I think we’re ready for the next step in our family’s food evolution

Arkansas Made, Arkansas Grown: raising locavores and Farm2Home

I’m currently co-teaching a class based on Shane Claibourne and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution at my church. It’s a great book about taking the things Jesus actually said seriously, and I’m enjoying our group discussions every week. On Sunday, one of the chapters I taught was about environmentalism, and how important it is for followers of Jesus not just to take caring for creation seriously, but to become partners and co-workers in God’s restoration of all of creation, a project that ultimately ends in the Revelations-vision of a garden-city in the New Jerusalem when heaven and earth finally become one. The book also makes a great connection between the fact that the price of environmental degradation is almost always paid heaviest by the poorest among us, and notes that creation care is inextricably tied to ideas of justice for the poor.

One way the book suggests we can minimize our environmental impact is through our diets, and this reminded me of the journey my family has been on food-wise since 2009. In 2009, I read an article in National Geographic magazine that started me thinking that my diet was incompatible with some of my deepest concerns for the poor and the environment. As I wrote then, “According to Bourne, 35% of the world’s grain is used to feed livestock instead of people.  Think about that.  I’ve read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat, and more and more, that bothers me.  It gets to me to see photographs of starving babies and know that the tasty meat I eat is contributing to the food scarcity that is killing children all over the world.”

Of course, at the time, I was very much a beginning cook, and I didn’t really know how to cook a meal that wasn’t based around a chicken breast, which I bought frozen in giant bags. Knowing that a little change was better than nothing at all, at the time, we committed to one meat-free meal per week. That may seem small (or, depending on how much meat you usually eat, huge), but it actually makes a difference– I had read that if every American committed to one meat-free meal per week, it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road, and if every American committed to one meat-free *day* per week, it would be like taking 8 million cars off the road.

Newsflash: Instagram is Filtered | The Adventures of Ernie Bufflo

Since that first commitment in 2009, we’ve slowly changed our diet from Meatless Monday to Mostly Meat-Free. In fact, after revisiting that 2009 blog post, I suggested to my husband that we might be ready to commit to eat meat ONLY one day per week. He agreed wholeheartedly. After slowly inching in that direction over all this time, it doesn’t feel like a huge leap. We’ve gotten used to eating “mostly plants” as Michael Pollan says, while still rounding out our diets with eggs, dairy, and seafood. (If you want to see some of the meatless meals we love, I’ve got a pinboard for that.)

I’ll say now like I said then: I don’t envision an entirely vegetarian life for us. We like meat, even if we can largely do without it. Once in a while, we like to split a ribeye at Maddie’s Place or roast a chicken for dinner, and I think we will always want to have the freedom to indulge in something we like once in a while, especially when traveling and getting to know other food cultures. I don’t come at this from the angle that eating animals is wrong, though I respect friends’ choices if that’s what they believe.

I guess I’m writing this now to say: little steps make a difference. You don’t have to try to change the world or even your diet all at once. If you currently eat meat at most meals, you might be where we were in 2009. If you want to try just starting with Meatless Mondays (or any other day that works for you), it will make a big difference in the impact you have on the environment and the global food economy, I really believe it.

And if you’re ever interested in what we’re eating around here, I like to Instagram our dinners with the hashtag #bigdinnerlittledinner

How I learned to cook

Before I get into how I learned to cook, I thought I’d point out that if you’re reading this somewhere other than on my site, like a reader, you might be missing out on seeing our lovely new family photo in the header. We recently did a mini photo shoot with the talented and lovely Whitney Loibner, and I’m thrilled with how the pictures turned out. I highly recommend a mini shoot if you have toddlers– 15 minutes was about all my kids could handle, and we were outta there and off to get pancakes as a treat in no time. And if you have a talented photographer like Whitney,  you’ll still get plenty of great shots in a short amount of time.

