Archive for the “Real Food” Category

Hi Fat Heads!

All right, first — about that title…

I’ve used the “Older Brother” moniker since I started guest posting here.  Actually, I started using it when commenting on some of Tom’s posts, and then adopted it as a nom de plume for my posts when Tom started letting me take over The Big Chair while he was off on sundry missions to educate and entertain the masses.  As some of the other family got mentioned, I kind of stuck to it — “The Middle Son” (our Ranger), “The Oldest Son” (you know you love the pizza), etc.

When I’ve mentioned my bride of these past 30 years, it’s always been as The Wife.  But “The Older Brother’s Wife” just sounded kind of flat for a title.  I’ve always kidded that I married an older women, because she was born exactly three weeks before me.  [Being a guy, that's how I remember her birthday -- "let's see, my birthday's the 16th, so 16 from 21 is 5, so then 5 from 31 is, okay -- the 26th! No wait, May has 31 days, she's born in April, so that's 30, minus the 5 is -- the 25th!"  Easy peasy.]  So, when I decided to share a great recipe she’s been making, I figured I had to stick to the system.  Don’t worry, she’s okay with it.

And I’m okay with sleeping on the couch for awhile.

Anyway, I’m just going to come out and say this (you may want to hold onto something) :

Some days, you just don’t want bacon.



Still there?

I know.  Bacon and eggs is kind of the sacramental breakfast meal for us low-carb/paleo/primal/real food/what-have-you types.  But some days you just want something different.  And I know we make fun of the “V” people who rave about burger-shaped soy crud, and meat-like soy crud, and nugget-like soy crud, and we say things like “you never hear Grok saying he wished someone would make a steak that tastes like tofu!”  but every once in awhile I think I’d just like to maybe have a bowl of cereal.

I particularly liked the granola one with honey and oats from the old guy with the long white hair and funny hat.  I’d have a bowl of that in the morning and think “boy, that was good!  And healthy!  Maybe I should have another bowl.”  And then I’d think, “Man, that was REALLY good.  Maybe I’ll just have one more bowl.”  Then off to work, all fueled up for a couple of hours of work, before starting to wonder how I could be so damned hungry after eating such a big, healthy breakfast.

So yeah, like that kind, but without the metabolic roller coaster getting involved.

Well, The Wife likes bacon and sausage and all, but she doesn’t like it every day.  Plus, she leaves for work most mornings before 7am, and some days cooking just doesn’t seem to fit into the morning schedule.  So she kind of went on a mission to find some other low-carb breakfast options, because you can only eat so much yoghurt.

Some she found were good, some she liked and I didn’t care for, or vice versa, but she hit on one a couple of months ago that the whole family likes.  It’s called “Grain Free Coconut Crunch Granola.” She found it on pinterest, but it came from a nice young lady in Australia with a blog called Brooks Kitchen of Culinary Dreams that focuses on low-carb, low-sugar, gluten-free recipes.

I told a commenter in an earlier post who was hesitant about cooking because of a disaster trying a cake or something that “baking is science, but cooking is art.”  In other words, exacting vs. carefree.  Well this recipe is so easy, I’d put in at the “finger-painting” end of the art scale.

Here’s the ingredients:

3 cups coconut flakes (unsweetened)
2 cups cashews, roughly chopped *
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/3 cup flaxmeal
1/2 cup almond flour
1/2 cup coconut oil
10 drops stevia **
1/2 cup dried mango, roughly chopped ***

We always do the recipe as printed the first time, then play around. We make the following substitutions now:

* 1 cup cashews, 1/2 cup walnuts, and 1/2 cup pecans for variety (plus, it’s cheaper!)
** Splenda — for a double recipe we use 3 packets (about 1 tsp)
*** We use a mango/blueberry/cherry mix from Trader Joe’s

Assemble your ingredients, set the oven at 300(F), and then do a little chopping (just the nuts now).

Here’s what we consider a rough chop:

Once that’s done, mix the first 5 dry ingredients around in a big bowl:

Melt the coconut oil if it’s not already liquid, stir the sweetener in well, then add it to the dry stuff and mix it well (I didn’t forget the mangoes — they come in later).

