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Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving Harvest

Below, I share with you how I used my garden harvests for Thanksgiving. Check out more harvests over at Daphne Dandelions Harvest Monday.

This Thanksgiving was a special one for us. As discussed earlier, we decided to try for a 100% local and organic Thanksgiving meal. In the end, we were able to realistically accomplish a 100% local or organic meal. We learned a lot about what is available locally, how much things costs, and now....we also know how the food quality compares.

Now to the how the harvest was used.

We made this eggplant paramesan with eggplants grown in our garden (plus some bought at the store). The tomato sauce used was made from tomatos grown in our garden and canned by us a few weeks ago. The tomato sauce was made using Ball's recipe and it was quite good!

From the garden, we also made zucchini cakes, squash casserole, and spinach brownies.

For meats, we had a locally grown grass-fed chicken which we prepared on the rostisserie, a locally grown grass fed roast which was prepared into a delicious mushroom gravy roast, and a farm raised turkey which hubby smoked to perfection....I'm talking fall off the bone perfection....and we did it on a regular grill!

I used organic flour, sugar, butter, and eggs to make the pound cake. In addition, organic goods were used to make the apple pie and sweet potato pie (pie shells homemade). Sweet Potato Pie is not shown.

The cornbread for the dressing was also homemade with organic ingredients; as was the homemade cranberry sauce (which turned out very good as well --- first time making this!).
This is where organic ends. After making the above, we were out of organic flour and low on organic sugar, out of organic butter and low on organic eggs. Given the expense of buying more, we decided to buy regular nonorganic and possibly nonlocal replacements; as we still had several items to make that needed these ingredients. The expense of doing it all organic had gotten to us, so I guess in a sense we bailed on our original 100% plan.

So, all of the bread is homemade (hotwater cornbread, rolls, and cheddar bay biscuits), but none of it is organic.
So in the end, I can say that we had a meal that was mostly organic and local. Only a very few things weren't local and even less was not organic. I am still pleased that we did the exercise and now we are better prepare to make an informed resolution for the new year.

Now about the food quality first. First thing is that no one could tell that the food was organic. This may sound silly, but if you remember the first versions of low-fat or low-sugar and how horrible they were; then you understand how some (who are unfamiliar with organic) may wonder about the taste difference. Secondly, the grass fed meat was obviously leaner. Almost no fat to remove. We rotisseried the chicken and it gave about 1-2 cups of stock. We usually get at least twice that. This shows us just how much perservatives (salt walter,etc) are being pumped into the store bought chickens. No noticeable difference in the vegetables or fruit. The organic flour is nonbleached which means more gluten which means DO NOT overbeat (best to stir in the flour by hand in this case) when using it for baking or you'll end up with rubbery bread instead of cake. The organic sugar seems fine as a 1 for 1 substitute with no differences that I noticed. Same with butter and eggs.

I will say - though - that having to pay more for the organic sugar has caused me to use it more sparingly. I have used it for about 2-months now and my tea is getting less and less sweet. So perhaps its a good thing; because I would still be pouring the cheap sugar by the cup full; now I only use spoonfuls worth. Same thing with the organic butter. Organic butter costs twice as much and it has made me think twice about adding butter to my food and searching for alternatives....like I used cooking spray to saute my asparagus instead of butter and it was the same! So perhaps having to pay more for food is a good thing. I read in several places that Americans spend less of their income (percentage wise) than most other countries on our food. I can definitely say from this experience that if my food costs this much, I would definitely use less and waste less (through spoilage). So perhaps that is reason enough to totally commit to the switch....only time will tell, we've got about a month to figure it out....will let you know when we do.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations

Unfortunately, we didn't harvest anything from our own garden this week, but I did wanted to share our Thanksgiving plans and the local harvests that we have available to us. So, this Harvest Monday comes from harvests found at our local farmers market and market stores. See more harvests over at Daphne's Dandelions Harvest Monday.

