Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Dorkings sounds like a name someone might have called my group of friends in high school, but it's actually a rare breed of chicken used for both egg laying and meat.  In a previous post I covered the difference between a 'meat bird' and a heritage breed chicken and my want to start a backyard flock of 'table birds' - birds that will eventually end up at 'freezer camp.'

I chose Dorkings because of their supposed ability to forage and tolerance of cold weather, the fact that they make great mothers, their gourmet meat quality and also because the color of their eggs are white which is different from the eggs that I will get from my mixed backyard flock I currently have; they lay brown or blue/green eggs. 

So Fluffy!!!
About 2 months ago I contacted a woman online who said she had some Dorking chicks for sale. Apparently these aren't the kind you impulse buy from the metal bins at Tractor Supply during your college days and then wonder what the hell you're gonna do with 3 baby chickens in a dorm room. This is a rare breed and you need to order well in advance of a hatching or know someone who is willing to part with a few of theirs. This woman happened to place her order with the Sandhill Preservation Center way back in January and decided she didn't need the birds after all and therefore was willing to part with the entire order. She reserved 10 'colored' Dorkings from the May hatch. Apparently these birds are hard to predict and didn't decide to put out enough baby chicks until mid July. Even then, they did not have enough of the 'colored' variety and instead supplemented her order with about 8 'black' and 4 'silver greys' in addition to 7 'coloreds' they were able to hatch. I met up with her on her farm and she gave me the grand tour. She has some really beautiful birds and I definitely appreciated all the info shared. I went to the farm with the intention of getting 10 birds. I left with 19. Yikes. I tried my best to avoid the look I could feel my hubby giving me as soon as we got into the car. I had to talk him into getting the 10, how was I supposed to explain leaving with 19? I sounded like I had a speech impairment when I started explaining "I..uhh... errr.. well, you know... she... then... I don't know... cuteness.....they're so fluffy!!!" I guess that explanation worked cause he didn't question too much after. We ended up getting about $120 worth of baby chicks for $40 after a soap trade, so I think it was a good decision.

Dorking chicks - Colored, Silver Grey and Black

So here we are again. After thinking I would never raise chickens in the house again I have 19 of them in a large dog cage in my entrance way. And I'm back to Google Sketch-up for an easy chicken coop plan that hopefully costs a lot less money this time around.

As an update to our current flock; The Bishop Don Juan, our only rooster, has been pretty rough on his ladies these days and I think will be attending freezer camp soon. I just need to decide if I have the courage enough to do 'the deed' myself. I'm laughing as I picture myself, 9 months pregnant right now, like a crazy woman, slaughtering a chicken in my back yard. Maybe I'll save some dignity and just Craigslist him.

The Bishop Don Juan

Don our 'Easter Egger' Rooster and his flock

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Burning trash

Photo credit Joelk75
I usually love living outside of the city where the houses are spread apart and everyone has a little space to themselves. However, within this little bit of space inhabitants seem to think they are islands; separated from the world around them, immune to the laws of society. So when it comes to waste removal, why not save a few dollars and burn it? "It just disappears into the air, ain't no harm done" (In my best redneck tone). Maybe that was the way of thinking 50 years ago when burn barrels were common and children roasting marshmallows over them didn't bring concerns of brain damage and asbestos and lead paint were just part of everyday living. But this isn't that time. And I have no idea why people think it's still ok to burn their trash in a primitive barrel right in their back yard.
Burn barrels are often a source of conflict between neighbors; which "right" is more important: allowing people to burn household refuse or guaranteeing that everyone can open their windows without noxious smoke and odors getting into their homes?
Nothing gets me more pissed than when I'm outside enjoying a nice warm evening in the garden and the smell of hot plastic and burning trash lingers through my yard and sticks in my nose. I'm not the kind of neighbor to call the police either; I really try to stay on the good side of my neighbors since I do have to share a street with them for at least a few more years, and I don't need a crazed burning plastic chemical induced episode where one of them kills my dog for barking at 5:30am or some other complaint they have been waiting to spring on me.