Now back to your regularly scheduled blog programming:

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I’ve kind of become notorious among my friends for Instagramming my food. One friend joked that whatever we have on Friday night, they have on Saturday. Others have joked about their dinners being “one-upped by the Orsborns.” Another Instagrammed her dinner last night and said I inspired her to do so. For all the hating posting food pics can get, most of my real-life feedback has been that my friends like my dinner posts and don’t want me to stop. Thank goodness, because I wasn’t planning to! (There’s a reason I joke that my Instagram brand is “all the things you hate:” kids, food, drinks, selfies, pets.)

Another question friends have asked is when I’m going to teach them how to cook. While I would like to occasionally host some kind of cooking party where everyone walks away with a couple freezeable dinners, that’s not really in my plans anytime soon, either. But what I can tell you is how I learned to cook.

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the verdict is in: meatballs are changing my life

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

The Friday Night Meatballs themselves.

I wrote back in September about the Friday Night Meatballs movement– it all started with a piece on Serious Eats that promised to change my life with pasta. The idea was to create a standing casual dinner party that would create community and serve as a social outlet, a sort of secular sabbath. I of course loved the idea immediately and was eager to give it a shot. I didn’t even allow myself to be deterred by the fact that I had never made meatballs before. That first FNM was such a hit that we decided to keep it going, and now, as I type, my house smells like garlic and tomatoes because I have my red sauce simmering on the stove for our FOURTH Friday Night Meatballs. (Some bloggers write posts ahead of time. I just sit down during nap time and write what I can.)

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Hosting tip: always drink wine while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

The FNM table all set and ready to go. The cheese stands alone.

I knew from the start that although a weekly FNM sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for us, because Jon isn’t always off on Friday evenings– and I really think doing it on Friday is key, because it’s not a “school night” and most folks are off the next day, so the FNM can be relaxed, a nice way to ease from work week to weekend, and no one is in too much of a hurry to leave. Last time, we had four toddlers playing so happily together that we let bedtimes be damned and allowed them to play until almost 9 while the grownups chatted. So, for us, FNM has become more of a monthly than a weekly gathering, and that’s fine too.

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learning to love…guacamole

I7338661312_63d3beb6dd_z‘ve made no secret about the fact that I find truly picky (adult) eaters pretty annoying. Having a few dislikes is normal for anyone, but picky eating has always seemed to me to be a symptom of a larger lack of adventurousness or total control-freakery, and it just gets on my nerves. I’m even annoyed by my own dislikes. Blueberries, mushrooms, and avocado have long topped my list of dislikes, and I’ve often wished I could just *like* these things. I make it a habit to try things I think I dislike on a regular basis, just to see if maybe I was wrong and I really try to like them. I’ve learned to like mushrooms in most things, as long as they aren’t the main focus of a dish, but I still don’t like blueberries in anything except pancakes (yes, this is different than in muffins, and no, I will not eat a blueberry muffin, no thanks). Thank God my temporary postpartum dislike of coffee disappeared after a couple of months.

The weirdest thing has happened with avocado. Continue reading

MMMMonday

To all the folks who may be new around here thanks to yesterday’s Freshly Pressed feature: welcome! You may notice I’m writing about food today and not current events: that happens a lot. Day to day you might find food, parenting, DIY, current events, pop culture, feminism, politics, literature…something for almost everyone, I guess!

Now back to your regularly scheduled MMMMonday, a weekly roundup of all things tasty in my world.

LIES.

LIES.

Can I start by admitting a Pinterest FAIL? Have you seen all those “never grow green onions again!” pins that advise just putting the root ends in a glass of water and letting them regrow? WASTE OF TIME. I tried it. I mean, I grow veggies and herbs. We used to run an urban garden. I put my green onions in a glass of water on my windowsill. Two weeks of my kitchen smelling vaguely of onions and swamp water (that water got FUNKY), and only two of the bunch had grown at all. I think I’ll just keep spending the 75 cents for green onions when I need them.

