Saturday, November 29, 2008

what's wrong with the eggs in your 'fridge

Eggs is eggs...right?

Eggs are usually about $1.50 per dozen in the grocery store. They are all white. They are all the same size. It's all good. Until you have eggs from "Happy Chickens."

We were first introduced to the reality of "Happy" versus "Unhappy" by a friend of my parents' who has some hobby chickens near Oskaloosa, Iowa. She rehabilitates animals that have been orphaned, abused, abandoned, or just need a little help. Currently, there is a pitiful three foot tall baby owl following her around the farm crying for a chopped up squirrel. Yep. Land of Strange.

People buy chicks for their kids in the spring (so cute). But then lo and behold; they freaking turn into chickens. Happens every time. Chickens aren't so cute. So they get dropped off at the rehab center for farm-ish animals in southern Iowa. Last I heard she had about 60 orphaned chickens. They don't roam the whole farm, but their pen is bigger than my house. These aren't your normal hens, either. Some have blue mohawks. They are spotted like a dalmation dog, or plain brown. They are tiny or huge. They are a circus. It's all reflected in their eggs. The shells range from light blue to speckled brown right up to normal white. We love these eggs. In the spring and summer, the Happy Chickens yield thirteen dozen eggs every day. In the winter, they don't lay much at all. When the days become shorter than the nights, the hens rest. Commercial farms have artificial lighting, so their hens don't know about seasons. They lay 365 days year. They get tired faster. Tori, Zoe and I have discussed them. We decided that these must be some very unhappy chickens.

When the hens are resting in the winter, we don't have eggs from Happy Chickens. We have brown eggs from the grocery store that promise to be "free range." That's OK. But it doesn't compare to the beautiful eggs we have in the summer. It's one more reason to yearn for spring.

We made a trip down to Missouri this week to see relatives. My aunt is raising chickens and hers are still laying. So we ended up bringing home three dozen of her eggs from Happy Chickens.

The little girls made a note of the difference in size. Funny, Tori made this astute observation while wearing her New Pi shirt. Purely accidental. I swear.
There are lots of places that sell eggs from Happy Chickens here in Iowa. You just have to keep your eyes open for the little sign on the side of the road that says, "eggs."

If you don't feel like cruising around the country hunting for eggs, check out the selection at New Pioneer COOP. Don't even complain about the price. For goodess sakes. Do you want eggs from Happy Chickens for FREE? The folks at New Pi can even tell you which farmer they came from and reassure you that the chickens are in fact, very Happy.

Mother Earth News released a study a few years ago that claims free range eggs have:
• 1⁄3 less cholesterol
• 1⁄4 less saturated fat
• 2⁄3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta carotene

Here's the link to the full study. Just in case Happiness of Chickens isn't a good enough reason for you.

I think this is a particularly interesting part of their story.
“What are free-range eggs? Free-range eggs are from hens that live outdoors or have access to the outdoors. The nutrient content of eggs from free-range hens is the same as those from hens housed in production facilities with cages.”
It’s amazing what a group can do with a $20 million annual budget. That’s what factory-farm egg producers pay to fund the AEB each year to convince the public to keep buying their eggs, which we now believe are substandard.

Go get some Eggs from Happy Chickens!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How a good Marinara sauce can fix your life

One night a few years ago, I curled up in my tall chair in the corner of my kitchen in my hollow, just abandoned house, and did a google search for, "food that will make me feel better."
I didn't get far. I quickly realized that aside from the yahoo dating site (ick) that kept popping up like they could SEE me sitting there alone with my supper, there just really wasn't much on the Internet to keep me company while I ate my minute steak with potato buds. So I turned around, grabbed a few cookbooks off the shelf, and flipped through them while I ate. Fifteen minutes later, I was out of sticky notes and opening a bottle of wine. Turns out, cookbooks do not make me cry! I spent the next five hours rearranging my kitchen in a way that would accommodate a person who loves food. I've had a few kitchens since then, and I know this makes me a total nerd, but I still find cleaning out the cabinets and organizing the bulk containers somewhat spiritual. When my kitchen is in disarray, I am in disarray. And that's how you know you are a cook. It is what it is, folks.
My silly little blog meanders from one random subject to another, and sometimes a person who has taken a wrong turn on the Internet highway ends up here and probably slaps themselves in the forehead while wondering...what in the world is wrong with this woman?
Well, if you can answer that question, we'll give you a free carrot.
And you can put it in this perfect marinara sauce.
The recipe has been respectfully lifted from (that'd be the post-punk kitchen.)

