Monday, February 28, 2011

Spinach Feta Rolls

It's been strangely cold for Bellingham, even snowy, with arctic winds and multiple winter weather advisories and warnings in the past two weeks. Ross thinks everyone is totally overreacting (he is from MN after all). For me, this weather means I am all over making homemade soups - which are complemented, of course, by homemade bread!

This week I made Spinach Feta rolls.

For 12 rolls you need:

½ cup packed, cooked spinach (steamed, boiled, chopped; frozen or fresh)
½ cup feta cheese
1½ cups warm water
1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon yeast
½ Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
3¼ cups flour (I mixed half whole wheat and half unbleached white)
Cornmeal for the pan

 Put the yeast, salt, sugar, spinach, and feta into a large bowl. I would recommending breaking up the feta chunks so they are smaller.

Pour in the warm water and stir to mix well.

Then pour in the flour all at once, mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Cover (not airtight) and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours, then store overnight in the fridge. Or, if you would like to bake it right away, then do so! 

When you are ready to bake, coat your hands in flour and sprinkle a generous amount of flour into the counter. Take out about half of the dough and break it into 6 even portions, rolling them into nice, even balls, coating in flour. When formed, lay them on a pan with cornmeal sprinkled on it to prevent the rolls from sticking. 

Let them rise for 40 minutes if you refrigerated them, 20 minutes if you are baking right away.

While they are rising you can slash the dough - I found that using a serrated knife worked much better than the smooth parry knife I was using. Live and learn!

Some solid advice from my cousin-in-law Blake on slashing bread: "the cuts in the dough make the bread attractive looking, but they serve a function as well. The cuts in the dough give the bread a place to relieve the tension in a controlled way. My technique is to cut once after shaping and before rising, and again after the dough has risen and before baking. The first cut is so that the dough rises in the shape you want. the dough will "fill in" those cuts while rising, so I cut it a second time before baking so that when the loaf is in the oven, it does not tear apart. I have learned to avoid letting the cuts touch each other, ie in a cross pattern or something, because the "point" formed at the intersection burns in the oven. Also you might want to try cutting a little deeper; when the bread rises it will fill in those cuts." 

I followed that advice with these rolls - and it seems to work very well! 

Bake them in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 450°F; pour some boiling water in a pie tin and place it in the oven when you put the rolls in.

Still not perfect - you can see the tear in the roll on the far right side of the picture.

Honestly... they were good rolls, but the spinach and feta didn't really come through as distinctly as I would have hoped. I think next time I might increase the amount, though it is, after all, a roll. Ross told me that if I wanted to taste the spinach I should just eat spinach, and the same for feta. Well, isn't he just a smarty pants.

And how about a simple soup recipe for anyone still suffering from the we-are-almost-getting-to-the-end-of-winter-no-more-snow-I'm-sick-of-it syndrome. No, we haven't had enough snow here to complain, but my mother-in-law back in the Twin Cities is ready for Spring!

Tortellini Soup - mostly from the Fix-it and Enjoy-it 5 Ingredient cook book. It is a pretty good cookbook, and was great when I was first getting into cooking, but it does not quick meet my desired level of challenge anymore. However, this recipe is a favorite soup of ours!

I've adapted the recipe a bit, and this is how I make the soup (see, more than 5 ingredients): 

1 medium onion, chopped 
1 red bell pepper, chopped 
2 or 3 garlic gloves, minced
2 Tablespoons oil to sauté  
1 28oz can diced tomatoes 
1 32oz box of vegetable stock 
3 cups water 
16oz of tortellini 
2 cups of fresh or frozen chopped spinach 
spices and herbs: oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper 

 Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic in the pot until tender. To keep the garlic from burning, you can add it in after a few minutes.  (Yeah, we didn't have the bell pepper, so we went without)

Then add in the stock, water, and canned tomatoes.  Bring to a bowl and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender enough to mash. 

Once the tomatoes are tender, add in the tortellini and spinach if it is frozen. Wait until the tortellini are almost done if you are using fresh spinach. Cook for about another 10 minutes, until the tortellini are tender.

Add seasonings al gusto, and serve with fresh Parmesan cheese and some spinach feta bread!

I like to cover mine with crushed red pepper flakes for spice.

This recipe makes probably 8-10 servings; a great recipe for lots of easy, tasty leftovers! 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

BelleWood Acres

Apples, Apple Cider, Apple Pie, Apple Syrup.... why didn't I go to this place when we celebrated Ross' 25th birthday Applefest style?

