Inside My Kitchen

Are you trying to make the switch to whole foods but finding yourself wondering what in the world is left to eat?  Are you feeling overwhelmed trying to move from the seasoning packet to the homemade mix?  Do you wonder how in the world you will ever have time to really cook?  Food prices getting you down?  Several of you are asking questions that give me the feeling this is where you are – motivated, yet frustrated; helpless, yet hopeful.  You want to make changes, and feel like you know what to do, but actually making that happen is another thing entirely.


For me, I can listen all day to a concept and feel like I understand it and agree with it, yet when it is time to actually implement what I’ve learned my mind just goes blank.  Sometimes it helps to hear the little details behind the concepts.  I’ve been asked to describe what is in my pantry and what we eat in a week, including snacks.  After mulling this over for a while I decided that this might really be helpful for some of you, and that is what I hope to do with this peek inside my kitchen.  But before I start let me emphasize that while this post may be all about me, I am in no way saying that I have it all together!  My kitchen right now is quite disorganized, and I frequently don’t plan well.  I have goals but often miss the mark entirely.  Sometimes I make a mess of everything (literally and figuratively!) and feel like I am in over my head.  So I’m definitely not claiming perfection. You absolutely don’t have to do it my way.  This is just a glimpse into my ideals and methods.  Hopefully this post will spur you on to a plan and method tailored specifically for you.


Because this is long, I’ll break it up into more than one post.  I will start with a little tour through my kitchen, continue with the meal specifics, and hopefully end with a few simple recipes.


The Pantry:

If you want something to eat right now, the pantry is not the place to look.  Most everything in there typically requires some type of preparation before it can be eaten.  This can be really frustrating, but with a little time and advance planning you can have a kitchen loaded with delicious, ready-to-eat, nutrient-dense foods.  The pantry is where you store all those ingredients before combining them to make some delicious treat or meal.  My pantry contains several buckets of various grains, brown rice, dried beans, almonds, pecans, lots of spices, honey, maple syrup, sucanat, salt, canned tomatoes of various kinds, canned green beans, coconut oil, olive oil, vinegars (balsamic, apple cider, white, brown rice, white wine…), arrowroot powder, baking powder, baking soda, herbal teas, organic popcorn, organic raisins, sweet potatoes, winter squash, garlic, onions, and a few ready to eat foods like organic crackers, non-GMO corn chips and taco shells, refried beans and baked beans.  And of course a loaf of my homemade whole wheat bread. I also keep on hand a bag of organic white flour and organic unrefined white sugar – these are rarely used except during holidays or to dust the counter.  Most of these foods have been purchased in bulk at a discount.  Sometimes I have split bigger items with friends (30 pounds of raisins is a LOT … and a pound of sage or thyme goes a looooong way).  I have tried to move most everything from plastic to glass, and use different sized mason jars for this job.  The organic spices are much cheaper when purchased by the pound, and for the ones you use most this insures you always have some on hand.  Spices used less frequently can be split up and shared with friends.


The Refrigerator:

We bought a new refrigerator over the summer.  Our first fridge was purchased in 1995 back before we had any kids.  I was working part time and definitely not doing any real baking.  The bottom shelf of the door was always filled with Diet Coke and Diet Mountain Dew.  There was often a pound of ground beef or a package of chicken breasts slowly spoiling on the shelf, a gallon of skim milk gone sour, and some lifeless iceberg lettuce.  Things have definitely changed around here!  Not only has our family grown by 3 since then, but our entire way of eating has drastically changed.  We definitely needed a new refrigerator.   It was funny to shop for fridges.  They are designed with processed foods in mind.  Soft drink holders seem to be standard features.  Even the freezer has a special compartment just the right size for a frozen pizza.  Fancy fliers showed how all of today’s modern convenience foods could fit so nicely in these state of the art refrigerators.  Well, we managed to find a fridge that meets our needs but we sure haven’t filled it with modern foods, nor do we use the special frozen pizza compartment.  In our refrigerator you will find whole milk (4 gallons/week), OJ, butter, homemade buttermilk, homemade sour cream, farm fresh eggs, condiments (mayo, ketchup, mustard, jelly, naturally brewed soy sauce, etc.), oils requiring refrigeration such as flaxseed oil, farm-fresh lard, almond butter and peanut butter, produce, kefir, yogurt, kombucha, cheese, homemade salad dressing, (scary) leftovers, beef jerky from a local farm, and organic deli turkey for my husband’s lunches. 