Equipment: Blender or food processor
Ingredients: 2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
3 teaspoons olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced (should be about 1 1/4 cups sliced)
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
Directions- Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in a medium sauce pan (with a lid) over med heat, add carrots, cover and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1 more teaspoon oil, saute garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spices and salt and saute one more minute. Add tomatoes, mash with fork or potato masher, till tomatoes are broken up. Add bay leaves. Let simmer 45 minutes uncovered. Remove from heat and let cool, just so that it's not steaming very much. Remove bay leaves. Puree in blender. Add back to pot, heat over low heat 15 more minutes.

My twelve year old son, who carefully inspects all of my cooking for anything he doesn't eat (that's pretty much everything that isn't in the ground meat category) and separates supper into fourteen little tiny piles with his fork before carefully consuming the meat, eats this and comes back for more. He hasn't quite put it together that spaghetti sauce and ketchup are made from tomatoes. Let's keep that quiet a little longer.
This makes a lot of sauce. But before you use that as an excuse to not make it, realize that freezing half of it will make your next spaghetti supper night a lot easier. I have to make this disclaimer, also. Even though this recipe is a rocking work of art, it's infinitely better if you are making it in August and you can find enough local tomatoes to use. It's elevated even further if you have home-grown carrots. If you are into it, use fresh herbs. Add them at the end and use about four times the quantity you would if they were dried.
Here's a tip from someone who knows; there is not ever, ever, anything in a cookbook that will make you feel like crap. In fact, reading them for fun will get you up off of your depressed rear end and into the kitchen. Even if you are just cooking for yourself. Your-self needs someone to cook for them, so the next time you feel like crap-ola, curl up in a blanket with that copy of the Lutheran Ladies Cookbook and get inspired. Or, if you don't have a cookbook in your house (in which case I have no idea what you are doing here, but whatever) go to Amazon and order this one.


Make the Snobby Joe's first. Then move on to the grilled tofu. The book is the size of a Microeconomics textbook, so if you still feel like crap-ola after you read it, I'll pass you on to a real therapist.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pig Candy

I was not looking forward to being presented with anything called, "Pig Candy" and then having to disappoint the hostess of the Sweet Potato Queen Party by dismissing the dish as Something-I-Don't-Eat.

Wow. Color me wrong.

It happened a few months ago. My nice little MOMS Club group decided to make The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner) their book club selection for the month. These women were seriously headed off the map. Or so I thought. I went along smiling. I even read the book. Or rather, I skimmed the book. To explain; my natural disdain for all things southern is rooted in my love affair with New Orleans. It ended badly. With a divorce and a hurricane. I try to avoid all things southern so as not to relive any of the anguish. I watched New Orleans taken apart in a natural disaster of historic proportion while receiving a blood transfusion days before my youngest daughter was born. There's something about being physically situated between two cancer patients, watching non-stop CNN, with a large IV dripping someone else's blood into your vein for eleven hours and waiting for the deadly transfusion reaction coupled with the emergency C-section you are about to have and knowing that you are in it alone.....crap. OK. Back to Pig Candy. I didn't want to participate. I like being this far north. I know which side of the war-of-northern-aggression I would have been rooting for (had I been alive.)

The book wasn't enough. They had to have a party. They wanted everyone to wear boas. Again with the disdain for all things Mardi Gras. I went because my dear friend Mollie was going. I went because I wanted to bring a vegetable. I went because, deep down, I kind of hate myself. I went because I thought I could do it and maybe even have a good time.

We walked into Sherri's kitchen and smelled something sweet. Something fatty.

