Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Dinosaur Kale

Everyone kept asking, ” What are you going to do with all that kale?”  I didn’t mean to plant so much… some of it was left from my spring greens mix and everything else had bolted except the kale.  And some of that kale wasn’t really kale, it was sprouting broccoli or broccoli rabe that never sprouted.  So I’m left with eating the leaves which is kind of like kale.  And then there was the extra 2 kale plants I stuck in the corner because I had extras.  Oh, and the black or dinosaur kale I planted under the apple tree.  It is excellent in salads but the leaves are so skinny that there is not much leaf on there and they are more work for freezing.

I have already brought 2 large loads of kale over to the MIssion soup kitchen, but the main patch was still left.  I had a couple friends help me harvest it on Monday and we had a huge bucket full in less than 5 minutes.  I sent them home with some, but the bucket was still overflowing.

IMG_1818Tuesday I got all set up to freeze it.  I have my system down.  I get the water steaming on the stove while I strip the leaves off the stem and throw them in the wash water in the left sink.  As the first batch is steaming I fill the right sink with ice water and get out a large towel for drying.  Three minutes for each batch in the steamer, them I throw it in the ice water, fish it out, and squeeze it dry.  It gets packed into ziplocks in 1/2 pound packages and labeled and into the freezer.

After about 10 batches I had barely put a dent in the bucket.   I started having flashbacks from our Alaska Food Challenge year.  I froze WAY too much kale and we got a little sick of it.  Matt has been a little anti frozen kale since then.  There was no way we were going to use all of this kale this winter.  Besides, I already had beet greens and chard put away.  I texted my friend, “Help!  Too much kale!  Save me!”

Kale and Celery Salad with apples and green onion

  • 1 large bunch dinosaur kale, stemmed and cut into thin strips
  • 4 stalks celery, with tender leaves, chopped
  • 1 tart apple, sliced thin
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Combine kale with vinegar and salt and mix very well.  Let sit 20 minutes.  Add olive oil and toss again, then add the rest of the ingredients.

 

Butchering

IMG_1642As I stared at the caribou leg in front of me and tried to figure out how to get the meat off the bone, I suddenly remembered how I would hide in my room when my dad and brothers came home with their catch.  It seemed kind of gross and I just wasn’t interested.

Now I am fascinated by how the muscles wrap around the bone, layer upon layer.  It is a puzzle to unwrap it and remove the tough tendons and gauzy connective tissue.  It is a lot of work for a few hamburgers-worth of meat.  I can see why some hunters might leave this behind, but our ethics will not let us waste anything useable.

My dad grew up in Palmer and hunting was a huge part of his life.  He has many epic tales that occasionally come out when you can get him to talk.  My grandparents were not farmers so they relied on wild game as a big part of their diet.  For us it was the same.  There were four of us kids and my mother didn’t work, so money was tight. There was the occasional holiday ham, but other than that it was mostly caribou or moose.  Sometimes there was hares or dall sheep, and one time we got some black bear from a family friend.  We were thankful for what we had because some years we didn’t get anything.

Occasionally my mom would drag me downstairs to help grind the burger.  After getting over the gross-factor, I enjoyed working together with my family to get the job done.  Everyone was in a good mood and there was a comradery in the kitchen that didn’t exist at other times. Our normal sibling bickering temporarily ceased and for a while there was just good-natured teasing.

When I went away to college my mom warned me not to become a vegetarian.  She was concerned the liberal school I had chosen would corrupt me.  My first semester I took an ethics class where we discussed animal rights and I learned about the cruelty of slaughter houses.  I stopped eating factory farmed meat but would still eat wild game when I went home.  This seemed to be semi-acceptable to my mom as she didn’t have to make too many concessions with her cooking.  But while I was away from Alaska I didn’t have access to wild game and ate vegetarian.