What is a girl supposed to do? I have a daughter and I'm pregnant with #2 and do not want to breathe in these noxious chemicals on a weekly basis.
Simply put, burning trash is not a good idea. It allows the release of environmental contaminants such as hydrogen cyanide, benzene, lead, mercury, dioxin and carbon dioxide into the environment.
I'd like to give my neighbors the benefit of the doubt and assume they are just not educated on the dangers of burning garbage; a tradition that was likely passed down from other generations before them. We really are grateful to have decent neighbors, other than the whole 'releasing deadly carcinogens into the air on a weekly basis' thing. Plan A will be to pass out the following brochure into their mailboxes anonymously (unless they know I have this blog. Not so anonymous now.) I hope after reading the brochure they will understand the dangers not only for themselves and their own families, but also the dangers that it brings to nearby neighbors who have to breathe in their burning trash fumes with little to no choice. Plan B? A super soaker? I'm not sure. Michigan, one of a handful of states that still allows unrestricted burning of trash, was supposed to enact a law as of April 2011 that would restrict this, but for whatever reason it was suspended. So I'm not sure I would even have the law on my side should I consider calling authority.
UPDATE - On 3/21/11 the DEQ suspended this proposed rule package pending further review. This means that the proposed changes will not take effect April 1, 2011. Additional information about pending changes to the open burning rules will be posted at this web site as the DEQ continues to work with stakeholders to address this issue.
Crazy to think I have no rights when it comes to the quality of air on my own property. I'm not sure what the hold up is either, the DEQ explicitly states: "Open burning pollutes the air and poses a fire hazard. The air pollution created by open burning can irritate eyes and lungs, obscure visibility, soil nearby surfaces, create annoying odors, and is a danger to those with respiratory conditions." Yet no law is in place to prevent this.

Brochure I'm handing out:

Another Brochure from the EPA:

Interesting piece from Michigan.gov about burn barrels:

DEQ's stance on open burning:

What can we do to get this law in place and spread information about the danger's that backyard burn barrels impose? 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Roasted Summer Vegetables

My husband can never come up with anything to make for dinner. He is constantly of the opinion that there is absolutely nothing edible in the house, even just 2 days after a grocery shop.  A trick I learned from my dad, I can literally make a gourmet meal from practically nothing...

roasted summer vegetables
I know you think it's too damn hot out to use the oven. But one day of sacrifice (or cranking the a/c) will yield delicious results. Roasted vegetables are so easy, versatile and delicious especially when picked fresh from the garden. I usually make a really large dish and use them throughout the week:
  • Cold on salad
  • In fajitas
  • With a side of pasta or brown rice
  • Plain either cold or hot
  • Dipped in any dressing, yogurt or hummus
  • Tossed with feta and orzo
I could go on and on... The point is they are delicious.

I don't have an exact recipe to share, but here is an idea of how I go about making this dish; it usually involves cleaning out the fridge.

From our organic garden I was able to collect:
from the organic garden
  • 4 yellow summer squash
  • 2 zucchini 
  • basil, oregano and sage 
In the refrigerator and pantry I found:
  • a sweet potato on its last leg 
  • a few wrinkly potatoes with eyes
  • 4 large white mushrooms 
  • 1 large white onion
  • a half of a bunch of wilting local asparagus
The sweet potatoes and white potatoes take longer to cook so I chopped them first, tossed them in olive oil and put them in the oven on 450° to start cooking.

