Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Puppy Kibble

Today, I decided to take the plunge into DIY dog food. We got the books, we did the research, we talked to our (completely unhelpful) vet, and now we are making Cleo's food. Well, sort of.

Basically, dogs need vitamins A through K and basic minerals like potassium, magnesium and such, most of which will be covered by a well rounded diet (that is, feed the dog different stuff every day, not just chicken). The only thing that she will definitely not get enough of is calcium, and especially for puppies too much or too little is a big problem. Eggshells have tons of calcium, but must be ground in a coffee or spice grinder (not just crushed) to be edible and effective.

So, although I am pretty sure I know what I am doing, until I am 100% positive, I am mixing our home made food with store bought puppy kibble, about half and half. That way, I can be sure that the correct blend of vitamins, minerals and nutrients is getting to her.

My first dog food recipe, I will call Puppy Potato Salad. This is modified from the Tuna and Potato Dinner recipe from This Book. We didn't have tuna packed in oil, so I used some canned herring (which had been sitting in our pantry untouched for months, don't even remember why we bought it) instead, after much research into its healthfulness and a little taste test with Cleo.

First, I boiled some potatoes. Only one would end up in her meal, but if I am going to heat up that much water anyway, I might as well make potato salad tomorrow. Next I mashed the herring with the oil it was packed in (dogs, especially puppies need a high protein, high fat diet).

To the herring, I added some yogurt (dogs need good bacteria in their gut just like us), grated carrot and parsley for vitamins and fiber. A little olive oil for fat content, and finally I cut up the potato (about a half cup, chopped) and mixed it in.

The result looked really terrible, but Cleo loved it. Mixing the home made food with store kibble, it made about six servings. The ingredients were probably around $3, so that makes 50 cents a meal. Not quite as cheap as a pure kibble diet, but much healthier (I hope) in the long run.

Eventually, the goal is to feed Cleo mostly with the scraps of our kitchen, but plan our meals so that the scraps will be just what she needs. I figure we should spend some time preparing her meals pretty much separately, but at least trying to overlap the ingredients. Over time, ideally, most of our vegetable waste will be composted, and all of our meat and fatty scraps will go to Cleo. In other words, the long term goal is to make Cleo part of a more sustainable kitchen.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wild Mushroom Risotto

I have made this dish (or some variation) about 10 times in the last month, and every time it has been amazing. This is due in large part to the fact that the Pacific North West has an abundance of edible wild mushrooms. From the impressive looking Lion's Mane to the improbable Chicken of the Woods (it tastes like chicken, really), the mushrooms up here are really something else. Many delicious species grow on decaying hardwoods, and the climate up here is perfect for both hardwood trees and mushrooms.

Risotto is a little scary to some because it is easy to burn. But once you get the hang of it, it is an excellent base for improvisation. You can throw in seafood or mushrooms, some chopped vegetables, or you can take it in new directions with spices. If you cook a topping or additive separately, it can be combined at the end. It is basically a rich and creamy base for whatever flavor you want to support. The signature texture breaks down when reheated, but it is still delicious, and in my opinion makes excellent leftovers when eaten within a few days. It takes about 30 minutes all told, but 15-20 minutes of that time requires constant attention. So it can be made quickly, but do not plan on multitasking.

Wild Mushroom Risotto:

1 1/2 Cups Risotto Rice:

It is essential that you use the correct rice. Only short, fat grains will do. I always use Arborio, but Carnaroli (which I have never seen in the grocery store) is apparently traditional. These particular types of rice are more starchy, and break down differently from other varieties.

4 Cups Stock:

This is where you get most of the flavor (aside from the fatty creaminess of the butter). Chicken stock is most common, but fish or vegetable stock is a perfectly acceptable substitution depending on the other ingredients. I do not recommend mushroom stock for wild mushroom risotto, actually, because the flavors might compete (the stock will probably be made with very different mushrooms). Use a vegetable or chicken stock instead. Whatever the flavor, use the best stock you can find, or better yet stock that you made yourself. Since this is the flavor base, make it a good one. Using a vegetable stock makes this a vegetarian recipe.

