Saturday, May 30, 2009

CSA Adventure: Week 3

Well. The official verdict on the radishes is that they're disgusting. Garlic and butter could not make them acceptable. Thankfully we did not get any more in this week's share.

What did we get? was...interesting, to say the least. Herbs seemed to be the main feature yet again, and I confess that I don't really know what to do with fresh herbs. Unfortunately we haven't gotten any basil or cilantro--the two herbs I *would* know exactly how to use fresh and get a lot of mileage out of! We also keep getting interesting homemade herb products: this week was a mix of herbs for the bath. I'm sure that would be exciting to some people, but I'm not a bath girl myself, plus the idea of taking a bath in tea, basically, just doesn't seem appealing to me...

At least the greens have been enjoyable each week, and we did receive some more yummy strawberries (I tried a different shortcake recipe which, while good, only left us regretting not using the traditional Bisquick recipe). Our newsletter had also said we'd be getting baby carrots, so we were anticipating something roughly the size of what you get when you buy a bag of baby carrots in the store. Instead, we opened the bag to find these:

Oh dear. It's hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, but these carrots are perhaps the length of my finger, and the thickness of a pencil. And these are the biggest ones. They looked...well, scraggly and pathetic. And if they had come in the midst of a heaping portion of produce, we might not have thought twice about them, but since the bags have seemed pretty sparse so far...all we could do was laugh and take a picture for the blog. As Steve said, "Why on earth don't they just leave these in the ground and let them grow into REAL carrots?!" He actually tried re-planting a few in a pot :)

However, the next morning, Steve realized what had happened. The carrots had to be thinned. These were pulled up so the others could grow well--but there's nothing wrong with them, so they might as well be eaten. That makes more sense.

Anyway, we're still optimistic. Though the shares have been a bit disappointing so far, it is still early. Most people who have backyard gardens are not harvesting ANYTHING yet! We are hoping that in a few more weeks, the produce will be plentiful. Our farmers have also explained that the weather has been difficult to work with. After a couple of years of drought, we've gotten lots and lots of rain this spring, and while rain is certainly necessary, too much water causes seeds to mold and young roots to rot. We're in a transition time when it's not hot enough for the warm-weather veggies and too wet for the cooler weather ones.

This week's bounty:
  • red leaf lettuce
  • "baby carrots"
  • strawberries
  • fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, spearmint)
  • dried herbs for the bath
  • a large grass-fed beef chuck roast
  • a recipe and fixings for the roast: cream of mushroom soup, pepperoncinis, Italian dressing mix and onion soup mix
  • four eggs (the hens apparently weren't laying well this week, I guess)

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants."

As I try to educate myself about natural lifestyle choices, from food to cleaning products to remedies for illness, I often resonate with Solomon's declaration that "the more knowledge, the more grief." Sometimes it really does seem like ignorance was bliss! And so it was for this reason that I avoided Michael Pollan for a good long while, despite hearing over and over how great his books were.

I finally picked up In Defense of Food a couple of months ago, and to my surprise, I found it to be a compelling, enjoyable read. The book has been a frequent topic of discussion in our house ever since. In fact, I read so many passages aloud to Steve that I've heard him quoting it to others in conversation! Incredibly enlightening, it was also simple enough to make me feel like I could DO this. It was time to stop making excuses, stop burying my head in the sand, and start taking intentional baby steps toward a healthier diet.

Pollan begins with the premise that "nutritionism" has become a pervasive ideology in our culture--a way of "organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions." For nutritionism, the underlying assumption is that foods are just the sum of their nutrient parts. The nutrient is the key. And so we view milk merely as a calcium source, carrots as Vitamin A, and so on.

The problem is, scientists have barely begun to understand food. Like with many other things, the more we know, the more we know we don't know. We're pretty sure certain foods are really good for you, but we have no idea *why* they're so powerful. Is it this nutrient that helps fight cancer, or that one? Or is it something about how the different components work together? And have you ever noticed how the advice is constantly changing? First fat was the enemy, then carbs. Margarine was far healthier than butter, until we discovered trans fat. On and on it goes.

