Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bringing Home the Bacon



We all know that bacon is full of nitrates and nitrites that are known to cause cancer yet bacon continues to be one of our most popular meats. We eat million of tons of it each year with no end in sight.

Bacon is served on almost every breakfast sandwich and on fast food galore. Nearly every salad you get these days has bacon crumbled on top.

Nitrites and nitrites are added to pork as part of the curing process that turns it into bacon. These additives are not necessary to make bacon but are actually preservatives used to extend bacon's shelf life so it can be shipped great distances and stay in grocery store display cases without spoiling.

Nitrates and nitrites are permitted in bacon because it's felt that the risk of food poisioning outweighs the risk of cancer.

But here's the thing. We're eating more bacon than ever before so we're getting more nitrates and nitrites than is generally acceptable. Plus nitrates and nitrites are used in other foods, too, like hot dogs, smoked sausage and ham so they all add up.


What to do about nitrates and nitrites in bacon

Read package labels and choose bacon that is free of nitrates and nitrites. They're readily available from local and region producers.

Not available? Ask your grocery store to stock it. It's out there and it's about the same price as the nitrate and nitrite laced stuff.

Nitrate and nitrite free bacon is not as red and will be slightly browner in color.

Often, there's less fat which is means the bacon will be more meaty (and that's a good thing!) so be sure to cook it at very low heat until the fat can render.

You probably won't notice much, if any difference in taste but you body will thank you.

One good regional brand of nitrate and nitrite free bacon is from:
Meadow Run Farm
Distributed by
John F. Martin & Sons, Inc.
PO Box 137
Stevens, PA 17578

It's available at the Farmer's Wife in Remington, VA

http://www.thefarmerswifemarket.com/


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Valentine's Day - Family Friendly Ideas




Valentine's Day is not just a day for lovers but a day for all those you love.

Here's some simply ideas for reminding our family and friends that they are loved.

1. Make pancakes in heart shapes by placing 2 tablespoons of batter in a "V" shape with the bottom of the V slightly over lapping. Quickly, before the batter has a chance to set, use the tip of a spoon to round out the tops to make a heart.

Two tablespoons of batter (one tablespoon for each side of the V) makes a 3 inch pancake.

2. Cut sandwiches into heart shapes using a cooke cutter.

3. Put a piece of parchment or waxed paper onto a cookie sheeet. Drizzle some melted chocolate into 1 inch heart shapes. Chill briefly to set. Use chocolate hearts to top ice cream, frosted cup cakes, fruit salad or yogurt.

4. Tint vanilla frosting pink with marachino cherry juice and use to sandwich 2 heart shaped cookies together.

5. Using a cookie cutter, cut heart shapes out of bread. Toast. Serve for breakfast buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

6. Don't forget you beloved pets!

Make extra toast hearts (skipping the butter and cinnamon sugar) for your dogs. Be sure to let the toast hearts cool to room temperature.

Take an apple or carrot to your horse.

Cats can be finicky but you might try shaping their moist food into a heart shape or give them a little extra cat grass.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Quick and Easy Fish Meals for Lent

Here's some quick, meatless meals for Lent - but they all make easy dinner party fare, too.
And fish is something we should all be eating more of anyway.

None of these ideas requires specific measurements.

Poached Orange Salmon: Put about 1/2 an inch of orange juice into a frying pan. Add salmon fillets. Thinly slice your favorite vegetable (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash or whole snow peas are all nice). Cover and cook over low until salmon flakes easily - about 10 minutes according to thickness. Serve over rice spooning some of the pan juices over the top.

Salsa Fish
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Pour (to taste) your favorite salsa over the top. Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Serve over rice or pasta, spooning some of the pan juices over the top. Some fresh fruit (particularly mango, pineapple or papaya) would be nice with this.

Italian Fish Parmesean
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Pour (to taste) your favorite thick pasta sauce over top. Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over top of the cooked fish and replace cover. Cook until cheese melts - a minute or so. Serve over cooked pasta, spooning some of sauce over the top. Add a salad or some broccoli sauteed with garlic and olive oil to round things out.

Fish Florentine
Put about 1/4 inch of water, vegetable broth or white wine into a frying pan. Add you favorite skinless, mild white fish (like flounder, haddock, cod or tilapia). Cover and cook on low till fish flakes - about 10 minutes according to thickness of the fish. Remove fish and keep warm. Put a few handfuls of fresh spinach into the pan juices. Cover and steam briefly - about a minute. Serve cooked fish on a bed of the steamed spinach. Sprinkle with some bread crumbs to garnish.
Carrots or steamed mushrooms and rice would be nice with this.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Giving Up Things For Lent

I've never been really good at giving up things for Lent.

Oh, I was better at it when I was young. Easter Sunday was always a testament to my fortitude and stick with-it-ness.

Now that I'm older, giving up things for Lent just leads me to a dismal sense of failure. My good intentions evaporate after only a few hours of resolve.

But last year, I had an epiphany.

I came to the realization that my whole life was about giving stuff up. I routinely gave up cake, ice cream and candy. I gave up over spending and using my credit card. I gave up impulse buying, eating saturated fat, staying up late, high heeled shoes and jumbo lattes with extra cream.

So I asked myself what there was left to give up for lent. The only thing left, I surmised, was to don sack cloth and rummage around with a begging bowl.

Then came the epiphany.

Instead of giving up something for Lent, I would DO something for Lent.

What a freeing moment that was.

Each day, I did a little something - not much, just a little something more than I typically did.
I walked the dog five minutes longer.
Picked up the cat when she wrapped herself around my legs and gave her a nuzzle.
I vacuumed my husband's car, weeded a flower bed I had been avoiding, sorted my old books and took a bag to the library re-sale shop. I even called an elderly aunt who was difficult to talk to.