"Wait till you try the Pig Candy!" Sherri overflows with joy just sitting still in a chair. This notion of Pig Candy was really lighting her up even more than usual. I was intimidated. And dressed normally. Mollie had on an evening gown and a boa. She put on lipstick. I wanted to run away.

Sherri's table was overflowing with all of the things I don't eat. Sticky, sweet, fatty, cheesy, messy, now-I-have-to-buy-spanx food. I'm a thin woman. I don't eat these things.

OK, I'll shut up now. I gained five pounds that night and loved every moment of it.

I tried the Pig Candy and declared, in a loud southern accent, "This is on my last-meal-plate! With instructions to contact Sherri for the EXACT recipe!!!"

Maybe it was that sweet thing that Andrea kept pouring in my glass, but the more Pig Candy I ate, the funnier Mollie got. We ate. We ate and ate and ate. Mollie exclaimed, "I'm going to need you to come over later and cut me out of my spanx....if you hear an explosion, you'll know I popped them!"

I could not stop laughing. I love jokes about spanx on any random Monday afternoon, but surrounded by white suburban mid western middle class half drunk stay at home moms, I was inconsolable.

I can't even remember what else was there for food. I only remember the Pig Candy.

I only love the Pig Candy.

Sometimes, when I'm bored, or I can't sleep, I think of the Pig Candy. The women who made the Pig Candy for the first time are a party waiting to happen. In fact, as part of my how-to-survive program, I have re-imagined the transfusion day with the Sweet Potato Queens there with me in the drip...drip....drip.....CNN/nightmare. What a happy memory that would have been. A bloody freaking party.

Here's the recipe for Pig Candy. And I make this disclaimer my friend; please do not make the Pig Candy just because you want to. Please do not eat the Pig Candy in passing, or standing up. Please respect the pig candy. And most of all, respect the Sweet Potato Queens. We should all be so lucky to have such friends. Wait. I am that lucky.

"Pig Candy recipe;
You start with bacon - and don't y'all just know how I purely love a recipe that starts with bacon. The fat is the whole point of the bacon. If you're interested in the red part, get a ham or something. I mean, really.
So anyway, you start with bacon, and the only other ingredient is brown sugar - and do I really need to say the dark brown kind? You just roll the bacon in the dark brown sugar and then you bake it (at 350 F. for about 20 minutes or so, depending on your oven and also how you like your bacon - put it on a rack on a cookie sheet, and you don't even have to turn it over!) - and voy-ola! Pig Candy!"

It's easy. But not so easy. It's an experience. You might want to go buy the spanx first.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


We ate one last night. It was wonderful. That's all I really wanted to say about that. Oh, and I can't wait for tomorrow. I love Mondays.

Friday, November 7, 2008

dishwashing gig

I have an acquaintance that is kind of a caterer. It's complicated. She doesn't cook. She just makes the food look good. I cook. I'm a pretty good cook, too. Every time she asks me to help her, I do so with the disclaimer that I am not a cocktail waitress. I do not stand behind a punch bowl, take orders from party guests, or behave in a way that would lead anyone to believe that I will be right back with their drink/new fork/extra napkin. I cook. I chop, dice, arrange, saute, and garnish my way through an event. That's my deal. I'll wear the black pants and a white shirt, but I'm not wearing a poorly fitting tuxedo shirt proportioned for a midget. I'll wear black shoes, but not the kind you see in a nursing home. I'll wear cute black shoes. My dignity is worth more than she pays.

Last Tuesday night was a somewhat important evening in the lives of many Americans. We were hoping that our votes would get counted in such a way that by Wednesday morning, we'd know who our new president is. When I was asked to help with an event in one of the largest, oldest, most beautiful mansions in town, I thought that it would at least be interesting from a people watching point of view. So I agreed and left my little girls at home with whats-his-name. Please note: I don't usually do that! I hate missing my kids! I am completely convinced that they grow extra fast when I'm not around.