Up to 2 cups chopped Mushrooms:

Any variety will do, but some kind of fresh wild mushroom is best. I like chanterelles a lot, but last time I used Fried Chicken Mushrooms (which don't taste like fried chicken, really). You can also use dried mushrooms, which should be refreshed in a little water. If you do this, you can mix the re hydrating liquid with the stock to retain all of the flavor.

1/2 cup white wine
2 shallots (or 1 onion)
2-4 cloves Garlic (optional)
1 tbsp. olive oil
5 tbsp. butter.
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Get all of the ingredients ready and close at hand before you start cooking. Clean and roughly chop the mushrooms, dice the shallots (and garlic) finely, put the stock in a small sauce pot, the olive oil and half of the butter in a large skillet. Have the wine measured and in reach. Grate the required amount of cheese and keep nearby. When everything is prepped, measured and handy, you are ready to get started. This is important, because once the rice is in the pan, you cannot walk away from it until it is almost finished.

Bring the stock to a boil, then turn down the heat to a low simmer, and keep it there. Heat the skillet until butter melts and blends with olive oil, then add shallots (and garlic). When shallots are softened (do not brown) add the rice and stir to coat the grains completely with fat.

Stirring constantly, add the wine, and simmer until completely absorbed. Repeat this process with the stock one ladle full at a time (still stirring constantly) until all of the stock is gone. If you stop stirring or walk away to do something else at this point, the liquid could evaporate very quickly and the rice could burn.

Add the mushrooms about 5 minutes before the risotto is done (that is, when you are ~2/3 of the way through the stock). Once all of the stock is absorbed, remove from the heat completely. At this point, dice the remaining butter and add it a few cubes at a time, stirring until it is melted. Then add the Parmesan cheese, again stirring until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper (white if you have it) to taste. Ideally, serve immediately. Otherwise, keep covered and serve within 20 minutes. Avoid reheating as this will cause the oil to separate, damaging the presentation (but not really the flavor).


For a vegan risotto, use Earth Balance instead of butter. Earth Balance is the only butter replacement that tastes almost as good and acts similar in cooking, and it also has no trans fat or hydrogenated oil. I have made risotto with this product a few times, and it works very well.

For a seafood risotto, use fish stock (if you can find it) or vegetable stock, and add shrimp at the same time as you would the mushrooms. If you are adding other seafood, consider cooking it separately and combining it right before serving, or using the risotto as a bed.

Other soft vegetables that can be eaten raw should be added at the same time as the mushrooms. Hard vegetables that need more cooking (tubers, rough greens, etc.) and meat should be cooked separately and combined right before serving. All together, I would not add much more than 2 cups of other ingredients per 1 and 1/2 cups (raw) rice.

Pictures to come soon, bon appetit. Scratch that, I just checked and I don't have any pictures of that one. I don't know what I was thinking. But here's a link!

Risotto on Foodista

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Sweet Life

So on top of getting the tour for free ($5) and getting some free slices from La Perla (~$10), I also got a gift card to Sweet Life Patisserie, value $10, for volunteering at EWEB last weekend. At first I thought this gift was a Trojan Horse, a nice idea but full of sad Courtney later (pastries and wheat allergies usually do not mix), but it turns out that Sweet Life has several gluten free options!

Now, gluten free is not their specialty, but like many shops in this area, they are definitely hip to it. So, I just wanted to write a quick post about them, and include a photo of what $10 bucks can get you when you only stick to the GF stuff.

Flourless torte, GF brownie, truffle, and "Venus Nipple"

I haven't told Courtney yet that I bought all this today, so she should be very pleased when she gets home.

Book Review: Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

I just finished this book, and I recommend it highly. As you all know, I talk a lot about food on this blog, and food is entirely the subject of this book.

Animal Vegetable Miracle is the autobiographical story of Ms. Kingsolver and her family as they try to eat only local food for a year. As she lets you know right off the bat, they are not totalitarian about it, but they go much further than most would. It is made easier (and harder) by the fact that they live in a fertile valley and own a little bit of workable land (they also own a large amount of unworkable forest where they go hunting for morels, which makes me very jealous), which allows them to grow most of that food themselves.