In a large bowl I chopped the rest of my ingredients and mixed them together. I kept everything in large pieces and even left some of the fresh herbs on their stems instead of cutting all of them up. I added salt and pepper and about 4-5 tablespoons of olive oil to the bowl combining everything well. I also chopped and added 3 tablespoons of cold butter to the top of the vegetables

It took approximately 15 minutes to chop and combine the ingredients; at this time I removed the large dish with the potatoes and sweet potatoes from the oven and added the large bowl of chopped veggies and herbs. I mixed the veggies in well with the potatoes and put the dish back into the oven for a total of 20 min. At approximately 5 minute intervals I would turn the veggies over. With 5 minutes remaining I turned the oven up to broil and watched very closely, turning the veggies often making sure they were getting dark, but not burning.

roasted veggies with wheat pasta and fresh salad greens
The smell in the kitchen was amazing. The herbs and the vegetables paired so well. I served mine that evening with some wheat pasta tossed in sage and garlic butter and a hand picked salad with crusty bread and organic ranch dressing..... now I'm going to warm some leftovers cause this post made me hungry all over again.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

5 cheap, quick and healthy dinners

It's so easy to order in. I have a real weakness for authentic Mexican food, but for $30 (3 people, not just me eating $30 worth of take-out on my own) and 1,200 calories a plate, it's just not a smart meal. Other options include pre-made frozen dinners which to me consist of calories, calories, sodium, artificial flavoring and overall a very bland and often rubbery dinner that 9 times out 10 I feel depressed about eating afterward; but it's quick and will fill you up when you're hungry, problem solved.

My husband does not enjoy cooking on a regular basis and has a hard time coming up with healthy meals during the week. I work too much and prefer to spend time with my toddler instead of slaving over the stove when I get home; yeh yeh, typical American life. But instead of turning blindly and giving into pre-made foods I'm trying to combine the best of both worlds: fast food that is still all natural and healthy. I'm determined to provide real food to my family without compromise. This is my mission in life.

Planning, planning, planning is the key to success. When you're on your way home, starving, tired and not feeling up the Top Chef surprise box dinner challenge with a toddler screaming in your face instead of Gordon Ramsey, it's easy to whimp out and speed dial (I know you all have Mexican take-out on speed dial) your fav local spot and just pick it up on the way home. It doesn't help that my husband LOVES take-out and is happier to see when I have the cheesy looking smiley face thank you bag in my hand as I walk up the driveway (whats up with the smiley face bag anyway?).

To help you out and have this as a personal reference of my own, here is a list with a guestimate-breakdown of cost for 5 of my favorite fast, healthy and actually great tasting meals. With some super easy beginning of the week planning you can avoid the  temptation to order out or pop that Stouffers lasagna you've been dreading into the oven as a quick fix.

Photo credit Lara604
1) Homemade bean burgers
Look at the ingredients list for many of the vegetarian burger options in your freezer section. What is that stuff? Making them at home on your own is super easy, fast, cheaper and more nutritious. This recipe is one of my favorite go-to's:

1 can of Eden Foods* beans (black, white, red, chickpeas, whatever...)
1/2 cup flour (white or wheat)
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs
1 egg
1/2 onion diced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Drain and then mash the beans in a medium bowl using a fork or potato masher.
Add all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix until evenly combined.
If you're feeling adventurous you could also add mushrooms, green pepper, shredded carrots, corn or jalapenos to the mixture.
In a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. You can use your hands to make the mixture into a patty, or drop it by the spoonful into the skillet and using a fork shape it to your desired size (be careful of splattering oil!). Brown each patty well on each side - approx 5 minutes per side.
That's it! These are great on hamburger buns, in tortilla shells, on a salad or as a meat replacement in soups and chili's.

Meal cost: 
.50 cents for the beans ($2.00 for the can of beans/4 servings)
.50 cents to place the patty on a bun
.50 cents for other condiments and toppings
and an estimated .50 cents for the other ingredients from your pantry
Total per person: $2.00

Grocery list note: Most of the items for this meal are readily available in your pantry. Make sure you add to your grocery list a variety of Eden Foods canned beans to have in stock!

