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Archive for October, 2010

As an icon, they are orange. But, in reality,  carrots actually come in lots of colors. And sometimes they grow around each like intertwined limbs.  When this happens,  the kids call them kissing carrots. They think every wedding couple should be presented with a pair. I love that. And although the carrot roots are not my favorite, it turns out the green spray I used to toss in the trash, are filled with flavor.

Random fact: When I was a kid, my hair was bright red. I was a carrot top. This, as my kids like to point out is ridiculous. Carrot tops are green, and as I recently found out, super nutritious and versatile. I can’t believe that for years, I threw them out.

What can we eat? What is garbage? Carrots are one place where my two obsessions seem to have dovetailed. For some reason, I had begun to belive that carrot tops were poisonous. Don’t ask why where I got that info. Only know it was WRONG. Here’s a few quick tidbits that are true about those feathery, green greens .(All courtesy of carrotmuseum.com)

Carrot tops are:

1) They’re packed with potassium.  This, apparently, can make them bitter. So far, I have not had that problem.

2) They have antiseptic qualities. They’ve been used throughout the ages as a key ingredient in poultices. Plus chewing carrot leaves can heal injuries in the mouth, bad breath, gum bleeding and mouth ulcers. (This might be a good way to get rid of those plastic bottles of mouthwash in our house.)

3) They carrot leaf tea is a diuretic. It’s apparently great for detoxifying and strengthening the kidneys and relieving urinary complaints. (Sounds a lot cheaper than cranberry juice — I can’t wait to try.)

4) They are versatile. You can use their leaves anyplace you might use parsley. But the carrot top has a much earthier taste. More like a mushroom than a green herb. They make a great addition to a salad.

5) Are great in soup stock.

Carrots  stay fresher without their tops. What I’ve been doing is snapping off the greens and storing them in a cup of water – the way you might with any other herb. Everyone loved  when I used my kissing carrots and their tops to make this Whole Carrot Salad. Ok, everyone but the kids. But that’s for another post . . . .

Whole Carrot Salad – Tabouleh Style

A delicious way to use the leaves of carrots – serves 2-4, depending on the size of carrots
Ingredients:

3 carrots with their leaves
4 fresh mint leaves (can be replaced with another herb, to taste)
1 handful of raisins
1 dash olive oil
1 dash lemon juice 1 pinch salt

Chop the carrot roots (with their peel on if they are organic) in the food processor (pulse) until they have a couscous texture. Put aside in a bowl. Chop finely the carrot leaves with a knife, like you would do with parsley. Remove the hard stems if there are any. Add to bowl with the carrot “couscous”, raisins and chopped mint leaves. Season to taste with lemon juice, olive oil and salt.

Carrot Top Tea

Take a handful of carrot leaves, tear them up and put them in a tea-pot. Pour over boiling water and leave to steep until the tea is cold. Strain to remove the leaves. Place the tea in the fridge to chill. It will last well for about 3 days.

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Does anyone know how to say compost in Spanish? Actually, its a rhetorical question. I know.  Last night we looked it up, me and my two au pairs — the veteran on her way back to Columbia and her new replacement who just arrived last week from Argentina. I’d enlisted their help because our vermiculture indoor worm box — the miraculous worm condo —  has been, shall we extending its ecosystem into the kitchen  Don’t get grossed out,  the worms are not escaping — although in the last worm bin I had several years ago, they did climb the clear walls when I turned their a little too swampy — this time it’s fruit flies.

Which brings me to rhetorical question number 2 — how do you get rid of fruit flies? An apple cider vinegar trap of course. It’s easy to make, just put a bit of apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a cup and add a funnel so that the flies can go down, but can’t get back up. It’s working more or less.

I wish it would work a bit more. Because two days ago I go I got a call from Zane’s teacher,”The children are asking about their worms and rolly pollies.”

When I got the worm bin last June it was light. There was one layer of compostable material topped with tons of slightly damp newspaper. Then there was one layer of compost — perfectly moist and as pretty as the cookie crumbs and gummy worms you see on  a “dirt”  pudding dessert. Little did those worms know that when the kids were on vacation, I put them to work.

You have to remember, my goal has been to reduce garbage and eat from the farmer’s market. that means we’ve had a lot of veggies come through the house this summer. Even though I make a ton of vegetable stock and I don’t compost those remains because they made the bin way too messy. Even though I throw out our fair trade banana peals. Even though we were away for two weeks in the summer, our bins are overflowing. It’s amazing how much garbage we make.