Kingsolver was an accomplished fiction writer before she published this book (The Bean Trees comes highly recommended by both my wife and mother in law), and her skill with prose brings this story to life in vivid detail. She paints her daughters and her husband with color and life, and even more impressive: she approaches the character of herself with the proper blend of humor, humility, and respect.

The story is fun, informative, and engaging. It looks closely at every aspect of our food culture through the lens of a family trying to decide what to eat, which makes a lot of difficult issues very accessible. This sense of family involvement is not just a literary device, either: her husband and her elder daughter contribute essays which pepper the text (as Ms. Kingsolver puts it, the younger daughter contributes chicken eggs, because apparently it is difficult to work out a book deal for minors).

Courtney picked this book up when we were looking for information on starting a home garden, and although it is by no means a how-to text, it contains tons of useful information about growing your own food. It also manages to get its message across without seeming moralistic or judgmental, largely because one gets the sense that Kingsolver is herself not judgmental, but rather just an ordinary (albeit it eloquent) woman trying to figure out how to do things right.

In short, a must read for anyone interested in food.

Monday, October 5, 2009

EWEB green and solar homes tour

Yesterday I had the pleasure of helping out at EWEB for their Solar and Green Building Tour (part of the Solar Oregon program. I asked to help out early, so that I could take one of the tours and see some of the green homes Eugene was highlighting.

The first stop (for my group) was the Inkwell Building in Cresent Village, which won LEED Gold certification for the Core and Shell and LEED Platinum for the interior of their office. They followed LEED pretty much to the letter, and the result was a comfortable, beautiful office space. The rest of the tour consisted of three homes, each with completely different approaches to being green.

It was a really fun day, and I especially enjoyed talking with the builders and architects about what strategies they implemented to go green, and why they chose those over other possibilities. It was interesting to learn that many of my favorite methods for energy efficiency in Southern California were not always easy or effective to implement here.

For example, solar thermal water heaters are a snap in SoCal, but you have to purchase really high tech expensive ones in climates that drop below freezing for long periods in the winter. While one house chose to go with this option, the In-Law unit designed by Rainbow Valley did a cost analysis which showed that for their project it would take forever to pay off the initial expense (largely because it was a home for one person who only lived there part of the year). They chose a tankless water heater which was very efficient at providing the small amount of hot water needed.

In speaking with Alec from Rainbow Valley Design, he was lamenting how difficult it is to find valuable information about many of the "green" products available for builders. For example, he told me about a door they sourced which touted that it used locally harvested, sustainable wood. After he bought it, he found out that they did use local wood, but shipped that wood to China to be cut and assembled with cheap labor and then shipped it back. Well the point of local is that you aren't burning oil to ship it across the globe!

I told Alec about another builder on the tour who informed me that the hardwood floors in his house were green something or other certified, I had never heard of the certification he mentioned. I asked what that meant, he said "it's supposed to be better." I asked if it was FSC certified, he replied that he had no idea. So what's green about new maple if it isn't FSC certified?

My favorite home aesthetically speaking was the Sage House, by Arbor South Architecture. It was LEED Platinum, the highest rating offered by the US Green Building Council. The floors and some of the exterior features were done in beautiful re-purposed wood, and the structural beams were a glue lam product that I had not heard of before, which uses the chips and scraps from milling. They also used it as an interior design element to wonderful affect. The exterior features were redwood that was salvaged from the seats of an old theater through BRING Recycling, a fantastic local non-profit.

The In-Law I mentioned above, however, was great because of its extremely efficient use of a tiny square footage. Smaller homes are inherently green because they use less materials, cost less to heat and cool, and generate less waste. This place was 585 square feet, and it felt like at least 800. That is just good design.

The presence of a disabled man on the tour highlighted the issue of accessibility, which is usually not thought of as being a green issue. People get old. Sorry, everyone, that was a downer I know, but it is unavoidably true. People get old, they get injured, they slow down, sometimes they have children who are born with different abilities. Any honest assessment of the life cycle of a building should take this into account, plan for accessibility and easy mobility with a cane, a wheelchair, and even potential space for a care taker. It's not just about the current client, either, it is about resale and future owners.

