Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hobby Farm Life - The Food Chain

I guess this post is about food.  Amazing tracks in the snow today.  Took a walk through virgin snow in the nearby state park and saw this.

Not, "What does the fox say?" but "What does the fox drag?"  His tail!
Then upon my return home to take care of the chickens, I walked across the undisturbed pasture.  There were rabbit tracks coming out of the woods in a pattern that curved back on itself and stopped with this.
Look carefully between the tracks and the brown grass spot on the far right at 3 o'clock and you will see the wing pattern of what was probably a hawk who was after the rabbit.  The tracks resumed and then ended, finally, with this.

Look very carefully again and you will see the wing marks again, at about 12 o'clock.  Fascinating.  To me, at least.  Life on a hobby farm.  Love it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chuckles From The Chicken Coop-Hard FROZEN Eggs

We have had several  spells of very cold weather here in Virginia during which the chickens need extra care.  This morning, I took a pitcher of boiling water over to the coop, to defrost their water feeder.  We move the water feeder inside the insulated coop, but in these temps, it still freezes.

They also like to eat in the comfort of their coop, so we move the food in there as well.  I can check and see in the freshly fallen snow that from the lack of footprints in the chicken yard, they haven't ventured out of their cozy coop.

Just like the songbirds on our bird feeders, the chickens fluff up their feathers to stay warm, taking advantage of their built in down comforter.

Today, some of the eggs were frozen in their shells, causing the shells to crack.  However, they weren't leaking because the interior contents were frozen solid, not liquid.  An interesting science experiment for kiddos, I think.

There is so much to learn and experience from life on a hobby farm!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-Turkey Tales

Not much happens on the hobby farm in January so I'm pulling out an old story about our chickens.  Actually, it's about our turkeys.  We decided to add turkeys to our flock and the minimum purchase at our local feed and seed was six.  Young turkeys are more precarious in their early days than young chicks and require special food and water additives.  We did this diligently and kept them indoors in our basement under heat lamps while they grew.  Still, a few did not make it.

Eventually, we moved them out to the chicken yard and lost a few more to natural causes and predators.  Then we were down to two turkeys - a male and a female.  They ended up taking quite a bit more space and feed than our chickens and the male became quite aggressive.  Though beautiful when he would ruffle his tail feathers, displaying them proudly, he also pecked and stalked when you visited.  I have memories of going into the chicken yard with an old broom for self defense, just in case.  "Tom" was his name - creative, I know.
We often let the chickens and turkeys out of the chicken yard to free range, get juicy insects, fresh greenery and a little freedom.  They forage around and love it.  I also have memories of, when Tom was outside the fenced chicken yard, running for the pasture gate being chased by him, yelling to my daughter, "Get the gate, get the gate!" and feeling so silly that I was running from a turkey.  I have subsequently heard other stories about their aggression so now I don't feel so bad.

We decided it was time for the turkeys to go and thought we would just leave them out and nature would take its course.  After my chicken plucking story, you know why I wasn't about to attempt to pluck a turkey.  Well, they wouldn't leave.  The female eventually wondered off, but the male would not.  He came up on our porch.  He fell in our pool.  He looked in the windows.  Creepy.
Finally, we loaded him in a crate and took a long ride down a country road and released him.  I'm sure some fox or hunter appreciated the opportunity.  It's all about the food chain folks.  Anyhow, life on a hobby farm is an endless source of stories.

Today's story is I need to take a pitcher of hot water over to the chickens because I'm sure their water is frozen.  So, signing off . . .


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Day In The Garden

This doesn't happen very often in southeastern Virginia, but we love it when it does.

The garden, a site of such activity, work, productivity, chores, abundance and bounty in the summer, rests peacefully under a blanket of snow.  Waiting and resting.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

No No Na, Sodium That Is

All this news about salt - what does it really mean?  First of all, salt is NaCl and sodium is Na and that is the mineral you see listed on Nutrition Facts panels.  It is a nutrient of concern in many American's diets.  The Institute of Medicine recommends 2300 mg of sodium per day for adults.  But, and it is a big but, if you are African American or have high blood pressure or have heart disease or have diabetes or have kidney disease or are over age 51, the recommendation is just 1500 mg per day.  Over half of Americans are in those categories.