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I wanted a roasted chicken but didn’t want to heat up my kitchen. Enter: slow cooker. I filled the bottom with red potatoes and a few cloves of garlic, put a chicken on top, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and Cavender’s, added a few lemon slices, and created deliciousness that didn’t require a 400 degree oven. The Pinterest component is the side dish. I used oregano instead of basil, because my basil has died/fried, but the oregano is still kicking. Really tasty!

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I did not expect to love this dish like I did. It’s basically an Asian noodle bowl, but the “noodles” are spaghetti squash. It’s also full of kale and broccoli, so it’s super healthy. The one thing I did differently was use peanut oil instead of grapeseed oil in the spicy peanut sauce, because I don’t keep grapeseed oil on hand.

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I sometimes joke that my Colorado-native hubby had to marry a Southern girl just for the okra, which is one of his favorite foods. This recipe was different than my usual fried okra, because they’re sliced sorta like fries, and are just fried in the oil solo, no batter or cornmeal or anything. They’ve got an Indian sort of spice thanks to garam masala, and I really liked it for a change of pace. I might experiment with the same flavor profile in an oven-roasted version.

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I’m a pickle fanatic, and I definitely prefer the ones you can only get in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. These come as close to those as any homemade version I’ve tried, and since they’re a refrigerator version, you don’t have to worry about canning or sealing or botulism or anything. So good!

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This recipe isn’t a new one, but it’s a fave. Tarts seem fancy to me for some reason, but this one isn’t too complicated, I swear. The interesting details: you spread a layer of dijon mustard before layering in the tomatoes, goat cheese, herbs, and a drizzle of honey. The flavors are amazing together. You should try it!

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OK, no recipe for this one. I basically just made a mint julep, and since I had some strawberries on the verge of going bad, I muddled some in along with the mint. A nice combo!

So: what’s cookin’ for you this week?

MMMMonday (on a Tuesday)

Welcome to MMMMonday…on a Tuesday.

You see, what had happened was… Claire was sick yesterday, and while hanging out in the ER (no worries, just an infection, she’ll be ok), I tried to post my MMMMonday post from my WordPress phone app. And somehow all the pictures posted, but none of the text. What follows is my recreation of that text, though surely it was better the first time.

I didn’t actually cook much “new” stuff this week because I couldn’t be arsed to go to the grocery store. Which means I did a lot of pantry-staple cooking. My pantry stocking borders on Doomsday Prepper. I feel antsy if I don’t have plenty of dried pasta, rice, canned beans, canned tomatoes, coconut milk, onions, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Those ingredients plus odds and end vegetables can be combined to create veggie fried rice, pasta with simple red sauce, and black beans with coconut rice, all of which made an appearance on our table this week.

Eventually I made it to the Farmer’s Market and restocked us a bit, and I still managed to try a few new things I had pinned. Check it out:

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These lime bars from the A Beautiful Mess blog were delicious. Can’t wait to try the grapefruit version.

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I make a lot of hummus, but after finding some beautiful eggplants at the farmer’s market, I decided to try my hand at baba ghanouj. It’s a little more labor intensive than hummus, because you have to roast the eggplant, but it’s very tasty. I made homemade pitas to go with it, and even Etta was a big fan.

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I used some of the aforementioned farmer’s market eggplants along with local squash and zucchini to make a gorgeous layered ratatouille, which I served over whole wheat pearl couscous alongside some leftover local hanger steak from a cookout with friends. A very tasty way to eat some of the summer’s best veggies. Would be delicious with a poached egg or some goat cheese on top.

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I wanted something special to serve with my odds-and-ends veggie fried rice, and was inspired by this salmon recipe. For my version, I just brushed some thawed frozen salmon with a beaten egg, sprinkled with salt and pepper, covered in black sesame seeds, and baked for about 15 minutes at 400. It was flavorful and had a nice crunch!

What about you? Tried any recipes (or other projects) from Pinterest lately? Have any pantry-staple recipes you use when you need to grocery shop to share? What ARE your pantry staples?