I stayed in the kitchen for the most part. I put together a salad and a few other little foodie things and as the guests started arriving, they also started dropping their dirty glasses and dishes in the kitchen. So, being accustomed to hanging out in kitchens, I thought I'd make an attempt to keep the counters cleaned off while I made the food pretty. Before I knew it, I was deep into my third hour hunched over a giant granite sink washing the ugliest, oldest, most humongous set of china I'd ever come in contact with. So my cooking gig turned into a catering gig. It wasn't funny at the time, but it sure is now. That'll teach me. So I missed watching the election coverage with my children. I was lured by the promise of a sexy kitchen and the challenge of keeping 40 entitled millionaires happy about their food.

Speaking of entitled millionaires, one of these folks actually stood right behind me in the kitchen for nearly an hour saying the most amazing things. Ready?

"My wife and I like to spend at least four months in Europe each year. You know, there are people here who spend more time than that in Florida. We just love to travel. I'm so sorry for people who just don't get to travel."

Uh, that'd be me, buddy.

"I just feel so fortunate to have had children who were so interested in prep school. I mean, the lifetime friendships they made there....just phenomenal....phenomenal....and really, it's just such a challenge to stay ahead of the game in prep school. There just wasn't anything here that could spark their interest the way prep school did."

My kids will never go to prep school. Wait. Even if I was filthy freaking rich I wouldn't ship my eighth grader off to another state so they could get into an ivy league school so I could brag to the dishwasher about it twenty years later.

"My daughter is just such a direct woman. She never did really get that men don't like that. She's a wonderful lawyer in New York. She turned forty this year. But no husband yet. In fact, she's been so dedicated to her work that she never even really talked to us about having a boyfriend. She didn't date at Princeton. She was just too dedicated to law."

OK. You know 'denial ain't just a river....'

That's but a snippet of the pleasurable evening that was last Tuesday. By the end of the night, many of these wonderful folks had experienced a change of heart where politics is concerned. They went from hoping for victory, to planning their spring in France. They are going on a group trip. I'm sure they will be missed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

I really want to talk about brussel sprouts.


I know they aren't winning any popularity contests. I mean, they are tiny cabbages. I think most Americans have had them once. Or twice if your mom was way into "eat your vegetables." I had them once as a kid. I don't think it was because my mother made me eat them, though. I think it was the fault of one of my grandmothers. Or maybe an aunt. I can't remember. Anyway, a couple of years ago, back when we were eating at Genie's a couple of times a month and I was trying everything she sat in front of me, she made brussel sprouts. I tried to make my usual disclaimer, "do I eat brussel sprouts?" And then, after tasting them, "I do eat brussel sprouts." I don't remember what she did to them. I'm pretty sure it involved butter. I hadn't had them since.

A few weeks ago, in an organic gardening magazine my mom sends me, there was an article on how to grow brussel sprouts. I meant to do that, but I forgot and now it's too late. There was another article on how to cook them. They are in season in the midwest. Had I remembered to plant some, we'd be harvesting them right now. So I figured it wouldn't be too bad to just go to the plain old grocery store and buy some to try this new recipe out on. I love it. I tried to follow the recipe, but as usual, about halfway through I got a culinary epiphany and veered away from the page.

Go get some brussel sprouts and do this:

Buy brussel sprouts. I can eat 6 (cut in half) before I'm sick of them, and I really really like brussel sprouts. Plan accordingly.

Cut the stem end off and half the brussel sprouts. The leaves are connected to the stem, cut them in half so you are splitting the stem end. Keep the leaves that fall off. Rinse everything in a colander and leave it to drain.

Place a large shallow pan over medium-high heat. When the pan has heated up, add 1/4 cup of olive oil and dump in the brussel sprouts and their loose leaves. Turn them so they are cut side down and put a lid on the pan. Check them after a few minutes. When the cut side is lightly browned, turn them over and cook 2-3 more minutes. Add 1/2 cup water to the pan (this will be a splattery steamy mess) and shake the pan gently. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 tsp of hot pepper oil and 1/4 cup soy sauce. When the majority of the water has evaporated from the pan, drizzle the soy sauce mixture over the brussel sprouts. Serve warm, topped with sesame seeds.

Hooray for brussel sprouts.