Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Praise the lard and pass the ammunition!

Lard has a bad reputation. It's that old-fashioned fat used only by ignorant redneck grannies with no teeth in a holler in W. Virginia and by similarly uneducated Mexican women who don't know that saturated fat is bad, bad, bad. Civilized, educated people do lard. Epithets for the obese include terms such as 'lard-ass'.

Guess what? Lard is AWESOME. Really. It makes pretty much anything taste better. Pie crusts, biscuits, veggies, beans and, yes, tortillas. The problem is that the lard you can buy in the store really is awful. they've taken a good fat and screwed it up completely. Instead of using the fat from pastured and humanely raised animals, your store lard will come from grain fed confinement hogs who have never seen sunshine or rolled in the grass. It will be processed in highly questionable conditions and then it will be hydrogenized, deodorized, and adulterated with BHT and/or BHA.  Homemade unadulterated lard is believed to promote lower cholesterol, contain Vitamin D, discourage the formation of cancers, and is high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

The good news is that lard is really easy to make at home. For locals, Mt McKinley Meat and Sausage in Palmer will sell you locally grown leaf fat by the pound. $.99 per pound last time I got some. Take it home, and prepare to render. If you have a meat grinder, grind your leaf fat first. I was amazed by how much grinding sped up the entire process and reduced waste. Once your lard is ground, put a big pot on medium to low heat and toss a few (3? 4?) cups into the bottom. Stir it occasionally and when all your fat is melted, pour it off into the container of your choice and repeat with more fat. I rendered 10 lbs in about 35 minutes that way.

If you don't have a grinder, cut the fat into the smallest cubes you're willing to do and toss the fat into a pan or slow cooker and, again, wait for your fat to become liquid but take care not to burn it.

I pour my lard into my jumbo muffin pans and freeze it then pop out the 'pucks' for nice 1 cup portions. Others pour theirs into sterilized canning jars, fill it clear to the top and store it in a cool pantry until opened. I find my method more convenient from a cleanup and portioning perspective but if I had a bigger pantry I'd be willing to use the jars.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I should be climbing into bed but I'm sure I won't sleep well tonight. The wind is screaming, the temp is dropping fast, and I know that my 'emerging view' will have emerged by morning. The idea of the coming dark is kind of a bummer. Already, the mornings are a little darker and the boys a little harder to wake (like I'm not...hah!) and by Christmas 'first light' will be around 10 and 'twilight' will happen at 4 or so. In spite of that though, I am excited about the change in seasons. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls, squash dishes of all sorts, soups and stews and fires in the wood stove. The Autumn festival, St Nicholas Day, Thanksgiving, sweaters, cranberries, candles, the silence of an evening snowfall. I'm sure I won't be quite so sanguine about the cold or the wind or the dark or much of anything by mid-March but for tonight the wind only reminds me of the happy parts of an Alaskan autumn.

When a disaster isn't

I don't blog much about my kids directly. Parenting some of them hasn't been much like 99% of other folks' child raising experiences because of their early traumas, some of them also devastated neurologically by their biological mother's alcohol use. I have to say that I haven't exactly been a cheerleader for older child adoption the last few years. Living with the constant lying, sneaking, stealing, and destructiveness had me more than a little cynical.

Tonight we had a dinner disaster- the kid I had asked to put a chicken in the fridge mistakenly put it in the upstairs freezer. When I went to put said chicken in the oven at 5:30 tonight the fridge was quite notably NOT containing one. The freezer next to it was. 5:30, nothing thawed, and no plan B. I was frustrated and I know that my voice showed it when I demanded to know who had put that chicken in the freezer.

Instead of the usual "Notme" or "I dunno" or silence a little voice says "It was me. I'm sorry". It was like the heavens opened and angels sang. I hugged said child & thanked them. It was a little confirmation that all is not lost and that this thing we are doing is not always doomed to failure and misery. I also figured out the root cause of another little issue and discovered that the very simple solution solves more than one problem at a time.

Then, feeling very blessed, I popped out to the store and picked up a rotisserie chicken, some corn tortillas, and a few cans of salsa verde and made Chicken Enchilada Casserole for supper, got two days of kid lunches from it as well, and still managed to have everyone fed and in bed on time. It would be so nice if all of my disasters ended so well!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Settling into Fall

After the freak out (overblown and mostly unnecessary since my parents wanted to see us not the house...) of last week, the lovely busyness of their visit and finally getting Este' into school, I'm sitting and watching the yellow leaves drift to the ground and happily contemplating....nothing. I have some sewing to finish, a day of berry picking, an azure order coming in, but nothing huge. I can stay home and do laundry on my amazing new washer and dryer. My parents were stunningly generous and bought me a beautiful, brand new matching gonzo frontloader and matching dryer. Kenmore Elites with the extended service plan. This was my Christmas gift from them (and should cover the next 5 years I think!)