The more you read about nutritionism, the more it becomes clear that we need to question the prevailing wisdom of the day. It seems that food is far more than just the sum of its parts. Pollan takes a refreshingly common sense approach--except that over the last several decades, the sense he advocates has become anything but common.

The bottom line is that the way Americans eat simply is not conducive to long term good health. Countless cultures around the world have far fewer health problems than Americans, thriving on vastly different diets. So there's not one simple answer; it seems that the human body can be healthy on a lot of different diets--but the Standard American Diet is most definitely NOT one of them. We don't need a magic weight-loss bullet; we need to escape the Standard American Diet altogether.

It only makes sense to me, as a Christian, that it would be best to eat foods as close as possible to the way God created them. Wouldn't something He designed naturally be far superior to an imitation engineered by man? Shouldn't we be extremely skeptic of any packaged, processed food product that advertises itself as "nutritious" but which our ancestors would not even recognize as food?

Along these lines, Pollan's advice is threefold, and memorably basic: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

"Eat food?" you ask. "What else would I eat?" Well, Pollan asserts that much of what we eat is not food, but "edible food-like substances." He offers the familiar suggestion to shop the periphery of the supermarket, as well as other tips like "Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number" and "Avoid food products that make health claims."

"Mostly plants" doesn't mean you have to become a vegetarian. (That would never fly in our house!) But it does mean we have some changes to make. It means looking critically at how *much* meat you eat, and shifting your attitude away from viewing meat as the main event. It also means thinking about what your meat is eating (hint: commercially grown cows and chickens are NOT eating what God designed them to thrive on...and thus, their meat is sorely lacking in value). And it means eating a broader variety of plants. (The bewildering variety of products available at the grocery store is pretty deceptive; most are abundant in two ingredients: corn and soy. Hardly the basis for a balanced, diverse, healthful diet.)

"Not too much" is both obvious and nuanced. We all know the portion sizes in America have gotten outrageous, and that's a good place to start. Pollan suggests eating slowly, always at a table. He also offers a rule that sounds counterintuitive to our "low prices, always" mindset: "Pay more, eat less." The truth is, modern Americans spend an unusually low percentage of our income on food--and we're not any healthier for it (quite the opposite). We can get lots of food, cheaply, but in this case "you get what you pay for" seems to be all too true. Some people, Pollan acknowledges unfortunately, cannot afford to spend more money on higher quality foods. But many of us can; it's simply a question of priority. And often dollars spent today on food will turn into dollars saved down the road in health care costs.

I found In Defense of Food to be thoughtful and persuasive, motivating without being overwhelming. I definitely recommend it. It made me want to implement changes, even if they're small ones. I can't change everything overnight, and some changes will be much more difficult to implement than others. But in the long run, I believe our bodies will thank us. So Steve and I have taken one big step (investing in a CSA) and several baby steps. However gradually, I want to work on using my time, money and energy to promote my family's health and enable us all to better glorify God with our bodies.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 118

Thanking God this week for...
  • Elijah finally being back to his normal self after two weeks of sickness
  • a visit with my family last weekend
  • my apron, beautifully handmade by a friend almost two years ago, which I am for some reason just now discovering how much I like
  • dinner and great conversation with new friends
  • reminders of the ugliness of pride
  • examples of the beauty of humility
  • being patient to teach me the same thing again and again
  • guaranteeing ultimate victory at the cross

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Toward a Healthier Lifestyle

Over the last couple of years, I've had a lot of exposure to "crunchy" people--women, especially mothers/homemakers, who are making decisions outside the mainstream, especially when it comes to feeding their families. I've learned a lot; I've made a lot of changes. And I've been intimidated a lot.

Reading about all the things you should or shouldn't be doing--all the scary substances you shouldn't be eating or wearing, all the healthful products you should start using, etc.--can be painfully overwhelming. Wasn't it Solomon who once said, "the more knowledge, the more grief"? I TOTALLY get that.