Four years ago, Matt went on his first Alaskan hunt and brought home a spring black bear.  We awkwardly butchered it and put it in the freezer. Although black bear is not known for being good-tasting, we thought it was wonderful and were hooked on having our own meat.

When Matt got a caribou the following fall we had my parents help us butcher so we could learn from them.  Over 60 years of butchering knowledge passed on to us.  We learned the names of all the cuts and which ones made the best stew.  We learned how to package it safely and effectively.

IMG_1658Today Matt and I are working efficiently together.  My mom is watching the kids and it is eerily quiet in the house.  We have developed our own, slightly different practices that suit our cooking styles.  Matt breaks down the large muscles while I work on the smaller stuff and package everything for the freezer.  We will grind the meat when we use it.  Later we will make stock from all of the bones for use in soups, stews and sauces.

Having a freezer full of meat now seems like such an important part of our lives that I have a hard time believing I ate vegetarian for so many years.  My eating habits have come full circle now, returning to a simple place-based diet similar to what I grew up with.

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Cherries and Berries

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Evans cherry, only in its second year!

The garden is really starting to mature at the Williams Street Farmhouse and we are harvesting more fruits and berries this year than ever before.  Cherries gleaming like jewels, bowls of strawberries, neon orange sea berries, red and black currants drooping off their bushes, big juicy gooseberries, endless raspberries, enormous sweet juneberries and apples as big as my fist.  I am in awe of the abundance flowing from my garden.  

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Graysen taste-testing the strawberries

We’ve been stuffing our faces all summer with these vitamin-rich foods.  Graysen learned quickly to only pick the red strawberries, and was lecturing his father for picking some that had some white on them.  Every time we go on a walk we start and end by grabbing a few handfuls of raspberries, which Rylan loves as much as his brother. Rylan is also a big fan of gooseberries and will climb the stairs to find a bowl of them.

IMG_1498Picking like mad and sharing with friends, as I clean and pack away in the freezer I am thinking about what I am going to do with all this abundance.  We can only eat so much jam, so we have to be creative in finding other ways of enjoying them.  

I love to make smoothies for me and the boys, especially because I can slip in frozen greens along with the berries and yogurt, making them nutrition powerhouses without any added sugar.  Matt prefers juice, so I make currant, sea berry, cherry, and rhubarb juice concentrate which he dilutes to taste.  To make into a soda, we dilute it with soda water.  I also made a simple syrup to easily sweeten it if needed, although he likes the juice tart.  Matt made a dry raspberry wine this spring with some older raspberries from the freezer, which came out excellent.  

IMG_1334We’ve also experimented with chutneys… gooseberry and black currant being our favorites to pair with meats, soft cheeses, and curries.  Most of the berries I don’t have time to do anything with right now, so I freeze them on cookie sheets and then transfer to gallon zip-locks for storage. This way, I can take out as many berries as I need at one time.  I’ve found the frozen berries are great in pies, tarts, purees for cheesecakes, pancakes, and coffeecakes.  Graysen even likes to eat them frozen straight up!  I can also make them into chutneys, jams, or sauces later.

As I’m writing this, I’m seeing that there is a lot to say about these berries and I need to include some recipes, so I’m going to do a blog post for each fruit/berry that includes more information about it, more pictures, and recipes! What is your favorite way to use your berries?

 

Planting Time!

Conventional wisdom in South-central Alaska says not to plant anything in the ground unImagetil Memorial Day weekend.  My gardening is anything but conventional, so you might guess I plant a lot earlier than that.  Especially during a spring like this one… how can anyone wait?  We’ve been planting in the garden for a month and a half, and we are already eating fresh greens from the garden.  Nothing compares to the taste of spring greens straight from the garden and I have been eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  My body craves them like a tonic to cleanse my body from the fatty foods of winter.  

