TRULY LOCAL, SUSTAINABLE MEAT THAT OUR FAMILY LOVES
Like many Americans, I was horrified after reading and watching “Fast Food Nation.” I was a senior in college when the film was released, and ready to take action, I began to purchase our meat from a local farm near our college in Central New York.
In the years since moving to Westborough, the organic and locally grown food movements have taken power. It seems like every suburb in Massachusetts has their own farmers’ market, and there are more farm CSA’s to choose from in Westborough than grocery stores.
My parents bought a share at Nourse Farm a few years ago, and we are regulars at Harvey’s Farm. Still, I found that I really missed the locally raised meats from my years in New York State.
Last month, Harvey’s Farm sent out an invitation to purchase meat from Lilac Hedge Farm. They raise Black Angus, a few different kinds of cows and sheep and chickens in the nearby town of Holden.
All of their animals are born and cared for in Holden, and are few a balance of grass and grains. (**Patrick despises grass-fed meat. As a discerning connoisseur from “the country,” he said that Lilac Hedge clearly knows what they are doing, and how to properly feed animals the right nutrients.**) The animals are slaughtered locally, in USDA approved slaughter houses, that are known for being humane.
Excited, I started with a freezer full of different cuts, and was surprised at the reasonable prices. You can buy a couple of different cuts to try it out, if you’re not as daring. Instead of opting to join the CSA, I purchased a meat pack, choosing from items on a “Chinese Menu” sort of layout. I was able to pick them up in Berlin, 5 minutes from my school. Lilac Hedge offers pick-ups in Holden, Boston and Westborough for their CSA members.
My whole family loved the meat, and I truly enjoy knowing that I am feeding them healthy, local, sustainable products. Jasper literally licked his plate at the end of dinner, giving it the toddler seal of approval- the highest marks, in our house.
FARM TO TABLE ON THE CUL-DE-SAC
If you read bumper stickers, listen to NPR, or live in suburbia, you know that there is a huge movement to support local farms. People are joining CSAs left and right, and doing all that they can to buy food that isn’t “super processed.”
Last night, I made a dinner with all local ingredients.
It wasn’t very original, or very complicated. But it was easy, fast and delicious.
I used Pork Chops from Lilac Hedge Farm, which were far better than any that I’ve purchased from Stop & Shop (my nemesis) in the last 15 years. We had gone apple picking last week, so I had fresh Fuji apples from Tougas Farm, and I topped mine with a touch of honey from Nourse Farm in Westborough.
The result was honestly something that I’m proud of. Plus, now I could go to one of those hipster bars and honestly brag about how I love to make meals with local, fresh ingredients.
DOES ORGANIC MATTER?
Its no secret that we are what we eat.
As a mom, I care a lot about the food that is put on our table, and I try hard to better understand its effects. Lately, I find myself researching more and more elements of nutrition, and how to find a strong balance in our diets.
One of my research tangents has circled around organic food. Does it matter? Some studies say no- sure, there are far fewer antibiotics and more nutrients in organic milk, but eating one piece of fresh ocean fish would be better than drinking 5 gallons of organic milk.
Organic veggies certainly have more vitamins and minerals, too, but there are so many different sub-types of each vegetable, and ideas about what makes things “organic” that it is really hard to know if it is worth tripling the amount of money that I spend at the grocery store each week.
A bit lost in my research, I turned to an expert.
Matt Travis has a masters degree in physical education and is FMS certified; we both grew up in Westborough and believe in the family business model. (He runs a fitness facility- Athletic Revolution- with his family. I LOVE what he is doing there!!)
A couple of weeks ago, Matt spent a couple of hours in Stop & Shop (my nemesis) with me, sharing his wealth of knowledge about food and commitment to better eating all with an excited, knowledgeable, and patient tone.
His advice was pretty straightforward: shop local whenever it is possible, and go organic when you can.
We already buy all of our meat from a local farm, that practices organic farming, but I was excited to learn about some easy changes I could make in the rest of my life.
- I switched from Stop & Shop brand yogurt, which has tons of artificial sweeteners, to Kefir, which has probiotics and lots of good stuff.
- Instead of adding a bit of apply juice to my water, I started squishing in half of an organic lemon. (This is one of those fruits that is noted for being loaded with tons of pesticides, and since I’m putting the peel in my water every day, it makes sense to splurge a bit.)
- We’re eating organic apples, again because we eat the peels.
So far, those are the small changes we committed to. Matt noted that broccoli is a great place to save some cash and skip the organic stuff, and that there is so much sugar in the Skippy peanut butter and Heinz ketchup that we eat, that it is well worth switching. So, I’m planning on switching to a sugar-free, corn-syrup free version to both of these.
