Sunday, June 26, 2011

I'm the Smoothie Queen

If you are looking for a fun way to get more fruits and veggies into your family's diet, try this base recipe for any tasty smoothie:

1 cup of yogurt (any flavor)
3/4 cup orange juice
1 to 3 servings of fruit or veggies (the orange juice cuts the taste of most anything green)
Blend on high for 30 to 60 seconds

Okay, I really don't measure the orange juice. I just pour it in to get the consistency I want. I use the above when I am making smoothies for just myself, but will double it for me and my two kiddos.

I have really become a fan of Greek yogurt recently because of its high protein content. I have even cut the sugar by using the plain yogurt when making my smoothies. The sugar in the fruit and and orange juice are more than enough for me. If you need a little more sweetness, I would suggest using stevia or splenda.
HOWEVER, if you are using Greek yogurt, do not add milk. Greek yogurt tends to be much firmer than regular yogurt. I don't know what the ingredient is that sets up the yogurt, but it will do the same to the milk you add. I did this to thin out the ingredients, and within minutes it was a big glob of curdled, fruity goo.

My favorite smoothie contains half of a banana, 2 to 3 big strawberries, and a handful of blueberries. I rarely remove the green leafy tops from the strawberries - a little more green stuff never hurts. I have also used mangos with the skin on (just cut it up small since the skin is pretty tough), apples (leave skin on) and blackberries. As far as veggies, I have added carrots, yellow squash and zuccini, though never at the same time. If I get brave enough to add broccoli or cauliflower, I'll let you know how it tastes.

We most often make smoothies for breakfast (paired with eggs or toast with peanut butter) or for an afternoon snack. Not too long ago, we made them for dinner following a really big lunch.

If you have a really good smoothe recipe, please share.

Follow me on or

A new look at Roundup – activism group says it leads to birth defects

This Huffington Post story about the Monsanto weed killer Roundup has generated a lot of buzz over the weekend; nearly 6,000 have provided comments from different points of view.

A group called Earth Open Source compiled several studies that found adverse effects of the primary Roundup ingredient glyphosate in lab animals and is calling for a closer look by regulatory agencies.

Did the article change my mind on whether or not I believe our food supply is safe? Not yet.

The reporter says the group is pulling results from a few studies out of a huge pool of research studies to make these claims. One research study they noted was based in Argentina following a high occurrence of malformations and birth defects in humans following increased usage of the product in their agricultural sector. While I can’t say whether or not the study was flawed in any way, I know hundreds of American farm families using the product, and I am not aware of any instance of increased birth defects within our agricultural community. This could be due to our high level of regulation and our farmers attention to following guidelines. I would expect farm families would stop the use of the product immediately if they thought their health or the health of their children would be compromised.

The most intriguing part of the article was about the research conducted by Purdue University plant pathologist Don Huber. His research suggests that genetically modified crops produced with the application of Roundup contain a bacteria that may cause animal miscarriages. Huber did say that his research was inconclusive and further study is needed.

Question: is the presence of this bacterium exclusively found in the genetically-modified/Roundup production system? Having worked in the ag industry, I am very aware that plant pathogens are a real concern for farmers, causing severe financial loss. Food processors will not purchase contaminated grain. I would expect that if the use of glyphosate causes plants to be more prone to disease, farmers would no longer use the product. But I guess I also need to ask if feed mills and food processors are testing for the presence of this bacterium. I think I will keep my eye on this one.

The conversation circles back to my views on organic versus conventional food. As the population is surging, fewer people are willing to produce the food, and less land is available to grow that food, the use of genetically-modified crops and pesticides are inevitable. Do I wish that they were not needed? Of course. But I don’t see the folks reviewing the products deemed “safe” secretly eating other food. If you are out there, please let me know. I will then turn to a life of growing all of my own food, but will most likely hope to have a bottle of Roundup close by as the weeds in my neck of the woods are totally obnoxious.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The ups and downs of having a farmer father

This past Father’s Day I invited my dad to dinner to show him how much I appreciate him. When I made the “Father’s Day” call, he told me that he would try to be there, but it depended on if he was able to empty the manure spreader and/or if he was not going to cut hay that day.

What? He may not come so he can do chores? It surprised me more that I was a little disappointed, since the conversation has been a pretty familiar one over the years.

I know full well what it means to have a business tied to animals. My suburban, horse-crazy mother made sure to find a husband that shared her equine interests. The year they were married, they purchased 9 acres with a run-down house and an area that looked like a riding arena, and that was the start of it all. Nearly 30 years later, their farm has evolved into a home for more than 30 horses, and a wonderful recreational/sporting retreat for hundreds of horse fans. But even in the beginning, with a few chickens, rabbits, goats and our first few horses, the rules were presented to us as if from the Mount: the animals eat before you do, and they get taken care of before you rest or play.