The last average frost date for most of Anchorage is May 15th, but many young seedlings can handle a light frost.  If you put floating row cover over your seedlings, you get an extra 3-7 degrees of protection, plus your plants will grow much faster.  Floating row cover is a spun polyester fabric that lays right on top of your plants like a blanket.  Air, light, and water pass right through it, but it creates an air pocket of warm air right next to the ground where your seedlings need it.  I consider it essential in my garden and I also use it for hardening off seedlings and keeping out the cabbage root maggots.  It lasts for many seasons and is well worth the investment.  

I start planting greens in my warmest beds just as soon as they are free from snow and the soil warms up a bit.  The beds directly in front of the south side of the house and greenhouse are ready at least two weeks before anything else.  This year that was the first of April. Last year I already had baby greens growing in the ground when we had that late snowfall.  I stapled some plastic to the greenhouse to shed the snow and they were fine.  Next I like to get my carrots, parsnips, onions and potatoes planted.  The sooner I plant, the sooner I can harvest and eat. I cover the carrots and parsnips with row cover because it helps keep the soil moist while I’m waiting for them to germinate.   I try to plant out my broccoli and other cabbage family starts in the first part of May.  

ImageIn fact, the only thing I wait until the end of May for is the tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash, which truly are frost sensitive and will do poorly if subjected to cool temperatures.  With this amazing weather we’ve been having, I’m going to put all those out to harden off so they will be ready to be planted next week.  It is essential for me and my large garden to spread the planting out over two months because I couldn’t possibly get it all done at once.  

If you’ve been waiting to plant your garden, wait no longer!  Get out there in this beautiful weather and start planting.  Just remember to harden off your seedings by putting them in the shade for one week before planting.  Throw some row cover over them for extra protection.  Happy planting!!

Bone Broth

Bone broth is an incredibly nourishing food that has been lost in the modern American diet.  When Matt began hunting 3 years ago, we made bone broth in an attempt to use as much of the animal as possible.  We were sold from the very first pot of divine broth that no bouillon cube could ever match.  It has since become an indispensable part of our cooking, going into stews, soups, stir-fries, and sauces.  We pressure can it in pint jars and freeze it in ice-cube trays for throwing into dishes for a burst of flavor.  We use all of the bones from Matt’s caribou plus some from my parent’s caribou, and sometimes we even get more bones from the butcher to make additional stock.

Not only is bone broth delicious, but it’s extremely good for you as well. It gives you strong bones, teeth, tendons, and connective tissue, it protects the integrity of your digestive track, and it helps digest meats and other food.  Bone broth is rich is the amino acid glycine, which balances methionine, another amino acid found in meat and eggs.  Methionine can disrupt cellular communication leading to a number of issues such as mental disorders or cancer.  (Source: The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care by Sally Fallon Morell) This is why it is always good to use bone broth in a sauce when you are cooking meat.  Bone broth is especially good to use when you are pregnant or trying to heal tooth decay.

Caribou (or moose, beef, or bison) Stock

  • 6 pounds caribou bones cut into 2-4 inch pieces. Include some that have marrow such as leg bones and some that are meaty such as ribs or neck vertebrae. 
  • Image2 medium onions, quartered
  • 1 pound carrots roughly chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped, including some leaves
  • 1 tablespoon peppercorns
  • 6 unpeeled garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 small tomatoes, chopped, or ½ cup canned tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 4 parsley stalks
  • 8 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs tarragon, optional
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 450º.  Put the bones and the vegetables into a roasting pan (or two) and roast 30-40 minutes until they are medium brown.  Use tongs to put vegetables and bones into a large stainless steel stockpot (do NOT use an aluminum pan!).  Pour off accumulated fat and deglaze pan with 1 cup of water on stovetop.  Scrape up tidbits on the pan and then pour it into stockpot. 

ImageAdd the rest of the ingredients and enough water to cover bones by a few inches and bring to a boil.  Simmer slowly for 6-12 hours, skimming off any scum that floats to the top.  Add more water as necessary to keep bones submerged. Strain the stock, pressing all the liquid out of the ingredients.  Let cool and skim off the fat that congeals on the surface or use a degreasing pitcher.  You may also return the stock to the stovetop and boil gently to reduce it further.  