Matt’s advice about bread was the same as my family practitioner’s- go Ezekiel. It is really pricey, and when I went through the ingredients of the Stop & Shop organic brand, for half of the price, I decided that we’re going to have a little sugar in our bread. (I figure that it is still better than the loaf of Italian bread that Patrick & I would both rather eat.)
But, when I read the ingredients on my beloved flax-wraps a little more closely, I saw what a big difference there is between Joseph’s and Ezekiel, so we’ll absolutely be switching the brand of wraps that we buy.
To be honest, I still have a lot of research, and changes, to make to my diet. I’m working hard on becoming a healthier me, and helping my family to develop healthy eating habits.
But I feel like we’re on the right track.And I haven’t touched Diet Coke in a month.
GLUTEN/CORN/SUGAR FREE AND WALLET FRIENDLY!
One of the women at Athletic Revolution posted a great recipe about spaghetti squash enchiladas last week on facebook. I’m not a huge fan of spaghetti squash, so I decided to use her recipe as inspiration for one of my meal-prepping extravaganzas.
I pan fried a bit of chicken, just enough to brown it. While that was going, I threw a chopped onion and a can of organic enchilada sauce into the slow cooker.
After adding the chicken, I set up a cup of rice to cook, and shredded 4 zucchinis. I pressed them through a strainer, and used some paper towels to wick off some of the moisture, so that they wouldn’t water down the spices, and then layered them in the cooker. Then, I poured in two cans of rinsed black beans.
Once the rice was done, a added 2 tablespoons of our favorite southwestern spice blend, and layered it on top of the beans. I added a couple of garlic cubes, and then topped the whole things with two cans of chopped tomatoes.
The whole thing cost less than $15. Even though we all ate second helpings, it still made about 3 dinners worth of food. If you’re doing the math, that means that I was able to put together this really healthy, well balanced meal for $1.67 per very generous serving. And it was seriously delicious- our toddler LOVED it!!
BEST. PORK CHOPS. EVER.
There is nothing like the scent of butter drenched meat.
Our family has been working on eating better, but that doesn’t mean that we’re giving up on tasty food.
Last night, I made the best pork chops. Ever.
I pan fried the chops in butter (Kerry’s Irish) until they were brown on each side. I added a tiny bit of salt on each side before flipping.
Then, I topped them with a bit of fig jam. (Although there’s a bit of sugar, there isn’t any fake filler in this brand.)
Then, I let them roast in the oven at 200, for 15 minutes while I set up the toppings.
I chopped 1/4 cup of dates and mixed it with 1/4 cup of blue cheese, and then threw them on top of the chops.
Jasper wasn’t feeling the blue cheese last night, but he LOVED the pork and dates. Patrick agreed that they were hands down, the best ever.
CARROTS, SQUASH AND GINGER SOUP?!
“Please, just one bite?” I pleaded.
“NO!” Jasper stubbornly frowned.
“You don’t want any orange stuff? I LOVE mine!!”
“NOO!!” he said, his anger growing.
I took a deep breath, and looked to Patrick, who shrugged.
“He ate all of his steak, and had a great snack at 4:00,” he assented.
Sighing over my labors, I scooped the final delicious bites of mixed vegetables off of my own plate, and agreed to let Jasper leave the table.
I had peeled and chopped carrots and butternut squash, and set them to roast with garlic in the oven for an hour. Then, I worked to puree them and added in a bit of butter and almond milk. I’m honestly not a huge vegetable fan, but these things were tasty.
And my kid wouldn’t eat them.
Sometimes, people aren’t hungry. Or they don’t like certain foods. (Or they have an ear infection…) In our house, it is alright not to eat everything on your plate. We are working hard to help our kids develop healthy eating habits; they don’t need to clean their plates, or like everything I cook.
Jasper is great eater- he has been known to gobble down duck, blue cheese chop salad, and butternut squash soup with goat cheese. We don’t make him any special meals, but we also don’t stress out when he doesn’t like something.
Deep breaths, and patience- the hardest part of parenting a toddler.
PALEO BREAD AND PROTEIN POWDER… SO DELICIOUS!
We’ve been doing my best to stay on track with eating well, in an effort to get back to my pre-baby weight.
When I was sick with mastitis it was impossible to eat right and stay consistent with the antibiotics. Weeks later, it is still hard to maintain my blood sugar while limiting carbs and breast feeding.
One recipe that I have really loved is that for “caveman” paleo banana bread. I’ve modified it a bit, and added isagenix to add more protein.
