Egg Semantics

As consumers, we tend to think that the label on our products are telling us something about what we are going to buy. When you go to buy a loaf of bread, reading the label is what might sway you in one direction or the other towards purchasing it. The problem is that most of the stuff you’re reading on that label is completely unregulated, and constructed carefully by a PR team to look a certain way so that you’ll buy it. The USDA does a decent job of regulating food so that it’s “safe” for us to eat, but not a good job of protecting the environment. Because it’s not the USDAs job to watch out for the environment, the regulations generally have nothing to do with humanity of raising the animals or the condition they’re living in – but mostly how the animals is processed before it gets to the grocery store. When it comes to eggs, I find these terms to be quite misleading.

More beautiful farm fresh eggs!

Beautiful farm fresh eggs!

Not too long ago I really had no idea about any of this, and when I would buy eggs from the grocery store I would just pick the ones with the most hot phrases on the carton like “cage free” “free-range” “natural” or whatever other nonsense it would say. When I started working with a local farm I was given a dozen eggs one day from their farm chickens. These chickens live in the orchard on the farm. They have a coop to go into at night, but throughout the day they have plenty of space to roam freely.

Happy chickens at Birds and Bees Farm.

Happy chickens at Birds and Bees Farm.

First off, the eggs from these chickens had the most vibrant orange yolk. The color of the yolk has a lot to do with what the chickens are eating on a daily basis. At Birds and Bees Farm these chickens are eating whatever is naturally available to them. They eat the bugs from the fruit, the grass and pick their way through the soil.

eggs

From Left to Right- 1. Fred Meyer “Simple Truth” Organic 2. Trader Joes Cherry Lane 3. Farm Fresh Chicken Egg 4. Farm Fresh Duck Egg

These chickens are free range and cage free, and that has nothing to do with any USDA regulation. So what are these regulations? Straight from the USDA website –

Free-range. This label indicates that the flock was provided shelter in a building, room, or area with unlimited access to food, fresh water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their production cycle. The outdoor area may or may not be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material. This label is regulated by the USDA.

Cage-free. This label indicates that the flock was able to freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water during their production cycle.

Lets look first at what “free-range” really means. According to the definition above, chickens must be provided shelter with unlimited access to food and water with continuous access to outdoors. You see how it says “access” to outdoors, not “living in an outdoor environment”. This means that a warehouse jammed-packed with chickens, food and water bowls, and a patio they can go onto is considered “free-range”. I spoke to the farmer at Birds and Bees, and he told me that a lot of the big chicken farms have a small patio that the chickens can go onto, but since there’s no food or water left outside, they have no reason to go out there. It’s not like a grass patch full of bugs the chickens are free to roam – it’s simply “access to outdoors”. There is also no regulation as to how long the chickens are allowed access to the outdoors, just that they have it. This hypothetical egg farm is just as free-range as Birds and Bees chickens, says that USDA regulation.

When you see “cage-free” eggs, this means the chickens are able to freely roam. Roam freely? Doesn’t sound very regulated. Cage-free doesn’t even mean that the chickens need access to outdoors. If you took a warehouse full of caged chickens and then removed all the cages around the chickens, they would become “cage-free”.

It’s hard to think of these things, because when you see these terms on an egg carton they’re generally accompanied by a picture of cartoon chickens around a barn – relaxed, free and happy as hell to be supplying you with their eggs.

Fresh duck and chicken eggs straight from my farmer!

Fresh duck and chicken eggs straight from my farmer!

A lot of the time you can buy eggs from a farmers market for just as much as some expensive Whole Foods brand. This definitely doesn’t mean that every brand of eggs at the grocery store shouldn’t be trusted, but don’t be fooled by the labels. At the end of the day, eggs are just another product that a company is trying to sell you in order to make money.

Nothing beats buying local!

(article originally written for The Dirt on Organic Gardening)

Time To Garden

My favorite time of the year is here! I’ve been working on the garden for months now, it’s so great to finally be able to put some plants in the ground. So begins the obsessive plant-watching! Each day I carefully inspect them all, looking for new growth (and sneaky bugs).

So here’s what’s happened since last time…

First, here’s what the yard looked like when I first moved into the house.