 To can your bone broth, reheat it to boiling and pour into glass jars.  Put on lids and process in a pressure canner at 10 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for pints, or 25 minutes for quarts.

A More Nutritious Garden

The weather has been startlingly spring-like lately and seed catalogs have been arriving to the Williams Street Farmhouse in droves.  I planted my first seeds last week (onions, leeks, celery and some herbs) and we can officially say, let the gardening season begin!  This is one of my favorite parts of the gardening season, the dreaming stage.

This year my dreams are fueled by an excellent book called Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson.  The premise of the book is that many of the nutritious aspects of fruits and vegetables have been bred out in our quest to make our food sweeter, less bitter, store better, etc.  The more wild a plant is, generally, the more nutrients it has.  The book is loaded with information on how to buy, grow, and store the most nutritious foods.

As gardeners we are lucky because we can grow a greater variety of vegetables than what is available in the supermarket.  Instead of choosing between “baby” and regular carrots, we can grow 50 or more different types.  Did you know that carrots were originally red, purple, yellow or white?  It wasn’t until some Dutch plant breeders wanted to pay tribute to their royalty, the House of Orange, and crossed a red carrot with a yellow one that we got orange carrots.  In the process they lost all kinds of nutrients.

Without going into the stories or the science behind it, here is what to look for in the seed catalogs so you can grow the most nutritious garden:

IMG_5366Artichokes:  One of the most nutritious vegetables out there.  Every year I get a few plants to grow enough to give me baby artichokes.  Choose a annual variety like Imperial Star.

Asparagus: Also top on the nutritious list, especially the purple varieties.  Maybe this year my patch will be mature enough to give me a few spears?

Beets:  Beets have more antioxidants than most other common vegetables in the store, but their greens are even more healthy.  Choose the darkest red varieties for the most anti-cancer properties.  Valentines Day bonus: beets are an aphrodisiac.

Cabbage Family: Everything in this family is highly nutritious, with kale (especially Redbor and Tuscan) and Brussels sprouts being the best.  Broccoli is also great with purple broccoli being even better than green.  Red cabbage is better than green cabbage.  Romanesca and other colored cauliflower have more antioxidants than white.  The vegetables in this family loose their antioxidants quickly after they are harvested, so as gardeners we have a real advantage.  Just be sure to leave them in the garden until you are ready to eat them!

Carrots:  Red and purple types are the most nutritious.

IMG_1288Greens:  Bitter greens (arugula, endive, radicchio) are more nutritious than sweet varieties.  Red leaves are better than green, and leaf lettuce is better than head lettuce.

Onion Family: These are all very healthful.  Garlic is especially nutritious, but you must chop it up at least 10 minutes before you cook it to activate the goodness.  Sweet onions are less nutritious than hot onions (the kind that make you cry.)  But leeks and chives are better than onions, and shallots and scallions are the best of all.  Chives and scallions are super easy to grow here, and there is room for them in any garden.  I met one woman who chops up chives and freezes them in one cup measurements as an onion replacement.

Peas and Beans:  Edible pod peas are more nutritious than shelling peas.  Purple, red or blue beans are better than green ones.

Potatoes:  Look for the purple varieties like Magic Molly.  French Fingerling are also quite good.  Be sure to buy your seed potatoes locally to avoid introducing potato diseases to Alaska.

Tomatoes: Choose dark red tomatoes.  Smaller is better, especially the currant variety which is actually a different species and a nutrition superstar.

IMG_2068Apples: What are you waiting for?  The sooner you plant a tree the sooner you will have your own apples.  Costco sells apple trees in the spring that work well here.  Also, don’t overlook the multitudes of crabapples in this city.  If you wait until after the first frost to harvest they are sweeter and make the best sauce.