Christmas is still far enough away that I don't feel the need to start whigging out about that (yet). That might be because I mostly have a plan and have started collecting gifts. Also thanks to my parents' incredible generosity, I had a little extra wiggle room in the budget and was able to take advantage of a great deal on Craigslist: a 3/4 size Viola for SCS. We bought swords and scabbards at the fair & Battle Bonnets are underway. Mom's gift is finished & Dad's are in progress. I've even scored some things for HM and tucked them away. SCS is one of my hardest to buy for- she almost never asks for anything!- so having hers taken care of is a huge weight off.  We had expected to have to wait until next year to be able to buy her an instrument and she was being a very good sport about that. She's usually a very good sport though so it will be a huge treat to surprise her with something so big.

I missed summer, kind of dread the snow, but for the moment I can happily wallow in fall. Apple cider, knitting by the fire, and pumpkin rolls. Ahhh.

Monday, September 13, 2010


That, my friends, is the sound of me running about like a recently decapitated chicken and screaming randomly. Posts have been and will continue to be sparse because my parents are coming. You see, the sordid tale of my life is this: Martha Stewart and Oscar Madison had a love child in the late 60s but Oscar was an idiot and a cad and Martha was raising the child on her own until she met and married Mr Clean. The child is me. I would like to be an ultra organized neat freak and I'm certainly a lot closer than I was in my 20s but really- I live with small mess making people whose standards of cleanliness would warm Oscar's slovenly little heart. Most of my furniture is embracing the 'distressed' mother's house looks like a Better Homes & Garden's shoot. All the time. Really.

this is the first time in over 10 years that we've had few enough kids for them to actually be willing to stay with us so I've been running around cleaning, painting, fussing at kids, yelling at kids (at what developmental stage do they grasp the concept of 'all' as it relates to cleaning?), and generally freaking out. I love my parents. They would never knowingly cause such uproar. And I am thrilled that they are coming. I just need an extra week, two handymen, and a spare $3000 to make things as I think they ought to be. I guess they'll have to live with my reality instead. See ya'll on the other side!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fair Food Reviews

The Alaska State Fair ends tomorrow and various members of my family have been more than once. Some of them like to pretend they can't remember what they ate or that they didn't when quizzed about what they had and how it was. Apparently I'm not smart enough to be able to figure out that such statements are code for "I ate nothing but kettle cork, cotton candy, and Red Bulls but I know you'd blow a gasket". Um..sure... I'm going to believe that you went to the fair and ate no junk because I'm over 40 and therefore completely stupid. Gotta love teenagers. Lets stop right here and say that almost nothing served at the fair is remotely compatible with Nourishing Traditions or healthy eating in any way. The fair comes once a year and half the fun is the food.

Given the lack of info forthcoming from the teen who has been without me, I'll have to stick to the booths I tried.

Chocolate Covered Bacon on a Stick- I was totally prepared to love this. It sounded suspect but I had to try it. It could have been a match made in heaven- and heaven knows how I feel about chocolate covered potato chips. Alas, it was awful. At $3 a stick (that is one single chocolate covered piece of bacon on a shishkabob skewer) I expected something other than "ew!". I won't be repeating that next year.

The oyster booth- I love the oyster booth and not just because they are good for you. I. Love. Oysters. If they could serve beer there and you could hop onto a bar stool with a Glacier Brewhouse IPA and 2 dozen raw with some saltines and cocktail sauce I could spend my entire day (and fair budget) in one spot. Miss V had the fried oyster sandwich ( very good ) and I had some raw plus some of the sour cream parm ones. They put the oysters under the broiler for a minute, then pull them out and plop some sour cream and some shredded parmesan on them and put them back under the broiler to melt the cheese. Very, very good.

Tamales- Good, probably the healthiest thing we ate, more than a touch overpriced- even for fair food. We opted for the pork one with black beans, rice, and all the trimmings. It would be easier to eat if they would take the corn husk off before they dump the stuff on it.

Fried Cheese curds- always a treat. I don't even want to think about what is in that fryer oil. Those little curds are irresistible. I can't get excited about the pork chop on a stick though.

Cream Puffs- people rave about them but I don't get it. Yes, they are big. If you're trying to induce diabetic ketoacidosis this is a fine choice. The pastry is pretty good but the toppings are canned and nothing special and the creamy filling left a lot to be desired in my opinion. I admit to being a pastry cream snob- if I can tell that it came from a can or it reminds me of cool whip in any way I'm done.

