Monday, May 10, 2010

Ramblings for this week....

MY COMPANY OF THE MONTH

Saturday I went to visit my favorite local herb lady, Jan Becker, at BECKER’S COTTAGE HERB FARM at 1118 Killian Rd (behind the Home Depot on Arlington Road). I’ve been buying my herb plants from her for several years and always find Jan to be extremely knowledgeable and friendly. She and her husband operate the farm as a part time business (I believe Jan was an accountant by profession) and they are now in what she calls “semi-retirement”.

Visiting with them is always a total immersion experience and I come away thinking that raising plants is the next best thing to sliced bread. Although I’ve been buying from them for a while, I learn something new every time I visit. This year's lessons revolved around not allowing smokers to touch your tomoato plants due to a chemical they excrete that harms the tomatoes. Who knew?

The Beckers are not only gardeners, but beekeepers as well and sell their honey locally. They also have a small flock of beautiful chickens out back that lay very lovely colored eggs that Jan sells, depending upon availability.  My menu included below also is shown with a salad from Jan's greenhouse ($2 for a good sized bag of fresh greens!).

In the past I’ve attended cooking classes at the Herb Farm where I learned about using a proliferation of herbs in my cooking. I love the idea of growing my own herbs and being able to walk out the back door and snip off a few sprigs of this or that for my dinner. It’s especially satisfying doing that with dinner guests in the house – they tend to think I’m pretty clever, plus it’s a topic of conversation when we chat about which herbs I’m using for our meal and why.

Beckers is only open at their location until mid-June when she closes to the public. You can find them selling their honey, some plants and fresh cut flowers at the Barberton and Springfield Township Farm Markets throughout the summer.

Please put this business on your personal list of places to support with your dollars. Not only will you get some wonderful products but if you take the time to ask questions you’ll gain a lot of knowledge at the same time.

MY OWN PERSONAL FOOD JOURNEY

Recently I was diagnosed (if that’s the correct term for this) with Fibromyalgia. After being tested for arthritis, lupus, gout, and some other things I cannot recall, most tests came back as fine and so the diagnosis of elimination was Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia syndrome affects the muscles and soft tissue. Symptoms include chronic pain in the muscles, fatigue, sleep problems, and painful tender points or trigger points at certain parts of the body. There are no real tests to tell you this is what you have, it’s a “syndrome”, not a disease.

It’s also frustrating because, since there is no disease, there is no treatment. It’s something you simply live with. What I have learned is that there are many more people diagnosed with this syndrome than ever before. Not to mention the proliferation of things like Autism, real diseases like cancer, and the obesity issues facing our society as a whole. When you really stop and think about it, doesn’t it make sense that our food supply may have a huge part to play in all of this?

Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the foods I eat. Not so much WHAT I eat, as in shall I go out to dinner for ribs or stay home and cook pasta, but more about what goes into the making of the foods I choose to eat.

I had lunch with two friends last week and one made the statement that she’s been considering “going vegetarian” and the other chimed in saying she’s been considering the same thing. After a lively conversation I came to the conclusion that neither of them was really concerned so much about what they were doing for themselves with a diet change from omnivore to vegetarian, but more about making a personal statement about how food, both animal and vegetable, actually gets to our table and what that food might be doing to us as consumers.

We’re all becoming more aware these days about the role of agriculture in our society, and how big business is feeding us. Certainly the vast majority of us don’t know the names of the farmers that provide our food, sometimes not even the country of it’s origin. Chemicals on our vegetables used as pesticides, less-than-humane treatment of farm and dairy animals, the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in all of our food chain, pollution of our waterways where our seafood originates, all should be leading us to examine where our food comes from and how it gets to us.

Last summer I went through a phase where I learned quite a bit about how beef, pork and chicken are raised and marketed in the United States. Frankly it was quite disturbing and has lead me to eat quite a bit less meat overall and to think more deeply about where what I do buy originates.

Certainly the two ladies I lunched with are thinking over their own personal situations. What we determined that day was that this is a complex and difficult subject to comprehend. No doubt there is a lot of misinformation out there as well as a lack of some things we should know. As for myself, I’m a committed omnivore and won’t likely give that up anytime soon. What I WILL do, for myself and my environment, is keep trying to learn as much as I can about what I eat and how it gets to me.

And in order to “live with” my fibromyalgia symptoms a little better I will be trying to make some lifestyle changes. OK, make that WILL be making changes. As Yoda says, “there is no try, there is only do.”

My TO DO list for now:
  • More walking in those horribly ugly walking shoes I bought last summer.
  • More learning about chemicals in my food supply and attempting to eliminate them for myself.
  • More cooking at home so I can better control my diet.
  • More use of whole grains in the foods I make at home.
  • Try to get to know where my food comes from by buying as much locally as possible.
SO...A LITTLE SOMETHING TO DO WITH MY NEW HERBS
Friday night I attended the Akron/Canton Alzheimer's Forget-Me-Not Gala fundraiser. I also had some of my favorite people lending a helping hand with their auction and check out, reminding me all to clearly of my Single Volunteer days.

My friend Grant was an award recipient that evening and I dined at his table with him, his family and co-workers.
He spoke briefly about his Mother's journey through this disease and of some of the trials the family endured before she passed away last spring after living with Alzheimer's for 20 long years. It's a very sad, discouraging disease that affects the entire family at it's very core, first by ripping out memories by their very roots, then finally taking your loved one entirely. I've volunteered for these fundraisers for several years and listening to story after story about these families never gets any easier.

On the bright side of the evening, I did have a pretty mediocor meal served by the Fairlawn Country Club. The BEST part of the meal was the little cheddar biscuits served with dinner. They were very similar to the Cheddar Bay biscuits served at Red Lobster (if I recall correctly since I haven't set foot in one of these restaurants in well over 15 years) but were made especially delicious and aromatic with the addition of fresh thyme.

So I came home tonight after work and decided to replicate these little bundles of cheesy flakiness. Pretty handy since I brought home a couple of thyme plants over the weekend! Poor little dears aren't even in the ground yet and I stripped them of some of their delicate little leaves. All to a good cause since these turned out just as fragrant and wonderful as those I ate on Friday night at the country club!

CHEDDAR THYME BISCUITS
makes 6 biscuits

1 cups flour
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese (about 1 ounces)
1/2 cup buttermilk

    Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper (if parchment paper isn’t available, use an ungreased baking sheet).
    Combine flour, thyme, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl or a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to combine. Add cold butter and cheese and pulse until it forms small tapioca sized beads.
    Add the buttermilk and pulse mixture just until a sticky dough forms. Using floured hands, roll the dough into 6 rough balls and place them 1 to 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and a little crusty, 15-17 minutes. Serve warm.

With my biscuits I made myself a chicken cutlet and a green salad. Substitute almost any herb for the thyme in either of these recipes and you'd have an entirely different meal. Rosemary would be wonderful as would dill. Yum!
 
PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN CUTLET WITH MAPLE-MUSTARD THYME SAUCE

1 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast cutlet
Salt and pepper to season
Cooking spray
1 tablespoon chopped red onion
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Water as needed
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon grated orange rind

Place each chicken breast half between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap; pound each to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet or small heavy skillet. Sprinkle chicken evenly with salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add chicken to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from pan.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to pan; cook 1 minute. Add syrup and remaining ingredients; cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated, stirring frequently. Serve sauce with chicken.

Nutritional Information Calories:287

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