Again, what does that mean?  Most Americans don't speak metric and have no idea if 100, 1000, or a million mg is a little or a lot.  So let's make this visual.  A teaspoon of salt is about 2400 mg of sodium, so that is about what an adult should have per day, if you do not fall under all the other conditions.
A recent report from CDC says 80-90% of 1-13 year olds and fully 90% of 14-50 year olds still consume more than the recommended amount of sodium.

So this teaspoon of salt-is it just the salt shaker or salt added while cooking?  No.  It is all that AND the sodium in all your foods, from canned tomatoes to frozen pizza.  Tough to keep it under a teaspoon for the whole day, right?  Avoiding processed foods is a great start.  Cooking from scratch lets you decide how much sodium goes into your dish.

Personally, I think the solution is herbs.  No, not as in the recent Colorado solution.  There is so much flavor to be had from herbs that the use of salt in food production and preparation can dramatically decrease.  Herbs are available dried and have a long shelf life.  Plus, fresh herbs are easy to grow.  I think the problem is we don't know how to cook with herbs - how much, what goes with what, how to adjust recipes when using fresh instead of dried.  We've hired a chef to help us with this in the schools and I recommend you turn to cookbooks and internet sources to answer your questions about using herbs.
There are loads of internet cooking sites, but here is a ".edu" site from the University of Nebraska that I recommend - they won't try to sell you anything and it is good, sound information: click here to visit the site. They also have herb planting info, herb related videos for our visual learners, and "cook it quick" tips.

(Center for Disease Control-Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, December 2013)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Chuckles From the Chicken Coop-Scaly Leg Crud

Apparently chickens get mites and they tend to burrow under their leg scales.  This causes scaly leg crud.  How do I know this?  Because one of my chickens has scaly leg crud. 

The treatment is to essentially smother the little buggers.  So my chicken got a foot massage as I rubbed oil onto its entire legs and feet while my husband held it close and whispered sweet nothings in its ears.  Some say Vaseline works - we used Vet Rx, something we had on hand from another chicken malady.

Now think about what chickens walk in and you realize this is gross.  And it has to be done every 3 days until it clears up.  With mites, the chickens are quite miserable and walk around on 1 foot and then the other.  I imagine it is both itchy and irritating. But I am rather itchy after being so up close and personal with this condition.

The fact that we had this problem in the dead of winter is troublesome.  You would think the frost would kill off the mites.  We add a pesticide to their dust baths in the summer.  What are their dust baths, you ask?  It is where they scratch around, work up loose dust, lay down and fluff their feathers to get the dust to work into their feathers and have a delightful dust bath.  Better than water, they say.

Just sharing the realities of hobby farm life, for any of you considering backyard chickens.

Monday, January 13, 2014

10 Tips to Pull Dinner Out Of Thin Air

One of those days?  Try this:

10.  Keep a well stocked pantry. Options are good.

9.  Keep a well stocked freezer.  More options are better.

8.  Casseroles are classic.  Choose a protein (tuna, chicken, ground beef) - or go meatless, choose a grain (pasta, rice, tortilla), choose a veg or two, and choose a sauce.  Bake.  Enjoy.

7.  Include at least 2 veggies - fresh (yes, celery counts), canned (low sodium please), or frozen (you're bound to have peas or corn in there, right?)

6.  Include a grain - the whole thing - bran, endosperm and germ - it takes all 3 unprocessed parts to make a whole grain.

5.  Have your go-to short list.  Things that have worked for you before, that are your dinner winners.

4.  Breakfast for dinner.  It works.

3.  Soup and sandwich a dinner makes. Soup, sandwich, and salad is even better.

2.  PLANovers are the new leftover.  Just stick to the 7 day rule for food safety.

1.  Don't be afraid to fail.  Some dinners will bomb.  No worries.  They won't starve.  You aren't Rachel Ray and no one expects you to be.