The cookie booth- so good we did it twice. Fantastic chocolate chip cookies, organic milk available, friendly staff and they donate $.25 of every cookie to charity. Plus you can play with their hoola hoops. There was no sharing at this booth.

Bushes Bunches - The peanut potatoes. I was expecting something more like tiny fingerlings but what I got were more traditionally cut french fries. They were hot, salty and excellent. I'm sure the dipping sauce is full of things that are horrible for you because it was really tasty and addictive.

The Pasty booth- I love these. It's like a full meal of comfort food in a little pocket.

Elephant Ears- Every bit as good as I recall from my childhood. We had one with just honey and it was great- far more flavor than powdered sugar. I mentioned to the man running the booth that they are fantastic with nutella and he promised to have it there for next year. I plan to hold him to it.

Buffalo Burger- in one of the cabins next to the midway. Not bad. Plastic cheese but some decent flavor to the burger.

Pizza- kids ate it, I didn't. I did munch the crust though and it was good. The pepperoni looked greasy but doesn't all pepperoni? Possibly the cheapest way to feed a kid and keep them happy at the fair.

And no- just to clarify, I did not personally eat all of that stuff. Most of it was shared between 2 to 5 people. Otherwise I would need one of those little skylark carts to haul my fat(ter) butt around.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Real Food for Rookies

I've been trying to mentally compose this for a few days and failing but I wanted to get it out there because I've mentioned it to people: Kelly the Kitchen Cop has put together an incredible online class about how and why to find and use real food. I'm taking it and I'm making Miss V take it and I think it would be immensely helpful to so many of the other moms I've met lately who have said "I want to change how we eat but I just don't know how to put it all together!"

Kelly will be covering label reading, fats and oils (what is really good and what is disease in a bottle), meats, dairy products, grains, sweeteners breads, and more. I'm making Miss V take the class because I think it is so critically important that she understand how to protect and maintain her own health and the importance of her diet in building the bodies and brains of her own future children. Kelly is going to be teaching stuff beyond what I've learned- and it has taken me 8 years to get to about half as far along the real food path as she is by my own reading /trial/error process.

You can sign up by going here.  4 payments of $35- $10 a class. I think it is a great bargain. I've wasted more than that over the years buying the wrong things and making 'healthy' food that was rejected or genuinely inedible.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vegan...and good?

Who knew this was possible? Certainly not me. My general philosophy of cooking is that anything can be improved with the addition of sufficient quantities of pork or dairy products. Butter? Bacon? Cheddar? Yes! Please! This impulse is at odds with the practices of our church about 170 days out of the year- most every Wednesday and Friday, Advent, Lent, and a few other fasting periods dictate vegan (shellfish OK) or pescatarian meals(dairy free). Honestly, I've never made it through a fasting period and usually I'm doing well to just cut out meat. I have maybe two good recipes that I trot out to every potluck during those periods. Nobody is ever going to nominate me for the "Babushka of the Year" award.


Tonight I tried something new because a friend raved about it. Dal. Swore her kids ate it by the bowlful. It was fast, cheap, and I was without a better plan on a Wednesday. It totally rocked. Miss V was running an errand for me while I made it and when she came home and started to chow on her bowl she asked me three times if I was sure I hadn't used chicken in it. This stuff is so incredibly chicken-y that even I was shocked.

I served it over brown rice, mine also got a dollop of my homemade super-low-sugar apricot orange jam, a sprinkling of dried cranberries, and some slivered almonds for crunch. I ate it all. Then I made another bowl to photograph (yay- the camera is fixed!)and ate that too. Chutney just moved to the top of my list of things to can and I may have to try my hand at making Nan for a more authentic Indian experience. The original recipe was for a smaller quantity and included things that I left out. This was very mild and was happily eaten by small children (who said it tasted like chicken nuggets?)

2 cups small red lentils
1 medium onion
1 cup coconut oil
spices: 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon salt

Wash your lentils! If you've planned ahead and can do so, soak for phytate nutralization

Cut up onion,place pieces in a pot, cover with oil -be generous with the oil they should swim in it. Let all of it simmer, about 5 mins. Add lentils, stir.

Add spices, stir, add water to cover. Cook at medium to medium high. Check and stir often to prevent scorching. You will probably have to add more water periodically.

This took about 35 minutes total and my recipe served 6 people with a bit of leftover (and I pigged and ate two bowls). Next time I want to add some chard for color and nutrients. There will definitely be a next time!