Dump the bowl onto a parchment covered cookie sheet, and spread evenly (this, per normal at our house, is a double batch):

Put the cookie sheet in the oven for 20 minutes, then pull it out and use a spatula to turn the mix over to keep it browning evenly.


While the granola is doing this first 20 minutes in the oven, we chop the mango fruit mix:


Check and turn the granola again every 10 or 15 minutes until it reaches your favorite shade of golden brown (probably 2 or 3 more turns, maybe an hour or so total in the oven — remember, it’s finger painting, not rocket science).

Now you take it out of the oven, mix in the fruit, and and let it cool.


At that point it’s all over except the storing. Or eating.


I eat it like cereal in a bowl with some of Linda’s raw milk; The Wife likes to mix it with Greek yoghurt and take it with her to work; it’s good on ice cream; or just shake some out of the container and snack on it as is.

All the fun, none of the crash.


Oh yeah, and

Happy Moo Year!


– The Older Brother (and The Wife)


Comments 16 Comments »

Hi again, fellow Fat Heads.

Tom and Chareva and the girls made it into Springfield this past weekend for visits and the Naughton family Christmas dinner Monday night, before heading to Chicago on Christmas Eve to see Chareva’s family.  Since they’re still traveling, and I had an interesting addendum to my “Yankee Farm Report,” I figured Tom wouldn’t mind if I temporarily commandeered the Big Chair again.

No politics or economics this time, I promise!

Anyway, this past Monday morning, I got a call from Linda — our endlessly patient farm owner where our beef cows and meat chickens are boarded.  It went like this:

Linda: Jerry, you know how you always said that one of your two cows always was fuller-bodied than her sister?

Me: Yeah — Tartare.  What’s up?

Linda: Well, she had a calf last night!

Me: HOLY $%*!

This was not expected news, and complicated from several angles.  When we purchased the cows and brought them to Linda’s, we thought they were too young to be fertile.  Cows have about a 9 month gestation period, however, and when we did the math we figure she must’ve just been bred within a week or so prior to getting her.  Another issue was these are beef cows — they were bought in the late Spring with the initial intention of having them ready to be butchered next Fall, but they were so big that we’d moved that up to probably the end of January. We’ve got four other families cow-sharing on this deal, so that means everyone has to agree on how to play this new development.

The most immediate issue, however, and one that could make the rest moot, was that cows aren’t supposed to have calves in the middle of winter, especially on what was one of the coldest days of this season.  Linda’s husband saw Tartare laying in the field Monday morning and thought she’d died, then saw the calf laying on the ground and thought they were both dead.  Once they figured out both were still alive, they got the calf (and then Tartare to follow) into a barn, but she was very cold, not moving around, and Linda didn’t think she’d nursed, which is critical.

I headed over right away, picking up some colostrum from the farm store in case she was going to need to be bottle-fed.  I was able to hold her up (cold and messy work in my office clothes) while Linda worked a bottle into her mouth, but she wasn’t suckling or swallowing.  At that point, Linda thought it looked like maybe she did have milk already in her, but it was hard to tell.  We got her to lay upright a bit, and I had to leave, but I told Linda I’d come back early afternoon with a couple of heat lamps she thought might help.

When I got back (with The Wife), the calf was stiff and on her side again –


We got more heat lamps set up, and I was able to pick the calf up and get the straw under her and around her. She didn’t seem out of the woods, but was moving her head around some more.


Linda kept checking on calve and cow, and fortunately the weather warmed up quickly over the last couple of days. The Oldest Son, my brother-in-law, and I went out today, and things are looking much better. The calf is walking around in the yard behind the barn, nursing, and Tartare is watching over her closely.

Everyone in on our cow-share deal seems pretty happy with the unexpected disruption in our beef supply. So far, given that she had a successful, unassisted, healthy birth, it’s looking like Tartare may get a role change from beef cow to breeder.

In the meantime, the reason The Oldest Son and brother-in-law were with me today was because the events of the week switched a “we ought to maybe do that” project into a “we need to get this done NOW” project. There was a hoop structure in the cow’s pasture that the old vinyl cover had disintegrated off of over time. Linda and I had talked about getting a new cover put back on it. Cows are pretty hardy as far as cold temperatures are concerned, but getting wet — from rain or snow — and being in the wind can be deadly. A new calf in the middle of winter introduced a real sense of urgency to the idea.