Ok. I know I am not selling indoor composting, but I really love it. Despite the flies (Which are going away!)

“I hope you are not getting to attache to the bin,” the teacher said in her voicemail. Well, the truth is I have.  But no worries, I found this YouTube video detailing how to make myself a  new one. And I’ll never give that one up!

Worm bin resources:
If you’re not into the do it your self option, you can  Get your condo at the Union Square. But I have to warn you,  they call this a condo, but seriously, the copy must have been written by a NYC real estate agent. Cozy studio would be a better description. However, this is a great type of bins to use if you have smaller children. It’s clear and the kids can see the whole process happening.

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I have a confession to make. This weekend, I bought my kids super-processed, sugary, fake-flavored, packaged in Peoria, and shipped-across-the-country-breakfast cereal on Saturday. We were in Target buying track pants and the boxes were there in front of me as we walked in to check out.

Here’s the rub. The kids didn’t ask for them. I wasn’t standing in line waiting  for hours– so I they weren’t staring at me and tempting me. They were there as I whizzed in to the empty cashier and as I saw them out of the corner of my eye, I grabbed them.

The kids were excited. Frenzied. Almost titillated. They’ve come to expect my slightly erratic food choices. I can go ballistic over a white bagel and then turn off the high way for ice cream. It makes no sense.

“Where is my mom and what have you done with her?” they ask when I say yes to a root beer float or piece of candy.

There is a tiny bit of method to my madness. Although I’m not sure my argument really holds water – as I test it out.

You see, I have, what I call, a “cultural pass”. That means on occasion, I will allow myself to indulge in non-local, potentially garbage making food if there is a cultural benefit to it. This pass works for street tacos, (although I won’t eat non-grass fed beef), any ethnic restaurant including my lunchtime Cuban favorite Sophie’s, and sometimes, it appears, Halloween-inspired breakfast cereal.

For me, a “cultural pass” is either:
1) Something that allows me or the kids to experience another culture
2) Something that allows me to share with the kids some kind of food experience from my past
3) Something that allows us all to take part in a cultural event – like thanksgiving, or Passover, or Halloween

So by these completely random rules, the A & W Rootbeer Restaurant in Lake George gets a “cultural pass” because I remember it from my childhood. But MacDonald’s get a literal pass — that’s a bye bye to the drive through. Even though, when I was a kid, my mother used to take us to MacDonald’s for a “special treat.”

I never liked Booberry and Frankenberry when I was their ages. But I remember the appeal of all that Halloween drek and I remember wanting it. That childhood longing came out in full force, so strong, I didn’t need the nag factor to sweep the two boxes into my card.

Buying those garish boxes of cereal for my kids gave me a lot of pleasure. But here’s the problem. Now that they are in the house, the kids want to eat it! Imagine that.  They want to eat that cereal for breakfast. They want to eat that cereal for a snack. As I say “no” I realize how ridiculous I must sound to them.

I think there is some value in creating balance. But I don’t want to  set up processed or junk foods as something special – they’re not. They’re the opposite of special. But, I was raised in a time and place where cotton candy and chocolate MacDonald’s milkshakes and cartoon-inspired breakfasted cereals were something you got on special occasions. And sometimes that comes back at me with the force of a tsunami.

Am I sorry I bought Booberry and Frankenberry? Yes. Will I do something like this again. Maybe. We are faced with a million choices everyday. I’m trying to make up some rules for myself that will help me make the right choices more often than not. And apparently, sometimes my rules are not working perfectly.

Yesterday morning, when Zane asked for Booberry again, I said, “No, you need to eat something healthy. Those cereals are not the healthiest choice.”

He didn’t argue –much. In fact, he seemed to understand. And actually, that’s a pretty big thing.

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I’ve had a few more email exchanges between Adele Douglas the Executive Director of Humane Farm Animal Care. Initially, her first email was a direct answer to my original question “Why is outdoor space not part of your Certified Humane Raised and Handled certification?”

Here’s what she wrote:

“Our standards do not require outdoor access in poultry and in chickens that are raised for “broilers”, or “roasters” or “meat chickens” I’d like to explain how they get fresh air and sunshine.

Unlike laying hens, these chickens have a very short life span. The majority of chickens raised for meat live approximately 6 weeks from birth through slaughter. Ours live a little longer, (up to 7 weeks) because we require a dark (sleep) period to slow their growth down, which prevents some leg abnormalities because of too rapid growth.