It looked pretty for a picture, but wasn't very functional. There was a very thin layer of mulch covering some landscaping tarp. Whenever it rained, the mulch would shift, exposing the ugly black tarp underneath. On top of that, the raised beds were very old and falling apart.

The yard looked pretty for a picture, but wasn’t very functional. There was a very thin layer of mulch covering some landscaping tarp. Whenever it rained, the mulch would shift, exposing the ugly black tarp underneath. On top of that, the raised beds were very old and falling apart.

Last year I ripped out those front bushes, and added a new bed for tomatoes.

oldtomatoes

The problem with this is it was just a mound of soil with a backing I made with stuff from around the yard. I liked my trellis design using sticks from around my house, but it was pretty short and weak, and my tomatoes easily took over the entire thing.

I took a course on Permaculture this year, so I figured it was time I re-did it all. So I started up a Kickstarter campaign for all the materials needed, which was successfully funded in no time (thanks so much to everyone who was a part of that!)

Then I got really lucky, and my old friend Weston moved into my house, turning out to be a killer carpenter and always down to help me build whatever I needed. Seriously, my saving grace in the garden. One day I said, “Hey, I want a small box for my carrots and beets that I can line with chicken wire to keep the diggers out.” I showed him a picture of what I was thinking, and (no joke) 30 minutes later I had this –

What a champion

What a champion

So here’s what we’ve done so far this summer!

We ripped up all the landscaping tarp, and Weston built my 4 new beds, creating a small path in between them all.

We ripped up all the landscaping tarp, and Weston built me 4 new beds, creating a small path in between them all.

westonmulch

Weston and Django on the mulch pile

I got a whole delivery of mulch (a little too much if I might say so myself) to put in all the walking space. Great for looks, but also helps with erosion and mud problems when it’s really rainy.

garden5

I spread all the mulch around, and installed archways with hog panels for growing beans. I think it will look pretty awesome when the pole beans have begun to creep up the archway!

garden1

I added a 3D spiral bed and planted it with 2 kinds of lettuce, spinach, celery, strawberries and beans to creep up the second archway.

garden2

Another angle from the 3D spiral bed.

garden4

Looking towards the spiral bed from the other direction. The middle bed has 6 different kinds of tomatoes, 3 kinds of basil, strawberries and more beans towards the back end to wind up the archway.

garden6

The corner bed has 6 different kinds of peppers and onions planted along the outside!

birdbath

We found a cool old sink for 5 dollars and turned it into a bird bath.

firstwheelbarrow

I also got my first wheelbarrow!

It’s only just begun. Not too long and I’ll be cooking up fresh ingredients straight from my garden – I can’t wait!

Slow-Style Baked Beans – It’s BBQ Season!

It’s that wonderful time of the year where we clean out our cars, coolers and tents and prepare for camping and BBQ adventures.

birdsandbees

I love camping food, and a can of baked beans has always been a crucial camping staple. They’re so easy to throw on the fire and eat piping hot after a long day of exploring. A friend is coming into town this week and we are planning on spending a night out in a state park cabin. I’ve never made baked beans before, but a few weeks ago a friend gave me a jar of these super gorgeous local heirloom beans. That combined with my farm fresh pork belly in my freezer = the slowest, most magical baked beans ever.

beans

If you’ve never soaked beans before, there are lots of great articles on how to do it. You can use really any kind of bean for this recipe, but I feel very strongly that you must start at step one with dry beans. The process takes almost two days, but the work is minimal. If you want all the flavors to really meld with each other, it helps to be able to cook the beans overnight without turning them to total mush.

Slow-Style Baked Beans

2 cups of your favorite dry beans (soaked according to soak charts)

1 lb of pork shoulder (or uncut bacon)

1 white onion

4 cloves of garlic

1/2 of tomato paste

4 T brown sugar

2 tsp each of salt, pepper and paprika.

1 1/2 water

  1. After beans have been soaked (and thoroughly rinsed), add them to crock pot with all the other ingredients and turn it on low.
  2. In about 12 hours, open it up and remove the pork and chop into super small pieces. Add the pork back into the mixture and stir, raising the crock pot up to high. Let it cook for another 1 hour before serving!
  3. Enjoy!

Pad Thai Made Easy!