- 4 bananas, (2 1/2 cups mashed or 575 grams)(they can be yellow bananas)
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup almond butter (140 grams)(or coconut, sunflower seed, macadamia nut, etc butter)
- 4 tablespoons grass-fed butter, melted (can substitute coconut oil)
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 2 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (gluten free or homemade)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 scoops of vanilla or chocolate isalean
This week, I added cocoa powder and cocoa nibs (with as little sugar as I could manage!), but last week I made it with pumpkin and pecans. I’ve found this stuff helps curb my hunger, while avoiding any spikes in blood sugar.
HOW WE GOT OUR KID TO EAT VEGETABLES
When babies first begin eating food, their taste buds aren’t nearly as refined as the taste buds of toddlers; this means that when they first start out in life, human beings are more willing to eat anything. Both babies and toddlers are engineered to prefer salty & sweet foods, and something happens around age two that convinces most toddlers that anything not of their favorite food groups is simply inedible. Some kids grow up to continue this routine throughout the rest of their lives.
I don’t want our boys to be like that. At a conference last week, one mom said that her ten-year old still only eats nuggets, mac n’cheese and pizza.
I read up a lot on toddler eating, as I want our boys to grow up eating a balanced diet. There are some things that we did to help Jasper eat more vegetables, and so far, we’ve had a lot of success.
We don’t allow nuggets into our house. Mac’n cheese is almost never served, and pizza is an occasional treat. But Jasper gets “adult” pizzas; last week he had buffalo chicken & blue cheese. He doesn’t know that there are bland options out there; he loves to eat what we eat.
2. It Is Fine If He Goes to Bed Hungry.
Sometimes, Jasper doesn’t like what I serve for dinner. I try to add options that I know he’ll like, but toddlers are mercurial beasts. His favorite fruit today might be his nemesis tomorrow. I’m not a short-order chef; it is alright if he doesn’t eat much. (Hey, I’m not always hungry either!) This can be emotional for people; my kid is growing, and consumes more than enough food throughout the day to be able to make the choice to skip a few calories.
3. Make Eating Fun.
Jasper helps make dinner. Sometimes, we make “worms” out of carrots and zucchini using the spiralizer; sometimes he gets to crack the eggs. During dinner, we talk about the best parts of our day and comment on how tasty our vegetables are. (Ok, the latter is hard for me. I honestly don’t eat that many vegetables.)
4. Understand What Food Is
We are growing vegetables in the backyard, and Jasper helps to water them. He helps me to make decisions at the grocery store (Pears or peaches? This apple or that one?) and we talk about the different ways that eating helps us to become healthy and strong.
5. Try a Variety of Foods in a Variety of Ways
I try to add in new recipes on a regular basis. Jasper currrently loves:
- Spiralized zucchini, carrots & beansprouts
- Zucchini pizza
- Gluten-free 3 ingredient pancakes
- Chopped veggies to dip
- Butternut Squash Soup
He also has been known to eat brussel sprouts with bacon, asparagus roasted in oil in the oven, spinach, and stir-fry anything. But sometimes, he doesn’t eat it. And he HATES potatoes. Instead of giving up on a food if he doesn’t eat it, we shrug and move on, and then offer it again a few weeks later. Sometimes, it becomes his “favorite” for a few days. Sometimes, he still won’t touch it.
Whenever my family is going to have a couple of busy days in a row, or plan on hosting a picky eater for dinner, my standby is always the same: dirty rice. This recipe is one that has evolved throughout my years in the kitchen, but has always remained a strong favorite.
Italian ground sausage
3 cups of rice (I prefer brown)
1 large green pepper
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic (I prefer the frozen cubes- they’re so easy!)
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes
2 8oz cans of black beans
Salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. (As mentioned in Foul Balls, my boys can’t stand cayenne, so I usually leave it out. But I think it adds a subtle kick).
Goat cheese for toppings
I start by cooking the rice. While that’s going, I cook the andoulle sausage in a fry pan until all of the sides are brown. Then, I chop the sausage into toddler-friendly bites. I dump these in with the sausage and rice into the crock pot.
Then, I brown the Italian Sausage in the fry pan, and chop up the pepper and onion. I drain the beans and tomatoes, and then add them all into the rice mixture. Once browned, I add the sausage and then stir in the spices.
I stir it all up in the crock pot and its ready to sit on low for hours until we’re ready to eat it. Honestly, I usually throw the crock pot back in the fridge and turn it on in the morning before work. This recipe makes about 8 servings, so we usually have plenty of leftovers. I just leave them in the pot, and put it in the fridge after the first dinner. When I get home, around 4, I throw it back on the second night and stir it up pretty good. It is super easy, and always a crowd pleaser.
CHICKEN A LA KATE
As school came to a close, our calendar began to overflow with meetings, grad school classes, riding lessons, yard work, grading and social outings. Somewhere in there, I wanted to fit in dinner for our family, so I again turned to our trusty crock pot.