What have we gotten ourselves into? Over the last several months, we have been becoming more conscious about what we eat. We've always been somewhat healthy eaters; but now, we are paying attention to things like hormones in milk, genetically modified corn, antibiotics in poultry, food being shipped in from other countries, businesses can write off the cost of shipping food giving them incentive to purchase from out-of-country instead of from up-the-street, how the food industry has become a big business narrowing availability to varieties that are easy to mass produce and holds up well in shipping even if they are the blandest available, etc... I could go on and on.

So we really are changing our eating habits. So much so, that we started a garden this year. We would like to come up with a New Year's resolution that is realistic. We could try to go 100% local like others have. We could try 100% organic. Or we could do 100% local and organic. 100% excludes what we would consider exotic foods like salmon or bananas. That food that is only available in certain parts of the country/world.

Over the last few months, we have gone from farm to farm, market to market, CSA to co-op trying to find a good local source for all of our needs. Yes, we have searched high and low, far and wide. But what is realistic for a goal in the new year? We decided to let Thanksgiving be our dry run. Let's see what is available locally and organic. I know it is November and we are not at the height of harvest season, but if we were to make a goal for the new year, we would have to meet that goal in November.

So our plan was to go to the Dallas Farmer's Market, Whole Foods, a local market store, and Sprouts. At the beginning of the day, our goal was to do 100% local and organic food. Well, by midday we were trying to decide which we should give up: local or organic. We decided to give up local. We felt that organic was more important to us for several reasons, but that we will still try for local. Foods that aren't too tainted by chemical sprays (or have been genetically modified, fed hormones, etc) we would give local the nod. So by the end of the day, our goal was to buy 100% organic, local where possible.

What brought us to this point? Well, you'd think it was the sugar or flour or something like that. Nope, here in Texas we have those local brands. It was potatoes, celery, and turnip greens that brought us to this point. Yes, the farmer's market was humming with all of these items, but none of it was organic. I figured that perhaps some of them used organic methods and just couldn't advertise as organic because they weren't certified. So I asked some and the answer was no. One hadn't a clue what I was talking about, but I figured he was just there to sell the produce. So I have everything I need local and organic, but no veggies. SMH. It was time to compromise. So organic won over local. Our thought is, perhaps as organic sell increase, more local farmers will convert to organic. Not that I am looking for the certification, just the methods.

So after a day of running from here to there, this is our loot...should be enough for a Thanksgiving feast.
Organic milk, Grass fed meat, organic flours (Arrowhead Mills of Texas; some grain grown in Colorado though), shown with wild-caught Gulf shrimp and home canned tomato sauce and zucchini relish. Various other organic vegetables are shown as well. The eggplant are from our garden!
Organic sugar (a line made by Imperial Sugar of Texas, cane grown in LA), most everything else is organic but not local. Except those sweet potatoes and broccoli. I am proud of those. There was one farmer at the market that grew organically and this is what we had left. He was out of turnip greens :(. The squash are from my garden.
Finally, the frozen stuff -- purple hull peas, banana peppers, spinach, zucchini --- is from our garden, the apples, potatoes, and onion are all organic but not local, and the turkey is cage-free and not local. I figure that cage-free, no preservatives, no antibiotics, no hormones was acceptable. Any grain feed may not have been organic, but a roaming bird will have its share of organic meals (grass). But it was either this or no turkey. No one at the farmer's market had a turkey that wasn't already sold. Just FYI, organic turkeys were running $4.5 - $6 per pound if you ordered one.

Can you believe this? I found organic locally grown and made olive oil and I couldn't find organic locally grown celery or cabbage or turnip greens or bell peppers or onion or .....

Collard greens purchased from my church's co-op garden! Organic and Local!