Notice that carry out, delivery, and fast food are not on the list.  You can do this, within your budget, and with good nutrition in mind.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hot Topics-Food Ads

I recently blogged about the marketing messages within movies (here)A new study looked at TV advertising.  Without much surprise, it found most food and drink ads were for products high in fats, sugar and sodium.  The fruit and veggie marketers, American Egg Board, and meat producers group aren't really advertising during prime time.  For food ads seen by kiddos ages 2-11, 84% were for unhealthy foods and during children's programming, it jumped to 95%. This is a lucrative market for products with a high profit margin.

Advertisers self regulated with the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative in November 2006, a voluntary program designed to change the mix of food advertised to children.  There are now 18 major companies that have signed on to this effort.  But there are two problems.  This only applies to advertising during children's programming and standards have been vague.  So, this has been mostly ineffective to date and new, more precise criteria have been proposed.

I'm not one at all to blame restaurants, food marketers or TVs  for our choices.  It is the parents who choose the restaurant and fill the grocery cart.  However, awareness of the subtle messages aimed at your children is important.  That includes the subtle messages of role modeling as well.

(Child Obesity, December 2013)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hot Topics-Tummy Versus Trash

Did you hear about this one?  The government said kiddos have to eat a fruit or veg for lunch every day.  Well, they said kiddos have to take a fruit or veg for lunch every day.  Whether or not they eat it is another story.  That's right - big gov says every kid wanting a free, reduced, or bargain priced meal in the national school lunch program has to take a fruit or veg at lunch.  BTW, next year, that will be true for breakfast - they'll have to take a fruit.

Economists actually calculated that in the school lunch program an additional $6 million in fruits and veggies are served nationwide, per day, and about $4 million are thrown away.
Recognizing that the food waste is criminal, Brigham Young and Cornell researchers looked to good old fashioned bribery to see if the kids would eat the produce.  With a reward as simple as a nickel, students were, in fact, eating their Lima beans.  Ask most parents, bribery works.  Unfortunately, after researchers left, the eat-dump ratio returned to norms.

Cash incentives cost less than the food waste but schools can try non-cash rewards, such as extra recess, if they buy in to using extrinsic rewards for healthy habits. But maybe, just maybe, external rewards can create, through repeated exposure, healthy internalized HABITS.
(Public Health Journal, December 2013)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

School Daze-Sizzling School Lunches

I always say, "I need another cookbook like I need a hole in the head."  But this one is for work so I can justify it, right?  Besides, it's free!

This one is from the Indiana school nutrition office, entitled "Sizzling School Lunches".  Take a look here.  It has color pictures and very basic, thorough instructions.  It is not as complete as the Vermont cookbook mentioned in yesterday's blog, as that had Nutrition Information and meal pattern equivalents, essential for school menu planning.
Here’s a great “shovel ready” idea I liked from our colleagues in Indiana.  We currently garnish some of our fruit cups with whipped topping.  Chef Cyndie has a Strawberry Yogurt Dip that is simply strawberry yogurt and jellied cranberry sauce in a 1 to 1 ratio.  Easy.  Tasty.  Colorful.  Healthier.  I’ll try it!

There is also a recipe for Vegetarian Enchiladas that I think we need to try.
The recipes are all for quantity food production, but for you folks at home, you might get some ideas for substitutions in recipes you currently make.  So, yes, try this at home!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