The best house in terms of accessibility was definitely the "Earth Advantage House" built by David E. Smith. With wide hallways to accommodate wheel chairs and a roll in shower (no curb, just extra tiled floor for a wheelchair or walker to roll right in) in one bathroom, this house was certainly suited to the needs of any potential residents.

The tour finished up at La Perla, a new Pizzeria in town (of the fancy pizza variety) with really excellent, traditional wood oven cooked pizza. Their food was pretty fantastic, and I tortured Courtney by eating several slices in her presence (they had some wheat free food too, so she wasn't starving).

Thinking about the differences in local climate here and in SoCal and how they affect construction choices reminded me of some studies I had done for a sustainability class at UCLA that focused on Los Angeles City's practices, and looking back over them, I think maybe they deserve to see the light of day. So I think I may brush them off, fix them up, and publish them with google docs. If I follow through, I will link to it later.

That's it for now, bravo EWEB, and thanks to everyone who opened their homes and offices for us to see.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

(No Sugar) Sweet Tomato Sauce

Most commercial tomato sauce adds sugar to balance out the natural acidity of the tomatoes and the savory from the added salt. If you pick the right tomatoes and leave the pulpy seed part in and spice them well you get enough natural sweetness from the tomatoes themselves. I found out yesterday that Sweet Bay, as opposed to regular Bay, really really brings the sweetness out of the tomatoes. Here is what I did, it took two hours, at most, but I never keep track.


Picking the tomatoes is the most important part of a good sauce. I don't promote a specific variety (some people swear by romas, for example), but I have a completely unfounded, un-tested and unshakable belief that whatever variety, the best tomatoes are slightly small and extra deep red when compared to their neighbors. For sauce, over ripe tomatoes are great because they are sweeter, and the perfect shape and firm texture of younger tomatoes is useless in the sauce.

I began by cutting the stem out and roasting the tomatoes in an extremely hot oven (450 degrees), lightly coated in olive oil. If you want to include some peppers (sweet or hot), I recommend roasting them too. Once the skin bursts from the flesh and begins to blacken, they will be very easy to peel. Peel them over the roasting pan, which should have high walls, as they may turn into mush at this step. Don't take out the seeds, the pulpy part in the middle has the most flavor.

Onions or Shallots, Garlic:

I begin every sauce that I make, just about, by frying two or three medium shallots, or one small onion in a sauce pan with some olive oil, along with some finely chopped or crushed garlic (the sauce pan should be big enough to hold all the ingredients at the end). If I am cooking vegetarian, I always add butter to get some extra fat and salt. If I am cooking vegan, I add more olive oil and salt. How much garlic? I usually use about six times as much as the recipe calls for (because I am afraid of vampires, of course). If you, like most Americans, don't have the same devotion to this pungent bulb, one or two cloves will be plenty.

Although this is usually the first step, for this recipe I started the onion family right after putting the tomatoes in the oven. When the garlic and onions/ shallots are starting to brown, I cool them off and deglaze with the following:

Vinegar and Wine:

I heard somewhere (I think from my old room mate Austin) that you should always add some acid (vinegar or citrus), some alcohol (usually wine or vodka), and some water (which is provided by the tomato juice in this case) to every meal, because these different solutions react differently with food, bringing out different flavors. Now I am no chemist, so I take this advice completely on faith. It has served me deliciously so far. Yesterday I used White Balsamic Vinegar (my current favorite, it is cooked and aged differently from regular balsamic, and it is c-h-e-a-p at Trader Joe's) and a half cup of the white wine I talked about yesterday.

What I didn't tell you about that wine yesterday (because I had not read the label yet) is that Evesham Wood grows their grapes with zero irrigation, only the natural rainfall feeds their vines. You may be thinking "oh yeah, sure, in Oregon, but what about the rest of us?" In response, I say, booyah. The guys in the last link apparently have no desire whatsoever to market themselves, but they produce an amazing zinfandel that Courtney and I had the good luck to stumble on in Cambria as we were coming up the coast. Oh, yeah, and they don't irrigate either. In Southern California.