I'll also be the first to admit that there are major pitfalls in pursuing a crunchier lifestyle. I find it all too easy to swell with pride as I implement changes, judging others who are where I so recently was. And yet I realize my foolishness when I see others so much further along in the journey than I am--so I tell myself that they're just radical weirdos who are going way overboard. Pretty ridiculous, huh?

Earlier today I was filled with smug satisfaction after baking whole wheat hamburger buns from scratch, only to find my head swimming a few hours later as I read about soaking grains. You think you're doing something right, only to find out that there's an even better way of doing it. You can make yourself crazy trying to follow all the advice out there. Conflicting opinions abound, and the Internet makes such a vast flood of information so easily available that I'm often tempted to retreat to shore rather than drown. I'd rather throw up my hands in defeat and decide not to worry about any of it.

Instead, I'm making an effort to follow some of the sanest, most often-repeated advice out there: Start small. Don't try to change everything all at once! Pick one thing, and work on it until it comes naturally. Then address something else.

That's why you'll find both homemade whole wheat bread on my counter and Velveeta in my refrigerator. We're swimming against the current in a lot of ways, but we've got a long way to go. I will do what I can today and keep learning for tomorrow, so that I can serve my family well. Most of all, I'll keep asking God to teach me to walk in humility and to help me remember the MAIN thing: not food or drink, but glorifying Him in this earthly body.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

CSA Adventure: Week 2

I had some success with new recipes last week and some mixed results with the radishes. I made (or rather, Steve made, while I was busy making enchiladas) one radish dish with spices and sesame oil, and it did not go over well. The radishes themselves were fine--the texture was acceptable and the flavor wasn't really noticeable. But the sauce was terrible. I think it was the sesame oil, which imparted a gross burnt flavor. I'm concluding that I just don't like sesame (I also don't like homemade hummus made with tahini). Steve didn't finish his (and he's NOT picky), and Elijah shivered, chewed a little more, made an awful face and spit it back out :)

After that, I was anxious to try another recipe with radishes seasoned more simply (garlic, butter, salt--you can't go wrong with garlic!), but it's been a long, miserable week here at the Kannel house (sickness) and the dish didn't get made on Wednesday as planned. We got MORE radishes this I'll definitely be making it soon.

This week's bounty:
  • strawberries
  • radishes
  • mixed greens
  • parsley
  • apple-herb jelly
  • a "soup ring"--a little wreath made from fresh herbs, to be added to a pot of soup or stew
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 pounds of grass-fed ground beef

My thoughts this week: It doesn't feel very "bounteous." Just being honest. I am hoping that the shares are just sparse temporarily because it's still early in the season (and in the farmers' defense, we've had lots and lots of rain but not much sunshine until this past week). We bought into the CSA expecting to get half a bushel a week (we got a half share) and so far we're getting nowhere near that. The strawberries were good (we made shortcake last night) but we only got about half a quart. Radishes are...well, we can take them or leave them, at least so far...and greens are always great to have, but the amount we're getting is quickly and easily used up. I still had to use store-bought greens last week. We're getting some cute homemade stuff...but I'm not paying for cute homemade stuff, I'm paying for plentiful organic produce, you know? I don't even want to crunch numbers to figure out just how expensive those strawberries were!

Anyone else doing a CSA? What are your thoughts on it at this point? I'm still optimistic--it's only week 2 of 26.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 117

Thanking God this week for...
  • my patient, selfless husband
  • over the counter painkillers
  • sunshine
  • long walks
  • cough drops
  • engrossing novels
  • getting to sit through all of Sunday school and church last weekend
  • successful new recipes
  • not breaking bruised reeds or snuffing out smoldering wicks
  • calling me in righteousness, taking me by the hand and keeping me
  • setting prisoners free
  • His mighty power that obliterates His enemies
  • a sweet reminder this morning of the promises He pressed into my heart seven summers ago: "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them" (Isaiah 42:16).

Monday, May 18, 2009

CSA Adventure: Week 1

After two summers of trying to cultivate a container garden, Steve and I have thrown in the towel when it comes to fresh produce in our own backyard. We just don't get enough sun, anywhere--our lot is narrow and surrounded by huge trees, throwing shade on most of the property for most of the day. But we long to eat fresh produce, grown organically and locally.

