Thursday, December 2, 2010

Am I a Foodie??

Do I think I am a Foodie? Or do I harbor a secret desire to be a Foodie? Oh LawdyMercy, NO!

I have to laugh at myself though... I am preoccupied by food much of the time. I have spent many hours, over many days, and many weeks reading some really interesting food blogs, but by no means do I consider myself a "Foodie", or even want to be considered one. Oh, I can (and sometimes do) make some of those fancy things, but that has not been my primary interest in foods for the last several years.

What I am interested in is learning the basics necessary to eat well now, and continue to eat well if and/or when food becomes more scarce and expensive than it already is... plus also learning to prepare foods that are not full of chemical additives. In other words, Real Food.

I don't mean that the Foodie blogs aren't real food, but far too few of the luscious-sounding recipes are ever made with ingredients from their backyards, or locally sourced and relatively inexpensive. At least it appears they generally don't seem to use the foods like those found in my backyard, or even local to me. I can only dream of the luxury of some of their ingredients if I don't consider the true cost to our fragile planet and resources.

Over the last several years my food budget has remained the same by necessity, yet it now buys far less than it did in 2004-2008. To be sure, a few items are more expensive today simply by my own choice in source and quality. For example, my local free-range ground beef is slightly over twice the cost of CAFO ground beef from the grocery store.

However, I am learning to augment my budget with less expensive cuts and/or other meat items (but still free-range). Some of them are not usually found readily anymore in supermarkets... like liver, shanks, hocks, heart, oxtails, tongue, short ribs, beef cheeks, sweetbreads... and more. In fact, I can get some items almost free because the local abattoirs and/or farmers don't know what to do with them.

Brining or salting cheap cuts for 24 hours in the refrigerator can turn an inexpensive cut almost into a prime cut, and braising makes some cuts fit for a queen.

I am slowly learning some basics, and also discovering a taste to foods just as they are grown or raised. I really had no knowledge before this year of what even a simple 'naked' food like hamburger with no seasonings or condiments actually tastes like. I now can taste the difference in ground beef from a free-range Red Devon vs. a free-range Angus or Holstein, and there really IS a difference! It was only when I embarked on my journey to free-range meats that I ever tasted naked ground meat, for surely that scrap stuff from the CAFO lots is not fit to taste by itself. I'm not even sure it's fit to eat in the long run, if you consider health in the equation.

Then there are other foods like vegetables and fruits. Green beans straight from my garden, or fruit and berries from my yard or neighborhood... they simply have some discernible taste of their own, unlike the mass produce that's trucked thousands of miles and lives in cold storage until someone buys it. All those local foods have a unique taste of their own, and are simply enhanced by the addition of seasonings or sauces, not disguised.

Eventually I hope to be adding more layers of taste; I already do quite a bit with herbs and spices. But for now, my focus is still on basics.

Last night I started carefully reading Charcuterie, The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I really like that they have written this book with the home-cook foremost in mind! They build the how-to's in gradual steps, and every recipe and technique stresses that this craft evolved as a means of using and keeping the less expensive cuts of meat, and turning all the scraps into something edible and wonderful. 

I believe I can make nutritionally good use of inexpensive cuts of meat by making sausages, terrines and påtés, thereby adding increased variety to my meals. (Terrines can also be vegetable or fruit terrines; they are not limited to meat preparations.) So, sausages and other charcuterie are soon to be on my menu!

In December when I get my order of hog and sheep casings, I will start making more types of sausage. (I made some venison sausage last year, using collagen casings, and I was not happy with those casings. I still have several hundred feet new in the boxes.) Sausages loke Italian, bratwurst, chorizo, and kielbasa are not cheap around here, and I can make 10 pounds for under $30 using top-quality ingredients. Merguez (lamb) sausages on are $29.80 for 1½ pounds (plus shipping!) and I can buy free-range ground lamb locally for $5/lb.