 This is Ross on his 25th Birthday - we played Apples to Apples while eating applesauce, apple fritter, apple chicken sausage pasta, and dipping apples in caramel. 

Anyway, to the Apple Orchard! 

BelleWood Acres is located on the Guide halfway between Bellingham and Lynden.

Here's a description from their website: "The first trees at BelleWood Acres were planted in the spring of 1996. The designing and planting were very much a family effort. We, John and Dorie Belisle, with family help, designed and planted the orchard.  Our goal is to grow the best apples in Whatcom County. We invite you to come out and see the farm. You will learn how we grow our fruit, pack it, store it and juice it! We also have pears, pumpkins, decorative gourds and corns, and much more. Fall is bountiful at BelleWood Acres."

Umm.... John is pretty much hilarious to listen to. But I can't repeat anything he said here... it would make you blush. 

It was after 6p.m. when we ventured out into the orchard - and of course it is winter so there isn't much to see. You'll probably notice that the trees look a bit strange and twisted. Well, they are pruned and twisted like this to keep the nutrients concentrated to lower branches, and they keep only the thicker branches. After all, a tree that is growing branches isn't growing apples, right?

Something that absolutely fascinates me about apples is that they are all grafted, or cloned. Apples reproduce sexually, meaning that offspring is a mixture of genes and the apple is completely different from the parent apples. Sometimes that's great and you find a sweet juicy variety, sometimes it means you get a small green turd. The red delicious, for instance, can be bought worldwide, yet all came from one tree.

If you want to learn more about the fascinating history of apples I would recommend reading The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, or watching the PBS film based on the book, or check out this website. It's a fascinating story, and tells the tale of Johnny Appleseed you may not be familiar with.

This is me and John in their industrial kitchen where they bake pies (I totally want to be the person that bakes pies!), dehydrate apple rings, and press their apple cider.

From September 1st until December 31st the farm is open; you can walk through the orchards, buy an apple pie, and celebrate the harvest. 

Some of their delicious offerings that you can buy at the Coop or Haggen

Ross and I have bought their apple cider before and absolutely loved it. Oh, and their honey roasted peanut butter is to die for. The samples and hot apple cider ended the field trip on a warm and satisfying note. 

And you can become a Facebook fan

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Tale of Two Dairies

Our last field trip for my Agroecology class took us to visit two dairy farms: a conventional and a small, natural dairy farm. For comparison - also check out the organic Eldridge Dairy.

The first stop was to Veen Huizen Farms, LLC in Lynden, WA, a conventional dairy. I really liked their view of Mt Baker.

A quick introduction to the dairy farm: "Veen Huizen Farms LLC is a dairying partnership of the VanderVeen and Van Weerdhuizen families in Lynden Washington. Together, they produce milk from 1300 Holstein cows* on 700 acres. Veen Huizen Farms have worked with the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to sustain healthy air, water, and soils. Some management techniques include the planting of filter and buffer strips near waterways and manure injection to the pastures (as opposed to surface application), thereby decreasing runoff and air pollution. Veen Huizen is a portmanteau of the two family names--and a fitting title to express their soil conservation efforts. Veen is the Dutch word for ‘peat’ and Huizen is the Dutch word for ‘home’—literally, home is in the peat. “Good healthy soils produce great milk”—Debbie VanderVeen." source 

*They are currently transitioning to Jersey cows - they are a more desirable breed insofar as they produce a higher protein milk that is sold at a higher premium ever though they produce fewer gallons of milk.

Look, I got to milk a cow!

It was quite the experience - soft, squishy, and warm. I have never had the opportunity to milk a cow before, though I know this might be old hat for some.  

Then, since we stimulated her, she needed to finish being milked, so they brought out the milking machine, which worked a lot faster than the majority of my class. Yep - technology taking over human power.

We fed the milk we milked to Mary, a three month old calf. 

So while I hope that made you all feel warm and fuzzy inside, there were a few things that didn't make me feel so warm and fuzzy. I'm biased, I realize that, but I wasn't the biggest fan of this dairy.

For instance, most of the farm workers were sporting these snazzy Monsanto jackets:

Veen Huizen is essentially a closed system farm - they grow all their own feed in the form of corn and grass - but the corn is only for cows, not human consumption because they are Genetically Modified crops, which means that every year they have to buy new seed (not on farm) and corn in too great a quantity makes a cow sick.

