I’m Fed Up and it’s NOT Because I Ate Too Much

About ten years ago something happened. I woke up.

I became aware that a lot of people were writing about the changes to our foods that had been going on since the mid 1990s and also about how some illnesses had also had a surge in diagnosis since that time.

The skeptic in me says coincidence does not necessarily show a cause. The cautious part of me decided I needed to prove it to myself.

Having read about how some of the genetically engineered foods kills insects that typically infiltrate plants like corn by causing their stomachs to rupture, I began to think how my daughter, born in 1994, started developing something like irritable bowel syndrome before she was 20 years old.  The doctor at the college health center recommended she have a colonoscopy which I wanted to schedule with my doctor when she spent the summer with me. He said, no, 19-year-olds should not need colonoscopies, and we made an appointment to talk with him. After hearing her symptoms and the history, he urged her to repopulate her stomach with probiotics and her symptoms eased. Smart man.

As I read more and more I decided we would switch to organic foods where we did not know a farmer who grew a specific food item. We decided to have a 6 month trial and surprise surprise, we have continued this practice for at least 4 years now.  When we follow our own rules, we feel better. But we generally do not recognize that until we travel and end up eating “regular” food. And then the uncomfortable issues start again.

A few months ago the Federal government approved chickens being sent to China to be butchered and then sent back to American markets. What with past issues with pet food and baby food, I am not comfortable with any of the food grown in the US going overseas for processing. Especially since the USDA eliminated the “country of origin” labeling also. Image result for chickens shipped to china for processing

Today I read that the milk industry has petitioned the FDA to CHANGE THE DEFINITION OF MILK to include aspartame. Their point is that it would not need to be on the label and sweet things would be “healthier” without sugar. (Oh, and since so many people are now aware of the ill effects of that artificial sweetener, the FDA has approved changing its name to “Amino Sweet”, so watch for that on your labels!)Image result for just label it

For those of us who prefer to know what is in our food, this is unacceptable. Personally, I really can not, nor do I want to, have a cow. (Pun intended) But it is getting to the point where the ONLY way to control what you are putting into your body is to source all your food from farmers you know.  Farmers who tell you their growing methods. Farmers who are more interested in health than becoming rich.

I really am impressed by ALL the farmers I know, whether they grow with organic practice or even if they grow conventionally. Farming is hard work. Yields are highly dependent on a huge unknown: the weather. And generally, farmers do not make much income. Long hours, low pay.

Image result for farmers are passionate

And yet, most of the farmers I have met are passionate about what they do. They may be exhausted, but they have the drive to keep on growing food for us.

We are extremely fortunate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to have almost all our food needs met by local farmers. We need to go a bit farther for citrus and for sugar, but for the foods we personally eat and the foods prepared in the Kitchen of Can-Do Real Food, we support our local farmers as much as possible.

There are tons of diets that claim to offer a healthier body.   No one size fits all, but many can lead to better health.  But above all, start cooking from whole foods and leave the frozen foods with their high sodium and loads of preservatives at the store.  Not only will you discover what foods really tastes like, but you will feel proud that you can nourish yourself so deliciously.Image result for cook from scratch

Can-Do Real Food provides you preserved foods that have been made from local food raised on farms that are certified organic, bio-dynamic, or naturally grown or farms that grow in the organic style. Our only products that come from trees that have been sprayed are the hazelnut butters. Although new trees planted in the past year or so are a strain that is resistant to insect infestation, the mature trees must be treated or there would be no crop of nuts at all. All other produce used to prepare the recipes in the Can-Do Real Food kitchen are raised without any chemical treatment for insects or weeds.  You may opt not to buy our products, but it won’t be because of added chemicals.

Can-Do Real Food                                                                                                                                                                                      Preserving the Local Harvest                                                                                                                                                                                           No Artificial Anything!

 

Chocoholics Unite!

Okay, I admit it. You don’t even need to twist my arm or apply any pressure. I am a chocoholic.  If there were membership cards to a group that does not want self-help, I would carry one for this. 

So, Can-Do Real Food works with local farmers but I managed to soothe my chocolate need by making chocolate ice cream sauces with fruit. Last year I made small batches of ice cream sauce with raspberries, strawberries and cherries. This coming season I will be making, upon request from my Farm Partner Beach Family Farm, a blueberry chocolate ice cream sauce.

Last year’s  challenge was to find a quality chocolatier in the area. The Willamette Valley is pretty spectacular with its vast array of crops, but chocolate is not grown here. The best I can do is to find a local producer. Last year I found Creo Chocolate. in Portland.  They have a direct Free Trade relationship with cacao growers in Ecuador.  Creo roasts the beans and prepares chocolate in a variety of flavors. We like to use the 73% chocolate in our recipes because it is dark but has a bit of sugar added, which means we don’t add any other sugar to those recipes. 