The upside to this is that we were taught responsibility at an early age. I had farm chores ever since I can remember, and I got in trouble quite a bit because they were not attended to with the upmost satisfaction. As we and the operation grew, so did the responsibility. We mucked horse stalls daily, packed water and brought in the hay. The fact that we were girls made no difference. As soon as little sister was old enough to guide the tractor and wagon, my older sister and I took our turn throwing hay. As hard as it was, I was pretty proud of my muscles.

Hay harvest usually occurred in May and June and again in the fall. Occasionally we would harvest three times during a year if we had great growing weather. I knew that my dad would always be “on call” at these times of the year, and I remember several school functions where he could not attend – awards ceremonies, games and concerts. Graduations were even tough for him to attend, but I knew he was working to take care of the operation and his family. Did I mention that he also had an off-the-farm full time job up until about 15 years ago?

Back to Father’s Day - I cooked all day, and at about 6 p.m., my mom called and said the manure spreader had broken. Knowing this is a vital piece of equipment, I figured my dinner plans were over; Dad is also the “fix it” man.

But all was not lost. I began thinking about how my life was shaped because of my father’s dedication to his family. He works endless hours every day to make sure my Mom is happy and the business is successful. He taught me that you pave your own way, you don’t stand with your hand out, “smart” doesn’t come from a book, and a man with soft, manicured hands is just about useless. Dad still deserved that dinner, so I packed up the food and the family, and we took it to him.

Even though life on the farm did not allow my father to stand beside us a lot of the time, he was, and still is always behind us. Thanks, Dad! I appreciate you so much!

Follow me on Facebook at or on Twitter at

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eden's Chicken Chronicles - Part 1

My 8-year-old daughter wanted to start a scrapbook to chronicle her experiences with her new chickens, but I suggested that she write about it and share it with others. Our journey has been quite comical, and one sure to remember!

Hi, my name is Eden! I am going to start blogging about my chickens, and so I can remember, I am also going to make a scrapbook about them. I am going to tell you about my experiences with my chickens.

When I got my chickens, I saw a box with the word “egg” on it, so I was expecting one baby chick. I was surprised when I saw about 100 baby chicks. Mommy said there were 74; I loved them all. One of the baby chicks almost didn’t survive because it was cold. My mommy and I went to get to get a heat light and food at Tractor Supply and Feeder’s Supply. Amazingly, the chick did survive.

The chicks lived in the tack room of the barn in two rabbit cages. One day me and mommy noticed one of the chicks had something stuck to his bottom. It was part of an egg shell. Mommy tried to pull it off, but she pulled its feathers off with it. Then we took it up to the house and gave it a warm bath so we could get off the egg shell. A wet chick looks very funny. It was the smallest chick, so I named it Teeny. This one was my favorite.

As the chicks grew, we had to move them into more cages. We had two dog crates that we used, but had to have daddy put wire around the cages because they were small enough to fit through the bars.

When the chicks grew some more, we moved them to a horse stall. We soon realized we had too many when they started eating each other. (NOTE: Mommy says she realized we had too many the moment she counted them all.) We tried to give them fruits and vegetables to peck on. They really like watermelon and corn on the cob. But don’t give them onion or potato skins because those can be toxic. We put tree branches in the stall, too. They like to climb on the branches.

Even though we tried to make them happy, we found a dead chicken yesterday. I think it died from cannibalism. We decided we had to give most of them away. We also found a chicken with a big puffy neck and he acted like he was having trouble swallowing. My mommy and daddy thought it was a big tumor. They thought it would be best to get rid of him, so we took him and another hurt chicken out to the woods. I cried, but I figured they would die anyway.

Earlier today, my daddy said the two chickens we put in the woods were still there, so mommy told him to take them some food and water. Mommy went to check on them later and the tumor was gone. We figured out that the chicken’s crop was probably full of food. We decided to keep these chickens. Their names are now Lucky and Lucy.
We have another chicken that really likes mommy and me. We named him Fred which sounds like friend, because he is friendly. We are keeping him, too. We are keeping 15 chickens in all – 2 roosters and 13 hens. A man came and picked up about 40 of the chickens this afternoon. Someone else will get the ones we aren’t keeping tomorrow.

I really enjoy having chickens. If you think it sounds really fun, because it is, you should go and buy some. But it’s really expensive. That’s the main reason why we had to get rid of most of ours.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Agriculture’s Worst Enemies May Be Farmers

Even with all of the challenges farmers face such as weather, market prices, disease, and pests, I am convinced the agriculture industry’s worst enemies are farmers themselves. This thought occurred to me because of a conversation I had this weekend.

