl (I use a large glass liquid measure, which makes it easy to pour later) and set aside.  In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron or stainless steel with no plastic handles), over medium-high heat, brown the bacon until done and remove, leaving behind the grease.  Wilt the spinach in the bacon grease, then remove that, too (set aside in a bowl for the moment).  You'll see that a lot of spinach wilts down into a little, so in this case more is better.
The spinach I was left with once it wilted
 In the grease that's left (if there's not enough, add a little olive oil), sautee the mushrooms, onion, and green garlic.  Once the mushrooms are soft and the onions are transparent, add the spinach back into the mix and crumble the bacon over all of it.
Sauteed veggies & bacon for frittata - I could eat it just like this
 Next, pour the egg mixture over everything and sprinkle the cheese evenly.  Now's the time to sprinkle your nutmeg over the top, as well.  Preheat the broiler.  Reduce heat under your skillet to medium-low and let cook, uncovered, for approximately 2 minutes until the eggs are set but it's still a little runny on top.  Here's another photo, this one of mine cooking away on the stove top.

Transfer the skillet to the broiler until eggs are no longer runny and slightly browned, another 2 or 3 minutes.  Slice into wedges and serve with one of those fabulous fresh green salads.

We ate every last bite.


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