By Lent's end, I felt re-born.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tips to Cut Rising Food Costs

Bill Walsh, Executive Editor of the Fauquier Times-Democrat Weekender, wrote a column in the Friday, February 1, 2008 issue about the escalating cost of groceries. His column is called Food for Thought.

Here's some tips to help you get your food dollar under control.

1. Weight the cost of home made vs. convenience foods.
Convenience costs money. The closer you stay to basic, from scratch ingredients, the better.

2. Shop less and you'll spend less.
If you normally shop once a week for food and spend $100 each time, shop every 10 days - 2 weeks instead.

You won't spend $200. More likely, you'll spend $150-175. The reason is you'll buy less impulse and snack foods. Plus you'll save on gas and the drudgery of grocery shopping.

3. Shop on Tuesdays.
Tuesday is the day that grocery stores are the least likely to be crowded. You'll have the whole place to yourself and the check out lines will be short.

When you're not stressed, there's less pressure and you'll make better choices.

4. Shop the top and bottom of the shelves.
Eye and thigh level is premium space in grocery stores. Eye level tempts you. Thigh level tempts your children.

Manufacturers pay grocery stores to display their products at eye and thigh levels.

In general, above eye level (on the higher shelves) you'll usually find smaller and local start up company products. Below thigh level, you'll find bulk and store brands.

5. Buy what's on sale.
Be flexible. Don't plan to serve salmon when chicken is on sale. Take advantage of price reductions.

6. Make the high mark up foods from scratch.
Soups, salad dressings, stews, cakes, cookies and deli salads are all high profit foods for the manufacturers. This means that the cost of the ingredients is a fraction of what they can charge.

With a little practice and a good cook book, you can make these better, cheaper and healthier.

When you have these foods under control, invest in a bread machine and make your own bread. Paying $5.00 for a loaf of bread - especially when you family eats 2, 3 or more loaves of bread a week is a real budget buster!

7. Never waste food.
Limp veggies go into soup. Left over stew goes into the freezer for a day when there's no time to cook. The bones from Sunday's roast chicken becomes stock. Dried bread becomes crumbs.

8. Don't buy soda.
Soda is a treat - a dessert, actually. Soda is NEVER a beverage. Soda is an empty calorie "food" that cost a fortune. Serve soda only on special occassions.

9. Concentrate on good health.
Buy good quality, fresh foods from local sources (whenever possible). It will taste better and feed you body the nutrients it needs. You'll have better health and will spend less on medical care.

10. Skip the junk.
Chips, dips, lunch meats, hot dogs, smoked sausage, white flour products, packaged cereals, prepared frozen meals.... I could go on and on.

All these foods may be fun to eat but they're horribly expensive when you consider the amount of food value they contain. Plus they are full of preservatives, nitrates, sugar and fillers.

Read lables carefully. Compare foods. Stick with fresh and local whenever possible.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Green Housekeeping - Spruce Up For Spring

Is Your House Making You Sick?

It's an icy day here at Cheesecake Farms. Too cold and damp to work outside so I thought it would be a good day to work inside.

Our fireplaces are roaring brightly, giving off their loving warmth.

What's on my mind this morning is my (our - and hopefully your) continuing quest to live as healthfully as possible in our ever changing, ever urbanizing, ever polluted world.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not about to give up central heating and my truck but there's a lot we can do to insure that we take the best of what modern life has to offer tempered by an understanding of the basic principles of nature.

This is a good kind of day to spruce up (or plan on sprucing up) you house for spring.

As you're sprucing (or planning to spruce), consider whether you're adding toxic chemicals to your home environment.

1. Cleaning products.
All commercially available cleaning products are based on ammonia, baking soda, soap, vinegar (or lemon juice), salt and alcohol.

Why pay a fortune for commercial products that also contain fragrance, colorings and a host of other chemicals when you can "clean green" for a fraction of the cost?

2. Laundry detergents and additives.
There are a lot of fragrance and coloring free products on the markets these days but unfortunately they cost more. (Shouldn't they cost less because they have less stuff in them?)

Some work better than others (it's a function of the water in your area) but they're worth a try. Get a small box at first to see if you like them.

Try to give up fabric softeners and drier sheets and instead add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of cheap, white vinegar to your rinse water. It will naturally soften your clothes and towels without adding fragrance (no vinegar smell either!) plus your 100% cotton towels will absorb better.

3. Room freshners.
Adding lots of synthetic frangrances to the air will make you sick and allergies get worse.

A great, cheap trick to freshen a musty, cigarette or pet smelling room is to pour about an inch of cheap white vinegar into a 4-6 inch bowl and leave it to evaporate for a day or two. (Keeping the door closed speeds up things.) NO vinegar smell will remain - just fresh air.

4. Paint.
Always choose indoor paint for indoor jobs. They have less additives and give off less toxic chemicals as they dry. There are also new "green" paints on the market.

Whatever paint you use, crack open a window and shut the door when you're done to chase away the fumes even faster.

5. Carpet and Throw Rugs.
Polypropylene gives off a "cheap carpet" smell that never seems to go away. These fumes cause headaches and migraines in addition to upset stomachs and vomiting.

Wool and cotton are great, of course, but a good, inexpensive carpet is that old stand by - nylon. Wears well. Can be washed. Colors stay true. No smell.

Nylon carpet has some draw backs (but so do wool and cotton). It isn't absorbent and you'll get static shock if your house has a dry heat instead of steam.

Before you carpet a whole room, get a 100% nylon throw rug and give it a try.


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