The Backyard

The Backyard

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Using Organic Coconut Oil for Cooking (Frying)

I know, I know, it certainly isn't local, is it?! But neither is olive oil, nor any of the other plant-based "good" oils used in cooking. My food focus this year is healthy, organic vegan (90%), thus, no butters used in cooking. But what oils to use? There's so much hype about olive and canola oil - oils in general - you don't know what to believe anymore. I've used olive oil for many years, and recently I'm finding it's not all its cracked up to be when it comes to the heating process. Many oils are broken down during heating and lose their beneficial properties and nutrition. Here's an excellent article on cooking oils from the Best Natural Foods website. My latest cookbook, Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, uses coconut oil nearly exclusively in everything. They believe olive oil is bad for your health as does Dr. Joel Furhman of Eat to Live. I think olive and flax oils are just fine -- when not heated. But for cooking and frying? Enter organic coconut oil. I thought I'd give the Skinny Bitch's recommendation a try and pick up some organic coconut oil -- direct from Fiji. (No, I didn't GO to Fiji.) OMG. I can't stop frying things in it. First, I made a broccoli stir-fry which turned out heavenly. The smell of coconut oil cooking is delightful, not be mention the hint of coconut flavoring in the food - yummy (if you like coconut). Next, was toasted sliced almonds. OMG (again!). Very, very tasty almonds with a hint of coconut flavor. I believe the bitches might know what they are talking about on this one. I'm hooked on coconut oil for frying and cooking and would recommend it to anyone. Remember though, it needs to be organic and cold-pressed. Here's a site with some good prices. Here's another good article on the benefits of organic coconut oil.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Local" Organics - The Locals Ain't Buying It

For the past year I've been on a high horse seeking out local "organic" food. I'd like to consider local being my immediate "valley" of approximately a 25 mile radius in the Lykens and Hegins valleys; but for a wanna-be vegan, that's near impossible when you live in rural Pennsylvania with a bumper crop of meat and potato eating Pennsylvania Dutch who really like growing things in Miracle Gro. So I expanded my "local" to a 100 mile radius. Several stores I found to carry organic foods are either not carrying organics any longer, or are just shutting their doors. Most recently, Natural Acres closed their doors. I can't say I'm surprised at this one because their prices were way, way out of line for organics. $3.95 for a dozen organic eggs? $8.00/lb for organic chicken? The entire farm is for sale -- 500 organic acres. Boy if I was wealthy I'd be sticking this farm in my back pocket and growing organic food and selling it CHEAP to compete with conventional food. One of my other weekly visits is Nude Food at the Broad Street Farmers Market in Harrisburg. They too have slowly been downsizing over the past two-three years and more recently they stopped restocking their shelves. When I asked when the next shipment of raw nuts was expected, I was told, "Pam is slowly closing down." Drat! Another one biting the dust. Last winter, I inquired at yet another local bulk food store as to when they will be stocking their organic shelves and they also said, "we're rethinking the organic food section and will not carry as much." Prior to that, the local Weis store completely eliminated their entire organic section AND another store cut their organic section in half (BG's in Millersburg). It's SO disappointing, but understandable - people simply aren't paying the prices. The most recent edition of Organic Matters (Pennsylvania Certified Organic's quarterly newsletter) has an editorial about organic milk losing steam -- folks are struggling financially and when they see a wall of choices of milk, they are going to pick the cheap one and let the organic milk sit. Hubby said the same thing and it certainly makes sense. BUT, I continue to believe that organic food does NOT have to be higher priced than conventional. I continue to believe its cheaper to raise a grass fed cow than a feed lot cow. Organic advocates will argue that point until the cows come home, but there's absolutely no reason a consumer should be denied better health with organics just because of the higher price. Health wise (and isn't that what its really all about?), it's not fair. So my garden will have to continue even though I really wanted to downsize next year. There's just some things to important to eat organically that simply aren't available locally (all the vegetables!).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Clean Food and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch Book Reviews