GM crops snapshot from Jenn: I think they are dangerous to human health, the environment, and I don't think that corporations should have so much control or sway over agriculture or the FDA/USDA. Click here for a balanced reading on GM crops, or I would highly recommend watching the documentary The Future of Food. Make up your own mind - but personally, I never buy products made with GM ingredients if I can help it.

Here's an awesome app for your iPhone or Android that you can use in the grocery store to help you dodge GM foods.

These cows also will get injections to stimulate their milk production.

They use the manure to fertilize the fields, which is a great way to recycle nutrients on farm. However, as Debbie mentioned in her publication, "good healthy soils produce great milk," but I'm not really sure how healthy a soil is once it has been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides like RoundUp. However, in the end they get the three things they need to most from these cows: milk, manure and babies. 

All their cows live in these barns for their entire lives; they never see pasture. In the picture below, the barn houses some 400 cows; the left side is empty in preparation for the jersey cows that will be joining the operation. And this barn smelled awful - I know there are 200 cows living in there, of course, but Eldridge Dairy has nearly 150 cows and did not smell bad. Imagine 400 in there - and that's only one of their barns! I think this operation is too big for these animals to be well cared for. 

The only place they ever get to go outside of this barn is the milking parlor.

To conclude, I would not buy milk from this farm because:
1. GM crops
2. Not pastured
3. Too big

Our visit to Twin Brook Creamery was a much more pleasant experience. A mere stone's throw from the Canadian border, this dairy has been family owned and operated since 1910. Today Larry and Debbie Stap are 5th generation farmers with their daughter Michelle and husband Mark. 

As they have grown they needed to expand to find more room and pasture for their jersey cows, and due to the cold weather (it's been below freezing and snowing here - which is unusual for this area!), we ended up only seeing the processing side of the farm. They currently have about 200 cows on 180 beautiful acres. 

Me and Larry 

First, we took a peek into the 100-year-old barn built without a nail. 

Then we explored the processing process: after the cows are milked the milk goes into this cooling tank.

Then it is pasteurized in these vats to 145°F for 30 minutes - however, typically milk is ultra-pasteurized through a process called HTST (high temperature short time) where the milk is heated to over boiling point. Larry believes that the gentler processing allows the milk to be as close to its raw state preserving the nutrition and quality, yet it kills any harmful bacteria. 

Additionally, the milk is not homogenized (an alteration of the milk by forcing it through small openings at high pressures), so Twin Brook milk will have cream that floats naturally to the top of their glass bottles.

Glass Bottles?!?!? Yep, just like when the milk man used to deliver. All their milk is bottled in glass for many reasons: it's more environmentally friendly because when you buy their milk you pay a refundable deposit on the bottle, therefore it you bring it back then they will reuse it. The glass bottle does not alter or affect the taste like plastic or cardboard will. And they have many other uses - wouldn't they make nice flower vases?

The bottles are cleaned and sanitized in an industrial kitchen.

Then filled up here - look at that chocolate milk!

The milk is stored in a cooler - typically only for 1 or 2 days -  before it gets shipped out the about 60-70 stores between here and Seattle. In Bellingham you can buy their milk at both the Community Food CoopHaggen, and many more places!

Then we were invited into their home where Debbie greeted us with fresh chocolate milk and homemade cookies! They were both so very gracious and welcoming, I got a good warm fuzzy feeling inside that stuck me the rest of the day. And it was so very warm inside!

Twin Brook, though not certified organic, follows very sound farming practices that align a great deal with my values. For instance, their cows are pastured throughout the year except in the winter. They raise all their own calves on farm, never giving them hormones to stimulate artificial growth or to stimulate milk production. They use no pesticides or herbicides on their fields. 

Larry was very adamant that he would not go organic because of a few stipulations. Prevention is key to animal health - so they take really good care of them, but if one gets sick he will give them antibiotics, just like he would do for himself or his family. He does not milk a cow while she is on antibiotics or a time period thereafter, and no milk will have antibiotics in it when it reaches the stores. His other stipulation was that he would rather take the crops and feed from his neighbor than to have to hunt for certified organic feed from eastern Washington, or Oregon. Larry is trying to keep it local. None of their feed is GM.

And while I did not post yesterday on Food and Faith, I was experiencing it! I don't know how well you can read this bit from their flier pictured above, but their mission statement is:

"We are a family owned and operated dairy that exists to glorify God through the stewardship of the soil and animals that He has entrusted to our care, in the best possible way."

Amen! Raise a glass of (well, they offer heavy whipping cream, whole milk, half &half, 2%, 1%, fat-free, chocolate milk, and eggnog (in season)) to that!