Anyway, if the tomatoes are not ready yet, take the onions off the heat until they are. When the tomatoes are ready, peel off the skin and dump all contents of the roasting pan into the sauce pan. Next, add the...


Fresh thyme is the most important herb for any savory dish, in my opinion. After that rosemary, sage, marjoram and oregano, or whatever else I have handy take roughly equal second place. Somewhere, someone right now is cursing at the computer and saying "what about fresh basil, you jerk." Well, I don't like to use fresh basil in something that I am about to boil for an hour, I usually reserve it for a cold, summer sauce like pesto. If you want basil in your marinara, I suggest adding it near the end of cooking.

One more essential herb, as mentioned above, is Bay. Once all of this is in, boil until the tomatoes are pretty much dissolved. This step is what takes all the time, but luckily all you have to do is stir it every 10 to 15 minutes. And hey, since the oven is still hot, now would be the perfect time to put a small chicken or medium winter squash in there (assuming you already prepped it before hand). When the tomatoes are mushy enough (purely subjective) it is almost ready to serve. Taste it and see about adding salt and pepper (to me by the way, pepper always means black, red, white, and paprika). If you have parmesean handy, don't worry about the salt so much.

I always make way too much sauce, not because I don't know how to plan a meal but because the sauce is always smoother and the flavor is always more evenly absorbed when you freeze it and re-heat it later.

Yesterday I threw a squash in the oven while the sauce boiled which I will call pumpkin?, because I have no idea what it was. Courtney said it was probably pumpkin adjacent. We tried to toast the seeds, too, but that was a complete failure, perhaps because we forgot to coat the seeds with oil. The pumpkin? was delicious though, and the sauce was excellent. The flavor of home made tomato sauce is a little different every time, but it is always more interesting than grocery store canned sauce. The time commitment makes this a weekend recipe, but the easy freezing means quick delicious pasta later.

Final note, since I started the no sugar thing up there, serving this sauce with white kidney or cannellini beans instead of pasta is a good low carb alternative for diabetics or otherwise dieting people.

Marinara Sauce on Foodista

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Why wait for a holiday?

Today, at the local farmer's market, I went a little over board. Now that I am home, I ask myself, do I really need two different kinds of wild mushrooms? That one wasn't entirely my fault, there was a mushroom pusher there, and she got me hooked with a free sample of Lion's Mane (the fuzzy behemoth pictured below). And when you say no to a pusher they can get violent. Some of you will probably say that yes, everyone needs as many wild mushrooms as they can get their hands on, but I am a recent convert to fancy mushroom eating so lay off.

A sample of today's take from the Lane County FM

My most frivolous purchase of the day, I think, was a tiny baby sweet bay tree at $12.50 (an expensive item by farmer's market standards). It was a total impulse buy, but I have a feeling I am going to be very happy with it, and possibly quite soon. I wasn't sure when I bought it, but it turns out that you can use bay leaves fresh as well as dried, and unlike most other herbs, it has more flavor fresh. A quick google search also revealed that bay was named herb of the year by the International Herb Association (it also revealed that there exists an International Herb Association, who knew?). So, even though national plant a tree day is still a ways off (I have no idea when it is actually, does that make me a bad environmentalist?) I am going to plant a bay tree in my back yard.

The Bay Tree is the tall fellow on the right

After running completely out of cash, I decided it was time to come home. On the way back, unfortunately, I realized that I had accidentally parked next to a wine shop that specializes in local organic wine, and my walk to the car took an unexpected 90 degree turn to the left. I inexplicably found myself inside the wine shop, and somehow accidentally purchased the bottle of Oregon made Chardonnay in the picture above. If this bottle turns out to be good, I will probably accidentally park in front of the same wine shop every week for the rest of the farmer's market season (after that, I will have to admit it's on purpose).

The rest of my take was pretty normal: corn, squash, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and (I can feel my beard growing faster as I write this) an organic cotton bag to carry it all home in. I am thinking of turning the tomatoes into sauce, and testing the theory that fresh bay has more flavor...