The Freezer:

We have a deep-freeze in the garage where I keep all of the meat I purchase from local farms.  This summer we upgraded from a small upright freezer to a 19 cu. ft. chest freezer, as we had outgrown the old one.  Every year we purchase a side of beef and about 40 whole chickens.  The first year we bought beef from the farm, the freezer door didn’t shut all the way and we woke up the next morning to find a real mess running through our garage!  We won’t have that problem with this new freezer!  The beef and chickens are all raised on the pasture.  We get to specify how the beef is cut so it serves our family well.  I request the bones and stew meat for stock, I get to specify how thick the steaks are cut and how many per package, as well as how many pounds per roast.  I can have as much turned into ground beef as I want, and can have as much of that turned into hamburger patties as I want.  I even get to choose how it is wrapped.  Through the years I have come to know our beef farmer very well and our families are now good friends.  Going to their farm several times a year gives me the opportunity to see next year’s beef grazing in the pasture.  I see for myself that these cows are always clean and well cared for, and I also see how the pastures are maintained.  When I think about what a blessing this is for my family, I am joyful and humbled.  Every time we have beef, we know which cow and which farm.  Another bonus is that since we’ve become friends, my beef farmer can specifically choose which beef we get based on the needs of our family.  This is service!  The chickens have been another blessing.  While I haven’t formed a friendship with the farmer, he is all about wanting to make sure his customers know everything they need to know about how the chickens are raised and processed.  I pick up the chickens directly on his farm, just a few hours after they have been processed.  They have just barely been chilled.   I have seen all of his equipment and he has explained everything to me about how it works.  Through the year he will send occasional email updates about the farm or health/nutrition issues.  Although they’re whole, the chickens are very versatile because I can cut them up myself for parts, or cook them whole and use the meat for various other recipes.  Every carcass goes into the stock pot to make wonderful, delicious chicken stock.  So of course my freezer has chicken stock and sometimes beef stock, both homemade.  This past fall I also purchased a quarter of a pig from the same farmer who raises the chickens. We got several pork roasts, chops, ribs, and a lot of ground pork which is perfect for seasoning as sausage for a homemade pizza. Occasionally I will buy different cuts of meat from another farm that processes specifically for retail; such as packages of chicken drumsticks or the occasional boneless chicken breast, or ground turkey.  Also in my freezer are a few bags of chicken feet to add to my stock.  And then there are bags of fresh blueberries, purchased in bulk over the summer from a farm in Alabama, which I washed and froze.  These are used in smoothies and baking.  I am learning that when there is a great deal on healthy foods I know we’ll eat, that it is well worth the trouble to buy in bulk.  With that in mind there are often bags of homemade applesauce from Tennessee apples, or bags of pumpkin, or Tennessee strawberries, or corn that I bought in bulk and scraped off the cob.  The deep-freeze can be one of your best friends as it allows you to enjoy the summer’s bounty all year, without the loss of nutrients from the high temperatures of canning.


The freezer in the kitchen is where I keep things I have made ahead to freeze such as pizza dough, tortillas, bread, and muffins. What doesn’t fit here will overflow into the deep-freeze.  Other foods include the chicken carcasses waiting to become stock, coconut, yeast, opened bags of frozen fruits and veggies, etc.  There are also containers of pinto beans and kidney beans which I have cooked and frozen in 15 oz portions just as if it were a can of beans from the store, as well as chopped up chicken to use in salads and sandwiches.


The Grocery Store:

These days I can almost go to the grocery store without a list because a majority of our food comes from other sources.  I still make a list, though, because it is the smart thing to do; a list keeps me focused, prevents unnecessary purchases, and keeps me from having to make another grocery run later in the week.  Typically my grocery cart will contain apples, bananas, celery, onions, garlic, orange juice, yogurt, deli turkey, kombucha, and occasional spices and condiments.  Everything else comes from a farm or food co-op.  The beef and pork are picked up once a year; the chickens are picked up just a couple of times during the summer.  My different food co-ops are weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly.  With most of these I alternate driving time with other people so I am not making these runs myself each time.  Every Saturday, even in winter, I visit the Franklin Farmer’s Market where local, seasonal meats and produce are available year round.  One food co-op gives me the ability to buy organic canned foods, organic spices and seasonings in bulk, and even environmentally friendly household products and personal care products.  I order online and pick up monthly.  The prices are just a bit cheaper than the grocery store but mostly for me it is more convenient.  And I like supporting the smaller, local business rather than the giant super stores.  A few friends think this sounds like a big time vacuum and that I am running myself crazy.  I try to remain flexible and willing to change things when needed.  My methods are currently working for my family but they may not be possible for your family.  Just be willing to think outside the box as you figure out your own plan based on your time, resources, budget, and space.