Have even less time? Make these patty's in advance and freeze them. When you get home quickly fire up the grill or a fry pan and toss them in to reheat.

* Eden Foods is one of the only brands I'm aware of that is BPA Free

2) Easiest gourmet spaghetti ever
For a while I was on the search for an easy yet flavorful spaghetti sauce. I like spice, flavor and simplicity all at once. Surprisingly the Travel Channel offered a recipe for just this, and to make it a little more time efficient for when I get home from work I've taken their Spaghetti With Fresh Tomato Sauce and Basil recipe and made it into a fast and easy version: obviously the original is better and I highly recommend it if you have the time and resources, but my version cuts a few corners with little compromise.

2 cans, drained well, diced or whole tomatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
pinch of crushed red pepper
kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon dried basil (fresh is better if you have it on hand!)
1 lb of spaghetti
1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese (optional) 

For the sauce: Heat the 1/3 cup of olive oil over medium-high heat.
Add your drained tomatoes, red pepper flakes, dried basil and a little salt and pepper (you can always add more later, better to start light.)
Give the tomatoes a few minutes to get hot and then using a potato masher work them until they are finely chopped. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken.

al dente (pasta should be firm, and slightly chewy, just shy of what you would consider 'done'). Drain the pasta, but reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.
Add the pasta to the sauce and cook over medium-high heat while gently tossing the pasta until it is tender and the sauce has absorbed. If the mixture seems too thick, slowly add some of the reserved pasta water to thin it out.  Remove from heat, add the butter and cheese if desired and gently toss until well combined. Serve immediately.
This dish seems really simple, but it creates a very flavorful and satisfying pasta dish as either a side or a main course with salad and garlic bread.

Meal cost: Spaghetti is always economical and quick to make. A box of pasta is only about $2.00, 2 cans of tomatoes will run you around $4.00 and 1/3 cup of olive oil will also cost around $2.00.
Total meal cost approximately $8.00 divided by 4 people for a cost of $2.00 per person. Add some french bread and pre-cut salad for an additional $2.00 per person.

Grocery list note: Olive oil is a must on our grocery list. It provides healthy fats to the diet and offers plenty of flavor in Italian dishes. If it's not already in your pantry, add it to your grocery list today. 

Have even less time? Make the sauce in advance and freeze it in portion size containers. Just make your pasta and toss the sauce in when you get home!

Photo credit star5112
3) Oven Kabobs
So easy. So versatile. So good.
Our grill takes a while to get hot and sometimes the oven is just easier; take this classic summer dish and cook it any time of the year using your oven.

Kabobs are great because you can use whatever you have in your house, or whatever your family favorites are. Here are some suggestions, cut them all into bite sized pieces:
  • Bell peppers
  • Onions
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini
  • Baby potatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Fresh pineapple
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Shrimp
  • Tofu
You can either skewer the kabobs yourself, alternating each of the items on the skewer or make it a family time and have each member skewer their own in a DIY dinner setting.
For a marinade I recommend just buying it instead of making it: this is a huge time saver. Of course read the ingredients label, many marinades can include corn syrup, artificial coloring/flavoring, mono-sodium glutamate (MSG) and other odd an unnecessary ingredients. Annie's offers a fantastic line of dressings and marinades.

Place the finished kabobs on a cookie sheet and brush them with your marinade of choice.
Turn the oven to broil.
Place the kabobs in the hot oven and watch closely, cooking approximately 10-15 minutes total, and turning every few minutes as they appear done on each side. Halfway through you may also brush the kabobs again with your marinade.
When done, let them set for 5 minutes to cool and absorb their juices. Serve with a side of brown rice or pasta and leave the extra marinade on the table as a dipping sauce.
If you don't have skewers just chop and roast the vegetables and meat on a cookie sheet turning with a spatula often.