In whatever form, this produce (along with some beans and wheat free pasta that we already have handy) will make something like 10 vegetarian meals for Courtney and I (that is, 20 meals total). The price tag was $53, including the wine and the cotton bag (which was 8.00 dollars! Come on, I know its organic cotton, but really?), which means that each farmer's market meal we make with this stuff will have cost us roughly $2.65 plus the cost of beans. That is a pretty darn good deal, especially considering that I splurged a lot on this trip.

Food grown by traditional means to be sold locally is usually quite cheap (the wild mushrooms were spendy, but they taste so good), and heirloom vegetables frequently taste much better because they were selected for flavor over hundreds of generations (conventional farming favors breeds that transport well over flavor-licious heritages). On top of that, much less energy goes into the production.

Take the case of the tomato, do you know how to grow a tomato? Well, conventionally, you start by purchasing genetically modified tomato seeds with the terminator gene, right? Of course. Next, you till the soil and add synthetic fertilizer (a petroleum byproduct) and spray highly toxic herbicides that kill everything except crops genetically modified to survive, right? Obviously. Plant the seeds. Water. Spray regularly with highly toxic pesticides that kill everything except crops genetically modified to survive. Finally, harvest the tomato, wrap in plastic, and put it on a truck bound for Mexico. Soon, a different tomato will arrive on a different truck from Mexico, and you purchase it at a local grocery store (supporting local is good, right?). Drive the tomato home, cut it up and top with olive oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Serve on a slice of buffalo mozzarella. That's how you make petroleum caprese.

Alternatively, the dirty fruity hippie way: plant the seeds from an organic tomato (which doesn't have the terminator gene) in your back yard, fertilize with compost (made from stuff that would otherwise be trash), water, weed with your hands, and finally harvest. Carry (not drive) the tomato into the kitchen and follow the directions above to make zero energy caprese, so called because you used literally no energy to grow the tomatoes. The slightly less dirty, less fruity hippie way? Buy a tomato grown using similar methods at the farmer's market. No work, no fuss, no Mexico.

If the pasta sauce comes out good (assuming I actually make it), I will add the recipe tomorrow, and I will also keep you updated about the Oregon wine. Apparently, Authentica (that wine shop) specializes in Oregon Pinot Noir, which I never knew was a thing until just today. Finally, I just looked up plant a tree day, by the way, and it turns out that it is called Arbor Day, and the date differs from state to state and country to country, based on the best time to plant trees in a given climate. The nationally recognized Arbor Day is the last Friday in April. Cue music, "The more you know..."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sustainable Eats: Greens and Beans Part II

Courtney and I eat meat. We are carnivores. But as carnivores go, we are pretty bad at it. We have frequently committed to a week of vegetarian cooking, or a month of eating meat only once a week (if you count farm raised clams and wild Alaskan salmon as vegetables). We also cook vegan meals from time to time. Why do we do this? Because no matter how much you love meat, you have to recognize that eating large amounts of beef for every meal is not a sustainable practice.

Buying grass finished beef is a little better, but it is very expensive compared to conventional beef. Vegetarian cooking, on the other hand, is significantly cheaper than the cheapest meat. Removing meat from just a few meals a week can greatly improve your food budget. If you are not going completely vegetarian, the health risks (low iron or protein intake) are negligible, especially if you eat beans, legumes, nuts or a meat replacement (tofu, e.g.) with each veggie meal.

Another excellent source of iron is clams, mussels or oysters. Farmed, these delicacies are also highly sustainable. There is nothing simpler than steaming clams in some white wine, with chopped onion and parsley and a little butter. They can be served in their shells with the steaming broth. Clams usually have more iron than similar amounts of beef (note: canned clams may have significantly lower iron content, fresh farmed are best).

If you are going for a vegan trial, however, more planning is required. The two main concerns are how to get the nutrition you need and how to make tasty food. Well, in the taste department I have two bits of advice: oil and sea salt. A lot of the flavor of meat comes from the natural salt and fat content, and when switching to a no meat diet doubling the salt and adding a little extra oil can go a long way. Sea salt specifically contains a number of things which are basically impurities that mimic meat flavor (the blood of most animals is similar chemically to sea water).