So we pulled some of the old cover back up —

– which didn’t help much, but it gave our rookie three-man farmhand crew a feel for what we were doing.

Linda had a “new” cover — they’re used billboard vinyls that you can purchase — that the three of us were able to manhandle up and over the structure, then tack down with screws driven through lath strips we wrapped into the bottom seam of the vinyl.

Cows are both curious and bashful by nature, and Linda’s dairy cows and Royale (our more chaste beef cow) kept walking up to the shelter while it was under construction and standing on the vinyl until we’d shoo them away long enough to get a couple more strips screwed down. We were pretty pleased with our work once we got it done…

… And to a cow, add a little straw and this looks just like a Ritz Carlton…

Hope you all had a great Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

The Older Brother


Comments 9 Comments »

Greetings fellow Fat Heads!

Tom’s getting ready to educate another batch of university students on The Wisdom of Crowds effect (and hopefully get a good video), so I get to occupy the Big Chair for the week.

Tom gives regular updates on how Chareva and he are integrating their lifestyle with the land they’re on.  I don’t live on acreage, but I’ve been moving along a similar path up North here, starting with buying raw milk and pastured eggs a couple of years ago from an acquaintance — now friend — Linda, who I’d met via Garrick Veenstra, an all-natural, no chemicals, local vegetable farmer (those were some of my first guest posts).  I thought it would be fun to give you an update.  As Tom and I actually communicate mostly through the comments on this blog, we’re not comparing notes often, so I’ve found it interesting how similar our paths tend to run.

First a topic Tom hasn’t really hit on here — what most folks in this country would call “garbage” or “waste.”

A friend of mine who’s also working towards self-sufficiency on his own small property (a few acres) worked out a deal with the produce manager at one of the stores of a large national food chain. He picks up the unsalable produce they normally pay to have hauled off, and has been building a few compost piles on his property.

The thing is, we Americans have been trained to be pretty discriminating about what we consider good food.  Not well trained, just trained.  We won’t buy fruits or vegetables that aren’t just the right size, or isn’t just the right color, or has even a little blemish.  So since we’ve all been trained that only “perfect” looking food is good food (even though that means it’s probably been bred for looks, low cost, and ability to ship instead of flavor), the store employees routinely have to go through and throw out any food that doesn’t meet the Miss America standard of beauty.  Plus, since commodity veggies and fruits tend to be way cheaper than labor costs, the most efficient thing to do is to pitch any carton or flat or bag that contains even a few rejects.

Fortunately for me (or unfortunately for my friend if you want to look at it that way), there’s a small trailer park behind the treeline of his property, and it’s inhabited with a few of those type of people who start calling the health department, fire department, police department, village president, and anyone they can think of whenever someone does something weird — like building a compost pile on their own property.  This helps keep themselves from thinking about why they don’t have jobs, and live in a trailer park.  Everything he’s done, including building his compost pile, is by the book, and there’s a couple of hilarious stories there, but he got tired of the nuisance and asked if I thought Linda would be interested taking the loads for awhile to build up a compost pile at her farm so he could get a break from his neighbors.

Plus it was getting to be a bit much for his small property, anyway.  So he’s been dropping it off at her farm once or twice a week, taking one home for himself once in awhile, and on my weekly run to Linda’s for milk and eggs, I swing by my buddy’s office, swap vehicles, then go do the pickup and head for the farm, unload, check on the chickens and cows (getting to that shortly), then swap back on my way home.

How much of this “waste” are we talking?  Well, here’s a picture of my buddy’s pickup truck after we’ve unloaded most of one run at Linda’s farm…


… That’s a big Chevy truck and the bed holds four rows across, five deep and three high, so anywhere between 50 and 60 of those boxes’ worth.  Maybe 5% has fuzz showing by the time he picks it up, maybe 25% is overripe, 20% blemished, 20% wilted, and 20% looks OK.  The other 10% is gorgeous — it was just hanging out with a few bad apples!

That’s one load from one of several stores in a medium-sized suburban community, and he has to pick it up at least three times a week to keep up.  Of food that we Americans call “garbage,” but a single load like this would start a food riot in probably 85% of the world.  Makes you want to cry.