I'll share our preparations later in the week. But until then, check out the chart that I made below. It shows each item that I bought for our Thanksgiving meal; how much that item cost local and organic, not local-but organic, local but not organic, neither local nor organic. This chart upset me some; we paid $75 more. I mean, I understand that it costs more to allow a cow/chicken to roam and have space to do so than it does to raise them in an overcrowded warehouse. I understand there is more risk with organic crops and more precautions have to be made. I know small farmers have small profit margins, etc..., but some of the prices (by comparison) seem very out-of-whack. And I am not just talking organic, some of the local food costs a lot more than nonlocal food. I am not going to pretend to know why; I'm just upset that it costs so much more. It almost cost us double to buy organic and we can't afford that month after month - that is the bottom-line, no matter how much we want to.

So what have we learned: organic food is not widely available here, organic food can cost the same or twice as much as nonorganic, local food at the farmer's market can cost more or less - just be careful, a basket of tomatoes for $4 sounds good until you realize that there is only 4 small tomatoes in the basket. Buying local could mean having very little to pick from. The local tent at the market was not even half full; several local farmers talked about how their fall crops were delayed or ended by the drought.....the drought that we're just now starting to get relief from. Buying organic is sometimes harder than buying local; due to demand or the ability to advertise as organic.

So what do we do? Buying local is unsustainably costly, buying organic isn't always an option...neither is buying local for that matter. Possible answer: grow more food. The best resource for local, organic food may be our own backyard. We've got about one-month to figure it out. We're not giving up. Pay a little more for healthier food now, or a lot more for prescription drugs later. That's what I say.

The underlined cost is what we paid.

categoryitemfromBothOrganicLocalNeitherPaidif Min is Paid
condimntbrn sugar 1.5#TX $       4.39  $       3.99  $       1.67  $        4.39  $               1.67
condimntHoneyTX $       4.99  $       3.99  $        4.99  $               3.99
condimntpstry flour 2#TX $       2.00  $       2.40  $       2.29  $        2.00  $               2.00
condimntSugar 2#TX $       5.19  $       3.99  $       2.29  $        5.19  $               2.29
condimntwht flour 2#TX $       2.99  $       2.40  $       2.29  $        2.99  $               2.29
dairybutterCA $       3.50  $       2.50  $        3.50  $               2.50
dairyeggs (farmer)TX $       4.50  $       3.89  $       1.50  $        4.50  $               1.50
dairyeggs (sprouts)TX $       9.00  $       8.42  $       1.50  $        8.42  $               1.50
dairyMilkTX $       6.00  $       6.00  $       2.69  $        6.00  $               2.69
meatchickenTX $    19.50  $    12.95  $       6.45  $      19.50  $               6.45
meatlean grnd beef (5#)TX $    24.00  $    25.00  $    18.45  $      24.00  $            18.45
meatroastTX $    13.56  $    14.00  $       9.98  $      13.56  $               9.98
meatshrimpLA $    12.99  $       8.99  $    12.99  $       5.99  $        8.99  $               5.99
meatturkeyUSA $    58.37  $    19.00  $       6.37  $      19.00  $               6.37
producebroccoliTX $       6.00  $       6.00  $       3.00  $        6.00  $               3.00
produceCabbage $       2.50  $       3.00  $        2.50  $               2.50
producecelery $       3.00  $       4.00  $       1.54  $        3.00  $               1.54
producecrnbry (8 oz)CA $       3.69  $       2.00  $        3.69  $               2.00
produceFuji ApplesWA $       3.99  $       6.00  $       3.87  $        3.99  $               3.87
produceBell Pepper-2 $       3.00  $       4.00  $       0.98  $        3.00  $               0.98
producepotatoOR $       5.00  $       8.00  $       1.35  $        5.00  $               1.35
produceRed Onion 3#CA $       2.99  $       5.36  $       1.47  $        2.99  $               1.47
produceswt potatoesTX $       3.75  $    10.35  $       3.75  $       2.03  $        3.75  $               2.03
produceturnip greensTX $       5.78  $       6.00  $       3.54  $        5.78  $               3.54
producewhl mshrmsCA $       3.69  $       5.00  $       2.00  $             -    $               2.00
 $    166.73  $            91.94
 $            74.79