I really love asian food, but sometimes the recipes call for too many specialized ingredients that I don’t have. I tend to always have lots things for cooking, but there are definitely some items that I hardly ever carry in my kitchen – fish sauce being one of them.

I bought some brown rice pad thai noodles from Whole Foods a while back and decided it was time that I threw something together. When glancing at a recipe online I realized I didn’t have a bunch of ingredients it called for, so I said screw it and figured I would wing it with whatever I’ve got. Thats the great thing about cooking – lots of recipes are made to be tinkered with!

padthai

This Pad Thai was so incredibly easy to make, and my roommate even asked me if I made it from a box – like one of those you get from Trader Joe’s with a packet of sauce or something. Thanks?… That must at least mean that it was a pretty good replication!

Easy Pad Thai – Makes 2 large servings

4oz of Brown Rice Pad Thai Noodles

1 carrot – shredded

4 T of chopped green onion (1 T for garnish)

1 handful of chopped cilantro

3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 T of chopped peanuts

1 T of peanut butter

1 T of sesame oil

1 T of sriracha

2 T of soy sauce (or gluten free alternative)

2 wedges of lime

2 eggs

  1. Cook the noodles as directed and set aside. Make sure you rinse them with cold water when done so they don’t all stick together.
  2. Make your sauce with the 3 pressed garlic cloves, PB, Sriracha, sesame oil and soy sauce and set it aside.
  3. Get a sauté pan nice and hot with a dash of sesame oil, and briefly sauté the shredded carrots.
  4. Add the noodles, green onions and sauce in the pan and mix until noodles are fully coated.
  5. Mix two eggs in a bowl with a little bit of salt and pepper, and pour the mixture in the pan with the noodles, but off to the side. As the eggs start to cook, mix them in fully with the noodles until their fully cooked.
  6. Serve hot garnished with fresh green onion, cilantro, crushed peanuts, a squeeze of lime juice and Sriracha! Enjoy!

 

Getting Through The Holidaze

The obligatory Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich

The obligatory Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich

I know most people, myself included, combat the usual holiday craze with an abundance
of food and drink – which can usually make matters worse. The holidays can be a
great time of the year, but generally coincide with finals, deadlines, money
pressures, and the obligatory common cold. Thanksgiving comes and goes – leaving
the clothes on your body a bit more snug – and then it’s the cookies, candy, eggnog and
brandy.

How about a Thanksgiving leftovers breakfast sandwich...?

How about a Thanksgiving leftovers breakfast sandwich…?

 

In response to this yearly slump I have come up with a few practices
that can take the edge off. Some of these may be common sense, but sometimes we
need a reminder amidst the holiday rush.

1. Drink a crazy amount of water each day. I try to drink 8 8-oz glasses/day
minimally. I keep a huge jar next to my bed, and throughout
the day refill it. Don’t go too crazy, but listen to your body and keep it
hydrated. Each person is different.

2. Start every day off with a healthy smoothie or juice. I use my juice cubes
(apple pear and kale, parsley cilantro) mixed with a handful of fruit, banana,
and unsweetened coconut or almond milk. These smoothies have detoxifying
qualities that give me a nice boost throughout the day.

juicecubes

3. Eat a balanced dinner! If nothing else, make sure you have a healthy dinner
waiting at home after a long, exhausting day. When meeting friends for
drinks at night, I have a bad habit of skipping out on dinner, and filling up on
olives and Bloody Marys. If I spend a few hours preparing some veggies,
meats, and grains for the week, dinner can be a breeze and hold me over
when I’m in dire need

4. Drink an Emergency daily. That daily dose of vitamin C will help keep
your immune system fortified against that pesky obligatory cold.

5. Chill the hell out! Take time for yourself. Write in your journal, take a walk in
the park, read that damn book you have wanted to read forever. Forget about
everyone and focus on yourself.

Happy Holidays from Ernie!

Happy Holidays from Ernie!

A (Nearly) Perfect Chicken Kiev

I’ve only made this a few times in my life, but it’s one of those dishes that will make a special appearance here and there just to remind me there is good in the world.

It can be kind of tricky, but as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into (and are fully prepared) it can be a pretty exciting cooking experience.

Chicken Kiev for my friends. Served with risotto and artichoke.