After we untie the plastic bags, we dump the produce, put the plastic in a pile for the garbage, then were breaking down the cardboard boxes and either burning them or hauling them off.  Then after my buddy mentioned that the cardboard boxes were great dry matter for the pile (duh!), we started throwing them back on.  It looked like this (this is probably two loads)…

I finally — three months in — figured out that if we put the first box we’ve emptied right on top of the pile and then empty the next box box right into it, then pull out the plastic bag (then rinse, lather, repeat), we don’t have to break them down, they stay in place, and it cuts the time to get everything unloaded in half.  Hey, I’m not stupid.  I’m just slow.

We normally let it build up for a couple of weeks.  Linda moved the coop for her pastured egg chickens next to the compost pile and they love poking through it.  They especially go for anything with seeds in it.  It’s made a notable difference in the eggs Linda gets from her chickens, and they were already way superior to a store bought egg before they had access to the compost heap.  And yeah, the guy in front of the picture is named Einstein…

Every couple of weeks, my buddy swings by with his small tractor and dumps some wood chips from a huge pile Linda’s had aging for a couple of years onto the fruit and veggie pile, mixes it and mounds it up.

[n.b., Fat Heads: having friends who own trucks and their own tractors is way better than owning your own truck and tractor.  I also have a friend who owns a pontoon boat.  If I can find a friend who owns his own plane, I'm set!]

A few weeks later, it looks good enough to play King of the Mountain on (that’s The Grandkids, who’ve you’ve seen here before)…

That’s beautiful soil for next year’s garden beds.

Moving on, a few weeks before Tom reported their chicken house building project, I was taking delivery of 50 meat chickens and setting them up in an old construction trailer converted to a brooding house/coop at Linda’s farm.  When we first got our two cows onto Linda’s farm to pasture, I’d asked Linda about raising some meat chickens.  The original idea was to keep them on the cows’ pasture in one or two “chicken tractors” somewhat like Chareva’s chicken house, but lighter construction, and then move them around every couple of days.  Cow pies to a chicken are like Pecan Pie to us.  They scratch them up for the bugs, spread the piles better for the soil, and it drives both chicken and cow parasites nucking futs, disrupting their breeding cycles.  That’s the true Joel Salatin model, one of my favorite authors and something of an icon in the real/local food movement.

Linda’s sister, who now lives off the farm, suggested that we rehab the old construction trailer, which she’d set up as a coop a few years earlier while she lived there and kept several dozen egg layers.  The “almost done” nature of the trailer, and the late start we got made it a pretty easy decision.  Linda does the daily feeding, watering, and general keeping an eye on the chickens, I bought the chickens, buy the feed and supplies, and we’ll share the “bounty” at processing time.

I got 25 Freedom Rangers, which is a hybrid bred strictly as a meat bird.  That means they grow fast, and there’s no interest in their egg-laying capability since they get to the roaster long before they’d be ready to lay eggs.  Since they’re a hybrid, even if you kept some with the idea of hatching your own supply, they wouldn’t be the same.  Unlike America’s commodity meat chicken, the White Cornish Cross, the Freedom Rangers were developed to the French Label Rouge Free Range standard, which means they do well on pasture and aren’t plagued with the health issues common to the Cornish Cross.

The other 25 are Plymouth Barred Rocks, a heritage breed that is as close as it gets to what your grandmother might’ve had running around the farm. They free-range pretty well, and are a solid “dual purpose” bird, meaning they can be raised for meat and/or eggs. Unfortunately for this group, I’ve already got an egg supplier! Here’s what they all looked like a couple of weeks ago, at around 2 1/2 months…

They all were the same size and two days old when I got them on September 12th, but the reddish Freedom Rangers are now a full third bigger on average than the Rocks.

Although these birds are destined for the dinner table, we feel our part of the bargain means they need the opportunity to (to quote the aforementioned Joel Salatin) “express their chicken-ness.”  Keeping them in a coop (even though they’ve got lots of room) and giving them only store bought fed without ever getting to scratch for bugs in the fresh air and sunshine would just make me an extremely small scale Tyson.  Not what I’m going for.  So, on days when it’s not brutal weather, Linda lets them do just that…


If you’re in it as a business, breeding so a bird grows to processing weight (around 6-8 pounds) in about 90 days for the Freedom Rangers vs. 120 day for the Rocks means you’re buying 25% less feed and turning your inventory that much faster, too.  By comparison, the commodity market darling Cornish Cross, pathetic as they can be, are ready to process in 6-8 weeks.  So you (or a customer) has to be ready to invest twice as much time and feed to get a Freedom Ranger, and even more for a true heritage chicken.