Enter the CSA. explains:
Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.

This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer...

Advantages for consumers:
• Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
• Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
• Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
• Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never
been known to eat
• Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown

Steve and I have joined a brand-new CSA partnership with two local farms. Each week for the next 26 weeks, we'll receive approximately half a bushel of fresh produce, plus half a dozen farm-fresh eggs from pastured chickens and a selection of 100% grass-fed beef.

We view this as an investment in our health and an investment in the community. It's a huge step for us toward eating more naturally.

This week's bounty:
  • leaf lettuce
  • spinach
  • radishes
  • fresh herbs (chives, oregano, sage, thyme, chocolate mint)
  • herbal fruit tea
  • an oregano plant
  • lavender and spearmint flowers
  • 6 farm-fresh eggs
  • 2 pounds grass-fed ground beef
My first thought: What on earth do I do with radishes?

This summer is definitely going to be a stretching one. The "catch" to a CSA is that you don't get a say in what you receive. You get what's in season, not what you like or what's familiar. This can be a good thing, for a lot of reasons: it's best to eat food in season; you'll have opportunities to try new things you might not otherwise be exposed to; you'll eat a wider variety of foods. But it also means you'll have to branch out from what's familiar and learn to cook with new flavors.

I spent quite a bit of time Friday and Saturday looking up recipes online (what did we ever do before the Internet??). taught me that even people who don't like radishes raw find them very enjoyable when cooked--so I'm eager to try out a couple of those recipes. I've got sage and mint hanging to dry (we got a slew of mint, and I don't know what to do with it--I don't like tea), but I'm hoping to use at least some of the thyme, oregano and chives fresh. Lots of new things on the Kannel menu over the next few days--we'll see how it goes!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

If You Give Your Husband a Problem to Solve...

A few weeks ago my blog-friend Zoanna wanted to write a collaborative story based on the children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. This week seems an appropriate time to try my hand at writing my own nonfiction version...

If you tell your husband about the ants in the cupboard, he'll want to seal off the holes where they're coming in.

If he's going to seal off the holes on one shelf, he'll want to go ahead and empty the whole cupboard.

If he empties the whole cupboard, you'll be reminded that you need to find a better way to organize your spices.

And if you mention this need to your husband, he'll say, "I could build you a spice rack to hang on the door of the cabinet." He'll take some measurements, go downstairs to man-land, tinker with wood and glue and a nail gun, and come back an hour or so later with this:

...Now do you see why I like to brag on my sweet husband and his handyman skills? I wish I had before-and-after shots so you could see what a mess my spice shelf was before! He had to modify this a bit, because the first three times I opened the door, the spices on the top two shelves came flying out at me. The bottom two stay put just fine, so he put a string across the top shelf and a bar across the second shelf to keep those in place. Now it works great--and I have all kinds of newfound cupboard space--and I can easily find everything!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 116

Thanking God this week for...
  • respite from the last two weeks of never-ending rain
  • antibiotics
  • probiotics
  • homemade apple chips
  • a steam vaporizer
  • Steve's handyman skills (picture and post to come)
  • new music
  • the ability to read
  • public libraries
  • the ability to drive
  • our cars
  • Elijah's newest words and signs
  • His complete uniqueness
  • His unchanging nature
  • gently leading those that have young

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mmm...Monday: Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

This recipe was the cause of one of the few fights Steve and I have had. Don't couples often fight about the silliest things?

We had only been married a few months, and I was still VERY inept and uncertain in the kitchen. I wasn't into meal planning; I never ventured a tiny bit away from the recipe; I only had a few simple meals really mastered. Tacos were something I viewed as an easy dinner. Brown some ground beef, open a packet of taco seasoning from the store, and voila! Dinner.