The chicks need heat at first, most would not, even with “outdoor access” be out on pasture until 5 weeks at the earliest and only in warm climates.

The barns where these chickens are raised get sunshine because some of them have windows, some are “curtain sided” which means the curtains (metal) are raised to let the light in. In addition, the air comes in when the curtains are up, the windows can be raised and regardless, there are large ventilation fans bringing fresh air in and taking stale air out.”

Farm to table in 7 weeks? Ok, that’s fresh, but it also seems a bit gruesome. It was a bit unnerving that the chickens we eat only live for 6-7 weeks. That seems like a blink. It’s less time than the kids get for summer vacation. But, then I remembered Charlotte’s Web, in a farm, many animals, unless they have a loquacious spider friend, may not live a long life.

How much outdoor space these chickens will get in their short life definitely depends on the farmer. The Certified Humane Raised and Handled certification, as Douglas pointed out, covers all sorts of farms, pastured included. In her second email, she explained:

“I think it is important because there is a difference between “pastured poultry” and “outdoor access.” Most people don’t understand that and think they are one in the same. For an example of “Pastured Poultry” look at Vital Farms. They are real “pastured poultry” and they are Certified Humane®.”

“When I said that we wrote our standards to make sure the needs of the animals were met regardless of the housing system, that meant indoors or outdoors, that means the farms that are Certified Humane® can be indoors, outdoors (pastured) or indoors with “outdoor access” weather permitting. We have organic farms on our program as well.”

“Many farms on our program do have outdoor access, and some are pasture raised. Even though it is not a requirement, that doesn’t mean that none of them are, and the implication is that because we don’t require outdoor access, that no farms have that.”

Another interesting variable to how much sunlight a chicken might see also depends on where the chicken is being raised. Maine chickens, for example, are probably going to get out a little less than their counterparts in California. Douglas wrote:

“Regardless of ‘standards’- organic included, in the middle of winter, it is unlikely that any poultry in the Northeast or Midwest are seeing sunlight out-of-doors, even if they have “outdoor access.”

The Certified Humane Raised and Handled certification is not the only certification out there. And in fact,  the Humane Farm Animal Care has comparison charts to compare key welfare standards of the current animal welfare certification programs  developed since the Certified Humane® program was created. For info on programs other than chicken visit their site. But I’ve linked the broiler/chicken comparisons here.

In my quick overview, the USDA/Organic overview was the least comprehensive. Several key items were listed as “Not addressed” including Dark/Rest period and Space when birds are housed.

The Dark/Rest Period issue is important because when the lights are constantly on the birds eat continuously and they grow too fast for their skeletal structure. Apparently, this is the major cause of leg deformities and pain. According to the Humane Farm Animal Fact sheet,  making dark period mandatory is the one of the most important issue for the welfare of these chickens.

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I  guess you can’t look a gift chicken in the beak. That’s sort of how I feel about Murray’s Chickens. I read “Certified Humane Raised and Handled” and I heard (in my head) pastured.  It turns out the two are not the same.  Let me explain:

After my last blog post I emailed Murray’s Chicken and asked this question:

“Can you tell me if your farmers rotate their chickens on the pasture? The image I have is of a fixed farm and I can’t really tell if there is truly a way for the chickens to get out. Are the chickens raised to go outside? Is their water and feed rotated outside?”

I got a speedy (if curt response) back. Murray’s chickens are free to roam  — but inside their barns.  They don’t have  access to outdoors,   “due to bio security protocols (avian influenza).”

Hmmn. That’s weird. I looked back at their website. Something about it must have made me think the chickens were on pasture. I  shot back another email:

“Thanks for the info, but I was a bit confused. On the Murray’s home page (http://www.murrayschicken.com/) it says: ‘Murray’s chickens are locally raised in Pennsylvania lush countryside by a select number of family farms. Their leisurely lifestyle includes plenty of fresh air and an all-vegetable diet free of antibiotics and hormones.’

Then on your products page (http://www.murrayschicken.com/products.php) it says: ‘Our birds have access to fresh air and sun and combine an all-natural, all-vegetable diet with plenty of exercise.’

If they do not have access to outdoors how do they get sunshine?”

My once again speedy answer via email replied:  they have  windows in the barn that give them access to sun and fresh air. Technically,  the Murray’s website did not lie. But their words did imply some sort of pastoral happy place that included out-of-doors.  I read the pastoral inspired language and believed pastured. Which some would call good marketing and some might think is a bit of green washing.