This concludes the first part of a peek inside my kitchen.  Coming soon:  meal planning and specifics.  Stay tuned!


Peanuts, Salmonella, Organics, and TRUST

I just read some articles about the salmonella outbreak that has been linked to a peanut processing plant in Georgia.  FDA inspectors claim this is one of the largest food recalls in history.  There have been 500+ confirmed cases of salmonella linked to this one small peanut plant, and at least 8 people have died.  Initially word was that the contaminated food was a peanut paste used in crackers and other highly processed foods served in hospitals and nursing homes (gasp!).  But now the plant has halted all production and is recalling foods produced as long ago as 2007.  The list of recalled foods includes a variety of processed peanut products (peanut paste, peanut meal, granulated products, etc) as well as the actual roasted peanuts themselves.  Affected retailers and companies span the nation, in addition to all consumers – junk foodies and health-conscious consumers alike.  Yes, that’s right.  While lots of cookie and ice cream products are affected, so are  items found only at your local Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.


The story is nothing new.  It probably happens at processing plants everywhere, yet this one just happened to get caught.  According to FOXNews reports, the plant’s routine testing revealed salmonella at least 12 times in the past yet the production lines were never cleaned.  When the company re-tested and got a negative result they continued to ship out products.  (Inspectors state that in products such as peanut butter you can have pockets of contamination allowing a contaminated food to test both positive and negative, therefore one positive test should result in destroying the entire batch.)  Once people began to get sick and the plant was identified as the source of the outbreak, the plant was inspected and found to have “mold, roaches, a leaky roof, and other sanitary problems.”  Delicious.


What is frustrating about this story is that it wasn’t just “junk brands” that had to be recalled, as the initial reports suggested.  You can read the recall list for yourself here:

On it you will find items from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods; respected brands such as Health Valley, Arbonne, Keebler, Sam’s Choice, Little Debbie, Nestle, and Famous Amos; and other familiar brands like Hy-Vee, Naturally Preferred, Private Selection, and WalMart’s bakery.  And, it pains me to say it, Larabars made the list.  We love Larabars and consider them to be a good choice for whole, raw foods.   Some of these names are brands that we not only trust to provide clean, safe food, but they are brands that are supposed to be on a level above all others because they are closely associated with “all natural” and “organic.”  Yet we now see that the ingredients on highly processed “health foods” come from the same nasty places as all that other junk we Food Snobs are too good to eat.


Years ago I was sitting at a Shoney’s restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, waiting to meet a social services client.  The restaurant appeared clean and well-kept.  While waiting I observed one of the largest roaches I’d ever seen crawling around the food bar.  At the same time, the restaurant was having its health inspection.  I watched the inspector carefully examine the food bar and surrounding areas.  Eventually the roach crawled up under the food bar and never came out.  When I left the restaurant, the new health score was in the upper 90’s (I can’t remember specifically but 98 or 99) yet this roach had been crawling all around and inside the cabinets of the food bar right in front of the inspector.


It is tragic that innocent people were sickened and even killed because of someone else’s carelessness at the peanut plant.  Many of these people had no choice over what they ate as they were invalids in nursing homes and patients in hospitals.  Possibly a mom just like you purchased some chocolately peanut butter cookies for her child’s birthday party, and a child became seriously ill.  We can all agree that we would never ever knowingly purchase and eat food from a place where we knew there were unsanitary conditions such as mold and roaches, and especially the risk of salmonella.  That’s just the point.  When we choose to buy processed foods, whether they are conventional or organic, we relinquish control over what goes into our bodies.  We put our trust in food safety regulations and inspectors. We pass the torch to a total stranger, someone we have never met or seen and whom we know nothing about and who doesn’t know us… someone who has profits in mind above all else. This is false trust and it is foolish.


Even organics are not immune when referring to processed foods.  While researching this article I learned that Larabars are owned by General Mills.  Just another big company trying to tap into the “all natural” market.  The result is more money for the rich execs but less quality for you and me.  If you want to be in control of what your family eats, then you must quit buying processed foods.  Instead buy whole foods that you have to prepare yourself, and get as much as possible from a local farmer who knows you and your family by name.  This is how you form a real, trusting relationship with real people, and it is wise.


Coming soon … a peek inside my kitchen to show you just what I’m talking about.