When the Straub family at Creo challenged us to develop a mole sauce we were intrigued. Mole, which means sauce, is used throughout Mexico and it seems like every grandmother has her own recipe.  I had my first taste of chicken mole on a visit to Texas about 21 years ago. While I was disappointed a bit that it does not scream “CHOCOLATE!!” I think it might have been weird to eat a chocolately piece of chicken. The chocolate, however, does an amazing job mixing with the peppers and tomatoes and other ingredients and making my taste buds very happy.

When we got this request we of course had to do some field work and ordered a lot of chicken mole over the next few weeks at a number of Mexican restaurants in the area. Every single one was different!  They all were yummy, with variations of sugar and heat. We made our first batch in the Test Kitchen with 100% chocolate but decided the little bit of sugar in the 73% seemed to offer more enjoyment. For the heat we aimed for something on the light side of medium; people who like more heat can always add it.

The new challenge was to prepare a mole sauce that would be food safe. Our commercial kitchen is set up for small batch processing and does not have the kind of canning equipment that would provide a safe canned product. (We’ve also tasted the large national brand for mole sauce and prefer a fresher taste.) While it would be easy to open a jar and pour it all out, if someone is going to prepare chicken mole, they are planning to cook, so we realized a dehydrated mix would work fine!

So, Can-Do Real Food is pleased to announce the first of several new dehydrated recipes that will tempt your palate this season. Mole Sauce!

The mix will prepare enough to feed 4 people.  You will need to have 2 pounds of boneless chicken (breasts and/or thighs) and 1.5 cups of chicken broth. We provide a simple recipe on the package. It is also feasible to use other proteins besides chicken. The mix can be hydrated with vegetable broth also. Have fun and let us know how you enjoy it!

And watch for other new dehydrated mixes this season as the harvest progresses. We have some amazing things we cooked up in the Test Kitchen that our Partner Farms tasted this past January and approved. Now we just need to wait for the main ingredients to grow!

What’s On a Label?

Remember how Oregon had a referendum about requiring food makers who use ingredients which are from genetically engineered plants to have to specify them on the label?  Remember the desire to “know”?

Even though that referendum did not pass, you CAN know certain things from labels.  I wrote about the newest label requirements by the government for a year-round local food market in West Virginia a few years ago.  There are may rules, but Can-Do Real Food is exempt from a few because of our small size.

Some people have asked me for nutritional information; most of the time I’m asked for the total sugar grams. I don’t know. I can tell you how many grams of sugar goes into the recipe, and I suppose a mathematical extrapolation could be done by someone who has the time, but I personally have no idea if that is how the number is figured out for the serving size.

I’m not required to include that (and a few other things) on my labels because we are tiny. The government does not make many exemptions from the regulations for small companies but this is one, so basically I save money and time because I need not provide samples at some lab (no where near McMinnville) and pay a fee so a food lab technician can run a test that provides the nutritional breakdown.

So, sorry, I don’t know. If you need to avoid sugar the best I can tell you is not to eat my jams.  I usually have some dehydrated fruit available if you want fruit without added sugar.

However, I can tell you this:

  • Food produced by Can-Do Real Food is made almost completely from local ingredients. Our exceptions are spices, vinegar, oil, sugar, citrus, chocolate, and coffee. The last two are obtained from local processors who procure the raw ingredients from Fair Trade farms and roast and do what they do in their shops in Portland and Newberg. All other raw ingredients are grown nearby.
  • Our partner farms are either certified Organic and/or Biodynamic or are in the lengthy process. They grow with organic methods. The ONLY exception to this are the hazelnuts. There are some organic hazelnut farms in the area but the cost, already high, restricts the consideration. I have talked to commercial hazelnut farmers as well as one of our partner farms which has a long neglected hazelnut orchard. Those neglected trees, untreated by my partner, had almost no edible nuts. The commercial farmer explained the various parasites that can destroy a crop. We make several products with the local hazelnuts: butter (plain and chocolate) as well as adding them to one canned yummy (plum conserve).
  • We also obtain produce from what I call “backyard gardeners.” These are our neighbors who have a fruit tree or bush or a garden that is just being way more productive than they can personally use. We ask if there is any chemical application to their produce and only accept those that have not been treated.
  • We chose to not use any additional preservatives. The sugar in the jams is the primary factor to keep away botulism. The recipes that have added lemon juice or vinegar have been rigorously tested at the food lab and then approved by a food scientist at Oregon State University who is the Processing Authority for the state. He indicates specific instructions of how the recipe is to be produced and no deviation is ever acceptable.  The level of acid is what helps preserve the food to be safe for eating once canned.  We typically do not add salt to our recipes. We had one comment that the Loaded Pasta Sauce was not as good the second year as it was the first. The major difference, besides our sneaky addition of zucchini, was that we got the recipe approved without added sugar or salt. This permits people who have restricted sodium to enjoy our sauce, and everyone else can add a little if they prefer. So salt, also a natural preservative, is not used in any way for food safety. We do, however, have a line of gourmet salts, and of course these are salt, so the food safety issue is a sure thing.
  • We do not use emulsifiers besides the pectin as called for in some recipes. So, our culinary syrups are not as thick as others you can buy at the supermarket.
  • We started using nutritional yeast in some of our dehydrated products. On commercial food labels this may be one of the ingredients that can be listed “natural flavorings”.  When we were developing our dried soup mixes in the Test Kitchen over a year ago we felt something was missing. Normally, if we were cooking at home we would start with a broth, either homemade or commercially produced. The long slow simmering of the bones or the vegetables is what helps give a homemade soup that deep rich flavor. But we wanted to provide a soup mix that would be ready in a short time (3 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on which soup mix) and we do not have a license to include meat in our products. Immediately we realized there is something we used at home, made from nonmeat sources that boosts flavor. Developed in Great Britain during World War II because of the shortage of meat at home, Marmite is a high protein paste made from nutritional yeast.  We were able to identify (one of the fun conventions and expos I visit during the off-season) several producers of powdered nutritional yeast that can boost the flavor of our recipes. I use the term “nutritional yeast” on the label because I personally dislike the all encompassing “natural flavors” that is the suggested listing.