I recently received some chickens to produce my own eggs. I didn’t do this to save money, which so far is quite the contrary, or because I don’t feel the eggs at the grocery are bad. I did it to show my children that we can be more self-sufficient. While I have read many online posts and books on raising chickens, I still have many questions. So, I found myself another “backyard” chicken farmer to ask questions about coops and how to tell the difference between the pullets and the cockerels at a young age. Other people were around, and the conversation turned into processing the chickens for meat and the quality of eggs.

This particular farmer said she thought the eggs from backyard chickens tasted better than commercially-produced eggs. Another chicken enthusiast chimed in that she thought they tasted exactly the same, but there was an obvious difference in the color of the yolks. The farmer then said that the chickens and eggs from small operations were better because they are free of steroids and hormones.

I had a “now, wait a minute” moment. I said, “I am 100% positive that steroid and hormone use is prohibited in poultry production, and it has been since 1954.” She responded that big chicken farmers still use them anyway.

You can see how consumers can be thoroughly confused and misled. Does this woman think she is really stating a fact, or is this just a case of opportunistic marketing? Knowing first hand that small chicken and egg production takes some time and money, are some small-operation farmers trying to justify to their customers that they should pay a premium by saying the commercially-produced food is somehow tainted?

This was not my first conversation of this kind. I was witness to a similar comment with regards to the beef industry. A niche-market beef producer insisted that just because law states animals must be antibiotic free before entering the food supply, many farmers don’t follow those rules. Again, I thought that this was a marketing tactic, and unfortunately it is ruining consumer confidence.

I can go on. We all know the damage done to the industry by terrible cases of livestock abuse or chemical abuse. If just one farm is a bad actor, the entire industry gets a black eye and is sentenced with increased regulations and rules that significantly impact everyone involved.

I try to look at it this way: Do we automatically think all parents are bad parents when one abuses their children? Of course not! So why is it that farmers have to spend so much time defending themselves these days to convince consumers that this is not the way the majority of them do business?

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to work with a number of farmers from all size operations and see daily business first hand, which helps me filter a lot of the rotten information I hear about food production.

But who are consumers supposed to believe? This is one issue in which I would love to get feedback from our good farmers!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I Give the New USDA Dietary Guidelines a C Minus

While I applaud the USDA for trying to make their new dietary guidelines, which can be found at, much simpler for a “growing” population, I think this new approach is just too dumbed-down for my taste. In fact, it made me ask more questions:

1 – What size is the plate? 9 inches or 12 inches? Does it depend on the size, age and activity level of the person?

2 – Where do foods like nuts and dry beans fall? Should a starchy potato be considered a vegetable? And what about sweet corn? Technically it’s a grain, but most people treat it as a vegetable. Does a salad covered in cheese, bacon bits and Ranch dressing count as my “vegetable?”

3 – How much fat should you consume, and what types of foods should it come from?

4 – Are all of these foods really necessary three times a day?

My feeling is that this simple rendition of a “meal” could be misinterpreted by many people to “fit” what they like. It would be very easy to have a large plate filled with fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, apple pie and a big scoop of ice cream. Based on the guidelines, this meal meets the criteria.

Therefore, as I am not the kind of person to just criticize without offering solutions, I am developing my own guidelines for myself and my family:

ALL of our calories should be guilt free! I will always feel confident in the food I provide my family. Treats are okay some of the time, and they should be enjoyed. We designate 1 day a week as “dessert day” and have something really yummy.

MOST of our calories should come from “whole foods,” that is foods that come as they are straight from nature. This leaves some room for breads, pastas, cereals (which I also try to make sure most are whole grain) and processed dairy like cheese and yogurt.

SOME of our calories should come from a variety of plant-based foods, and SOME of our calories should come from animal-based foods. I try to get a lot of variety in our diet. As far as plant foods, we eat foods every color of the rainbow and all kinds: grains, nuts, legumes, leafy, cruciferous, fruits, roots, etc. I also try to vary our meat choices. I will rarely cook chicken two days in a row. I’m an equal opportunity animal consumer.

FEW of our meals should come from restaurants. I want most of our food to be cooked and eaten at home, 1) because I know I can do better than most restaurants (at least the ones I can easily afford), 2) it allows us to better appreciate our food, and 3) I know the ingredients used.

Yes, this is also a simple approach and does not address age, activity level and dietary needs, but that is something people need to go over with a dietician or health care provider. I am convinced there is not a one-size fits all plan. Aside from talking with our doctor, it may come down to good old trial and error.

Again, I am thankful that our government is trying to watch out for our health, but I wonder if the MyPlate approach is really going to change the eating habits of those that need it the most. Good luck, Mrs. Obama.

Interested in more? Follow me on Facebook at or on Twitter at
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...