Meal cost: There is a big variation in the cost of kabobs depending on what ingredients you use.
I try to use as many things from the garden and sitting in my refrigerator about to spoil as possible, keeping the cost to near free. When you start adding prime cut meats and gourmet baby potatoes you could potentially end up spending $5.00 per kabob. Keep this recipe as easy and simple as possible, kabobs turn out good no matter what.

Grocery list note: Having a good and healthy marinade/dressing in your pantry is always a good secret weapon. Use it on baked potatoes, pasta, vegetables or even as a dip for french bread.

Have even less time? Make the kabobs the night before and marinade them over night for maximum flavor. Just quick pop them in the broiler when you get home!

4) "I can't believe it's not take-out" peanut noodles
Sometimes I just crave take out Chinese food, but I'm usually disappointed with the results and with myself for eating so much of it.
This is a versatile recipe that is good hot, cold, as leftovers, packed in your lunch or for potlucks! Add extra veggies, tofu, chicken or beef for variation.

8 oz pasta (spaghetti, rice noodles, linguine, your choice)
1 bunch of green onions (white part only) or 1/2 diced white onion
2 tablespoons of sesame oil
1/3 cup peanut butter (crunchy adds texture)
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce (depending on taste)
1/4 cup hot water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar (preferably organic)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
for extra heat add 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoon fresh ginger (optional, but very good)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro (optional, but VERY good)

Cook and drain pasta.
In a skillet cook the onions in the sesame oil until tender and then add remaining ingredients except cilantro. Cook just until hot and well combined. Remove from heat, toss into pasta and serve topped with fresh cilantro.
If you want to add more nutrition to this dish you can also top with sprouts, scrambled egg, sauteed broccoli or raw snow peas.

Meal cost: At the basic level, this dish costs approximately $3.50 per person considering the cost of pasta, peanut butter, sesame oil, onions, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and spices.

Grocery list note: Sesame oil is versatile, flavorful and healthy. Keep a bottle in your pantry to easily add flavor to salads, dressings, noodles and rice.

Have even less time? This basic recipe can also be used to fry leftover rice in place of pasta for a unique and quick dish.

Photo credit stu_spivack
5) Spicy 3 bean soup
For me there is nothing easier than throwing together a quick and tasty bean soup. This recipe has plenty of protein from the beans and packed with vitamins and minerals from the veggies. If the weather seems too warm for soup, serve it slightly cooled with avocado and sour cream!

1 can Eden Foods* northern white beans
1 can Eden Foods small red beans
1 can Eden Foods kidney beans
(really, any bean combination will do, these are just my favorites)
1 can diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cups organic vegetable broth
2 minced garlic cloves
1 onion
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1.4 teaspoon chili powder

The recipe covers the basics, but it is encouraged to make it your own by adding extras (or clean out your refrigerator by adding everything!)

In a skillet add the olive oil, onions, garlic and any other veggies you wish to add (green peppers, celery, carrots, summer squash, corn...) Cook until vegetables are tender.

In a large soup pot add everything together - the beans, cooked veggies from the skillet, spices, broth, everything.  Cook for about 20 minutes. Super easy.

If you would like to add hamburger or chicken, cook it in a skillet separately and add it into the soup.

My favorite way to serve this is with shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream on top with corn chips on the side!

Meal cost: Were mostly just opening cans and combining ingredients in this recipe
$6.00 for 3 cans of beans
$1.50 for a can of tomatoes
$4.00 for 4 cups of organic broth
$4.00 for veggies and onion 
$2.00 for spices and other
The total meal cost is approx $17.50. You of course could make this significantly less by not using Eden Foods brand and also using a non-organic broth, but the few dollars in difference is worth it to me for a more quality meal.

Grocery list note: Another good reason to have a wide variety of canned beans available in your pantry!

Have even less time? Throw everything in your slow cooker on low before you leave work and it will be ready by the time you come home! No need to pre-cook those veggies if you take the slow cooker route.

* Eden Foods is one of the only brands I'm aware of that is BPA Free