We are proud to say “No artificial anything.”

What else can you tell from my label?

Well, the photo will either be a picture of what the stuff inside looked like while it was cooking or the raw ingredients in the mix. 

The side panel has all the legal requirements taken care of. First, my name and location so you can find me. Then, the ingredient list. I will never be able to call any of my products “organic” as the kitchen is not a certified organic kitchen, but when my ingredients are certified organic, they will be noted in the list.

Also, a reminder to store the opened but not emptied jar in the frig. By the way, how long something will last in the refrigerator is is also a common question. For something like the pasta sauce, I say to use it within 2 weeks. Something high in sugar like the jams, will last longer. I open a lot of jars to offer tastings at the farmers’ market and keep them on ice while there. They get put in the frig as soon as we get home. I just tossed a half empty jar of one we offered for tasting back in early December, so that lasted over 4 months.

The weight or volume of the product is next…..jars are in volume. The dried yummies are by weight. The next item is a batch number. It helps me know immediately when I made it and where the main ingredients came from.  If I need to have a recall, I will issue it with a batch number like that.

The last item is the “best by” date. Here the government gets fuzzy in their logic, not that they do that anywhere else, eh?  They require food processors to put something in there like a “use by” or “expired by” or a “best by” date. But they have no standards for canned and dehydrated foods. Personally, I do not like “use by” or “expired by” dates because they may result in perfectly good food being thrown out. How many times has that milk been okay for a week after the date on the carton or bottle?  Preserved foods typically last a long long time. How many people have a grandmother who cans? Ask her when to throw away unopened jars and she will probably look at you with “that” look you try to avoid.  However, there are some foods, even when safe to eat, that lose their appeal. I canned some carrots and opened the jar about 18 months later…..they were kind of mushy, not at all the quality a similar jar had been at 12 months. I typically put 13 months in my “best by” but would much more prefer you to eat it up and come back the next week to buy more!

If you have a question about the products that are not now currently on the labels, let me know. Also, our slow season is now over. The Downtown Farmers’ market starts this coming week so we are in prep mode and will be in the Kitchen one day each week for a while. When that changes to our normal three-day Kitchen week depends on Mother Nature.

 

 

 

Turning Two Oops into a Pantry Feast

A funny thing happened last week on the way to preparing the matza ball soup for the Seder. I used the wrong chicken.

I’ve talked about “Know Your Farmer” so it probably won’t surprise you to know I have a farm where I get my eggs. They used to raise meat chickens but have gotten out of that last year. However, as their older birds no longer produce eggs, they are processed and frozen as “stewing” chickens. Perfect for making soup! I ordered some from her and we had three in the freezer.

The first oops happened when I asked my husband to grab a chicken and I didn’t notice until it was already defrosted that it was not one of the stewing hens. It was a large roaster so it served my immediate need but the next oops occurred Sunday when my husband used one of the stewing hens for supper…..and he did not stew it. It was, to put it mildly, hard to chew.  We ate vegetables that night. LOL

That chicken and one more from the freezer then went into the soup pot yesterday and I made a boatload of broth. It simmered all day to develop a deep flavor.

This morning I got out my canning supplies. First I used my hot water canner to sanitize the jars I would use. Then, filling a bunch of pints, I then pressure canned broth so we could have it on the shelf to grab for meal preparation.