Well, one Sunday afternoon we came home from church and decided to make tacos for lunch--but Steve confessed that he wasn't a big fan of the pre-packaged seasoning. He wanted to try to find a recipe. I was beyond irritated, for several reasons. I felt like he was taking something that was really easy for me and making it unnecessarily complicated. I knew we wouldn't even have half the spices for the recipe, meaning we'd have to go to the grocery and get them, and they'd probably be expensive. And, I was hungry NOW.

Some of my rationale was valid, but the intensity level of my reaction to Steve was completely out of proportion. And you know what? He was right. The homemade mix does taste better. Not only that, but a) you know exactly what's in it--no unpronounceable chemicals, and b) it's just as easy as opening a packet of seasoning when you mix up several batches at a time.

I'm thankful that our fights are few and far between. I'm thankful that we can laugh about them once they're past. I'm thankful for God's grace in bringing me a LONG way over the last four years when it comes to cooking. And I'm thankful for tacos, which look very different from when we first married, but are still one of my favorite "easy dinners" (especially because we brown 5-6 lbs. of meat at a time and freeze it, a pound per bag, already cooked).

Here's the recipe for one batch of taco seasoning. I used to mix up 2-3 batches at once and keep the extras in ziploc baggies. Now I usually multiply it by six and keep the big batch in a jar. Then I don't have to mix it very often, and it's easy to measure out 1 T + 2 1/2 tsp for taco meat, or however much you need for chicken tortilla soup or taco soup.

Homemade Taco Seasoning Mix

2 t. minced dried onion
1 t. salt
1 t. chili powder
1/2 t. cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/2 t. crushed red peppers
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. oregano

Mix together and add to 1 lb ground beef or turkey (browned and drained). Add 1/3 c water and mix well/heat through. We like to eat it with rice, black beans, corn, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, salsa, taco sauce (for me), hot sauce (for Steve), and tortillas.

Big Batch (times 6):
4 T minced dried onion
2 T salt
2 T chili powder
1 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 T crushed red pepper
1 T garlic powder
1 T ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp oregano

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Thankful Thursday, Take 115

Thanking God this week for...
  • victories in small things
  • grace greater than my failures in small and big things
  • a successful attempt at homemade 100% whole wheat bread
  • strawberry season
  • Steve's flexibility in work hours
  • progress in cleaning/organizing over the weekend
  • the beautiful women who have shaped my life
  • great prayer time at church last night
  • the benefits of journaling/blogging: being able to go back and read where you've been, what you've learned, what God has done
  • reminders of His grace and patience when I most need them


Love my peony bushes. We got cuttings from my in-laws and planted them the fall after we moved into this house (2006), but they hadn't done much the last couple of years. Now they are in full bloom--gorgeous!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mmm...Monday: Chicken Tortilla Soup

At the request of some of my Facebook friends, here's the recipe for Friday night's dinner.

Update 1/2014: This is a pretty loose recipe, so modify it freely. I like it best when I use chicken stock from my crockpot rotisserie chicken recipe, which is a little bit spicy and adds a lot of flavor. I usually don't bother with the jalapeno, and most of the time I don't even bother with the salsa or the garlic (if I've got good, flavorful homemade stock).

(Note: I took this picture after adding sour cream)

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (leave at least some of the seeds if you want it a little spicy)
1-2 T taco seasoning mix (homemade)
1 garlic clove, pressed
4 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. thick and chunky salsa
1/4 c. lime juice
2 c. chopped cooked chicken
1/4 c. snipped fresh cilantro (optional--see note)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can (1.5-2 cups) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (1-1.5 cups) corn, drained

Dump everything in the crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 (basically, until the onions are no longer crunchy). If your chicken is already cooked really well (like if you did it in a crockpot the first time you cooked it), you'll want to wait and add it at the end, just to heat it through--otherwise it will tend to disintegrate.

Serve with optional toppings like shredded cheese, sour cream, and broken tortilla chips (or homemade tortilla strips—cut tortillas into thin strips and bake 12 min. at 375*). Makes 6-8 servings.

Note: When I have extra fresh cilantro, I wash it and chop it up and put tablespoon-ish amounts in  ice cube trays. Add a little water and freeze, and then you can easily add a couple of frozen cubes when you're making soup.