Bird and Belle's Adventures in Marriage


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Meat Jello

Beans beans they’re good for the heart,
The more you eat the more you fart,
The more you fart the better you feel,
So eat your beans AT EVERY MEAL!

I remember singing this with my Dad and feeling like SUCH a rebel. Why? Because FART was one of the naughtiest words I knew but if Daddy was singing them with me it was both ok and hilarious.

Nearly 30 years later I still hum this little ditty while cooking beans and it always makes me smile. The difference between then and now, aside from the expansion of my naughty word vocabulary, is that I like beans. Actually, I love beans.

I could fill this entire post about the wonderful world of legumes, their nutritional benefits and the varying flavors between varieties, but I’m pretty sure our small readership would plummet.

Over the years I have become proficient at taking a bag of dry beans and turning it into a dish that even the most diehard carnivore would enjoy. It seemed logical when we started cooking chicken to apply many of the same beany principles.

For example, the broth left after cooking garbanzo beans (or chickpeas if you prefer) is a culinary delicacy. I use this garbanzo bean broth in soups and sauces and even blend it in my hummus as a way to reduce the fat without sacrificing flavor.

When Bird went to whip up a giant Crockpot of chicken stock I figured the end liquid would be similar to that of garbanzo bean broth.

Note: Bird has pointed out that while this is a syllogism, it is not “true.” It is, however, how my thought process went, which is often quite incorrect, therefore it is “true enough” to go on our Adventures of Marriage blog.

Last weekend Bird plopped the chicken carcass in the Crockpot with water, veggie scraps and fresh herbs from the garden and let it do its thing for the day.

The broth hung out in the fridge for several days until we had time to make our first chicken soup. While Bird prepared the butternut squash and onions, I pulled out the big container of broth.

“Um, let me do that…” Bird said.

“I can do it. It’s just broth and cooked chicken. I think I can handle it.”

And then I opened the lid and holy crap, what the hell was this gelatinous muck?

“Something is wrong!” I yelped. “Look at all this disgusting fat! Wait, this is not fat. What on earth is it?”

“RELAX,” Bird said. “It’s just gelatin from the bones. It will liquefy again when we heat it up.”

Cue dry heaves.

“I don’t believe you. Broth does not look like this when cold. BEAN BROTH DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THIS WHEN COLD!”

I grabbed a lone can of chicken broth and I shoved it in his ear and shook.

“See! Liquid! Something is totally wrong. This meat Jello cannot be good for us.”

Bird told me to relax and retreat while he dealt with the  muck broth.

Google search: WHY DOES MY CHICKEN BROTH LOOK LIKE BROWN JELLO

What popped up shocked me. Post after post of people lamenting at how hard it is to get their chicken broth to gel,while others boasted of the perfect recipe to achieve gelatinous broth.

Why on earth would people want this?

Google search: WHY SHOULD YOU EAT GELATINOUS CHICKEN BROTH?

I was shocked at what I learned. Basically bone broth is full of really good stuff including:

  • Cartilage which includes glycosaminoglycans, chondroitin sulfate, keratin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. Cartilage may be useful in the treatment of ailments like arthritis, degenerative joint disease, inflammatory bowel disease and lowered immune function.
  • Red bone marrow which is an important source of nutritional and immune support factors. It contains myeloid and lymphoid stem cells.
  • Glycine and proline which are important amino acids important in the manufacturing of glucose, enhancing gastric acid secretion, supporting soft and connective tissue and the production of plasma.
  • Collagen which aides in soft tissue and wound healing, formation and repair of cartilage and bone, healing and coating the mucus membranes of the gastrointestinal tract and facilitating the digestion and assimilation of proteins.
  • A whole bunch of minerals*

This is a lot of stuff that seems important for people with connective tissue disease, digestive problems and joint problems – all things that I deal with. This is also a lot of stuff that I currently take in supplement form and pay a lot of money for.

I think the most amazing thing is that all this goodness comes from the part of the chicken that most modern American families throw away. It took one Crockpot, the carcass of our Good Life Ranch chicken, some veggie scraps and a day of unattended simmering to create this nutritional powerhouse. This is the frugal gal and health nut’s dream all simmered into one pot of gross looking meat Jello.

I rushed back to the chicken to inform Bird of all my new-found knowledge.

“Did you know BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH?” I trumpeted.

“Yeah… chicken broth is really good for you. This is why we are eating it,” Bird said while rolling his eyes.

“Correction – meat Jello. Seriously, you could spread this on toast. I bet that would be super nutritious!” I said.

“That’s disgusting. Don’t do that to toast. The soup’s ready now. Let’s eat.”

I’m pleased to report that I have had three bowls of this soup since we made it on Monday. While it’s not my favorite thing (I’d take lentil soup over chicken soup any day) I very much appreciate the nutritional value and the fact that we have used every scrap of this little chicken up. Tell me, do you make stock with the bones from your meats? If so, do you have any tips or tricks to share with us? 