We do now have, however, a not major but at least minor offset to the feed disadvantage.  Remember that compost pile we diverted from the Great American Waste Stream?  Well, hey, chickens were the original homestead garbage disposal…

So as we unload each delivery, Linda and I separate out as many apples, squash, ears of corn, pomegranates (boy, do they LOVE pomegranates — almost all seeds!), etc., as we can and then she gives those to the chickens in the morning before putting out any of the store bought feed.  It cuts the feed outlays almost in half!  At around $15 for a 50# bag, that adds up when they’re now at a size that they can easily go through two bags in about 4 or 5 days if they’re only getting the feed.  They’re also be happier, healthier, and should be tastier.

Now that this whole group is coming up on 90 days, we’ve decided to process a small “practice” batch of 4 or 5 of the Freedom Rangers this weekend as this is all of ours’ first experience (Besides Linda and myself, The Oldest Son and a friend from work have volunteered for duty).  We’ll probably process the rest of the Freedom Rangers the next week, and then wait a few more weeks for the Rocks to get to processing weight.  You can pay to have the birds all processed for around $1.50 each, which isn’t bad, but the time and travel cost (about 60 miles each way) make it pretty pricey for anything under a hundred or more chickens.  Another reason we committed at the beginning to processing at least the first batch of 50 birds ourselves was that, although we know it’s not something to enjoy, it seemed to be the most honest way to show our respect for the birds, and so that we’ll better appreciate what procuring our own food really means.

(I was thinking of using that experience in a later guest post, but then Tom beat me to it last week after Chareva was “hot-rodding” their chicken house around the yard!)

I know I’ve been a little wordy, but one more quick update.  The cows (Tom and Chareva are in on half of one of them) have been doing really well and growing through what up until recently has been a pretty mild Fall and Winter.  Here’s Tartare…

And this is Royale…

I’d read about an idea that’s been gaining some attention in the grass-fed beef circles — fodder. The idea is that you soak grain seeds for a day, then spread them in trays that will drain, and water them daily for about a week. Seeds only need moisture and a bit of light for the first week or so of growth, which end up around 7 to 10 times the weight of the original seed.  You’ve probably been fed fodder at some point in your life, although on the menu it’s called “sprouts.”

It’s more nutritious than hay, and cheaper since you’re getting a lot of added volume for a little water and time, so livestock can be supplemented or even fed mainly fodder over the winter and maintain or even gain weight. Linda, who’s incredibly patient with my tendency to get enthusiastic about ideas where I think of it, and then leave the most of the work to her, has got a trial system started.  You can see about half of the setup here…

Each shelf is started a day after the prior shelf of trays, so you end up with a rotating daily supply. The cows are starting to look forward to their daily ration (and the chickens go nuts over the leftovers). This means we’ll be able to wait until the end of January to get the cows processed. That’s good because although they’re already at a good weight, the custom meat processing operations pretty much shut down to anything other than deer during the December/mid-January Illinois deer hunting seasons.  This way we’ll be able to keep adding weight up to processing time.

Whew, if you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. Up next, for those of you who are interested, and fair warning if you’re not, I’ve had a major epiphany and intend to elaborate on how Obamacare could quite possibly save the entire health care system, radically improve the health of most Americans (who weren’t already among us Fat Heads, that is), supercharge the economy, and restore our liberty. I’ve even already thought up a bumper sticker:

“Let’s just get it over with –
Vote Democrat!”

Catchy, huh?


The Older Brother


Comments 32 Comments »

Here’s a holiday treat I’ll share before turning the blog over to The Older Brother for the upcoming week.  It’s eggnog I make for the girls.  (I’ve been known to enjoy a bit of it too.)

Our chickens haven’t been producing many eggs lately, so we used pasteurized eggs.  Otherwise the raw yolks would worry me.  That may be an unfounded fear, but I’d rather be cautious when feeding my kids.