Berries: You can never have too many strawberries, especially with a toddler around the garden.  They are super high in antioxidants, especially when picked at the height of their ripeness, and you can rest assured that they are pesticide-free when you grow them yourself.  Dark red raspberries are more nutritious than yellow ones, but black raspberries are even better.

IMG_1068Aronia, juneberry (saskatoon) honeyberry (hascaps) and seaberry (sea buckthorn) are lesser-known berries that do well up here and are super nutritious.  Seaberry is considered a superfood.

This year’s garden will be the most nutritious ever, and it won’t even be more work!

New Years Resolutions

IMG_7294The snow is deep outside and spring is a long way off, but the light is starting to slowly come back, bringing with it hope and increased energy.  I love this time of year with the holidays over and a new page on the calendar.  It is a great time to slow down, review the previous year’s highlights and challenges, and resolve to do better this year. What an opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning!

I came up with quite an ambitious list this year, as usual, except this time my number one thing is get more organized, which can help me with all of the other things.  I recently read a book called Organized Simplicity, which has a lot of great ideas I’m using.  First is a weekly template with lists of my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to check off and space to write my appointments, meal plan, and to-do lists.  It is super simple, but keeps me on task.  I also have a notebook where I write meal planning ideas, project lists, work ideas, things for the kids, my goals, and anything else I need to get out of my head.  She also has a method for deep-cleaning and de-cluttering one room at a time that I am beginning to dive into.  I took a huge load of books into Tidal Wave and can’t believe how great it feels to only have books that I really love and want to read.

IMG_0384My other big resolutions revolve around health, something I am always thinking about and trying to improve.  Of course I have the usual “exercise more- at least 3 times per week” but this time I really mean it!  I can’t believe how sluggish I feel when I get out of the habit of exercising regularly.  It’s not easy to take the time for myself with two kiddos, but I’ve been doing a good job of bundling them up and getting them in the chariot so I can take them on a ski.  We all get fresh air and I get extra exercise pulling them!

I’m also re-doubling my efforts to eat healthier.  This seems to be a moving target as I learn more and my life changes (feeding kids, breastfeeding, etc).  The Alaska Food Challenge was a really healthy way to eat, but it is really difficult to keep up with, and there are so many things I really like to have in my life that don’t come from Alaska.  It’s not so cut-and-dry anymore so I have difficult decisions to make, just like everyone else.

IMG_8108The most difficult part for me is the grains.  It is a ton of work to make all your own bread, pasta, tortillas and crackers, (I must admit I got a little burned out during the food challenge) but the processed stuff just isn’t so good for us.  We all know white flour is bad, but whole grains contain antinutrients that keep us from absorbing all those amazing nutrients they offer unless we sprout, sour, or ferment them first.  Many traditional cultures know this and would process their grains in such a way before preparing them.  You can read all about this and more in the excellent book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.  If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, pregnant, or have young children, you absolutely must read her new book, The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care.  I thought I ate really healthy until I read these books, but I’m realizing I have a lot to learn and a lot of habits to change.

As I found out, reading the books isn’t quite enough, you actually have to make changes.  While I was pregnant with Rylan I got a few new cavities.  This is fairly common with expectant mothers, because the nutrient demands are so high for the baby, but I didn’t expect it to happen to me.  My teeth and gums are actually in pretty poor shape, so I bought the book, Cure Tooth Decay.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’m pretty sure it is going to echo much of the information in Nourishing Traditions.  Surprise surprise, another one of my resolutions is to heal my cavities.

IMG_2175I’ll spare you the rest of my resolutions… they probably look an awful lot like yours; spend more time with my family, show my love and appreciation for Matt, be present and patient with my children, etc.  It is not a sign of failure that my resolutions look similar year after year, rather it is a sign that these things are really important and I need to continuously pay attention to them.  I hope that during this dark, cold season that you, too will find time to reflect and resolve to doing what is important to you.