So I shot them another email and asked them which it was. “Your website,” I emailed,  “left me, at least, with the impression that Murray’s chickens were farmed outside. Before I post anything more about this, do you have any comments?”

Again, Murray’s was super quick in answering my question and they did have a comment. They said:

“Regarding our website , I have changed the wording on our web page to:  Our birds have access to roam freely in their barns combined with an all-natural, all-vegetable diet with plenty of exercise.

I agree the previous wording may have caused confusion. Thanks for the heads-up.”

Wow! I was very impressed by their commitment to providing consumers with accurate information.

While I was waiting for Murray’s to respond, I figured I’d better dig a little deeper into what the Certified Humane Raised & Handled’® label really means. What I found out, speaks volumes to how incredibly awful industrial farming must be. Even though Murray’s chickens are not allowed outside, according to this standard these chickens get:

  • adequate food and water
  • clean living environment
  • clean litter that they can take a “dust bath in”
  • ability to roam freely in their barns
  • protection from vermin and predators

What they don’t get is

  • beak trimming or “any other surgical alterations”
  • cages — all the time
  • tethers to hold them done
  • too much cold or warm
  • dirty litter that stinks of urine

For more complete info you can check out their Humane Farm Animal Care Standards February 2009: Chicken that I downloaded here.

Which brings me to the next question. Who or what exactly is Humane Farm Animal Care?

Humane Farm Animal Care is a national non-profit 501(c)3 organization which was “created to improve the lives of farm animals by setting rigorous standards, conducting annual inspections, and certifying their humane treatment.” They claim that  the Certified Humane® Program is helping improve the lives of millions of farm animals.

It all sounded great. But why wasn’t the freedom to go outside part of their criteria for the humane treatment of chickens? I called Humane Farm Animal Care and asked.

The woman who answered the phone was very friendly and informative. She was also a mom, and she related to the difficulty of finding the right balance between ethical, humane, and environmentally sound choices and trying to stay within some  budget. And she agreed that pasturing chickens ideal, but it’s hard to take a big industry and get movement – you have to start somewhere.

She said that some of their farmers hold their farms to standards that are higher – their chickens may be free roaming or pastured.  And that since they started the organization, they have seen that more and more producers  moving toward better, more humane practices, and even more affordable products. So it’s working. But it’s still a work in progress. I can certainly respect that.

So will I buy Murray’s chickens? Yes. They are still a more humane option compared to the huge industrial farm brands. But do they fit my new eating values 100 %?  No.  But at least now that I know what I’m getting with Murray’s chickens, I can make an educated choice.

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The other day, feeling a bit like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, I realized that the answer to my no-Styrofoam chicken dilemma was actually a lot simpler than I originally thought. In fact, the solution was right here in my own backyard. Ok it was a few blocks away. Our own “fancy” grocery store, Frank’s Market, sells Murray’s Chickens. And at $2.99 /lb for a whole chicken, it’s just may be a sustainable bargain.

But is Murray’s chicken’s industrial chicken in disguise? So far, it seems to check out.

According to the website, the chickens are locally raised — that means in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Their homes meet and exceed the guidelines as specified under the Certified Humane Raised and Handled label which means they have access to fresh air and sun and combine an all-natural, all-vegetable diet with plenty of exercise.

Each chicken has farm verification number. I plugged my number into the farm verification box on their website and found my farm. Ok. It didn’t tell me much except that there is a farm that my chicken came from. The website says I can see my farm in Google Earth. So I did that as well.

All I could see was that the farm had plenty of green space.  But it’s hard to tell, even from zooming in if the chickens are as free to roam as the marketing information promises. I did send off an email asking more specific questions, so I’ll post the info when I hear back.

They do have “Eco packaging.” According to the website, that just means it’s made from one piece of plastic and doesn’t have a non-recyclable foam tray.  Which, as anyone who’s been reading my me knows, is a big deal.

My best option? If I had unlimited resources I think I would just buy the more expensive chicken from the farmer’s market. But don’t really know for sure if that is more sustainable or healthier.  So for now,  Murray’s Chicken is the most affordable (and convenient) choice for me. I may change my mind, as I learn more.

This video is about the organic egg farming, but it is a really great visual way to understand what organic poultry farming really is and what it isn’t.

Action:

Help the Cornucopia Institute fight big agribusiness from hijacking organic egg farmers. Support their Meeting October 25-28, 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin.  If you can’t attend, you can download your Proxy Letter here.

Resources:

Frank’s Market
807 W 187th St
New York, NY 10033-1219
(212) 795-2929

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