My friend gave me a great recipe book that I have used some other recipes from, so I paged through it on Sunday before I left for my dreaded trip to Stop & Shop. ( This is really an impressive growth in the level of thought that I put into dinners.) I found this recipe for chicken that looked tasty.
On Tuesday before I left for my riding lesson, I started the recipe so that my boys could have a nice dinner, even if I wasn’t home.
I started cooking, and realized that the carrots and celery were supposed to be thrown out instead of tossed in the pot with the chicken. I decided that was an awful waste of vegetables, so I put them in the crock pot with the beer boiled chicken. Then I put in a full onion instead of half of one.
My friend Peggy wrote about the awful surprises moms face when re-reading a recipe when it is time to really cook the food. As I began to go further into the recipe, my stomach sank. I knew that I had been struck by the distracted-mommy-cooking-dinner curse.
It turns out that there were a lot of things that I had missed on Sunday morning when doing my quick read. I discovered that there were supposed to be layers of chicken, cheese and tortilla chips. Jasper is allergic to dairy- no cheese for us! Tortilla chips are not allowed in our house due to Patrick’s addiction to them.
I opened a can of black beans, drained it and mixed it with the enchillada sauce, vegetables and chicken.
I let it cook in the crock pot. And prayed.
After my riding lesson, Patrick reported that he and Jasper both enjoyed their dinners. I plopped my serving into a bit of queso dip, and was shocked at how delicious it was. Jasper even ate leftovers the next night, which he never does!
I am proud to say that I have officially invented a successful recipe.
Most people prefer pepperoni, cheese or maybe even Hawaiian.
My favorite kind of pizza is sweet potato and goat cheese with caramelized onions.
My Aunt Martha shared the recipe with me from Haley House, a Catholic charity that my grandfather and his kids volunteered at. Martha shared with me the simplistic perfection of a recipe that came to be my favorite:
1. Peel and chip 2-3 sweet potatoes. Coat in olive oil and salt. Cook for 20 minutes a side at 375
2. Peel and slice an onion. Saute in olive oil and sugar (or substitute) for 15 minutes
3. Prep whole wheat pizza crust. Coat in olive oil and bake until crispy
4. Add a bit of your favorite tomato sauce and some cheddar
5. Top with cooked sweet potatoes and onion.
6. Layer on some goat cheese. I use a whole container of the stuff from the Stop & Shop deli
7. Cook at 425 for 10 minutes.
I used this recipe to compete in Hudson’s pizza cook-off, and am happy to report that we won. (Even if it was for team spirit…)
(Photo credits to Wiked Local)
This week, we discovered a new favorite dinner. A section in the cookbook that Jennifer bought me is titled, “Dude Food.” We made the deconstructed Rubens- the corned beef was far more tender and juicy than anything that we have bought in a store.
The recipe is another from the book that my colleague Jennifer gave me.
I fried some rye bread with some cheese and plopped the fixins’ on top. It was awesome.
Family dinner was an important part of my childhood, and I am thrilled that I am sharing this tradition with my own little family. My brother Tommy and I often tease my mom that when we were growing up there were two meals that my mom cooked; chicken and rice or beef and potatoes. Our mom did her best to shake things up, and get us to try new dishes.
The night of the apple cider sauce chicken is a night that will live on in infamy. The night ended in pizza and laughter, but our poor mom was a bit gun shy when it came to trying out new recipes.
Patrick is a very supportive eater. Since we have lived together since we were what I term “puppies” he has had to endure many a meal that would score lower than Maura’s Apple Sauce Chicken Fail. There has been a small handful of meals that he has not been able to finish.
Last night was one of those meals.
The cranberry-chipotle-pineapple meatballs were spicy and delicious. It is a simple dish; cranberry sauce, a can of chipotle, some pineapples and some turkey meatballs. Inexpensive, delicious, and different!
Jasper took one bite and screamed in horror. Patrick did his best to grin and bear it, but the spice was just too much for him. The slow burn had him scrounging the cabinets or bread, and cuddling our baby with empathy.
Dinner ended with nuggets, Boca burgers and ketchup.
When the ketchup finally arrived, Jasper literally shouted with joy when the ketchup and in-a-pinch meal showed up.
have plenty of leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
ONION SOUP BEEF
One of the first meals that Patrick and I made when we moved to Richfield Springs, NY was Onion Soup Beef.
We cook the beef, with a packet of onion soup on top of it on low, for at least 4 hours.
This is one of the few meals that I trust Patrick to make after he ruined a frozen pizza.
My dad joined us for dinner this week, and was surprised at how easy it is, and how simply delicious. (Growing up, we typically consumed onion soup mix when mixed with sour cream and potato chips.) This soup-er easy recipe has become a staple on the Cul de Sac.