I recently posted a scrumptious cranberry pear clafouti, but there are many clafoutis I can make that are savory (with vegetables and/or meat rather than sweet and with fruits) that become delectable, above ordinary fare. Technically, clafoutis is the wrong term, according to French language purists. "A clafoutis is only made with black cherries. Period." Any other filling makes it a Flognarde, or flaugnarde, pronounced "flow nard". I'll probably continue to call mine clafoutis, not being a purist and not speaking French either!

Whatever you choose to call it, they all include eggs in the custard/batter, which would increase my choline intake, just recently known to be essential for health. I don't eat enough eggs because I get bored with them... I can eat only so many fried eggs, scrambled eggs, or hard-boiled eggs! (Liver is also an excellent source of choline and there will be some free-range liver in påtés coming from my kitchen soon.)

Another food biggie for me is cheese. I love cheese, all kinds of cheese! (Well, maybe not Limburger and a few others I couldn't get past my nose!) The artisan cheese, including raw milk cheese, showing up in stores like Whole Foods cost over $10-15/lb and usually more for a quality cheese. I don't even want to think about what a good cheese costs in a specialty gourmet shop! One solution is to make my own.

An average pound of cheese takes around 5-6 quarts (10 pounds) of whole cow or goat milk to make, and less (~6 pounds) for sheep cheese. (Sheep milk has more fat solids.) I have no source for sheep milk, but I can get fresh goat and cow milk locally for $6/gallon. Any cheese I can make will be only marginally cheaper if I don't include my time, but certainly more readily available.

The nearest store with a decent variety of good cheese is over 100 miles away, and there's always expensive mail order... but either way, my real cost for cheese has to include travel or shipping. I know I can do better cost-wise by making my own cheese. I doubt I can make a world-class cheese, but surely I can make cheese that's tasty and nutritious nonetheless.

I have already made a few types of soft cheese, but an aged, hard rind cheese takes a special environment of humidity and temperature to cure. Luckily for me, a friend has just offered an old but working wine cooler that will do the job. I will have to fetch it, then make a cheese press, and order some molds and cultures with my January check, but that will be my Christmas gift to myself. Besides, any new endeavor is always entertainment for me!

Wine is not as much of a problem on my budget since I don't drink anymore, but I do use it in cooking, especially for marinades, and in a braise or stew. Wine is fairly easy and inexpensive to make, and I have several gallons maturing already. Some of the wine will get turned into vinegars, and I use a lot of flavorful vinegars on fresh salads from my garden.

All in all, my interest in making more of my own foods is very rewarding financially, emotionally, and health-wise.

Central to that interest, I am trying to grow what I can in my own garden, and when the growing season is upon us again there will be more gardening posts here. I fervently wish I could add some animals to my yard, like a good milk cow (pref. Jersey or Guernsey) or milk goats, plus a few chickens and ducks... but I'm finding that's not easily accomplished, having arrived at age 70 with limited resources and waning strength.


  1. LOL... you are so totally a foodie... come on. Champagne vinegar?!

    But seriously, being consumed w/a passion for wholesome, delicious food & its origins is a thumbnail definition of a foodie. And I mean that in the best possible way! =0)

    Boy, can I relate to the animal conundrum...

  2. You are really a foodie... In the Alice Waters tradition.

    I think foodies must be like Zen... there are lineages & various levels of enlightenment... LOL Needless to say, I think locavores are a pretty enlightened bunch.

  3. LOL, from comments here and via emails, I'm thinking I may have to eat my words about not being a 'foodie'!!

  4. I'm a sort of junior foodie... I keep myself humble w/the weekly bag of cheetos.

    A real foodie never eats junk food... or at least never confesses to it. Snarfing down a Milky Way & a Coke!? Scandal!!! Betrayal!!! Let's not even talk about fast food....

    which I've also been known to inhale when in a rush. =0)
    Purity does not suit me well. LOL


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