Archive | April, 2013

Homemade Butter

23 Apr

When I was a little girl, my mom read all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books to me and I loved them. We made a lot of food together that was inspired by the books, and my mom even sewed me some costumes; I remember a sun bonnet in particular that I think I had her make for me and then refused to wear specifically so that I could emulate Laura. I can trace a lot of my interests as an adult back to these experiences, really.

My love of butter is no secret. Every so often I’ll get the urge to make my own butter. It’s not any cheaper than buying butter, and it isn’t even necessarily more tasty than some of the luxury butters you can buy, but it’s just so fun that I can’t resist. Plus, it’s one of those kitchen tricks that people just go nuts for — if you ever bring homemade butter to a potluck, no one will say “All you brought was butter?” rather all you will here will be “You made butter!?!?!?”

The process is stupidly simple: you agitate heavy cream until the fat clumps together (the butter) and separates from the watery liquid (the buttermilk). Usually when I make butter I either shake it in a mason jar (tip: it works better if you add a well-washed marble) or just use the stand mixer. Once the butter separates, use a very clean tool (traditionally a special paddle) to press out all the buttermilk, rinsing with a little water to get it all out, then salt it and serve however you please. Better butter comes from better cream, so start with the good stuff, and to make it even better culture the cream first. I haven’t really experimented with this yet, but it’s next on my list.

A friend of mine has a miniature ceramic butter churn that I’ve been coveting for some years now. At the urban homesteading store the other day (oh, Portland!) I found one of my very own! This size doesn’t come with a dasher (the plunger part), so I had to rig up one on my own with some scrap wood, but today I got to live out all my pioneer dreams:

The finished product

The finished product

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!

Churning butter while waiting for my steak-grilling fire to get ready!


Future Food: Introducting my Adorable Chickens!

22 Apr

Better Half finally convinced me that chickens would make great pets. Okay, I got some farm fresh eggs from a coworker and they are AMAZING and I want to eat eggs like that every day, so I got on board with the backyard chicken thing. In our city you can have up to four hens. We decided to start with babies because they are ZOMG SO CYOOOOOT! that we couldn’t resist. Presenting for your enjoyment, my future flock:

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Butterscotch the Buff Orpington, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Henrietta aka Henny Penny the Ameraucana, 5 days old

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It's pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she's named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it's a Drag Race reference] and I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell and I'm sorry to everyone I've just offended and alienated.)

Jesus* the Barred Rock, 5 days old. (It’s pronounced sacrilegiously. The short answer is, she’s named Biscuit, but Jesus is a biscuit [it’s a Drag Race reference] and I’m pretty sure I’m going to hell and I’m sorry to everyone I’ve just offended and alienated.)

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

Waffles the Welsummer, 5 days old.

We got “sexed” chicks, which have been determined with 95% accuracy to be female. There is still a chance one might turn out to be a cockerel. This has sparked a lively disagreement between Better Half and I — if we end up with a rooster, I will eat him; this apparently is the Wrong Answer. For now I hope that it isn’t an issue. We’ve also had some lively discussion about what we’ll do when the chickens reach the eventual end of their egg-producing years. The bottom line is, I’m surprisingly non-sentimental about food animals. These chicks are adorable, but some day, they could be food, and that’s okay. (I think this is why I failed at veganism.)


Movie Review: Ingredients

11 Apr

Ingredients, the movie

It’s no secret that I love food documentaries. My favorites are those that are positive and hopeful, and I try to avoid those that are really just devoted to fat shaming. I may be a health nut, but I also am a health at every size nut. One of my favorite recent discoveries is Ingredients, which is currently available streaming on Netflix. This film is a tribute to the local food movement, and rather than focusing on how evil and awful and scary and terrible industrialized food is, the narrative centers on the stories of real food and the people who love it.

I came to locavorism from a place of joy — I love food, I love farms, I love Oregon, I love small businesses, I love sustainability, I love the natural world, I love doing good, I love the rhythm of the seasons… eating local is an extension of my love. When I talk to the farmer who grew my kale, I feel happy. I’ve never understood why so many food documentaries are so dire — hope is stronger than fear. People don’t become great environmentalists because of hearing about the size of the trash continent, they become great environmentalists because they fall in love with nature. Similarly, I do not believe that we will create a society of healthy food enthusiasts through a barrage of footage of feedlots, we will do it by showing people how awesome the alternative is. Ingredients does this in a big way.