Another tip on vegetarian cooking: roast your vegetables. A little browning is vital to a complex flavor without meat, and a little black won't hurt either. Combined with the sea salt, this technique will produce a savory flavor that will make you forget about the lack of meat.

Finally, mushrooms are great in meatless dishes. They provide some texture, some body, and although I think white mushrooms are pretty flavorless, most varieties provide a rich umami flavor that is otherwise hard to come by without some animal product involved.

In terms of nutrition, the biggest concern aside from iron is protein, and for this beans are your best bet. Canned or dried, mashed or whole, beans and other legumes are packed with protein, low in fat and even have some fiber. They tend to soak up whatever flavor is around, so I usually add beans right at the end, otherwise everything else in the dish will lose its flavor.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should tell you that while writing this post, I was planning, preparing, cooking and eating hamburgers. What can I say? I told you I was a carnivore. Besides, it was sunny all day today, and there probably won't be another good day to BBQ until spring. I did use grass fed beef though, and it was the first time that we cooked meat in a week, so I can't feel too bad.

Oregon Trail Part VI: Sweet Home

The final day of our trek up the coast, we wake up in another extremely cute little motel in Klamath, CA, the Ravenwood. We departed from this location after being advised by some locals to stop for lunch in Grant's Pass, OR. The advice came with a warning that in Oregon they love their one way streets, trying to be more European, probably. There was a just a hint of nose turning toward those uppety Oregoneans by the locals here in Northern NorCal. I refrained from asking if they had ever been to San Francisco.

The 199 forked off from the 101 shortly after Klamath, to cut across country and bring us back around to the 5. I don't know if it was just the fresh perspective of a new day, but it seemed to me that the Redwoods along the 199 were even more beautiful than those along the 101.

Within an hour of driving, we crossed the state line in a thoroughly underpopulated patch of forest halfway between the 5 and the 101. Despite there being no obvious change in the landscape, the road signs made it perfectly clear that we were not in Kansas anymore. You can't always put your finger on it, but a subtle difference in the wording of comands gives you the sense that you have entered a different place, like we had driven across the border into Canada.

At the advice of the Klamath locals, we dutifully turned off the freeway at Grant's Pass to get lunch. Unable to make a decision in such a big town, we pulled into the largest and most obvious restaurant near the freeway, and this is what we found:

The Taprock restaurant, right on the Rogue River (unrelated, as I was sad to discover later, to the Rogue Brewery, which is on the coast in Newport, OR). As lunches go, it was 'spendy,' as the locals say, but worth the money. Actually, the view and the ambiance was worth the money, the food was just the icing. After the meal, we walked around the little manicured footpath which serves as a line for the riverboat tours that launch from the restaurant's little dock.

The rest of our trip was a short journey through Normal Rockwell's America, a perfect pastoral landscape book-ended on either side with a perfect pastoral landscape. We were tired and anxious to get home, but we drove a little slow anyway to take in the view.

Driving through the country brings some dormant patriotic feelings out in city dwellers like us. Being close to working farms reminds us of our roots, where this country came from. I have never lived on a farm. I have never worked on a farm. I have never even attempted to garden before moving up here (we are just getting started now, stockpiling compost for next spring and a few hearty winter crops). But the idea of the self sustaining farmer is so deeply embedded in the American subconscious that it is impossible not to feel a kinship, at least with the idea.

Since arriving at our new home, we have been making an effort to buy local, organic food as much as possible. I used to think that organic was just some fruity hippie thing, but the more I look into it, the more I realize that at the least, conventional farming is not sustainable. It kind of boggles the mind that in farming, conventional means planting genetically modified seeds with the terminator gene, spraying them with massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides that they are specifically bred to withstand, and shipping the product all over the world while importing tons of produce along parallel routes. Growing vegetable with natural fertilizer, weeding instead of using herbicide, and selling them locally is what we call the 'fruity hippie' way of farming.

