The Meat CSA

It started, innocently enough, when our regular CSA (Eating With the Seasons) offered some grass-fed beef. The results were extraordinary and we kept an eye out for future offerings.

Then they mentioned that Morris Grassfed Beef was offering “split halves”. That’s half a side of beef, delivered all at once or in 4 equal packages CSA-style. We opted for the whole thing — about 100 pounds — and stashed it in a freezer in the garage.

grass-fed hamburger and sides.JPG

It’s fantastic. Now I know that some people find grass-fed beef to be too “gamey”, but that appears to be a problem when it’s left to age too long. (All those wonderful Omega-3 fats go rancid quickly.) The Morris people age it for 14 days which is the optimum age.

(By the way, the hamburgers are made with about a pound of ground beef, 1t of Penzey’s BBQ 3000, and a little salt and pepper. Make 1/3lb patties, grill to medium rare, and don’t forget a napkin.)

My first taste of this reminded me of beef from my childhood (in the 1970’s) before factory farming had become a big thing. It’s also shifted our household cooking to be more like the cooking when I was growing up — meat was an accent to the meal, with a meat-centric meal being a special “Sunday dinner” occasion. We’re not really buying outside beef, but choosing when to pull another package of something from the freezer — mindful that once the single brisket is used for onion roast, it’s gone.

Ambar, being the silly sweetie that she is, started looking at other options via Craigslist — whole pigs, pasture-raised lamb, etc. She finally proposed we buy lamb from a fellow who raises them on his walnut orchard (as weed control) then finishes them on organic almonds. We took delivery yesterday.

Parmesan crusted lamb chops.JPG

Her first bite of Parmesan-crusted Lamb Chops was a Tex Avery moment — her eyes grew huge and I bet they would have popped right out of their sockets if they could. The flavor on these is amazingly mild and sweet; we both noticed a hint of almond.

Parmesan-Crusted Lamb Chops

Take 8 lamb-chops, ideally pounded thin. Grate about 1/2C of good parmesan into a bowl. In another dish, beat 2 eggs. Take a plate and spread about 1C of fine bread crumbs on it. Heat about 1/4″ of vegetable oil in a fry pan on the stove.

Sprinkle the chops with the parmesan, pressing the cheese into the chop. Then dip into the egg, drain off the excess, and dredge in the bread crumbs. Fry in the hot oil — thin chops until golden, thicker chops until a rich golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper before serving.

Lamb chops are best served medium rare.

(I served these with some zucchini steamed with Penzey’s Sunny Paris seasoning and tossed with butter, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, and a good glass of Pinot Noir.)

P.S. I’m off to cook at Witchlets in the Woods in the morning. Watch for new posts when I get back!

P.P.S. To give you an idea of cost, we’re averaging $6/lb for the beef and $5/lb for the lamb. With factory-farmed lean ground beef at $3.50/lb, offset by our shift in consumption, we’re paying somewhat less for groceries these days and definitely eating better.

Growing food in tough economic times

A friend of mine sent this to a local (San Francisco Bay area) mailing list recently, and has given permission for it to be reposted here. Her suggestions on prioritizing what to grow given limited space especially caught my eye (and I am now mumbling about growing strawberries in hanging pots, to elfin’s bafflement — Ambar)

Nadja, The Yakima Kid, writes:

I’ve been raising as much of our own food as I can since I quit working some years ago; vertigo and monitors don’t play well with each other. I have been seeing a lot on the various websites about people starting vegetable gardens to save money during the recession, so I figured I’d post here about our experiences. Also, if anyone wants to start a garden, I’m willing and able to assist you in finding choices that will help whether you have a house with a yard or an apartment deck.

Raised bed gardening is generally the most efficient – but it is important when gardening to use water wisely. A vegetable garden will consume far less water than a lawn. Other things to consider are dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees, berries of all sorts, and especially primocane raspberries and blackberries. Primocane berries produce on first year canes and will also give a second crop on the lower portion of the cane the following year instead of one having to wait for the second year for a crop; what I do to reduce disease and insect carryovers is I simply harvest the first year crop and cut all the canes to the ground in the fall after bearing. The soil in much of this area is a bit too sweet (alkaline), so some crops, like blueberries, don’t grow well without heavy amendments or specialized raised beds.

Using intensive techniques and summer pruning, we have two semi-dwarf apples, six dwarf citrus, a semi-dwarf nectarine and a semi-dwarf peach, a dwarf nectarine and a dwarf peach, a row of columnar apples, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and a number of raised vegetable beds. We raise strawberries in hanging planters because otherwise the slugs destroy them; I prefer large Bloommasters and have them hooked up to drip irrigation which gives them about five minutes a day in mid summer which is very efficient, given that the large Bloommaster holds nearly two dozen plants; it is advertised to hold close to three dozen, but that intensity actually lowers production per planter. I raise potatoes in bags or buckets. Bloommasters are expensive, but with strawberries will pay for themselves within three years. They double as decorative hanging planters and can replace porch ornamental hanging planters with productive food.

It’s also a good idea to plant a few landscape plants to attract hummingbirds and other birds; hummingbirds not only sip nectar; but they are insect Hoovers. We grow the wild Pacific filberts primarily for the birds and animals but a little bit for ourselves. There are landscape plants that are low water use that also provide people food; one example is Oregon grape which provides fruits for pies, jellies, and jams. Be careful which plants you select; California Bay is a major host to Sudden Oak Death, and currants are involved in the life cycle of a blister rust.

Tomatoes can be grown in those cheap five gallon nursery containers which keeps them out of slug range. You can get some of the parthenogenic greenhouse varieties, put them in a room with daylight fluorescent lighting, and have year round production; we keep ours in the family room which gets southwest light and is often occupied so the lights are on most evenings. We replaced our ornamental houseplants with tomatoes and so we now get food for the inputs that used to go simply to looking pretty.

When choosing plants for the garden, grow the more expensive products as your first priority. We raise fruit instead of shell beans because split peas, and pinto beans are comparatively inexpensive while raspberries and strawberries are extremely expensive and cantaloupe isn’t cheap. Check seeds and plants for climate adaptations; some varieties that do poorly in this area are sold anyway because they are popular products; for example, Red Delicious apple really doesn’t like it down by the Bay but some places sell it because of customer demand.

Indian Runner ducks can reproduce without a pond and are also reasonable egg layers. They seem to enjoy eating slugs; but from time to time take an interest in berries and fruits, so you have to watch them. Chickens are very good and hens will lay whether or not there is a rooster in the area. Leghorns will kick out an average of an egg per day. Rabbits can be grazed in the yard and fed kitchen scraps as well; they’ll need protection from raccoons and cats at night just like poultry.

Honey, please?

Honey sweet
Honey sweet

Hello magical ones…

I have been inspired by the honey magic that took place at Wintercamp this year and have been continuing it at home.  I found some delicious local honey from the Chicago Honey Co-op, which I recommend highly for those in my area (check out their website, they have an interesting blog on beekeeping).  I also found a web site that will help you find local honey wherever you are!

I would like to gather some good honey recipes.  I see many on line but it is hard to determine the culinary quality on the page.  Do you have any “tried” recipes that feature honey which you’d like to share?  If so, please post them here.

I will share any mellifluous delights that I discover.

Much love to you and gratitude to the bees.