Monday, August 10, 2009

Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?

I grew up knowing where a lot of my food came from. My dad was a small-scale farmer who raised his own beef, pork, chicken, turkey, ducks and geese. We often came to the dinner table asking, not what was for dinner, but “who was for dinner?”

I know, I know...sounds nasty, but I always named them...all the animals we had, had to have names. I was about 10 then and had just read Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little and The Cricket in Times Square, so what was I to do? These animals were part of my life regardless of how short theirs was, they were my friends and family. It was hard to eat them and how I did it is beyond me, except to say there were some animals that were mainstays and we didn't get rid of them, we had them for a purpose.

Charlotte and Wilbur (see, there's a real influence, huh?) were our pigs that were used for breeding. Momma Cow was the beautiful Angus heifer my father raised from about eight months old and scared the hell out of me. Angus are black and we got her in winter...from all the Ferdinand cartoons, she always looked ready to charge with the steam coming from her nose and her front hooves scratching on the ground. Media influence is a stickler, don't you think?

We had a small garden and put up tomatoes, beans and other vegetables in the freezer for winter. Sometimes it was my job to label things or husk corn or maybe cut it off the cob if I was careful. My mother and grandmother took the task on. My mother, not one fond of cooking wasn’t exactly keen on this ‘back to the earth’ or ‘back to the pioneer days’ as she sometimes called it. But, since it was my father’s dream and it ultimately saved money, especially the animals raised for meat, she went along with it and with gusto.

As an adult, I’m a vegetarian. Not because of seeing so much meat as a child or losing the friends I romped with in the field to my dinner plate, but because of factory farming, over-use of antibiotics and the overall treatment of farm animals for food and lack of laws pertaining to domestic animals and their treatment.

I had to reconcile my childhood eating habits and came to realize that my father took great care of our cattle. He’d purchase a small calf and on many occasions would lose one due to how early they took these little things away from their mothers. He would, however, spend money on antibiotics for acute illnesses and special milk replacement and often called in the vet to check them out.

One young bull he purchased had a broken leg. He must have gotten a bargain at the auction that day. He brought Bozo home and set the leg. And reset it, and set it again. Finally calling in the vet for an X-ray and seeing if there was any way to get him stronger and fix the leg. After months of work and treating him tenderly, he finally was allowed to run and play in the field.

My father took care of his animals. They saw sunshine, had fresh water, good feed and sweet grass to eat. They even had love. He gave them the best life as possible for animals who would eventually be our dinner.

Today, I don’t eat meat, but also don’t criticize anyone who does. It’s all about choices. I don’t preach or get on my soapbox unless you call me on it and truly wish to know why I don’t eat meat. I encourage more vegetable and fruit consumption and try to make great veggie foods that often help convince people that meat doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of a meal.

I do however; enjoy seafood and shellfish, cheese, milk and eggs, which gets me to the point here.
A friend in town has access to a pair of goats her aunt has on her farm and they get milked each day. She makes goat’s milk ricotta and it is wonderful.

The other night I had no plans for it, but did have a spaghetti squash sitting on the counter, so poked a few holes in it and tossed into the microwave for about 30 minutes and went up to my barn to feed my own animals.

Once back from the barn, I had to make an assessment. No tomato sauce in a jar, but I did have diced tomatoes in the can. No mozzarella, but there was some sliced provolone and grated parmesan in the fridge. A little onions and garlic with the tomatoes in a saucepan and a splash of olive oil to start a sauté while I took the spaghetti squash out of its shell and I’d have dinner in a casserole dish in a jiff.

In a separate bowl I combined the ricotta and a couple of my chicken’s little eggs and added that to the spaghetti squash and topped it with the tomatoes and some parmesan cheese. Put it in a casserole dish and lay the sliced provolone on top. Baked at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes and let it rest for about 10 more minutes.

Granted it wasn’t the prettiest of casseroles, but it was really, really tasty. Had an excellent body and held together thanks to the ricotta and the eggs. A day or so later, Joanne and I took it for lunch and those ingredients melded together beautifully and it tasted even better.

Thanks Sylvia and Suzie! Check them out!

Still have some ricotta left and thinking of what to make later this week!

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