We have also started buying 'grass finished' meat, which is more expensive, but we eat less meat than most anyway. Grass fed and grass finished means that the animal never spent any time in a concentrated feed lot, which seems to be the source of most current food safety concerns (all of those recent vegetable scares can be traced back to original contamination from feed lot waste). Also, it might just be psychological, but I think grass fed beef tastes much, much better than feed lot beef.

It is a little leaner, and I know it has a much higher concentration of omega 3 fatty acids, and it doesn't have that smell that beef from the supermarket usually has. I hate that smell. I got a cut of NY from one of the many local butchers (Springfield is a hunting town, and most hunters don't want to do the labor of butchering their catch) Longs, and grilled it up the way I usually grill a steak: rubbed with pepper and paprika, 4 minutes per side on an extremely hot grill (turning 30-45 degrees halfway through each side to get that crisscross look). It was one of the best steaks I have ever cooked. In my opinion, this is the only way to cook steak, other cuts you can cook however you like, but steak must be seared on a grill. (Note: if you use red pepper, it will turn into pepper spray on the hot grill. I always do this, and end up coughing and hacking through the rest of the meal prep)

This Saturday, we are looking forward to the Lane County Farmer's Market, where we can continue our support of local farmers. There is really no downside to fresh, traditionally grown vegetables and pasture grazed meat from local farmers: it tastes better, it's healthier, and it supports the community you live in. Win, win and win.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Green Pet Care

Since we have adopted Cleo, we have been confronted with a hundred new choices a day. What food do we buy? Wet, dry or mix? How many toys does she need (a: a lot)? what kind? How do we train her? Crate or no? There is so much that has to be done right away, so many decisions, that how green the choices are doesn't even enter the equation at first.

Truth be told, keeping pets is not really a green practice, in the strictest sense, because you need to feed them and provide them with entertainment, all of which usually takes up energy. One of the main criteria for making decisions for you pets, however, is a big part of going green: health. All green programs contain a substantial portion about the health of people, and pets are people too.

When you choose food for your animals, you want what is good for them, and unfortunately that can be very hard to determine. Every source of information seems to conflict, and most of the advice you get is downright bad. We trusted a pet store clerk who swore by one brand of dog food, and foolishly did not read the ingredients before leaving the store. When we got home and double checked, the second ingredient was corn, followed by wheat.

Although dogs are omnivorous by nature, a much larger portion of their diet is naturally meat, so if some kind of animal protein is not the first ingredient the food is not good. After that protein (usually chicken meal) fruits, vegetables and some grains are okay, but many dogs have difficulty digesting wheat and corn, so grains should be rice, barley, or some other alternative grain. Soy protein is also a big red flag, as soy is no part of a dogs natural diet, and usually it is used instead of some other meat protein.

Toys are a big issue too. We heard (unverified) that the squeaky part of squeak toys can come out if the dog destroys the toy, and they can choke on it (plus squeak toys are annoying). But trying to find a dog toy that doesn't squeak is like trying to find bread that doesn't contain wheat (possible, as anyone who knows us knows, but hard).

Then we came across someone on the web who wrote about making toys from random junk in your house (I think Courtney read that at the Bark). Instead of throwing away old socks, knot them up turn them into chew toys. If you have old water bottles you can stuff them in those old sock (without the cap) as a pit stop before recycling. Of course you have to make sure that you aren't giving your dog something toxic, or something that will break into pieces that she can choke on, but this is just part of the creative process of turning trash into toys. The maker in me loves this idea. Although the person who posted these ideas was talking about saving money, it is also a green practice for all the reasons that I love the make movement.

It seems in general that the more you control what you give your dog, the healthier it will be (kind of obvious, once you state it). For that reason, we have been thinking about making our own food for the dog, a practice that seems crazy at first but makes more sense the more you think about it. Dogs have been with us for thousands of years, and prepackaged dog food has been around for less than a century. So for the thousands of years minus a hundred before that? We fed our dogs similarly to how we fed ourselves, and it worked out fine. We haven't committed yet, but if we do I will be sure to keep everyone updated.