Anyway, the recipe:

  • 4 eggs yolks
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • Dash of nutmeg or pumpkin spice
  • Sweeten to taste.  For me, that works out to 1/4 tsp. liquid Stevia.

Mix it up and serve.  Given the ingredients, this pretty much a meal in glass.

The girl with the eggnog mustache approved of the latest batch.


Comments 33 Comments »

When we bought our latest flock of 18 chickens, the plan was to raise some as egg-layers and some as meat birds.  As longtime city slickers, neither of us had ever butchered and processed a chicken, so we knew eventually we’d have to learn how and give it a try.

Eventually turned out to be sooner than we’d anticipated.

Chareva moved the chicken coop yesterday, and when she stepped inside afterwards to top off the supply of food and water, she discovered to her horror that two of the chickens had gotten trapped and mangled by the wire mesh.   Both had broken legs – one poor bird, in fact, had a leg torn off.  (Yes, we will be revisiting the design of the coop to figure out how to avoid a repeat incident.)  The only merciful option was to put them out of their misery.

So Chareva quickly reviewed how to process a chicken on YouTube and got to work.  (If the sight of someone killing and gutting an animal grosses you out, you’d best stop reading now.)

First she hung the birds upside down and slit their throats to bleed them out.  Then she removed the heads.

When the birds stopped moving, she dipped the bodies into a pot of hot water to loosen the feathers.  Then she hung them upside down again and started plucking.  Most of the feathers came off pretty easily.

Online videos suggest using a propane torch to remove the fine feathers.  We don’t have a propane torch, but a makeshift version seemed to do the trick.  (As we discovered later during dinner, the tiny feather shafts that remained stuck in the skin had the consistency of crispy rice.)

Next came the tricky part:  removing the organs without spilling the contents of the guts inside the carcass and ruining the meat.  Chareva worked slowly and methodically, gradually working her way through the neck and tail with small cuts until she was able to release and pull out the organs.  At this point, I was convinced she would have made a fine pioneer woman.  Nothing about the entire process fazed her.

The birds were small, so she elected to cook both of them for dinner.  She added olive oil, garlic and rosemary, then roasted them on top of some sweet potatoes from our garden.  The rosemary came from our garden as well.  Aside from the olive oil and a side of green beans, this was pretty much a farm-to-forks meal.

Like I said, the birds were small, but the flavor was excellent.  When I was a kid, I liked chicken.  As an adult, not so much.  Chicken usually tastes bland to me.  I thought my taste buds had changed, but now I’d say it’s more likely the chickens that have changed.  I don’t know what kind of chickens I ate as a kid 45 years ago, but I doubt they were factory-raised chickens pumped full of hormones. Heritage-breed chickens raised outdoors on a farm are chickens done right.

Next time, of course, the “done right” part will include butchering the chicken because it’s fully grown and ready for the oven.


Comments 55 Comments »

I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.

In addition to taking a few supplements I believe are useful (a multivitamin, CoQ10, vitamin D3) I try to remember to take fish oil for the omega-3 fats.  The other supplements sit above my bathroom sink, so unless I forget to shave or brush my teeth in the morning, I pretty much can’t miss them.  The fish oil, however, stays in the fridge, and as often as not I don’t notice it and forget.

Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with different oils in my ongoing quest to produce the perfect homemade mayonnaise.  Olive oil is okay, the bacon-grease version is pretty tasty, and the macadamia-oil version was so-so.

So I was spooning out the fish oil a few days ago, mentally complimenting the Carlson people for producing a lemon-flavored version that has zero fishy taste, and it suddenly occurred to me:  Would this stuff whip into mayo?


Since I’ve found that some oils don’t work for mayo (MTC oil, for example), I only made a small batch.  If you want to try this and make a bigger batch, just double the recipe:

One egg yolk
1/2 cup Carlson’s lemon-flavored fish oil
A squirt of brown mustard
A pinch of salt

Whip the egg yolk, mustard and salt together with a hand mixer.  Then continue to mix while slowly pouring in the oil.  Mix another minute or two until the mayo is thick.  There’s no need to add lemon because the oil is already lemon-flavored.

That’s all there is to it.  It’s not cheap mayo — the Carlson’s fish oil is on the pricey side — but since I’m already buying the stuff, I figured may as well whip it into something I can put on my sliced turkey and ham.


Comments 13 Comments »