MMMMonday

I’d say I’m addicted to Pinterest, but that would imply a problem. Really, Pinterest is a big solution for me. I used to have folders upon folders of bookmarked recipes, but I only ever used less than half of the saved sites, because scrolling through filenames isn’t very inspiring or appetizing. Pinterest has changed all that, because I can scroll through pictures instead of filenames. I have 17 food-related pinboards alone, each representing a “genre” of food, like “TexMex/Mexican/Latin,” “Pasta,” and “Breakfast.” I usually loosely plan menus weekly, which for me means picking out 4-5 dinner recipes, a lunch or two, some sort of snack, and maybe a special cocktail or popsicle recipe. I’ll sit down in front of my computer, open up my boards, and pick say, one “Pasta,” one “TexMex,” one “Asian/Middle Eastern” and one “Vegetarian” dinner, scrolling through the pictures to see what looks tasty to me. Then I’ll pick one or two recipes from “Salads and Sides” to have for my lunches, and something from “Appetizers and Snacks” to munch throughout the week. My husband isn’t home for dinner one or two nights a week, and on those nights I eat leftovers, and we usually go out at least once a week. I usually don’t eat breakfast, or if I do, I make some sort of scrambled eggs or a homemade Egg McMuffin.

Many criticize Pinterest for being all inspiration, but very little action. While I do have some purely aspirational Pinboards (I mean, I don’t wear most of the outfits I pin), most of my food-related pins are actually in the queue to try someday soon. I thought it might be fun to actually share the things I cook from my pinboards, and give you the links and let you know how things turned out. I’m calling this feature MMMMonday.

Here’s what I’ve tried recently:

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This salad served as my lunch a couple of times this week. I made a few changes to the recipe, namely leaving out the peanuts, adding sesame seeds, and adding a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil to the dressing. Next time I might cut down the dressing a little bit, as the salad was slightly swimming. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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I wanted to make a special meal to mark my husband’s first day in his new job, so I turned to classic Southern cuisine. The fried chicken is a recipe from one of my favorite Charleston restaurants, The Glass Onion, and even though it only sat in the buttermilk brine for a few hours instead of overnight, it was still flavorful and juicy. The okra was inspired by this recipe, except I sliced it, tossed it with olive oil, cornmeal, and Cavender’s Greek Seasoning before roasting. A flavorful, healthier alternative to full on fried okra. The tomato salad was served with a Southern Living recipe for a cucumber basil ranch-type dressing, which was a definite keeper. I even ate the cucumbers in the dressing by themselves for a snack later. Omitting the cucumbers altogether would yield a tasty dressing for other salads, too.

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This green hummus is a super healthy snack, chock full of protein-filled chickpeas and nutrient-rich greens like arugula, spinach, and cilantro. I didn’t change a thing about the recipe, and even Etta loved it smeared on a tortilla. I prefer to dip veggies, myself.

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This dinner was inspired by a sausage and spinach stuffed shells recipe. When my grocery store didn’t have shells, I decided to turn it into manicotti. My changes were adding a little tomato sauce poured over the manicotti before topping with shredded mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

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This meal was amazing. I followed the instructions to bake my squash instead of frying it, and it was still crispy and delicious. For the salsa, I used a whole jalapeno, added more cilantro than called for, and added a diced sweet pepper. I also don’t think charring the corn really added all that much to the taste, and would think canned or thawed frozen corn would serve just as well. Another thought: if you don’t want to use panko crumbs, cracker crumbs would be a good substitute. I served the tacos with black beans cooked from dried beans in the crock pot for the first time, which was so easy and cheap, I’ll be ditching my canned beans habit very soon! In the future, I may use this panko-crusted oven-frying method to make veggie “fries,” while playing around with seasonings.

No Pinterest Fails this week! What about you? Have you tried anything you saw on Pinterest lately? How did it turn out?