School Daze-Boot Camp #2

Here's a follow on to my post about our first boot camp.  We held the second one just before the school winter break.  Our goals were to:
  • create a new recipe using the abundant USDA chicken fajita strips that are provided to us at a very low cost-not a bad product but the students get tired of "Mexican This" and "Mexican That"
  • work on modifications to a Sloppy Joe meat sauce recipe, made from scratch to reduce the sodium content
  • continue to work on basic knife skills as we use more and more fresh produce and seasonings like onion, garlic, peppers and herbs from the school garden which take a little more work than a salt shaker
Our consulting chef started with a recipe from the new recipe book from Vermont's school nutrition office.  The is a great reference for new school cuisine, available here.  I should put emphasis on "cuisine" as this is not the school food you grew up with!  The recipe is called "Chicken Tikki", which is like Moroccan chicken.  With some new and exciting spices like curry and turmeric and a yogurt based sauce, we used the fajita chicken and boy, was it SPICY!  Round two will cut some of the spices, serve it over brown rice to tame the flavors, and try again. We are aiming for a student taste test in February.

The scratch Sloppy Joe sauce was a little sweet for me, and we have already modified it, removing the ketchup (which further reduced the sodium) and adding more tomato paste and low sodium diced tomatoes.  A little vinegar, brown sugar, diced onion, and black pepper gave it just the right flavor.

The team from the school that hosted the boot camp prepared a baked apple crisp for our work session which was enjoyed by all.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Farm to School: It's A Win-Win

Here's my latest blog post for Food and Nutrition Magazine's blog "Stone Soup".  It's about USDA's farm to school program grants and the grant recipients.  As a grant reviewer, I had a window into the world of the many exciting programs seeking funding. The grant program is a win-win for students and local farms.

Check it out here.

Friday, January 3, 2014

You May Be Whatever You Resolve To Be

This is a quote that greets and challenges cadets entering the barracks at a premier military institute in Virginia.  Resolve.  Resolutions.  See where this is going?

I resolve to take a 10 minute walk at lunch on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  That is a specific, measurable goal.  It even has a built in back up plan – if it rains on Monday, you can do Tuesday and if you have a meeting on Wednesday, you can go on Thursday.
Resolutions should either be very specific or very general.  It is the middle, vague ground that is prone to fail. 

Specific goals look like this:  I will eat a serving of fruit for breakfast at least 5 mornings a week.  I will eat slowly and mindfully while seated (not in the car!), without distractions, paying attention to every bite.  I will take a yoga class every Monday night.

General resolutions have themes, like this:  I will have an attitude of gratitude.  I will eat more mindfully.  I will be more active throughout the day.  These are positive themes you can choose to live by.  They become your mantra, your modus operandi, your style.
Either way, try these tips as you resolve: 
  • Write them down.
  • Put them in a place where you will be greeted and challenged. 
  • Place reminders in your calendar.
  • Post a note to yourself on the inside of the door you exit every day. 
  • Put sticky notes on your mirror, on your dashboard, and on your computer screen.
  • Ask a friend to hold you accountable. 
  • Set yourself up for success.
  • And the ultimate motivator:  role model wellness for your kiddos.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Holiday Ham Happenings

What to do with the leftover ham from your holiday meal?  We have enjoyed a cheesy pasta and broccoli bake with cubed ham.  And ham sandwiches.  And our all time favorite, split pea soup.  My husband says he could have homemade soup once or twice a week.  I guess I make good soups.

Here is a "one and done" soup recipe - once you've got it all in the pot, you are done until it is time to eat!

Easy Peasy Split Pea Soup  (Serves about 6 bowls of soup)

1 ham bone with a good amount of leftover ham on it
1 bag of split peas, rinsed and drained
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
Olive oil

Sauté the onion, garlic and carrots in a little olive oil.  After rinsing the split peas, add them to a large stock pot with 6 to 8 cups of water and the ham bone.  Add the sautéed veggies to the split peas, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer until peas become mushy and ham falls off the bone.  Remove the bone.  Cut up any ham chunks into bite sized pieces and return them to the soup.  Serve warm.

Recipe Notes:
  • The carrots lend a little natural sweetness to the soup.
  • Notice that you do not need to add any salt - you'll get plenty of that from the ham.
  • Kids can help with this recipe by rinsing the dried split peas and peeling the carrots.
  • Serve with a hearty-wheaty-grainy bread and enjoy!