Chicken Kiev for my friends. Served with risotto and artichoke. This version was made gluten-free, and the only difference was the breading was a little harder to keep on. The flavor was still delicious!

**Chicken Kiev**  Serves 3-4

3 large chicken breasts (get the biggest ones you can find)

6 T of cold butter

1 T each of chives, parsley, oregano, minced garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice

1 c flour (or GF flour)

2 eggs

1 c breadcrumbs (or GF breadcrumbs), seasoned with salt and pepper.

Salt and pepper

Vegetable (or whatever preferred) oil for frying

  1. Start by mixing the fresh herbs, lemon and butter together in a food processor. Scrape into a thin log shape and stick into the freezer.
  2. Place the chicken breast in between two sheets of plastic wrap and begin pounding out until chicken is about ¼ inch thick. Be careful not to tear the chicken or pound too hard. You are going to be wrapping the chicken around cold butter, and the more you can keep it sealed in, the better the final outcome.
  3. Lay 2 tablespoons of butter in the middle of the chicken and fold the chicken around it. The best way is to tuck the sides in, and roll from the end… kind of like rolling a sleeping bag. Place the rolled chickens on a plate in the freezer for 10 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 and get a pot or deep skillet headed with vegetable oil. The oil should go up about 1 ½ inches and is ready at 360 degrees.
  5. Get the breading station ready and carefully roll each of the chickens first in flour, then egg and then in breadcrumbs.
  6. Place the chicken straight into the hot oil, and flip when one side is golden brown. When both side are golden colored, carefully move them onto a broiling pan and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  7. Chicken is done when it’s 165 degrees.
  8. Enjoy!! The herby butter should ooze out of chicken when you cut into it!


 

Butter Herb Roasted Chicken & Gravy

I love fall for many reasons, but I especially love how all the cold rainy weather makes warm food even more comforting and delicious.

One of my all time favorite fall dishes is a roasted chicken, and  during the year when the warmth from the oven is a welcome treat. This recipe is great for a nice dinner party, but I also make it on occasion all for myself so that I have fresh roasted chicken to eat on during the week. You can serve it with a slew of sides, or a simple potato mash and glazed carrots! It’s basically like having a mini thanksgiving dinner whenever you want!

Roasted Chicken w/ Gravy, Red Mashed Potatoes, Glazed Carrots and Chanterelles.

Roasted Chicken w/ Gravy, Red Mashed Potatoes, Glazed Carrots and Chanterelles.

**Roasted Chicken w/ Chicken Gravy**

1 whole chicken

½ stick of butter

1 tsp each of salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, lemon zest and lemon juice.

3 garlic cloves

2 T flour (or corn starch if making gluten free gravy)

1 yellow onion

3 stalks of celery

2 carrots

½ c chicken plus 2 T of chicken broth.

Meat thermometer

Baster tool

~

Preheat oven to 350.

Add the diced butter and all seasonings, garlic cloves and lemon into a food processor and mix until you have an even consistency. Scrape the butter out and roll into plastic, twisting down the sides to create a tube shape. Set it in the freezer to harden while you prepare the chicken.

Clean the chicken (making sure nothing is inside of it like the gizzards in a plastic bag) and carefully run your fingers under the skin, separating it from the meat. Do this for the entire breast section and into the drumsticks.

In your roasting pan place ½ of the onion, celery and carrot on the bottom of and place the chicken right on top. The extra celery onion and carrot you put inside the bird.

Slice the butter into small pieces and slip them under the skin of the chicken covering the breasts and drum sticks, and throw any extra pieces of butter inside the chicken.

Cover with tin foil (try and keep the tin foil from touching the top of the chicken but creating a tent shape) and place in middle rack of oven.

After 40 minutes of uninterrupted cooking, remove the tinfoil and begin to baste the chicken thoroughly. Every 15 minutes or so baste again. This will keep the meat very moist and help get a nice crispy skin. Chickens generally take about 20 minutes per pound, and are done when they reach an internal temperature of 165.

While chicken is resting, take about ½ cup of the liquid in the roasting pan and place it in a small pot. Whisk in the flour and chicken stock and reduce to about ½ on medium heat.

Enjoy!

Picked this amazing bird up straight from my friends farm!

Picked up this amazing bird straight from my friends farm!

 

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