While that was processing, I then stripped the meat off the bones and made up a chicken pot pie mixture with onions, carrots, celery, green beans, and a whole bunch of herbs and seasoning. Then I sanitized quarts in the hot water canner and got 3 quarts of pot pie mix, 1 quart of soup (the remainder of the pot pie mix with more broth) and 3 more quarts of chicken broth. I STILL had some broth left over so it went into the freezer.

We prefer to can broth instead of freezing it for a couple of reasons. First, it takes up freezer space which is needed for the meats we buy from local farmers and other items in the freezer, like my ice cream maker bowl…all necessary for happy living here. Secondly, when the broth is frozen you have to plan ahead in order to defrost it to use it. Sometimes our meal planning is more ad hoc and frozen broth ends up forgotten.

From left to right: pot pie mix, soup, broth

Knowing how to can food safely was something I learned three years ago. Hot water bath canning was enough of a challenge but pressure canning had that horrible “explosion possibility mystique” that I needed to overcome. Now, no big deal. And it becomes a joy when I look at my home pantry and see that I have a ready supply of food that I have preserved. This is food that I know the contents and there are no preservatives or additives we don’t want in our diet.

Do you want to learn how to can safely at home?  Let me know. I will be planning a canning lesson in May and will be interested if there is interest.

 

Know When to Fold ‘Em

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Kenny Rogers
So, for Kenny it was a hit song called The Gambler.  For me, today, it is recognizing that one of my products just is not right.

We introduced a pickled pepper this year and the first batch came out perfectly. If you bought some, that is the one you tasted at the Farmers’ Market. pickled-peppers

However, the subsequent batches  GG1822164 and GG1823164 taste bad. I know you won’t eat them so there is no risk to your health because it just is not right.

A later batch, GG297164, is not bad, but doesn’t taste the way it should. We know the reason for this but there is nothing unhealthy in the jar, just not “rightness of flavor”.bad-taste

So, unlike the Gambler, I am not walking nor running away. I want any buyers of these products to notify me for a refund or an exchange for another product.

Please email me at BethRankinOR@gmail.com.  I will ask you to bring the jar with its contents so I can be sure of the batch.

The issue of food safety is very important and again, I do not believe this issue will make anyone sick, but something is not right, so the recall is wise.

 

 

 

The Many Steps to Approval

The decision to become a commercial food processor was made with a great deal of thought, good advice and, amazingly, a lot of naivety. You just don’t know what you don’t know on any new endeavor and I was in for an interesting ride the first 18 months.

I understood I needed to get certified by the Better Processing School and when I checked to see when the course would be offered in Oregon I discovered it was two weeks before I looked. Okay, not a horrible roadblock, in fact, there was no roadblock at all. The program is one that is established on a Federal level, so although each state offers it generally through its land grant college, University of California Davis offered an online program and so, that was that. Easy enough.better process school

I needed to find a commerical kitchen and that was easier. I knew the kitchen at McMinnville Cooperative Ministries had been designed about ten years ago to enable a crew of novice volunteers to work together to feed 300-400 people each Saturday morning. The space is amazing. The features are abundant. The kitchen is well known to the local Health Department and to the other officials who must approve features before a kitchen is allowed for commercial operation. All was well.2014-07-19 09.00.01I needed to obtain a food processor license from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and there were a myriad of requirements for that. I obtained the license to make jams and other concoctions with sugar but the recipes requiring lemon juice or vinegar fell into another category. Those needed a sample analyzed by a lab specializing in food and only those with numbers meeting or exceeding a safety standard could then move on to the next step.  Any delinquents could be modified and then, if passing the lab step, could join the others.  ph approval

The next step was for those lab numbers and the recipe itself to be reviewed and approved by the Processing Authority. Here in Oregon it is Mark Daeschel, a PhD of Food Science at OSU. He determines the safe parameters for processing and and then issues a letter indicating those requirements.

Only then can I submit all recipes with a copy of Dr. Daeschel’s letter to the Federal government for acceptance.  They are working on streamlining that system; the first time it took 5 weeks, this time it took about 15 hours.

Following all those levels of approval I have another visit by the state Department of Agriculture to review my record keeping and make sure all those pesky i’s are dotted and t’s crossed.2016 license

Then I can start to cook.  Good thing the weather was cooler so far this summer and the tomatoes are still on their way, not stacked up waiting on my action!

So, basically, the step most home canners take is deciding what they want to preserve and finding a good recipe. While Can-Do Real Food is small and makes batches of food just a few times larger than the home canner, we must comply with all the food safety rules and regulations like the mega corporations.

And happy to do so. We are a local to local enterprise, sourcing our ingredients as much as possible within 20 minutes of McMinnville and selling to consumers also within that small area. mission

 

 

.