My extremely thoughtful boss got me not one, but two vegan cookbooks for my birthday. The first is Clean Food by Terry Walters. It's laid out like my favorite cookbook, Simply in Season, by the season so you know what to eat by what's growing in Spring, Summer, Fall, or even Winter. Not sure what make with your bumper crop of spinach? Open the index to Spinach, and you'll have a list of recipes to choose from. I love a cookbook not only indexed by the type of food, but by season. Cooking in season, having a full-course organic garden in the backyard (and preserved organic food from the backyard for the winter!), and being a 90% vegan makes this a perfect gift. The other cookbook is Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. This book is part of a series of Skinny Bitch books written by two whimsical writers who just so happen to have been models. The original best seller, Skinny Bitch, basically exposes the food industry and what you eat -- nothing new there. They go on to talk about the benefits of vegan eating which is what Skinny Bitch in the Kitch is all about. Some of the recipes are little long, but the shorter ones make up for them. Word to the wise, don't get it if you have something against cussing. These girls LOVE to cuss (thus, the title?!) and I find it amusing and adds interest to the book. I can't wait to read Skinny Bitch -- my boss promised she'd share hers with me when she's done. She too says she is about to go vegan after reading about all the crap out there people are consuming (and getting fat in the process). I must say, I now think of eating corn every time I see doughnuts, or tasty cakes, or any other processed food with high fructose corn syrup. Thank god for Erik Schlosser and Michael Pollan, and now, the Skinny Bitch girls.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Annual Eat Local Challenge

October has become the traditional month for the annual Eat Local Challenge. Last year I started 5 days into the challenge and this year it looks like it'll be 7 days into it -- I simply lost track of time and hadn't thought about October being the eat local month. I learned a ton last year taking this challenge -- the biggest lesson being I needed to grow more of my own food. This year I put the task to test and had a bigger-than-ever garden and am grateful I did so and this year's challenge will be a snap. But the garden came at a cost of too many hours in the garden and not enough hours of recreation -- so I need to think through that magic balance of work and play for next year. Overall though, the garden did pay off and I'm ready for winter with jars and bags of my homegrown, preserved produce. I'm proud to say I won't be buying canned tomatoes anytime soon... nor corn from China! Eating local is important for our economy and our environment. If you can, think about getting out of the grocery stores and into the farmer's markets to buy the bulk of your food. You helped the local farmer and yourself.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Interesting Update on the Bees

Mother Earth News is surpassing Organic Gardening of late with interesting stories. Granted, Organic Gardening's focus is the garden (more below), but Mother Earth News takes it a step further and relates the environment to our homes, including the garden and nearly always has good stories about organic gardening. The latest issue had an update on the honeybee disappearance that stated "the Natural Resources Defense Council is suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency for withholding details about the impact of neonicotinois - a class of widely used pesticides -- on Honey bees and other pollinators. " The article goes on to say, "How would our government respond if one out of every three cows was dying?" What is that telling you? And you'll never guess who the manufacturer of the pesticide is. No, not Monsanto, but an equally powerful pharmaceutical -- Bayer CropScience. They all hold power over government and its unfortunate. You can read the whole story about the bees here. Back to Organic Gardening Magazine. I've seen many transformations of this magazine over the years with each new editor and yet another new editor took the helm. This time, it sounds like they are going to focus on simplicity and community and the first issue with the new editor is likely a good example of what's ahead. There were several nice stories about inner-city gardens and several articles about specific plants -- crop covers and sage. Yes, informative information, but not enough for my use in the backyard. Mother Earth News, on the other hand, had articles on building your own greenhouse (one of my dreams), Eco-friendly houses, apples, garlic, covering your crops to extend the season, the honeybees, and a very interesting story of the top 10 small towns in US - some were sustainable and supported local farming. Mother Earth News gets my vote for providing the most informative, helpful information. Mother is worth the subscription. And have a co-worker to thank for turning me onto the magazine by sharing some of her issues last year with me -- thanks Theresa!