The film follows the seasons, interviewing farmers, chefs, and activists from several different food communities (the Portland metro area featuring prominently, naturally!) about their philosophies and experiences. We see farmers in love with the soil, chefs striving for the perfect dish, and activists working for healthy school lunches. Real people talking about their real lives always makes for compelling film; I was genuinely interested in these stories, and I loved the frame narrative of the seasons. I also thought it was interesting to compare the experiences of people here in my part of the country with those of people living in Ohio, or New York. I’d love to see an even broader exploration of this topic — what’s the local food movement like in the Southwest? Or in Alaska?

But of course what I love most is that we see food — real food. This is, after all, about ingredients, and they are allowed to take center stage. We see farmers picking artichokes, or pulling up parsnips and carefully brushing them clean. We see adorable, succulent lambs gamboling in the pasture. Wild mushrooms. Ducks. Acres of greens. Cows. Mixed-use small farms with everything you can imagine. Basically, this movie made me hungry. And I think that’s the best emotional hook to get people on board — this film will help you fall in love with local food.

And that’s really the central message here — local food is easy to love. I think that if people are truly given access to seared lamb cutlets with fresh fava beans and baby greens salad, they will choose that over fast food. Maybe not every time, and that’s okay (in fact I liked that at one point someone interviewed commented that eating local doesn’t have to mean giving up all imported food)

That issue, though, of choice and access is one that I think could be explored more deeply. Toward the end, there was some discussion of the fact that the local food movement is still largely the purview of those with economic means, and there was some good coverage of efforts to connect farmers directly with low-income people. The filmmakers also included information about how our economic policies have rewarded the growing of commodity crops at the expense of real food (and at the expense of our health, especially the health of people of lower economic means). However, I think it would still be pretty easy to dismiss this as just being a “rich white people” movie and that frustrates me. That said, I’m not certain this is a fair criticism. I think this film was aimed at people who do have the means to choose what they eat, and was urging them to get behind local food. Maybe instead of asking this film to be all things to all people what I really want is to pair this with another, perhaps more radical documentary about food activism.

All in all, this is a great film. I highly recommend it, and I also suggest finding clever ways to get your friends to watch it, too. I’m envisioning informal screenings in living rooms, with locally-sourced snacks. The local food gospel is one worth spreading, and if those of us who are into it seem like zealots, well, it’s just because there’s a lot to get excited about when it comes to tasty, sustainable food that creates real economic empowerment within communities.

A wonderful way for carpaccio

9 Apr

I’ve been on a pretty serious raw meat kick lately. Once I successfully made steak tartare at home, it was like I had crossed some threshold from which I could never return. I love steak tartare and carpaccio with an unrivaled zeal, and these foods have suddenly been transformed from occasional treats that I only splurge on when I’m at a particularly fancy and reputable restaurant to something I could have for dinner on a Wednesday night. And then maybe again on a Thursday night. Or for brunch on a Sunday.

I’m aware that this may not be the wisest choice. I have a healthy respect for the risk of food-borne illness — I’ve been waylaid before by some pretty awful bugs, and I don’t want to repeat the experience. In spite of following lots of precautions when I eat raw meat, I know that I’m exposing myself to a risk. It’s a reward that’s worth the risk, but when you consider each consumption as a separate roll of the bacteria dice, the more times you roll the more likely you are to come up snake eyes… or something, that metaphor got a little convoluted. The point is, is once a week too often for raw meat? Yeah, I think so. But… so tasty! I am conflicted!

In any case, for those who do enjoy the occasional raw meat treat (see my earlier post on the subject for suggestions for lowering the risk of bacterial contamination), here’s a particularly lovely combination: thinly sliced beef over a bed of arugula topped with butteraise, salt and pepper, and finely minced shallot:

Carpaccio Closeup 2

I used butteraise that was freshly made and slightly warm, which meant it was a bit runny. This was a nice effect for this dish.


I really wish I had one of those nice squeeze bottles so I could have drizzled the sauce more attractively.

Carpaccio Closeup 1

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