* All nuritional information in this post came from The Jade Institute.

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Bird and Belle’s Gluten-Free Chicken Soup

This is a rough guide to our soup since I did not take any notes while cooking. I sort of feel you can’t mess up soup, even when you use meat Jello as the base!

First: Make your stock following this Crockpot stock recipe. Note: the vinegar is key in this and really helps with drawing the nutrients from the bones.

Second: Chop your veggies. We used the following:

1/2 a large butternut squash peeled, seeded and chopped

1 chopped sweet onion

several cloves of the freshest garlic you can find (Farmers’ Market garlic is the absolute best)

some chopped celery and chopped baby carrots

A couple of cups of garbanzo beans because beans are both musical and good for your heart 😉 AND bump up the protein and healthy carbohydrates in your soup

Season to your liking

Simmer until the veggies are tender

Enjoy and know you are doing something good for both your body and the environment.

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A Chickening

On Saturday morning Bird and I loaded up the car with a cooler and camera to visit Good Life Ranch in Liberty, Kentucky. Recently I decided to add chicken back to my diet as a way to combat Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (learn more on PCOS here). This has not been an easy decision. For years I have preached against the woes of modern farming practices and the production of ridiculously large, hormone-laden, cruelly treated animals. My meat-free lifestyle has become a source of tremendous pride and a significant part of my identity.

These are an heirloom variety of chicken called “Naked Necks” that originated in Hungary. Geoff and Lindsey chose these birds for their good egg laying abilities and good taste. They are and active and personable breed, are good foragers and are immune to most diseases.

Then life threw me a gigantic curve-ball that left me poking through my fridge, trying to figure out what the heck to eat for dinner.

“WE CAN EAT CHICKEN!!!!!” Bird, who is a die-hard carnivore, said with glee.

“Ugh. I just don’t know…” I blanched.

“Well how about you find some happy chickens,” he suggested.

Cue obsessive researching.

I scoured the Internet for the perfect Kentucky farm that practiced what I had preached for so many years.

  • A sustainable farm no more than two hours from Lexington that is run by passionate people
  • Preferably a newer establishment where our dollars will truly help a small business and a local economy
  • No hormones or crazy chemicals being fed or injected into the animals
  • Animals who are allowed to live a good life before they land on your plate
  • Animals who are loved and tended to daily
  • And, most importantly, a farm that would welcome my husband and I at any time to visit the animals

When I saw Good Life Ranch’s website I knew it was the farm for me. After devouring the detailed information on the website I emailed the owners asking if I, one moderately crazy and intensely passionate animal lover, could pay their farm a visit. Within 24-hours we had set a time and I had informed Bird that we would be taking a little road trip. He put on his agreeable pants and played along (although I’m sure he would have much preferred to just grab chicken from the co-op one block away!)

Any farmer that cradles his goats is good by me!

Geoff and Lindsey McPherson are my kind of people. Both accomplished educators, Lindsey and Geoff left their jobs in San Antonio, Texas and purchased Good Life Ranch in 2010. Passionate about sustainable farming and education, they are working to grow their business slowly, from the ground up. The farm boasts free-ranging heirloom chickens, cattle, pigs, turkeys and rabbits and organic produce. In addition, the well-traveled McPherson’s are constructing real-life poverty simulations that will provide students from across the country with unique experiences and the knowledge to seek change.

As we trudged through the damp grasses, dodging the occasional cow patty and visiting the animals, Geoff and Lindsey explained their farming practice and passion for sustainable agriculture. As I listened, I became more comfortable with the decision to change my diet. I am not just picking up chicken labeled as free-range at an organic market. I am directly supporting a couple as they chase their dreams, supporting an industry I am fiercely in favor of and giving back to the local economy all while working to improve my health.

Honestly, the only better scenario I can think of is to have never gotten sick in the first place, but even then I would not be the strong woman I am today.

A side story: I have a friend who announced at one of our dinner parties, “I don’t dislike animals…I just feel they should have to wear pants.” I never really saw the logic in his argument until I was editing these photos. 🙂


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Sun-dried tomato & pesto chickpea salad

Pepita & Sun-dried Tomato Pesto

Adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant Cooking For Health cookbook

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in boiling water and chopped
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
juice of 1 large lemon
1 TBS white Balsamic vinegar

Combine ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy

For the salad:

Combine pesto, three cans drained & rinsed chickpeas, two chopped red bell peppers and one 12 oz can black olives, sliced. Taste and adjust salt and pepper to liking. Chill and serve.


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Bikes, ducks and a sandwich recipe

Two Saturday’s ago Bird and I hopped on our bikes and ventured downtown to run errands. The price of gas is becoming ridiculous and every mile we can avoid driving saves pennies (or dimes). We started by biking to the Chevy Chase neighborhood for a coffee then wandered next door to a local running shop to purchase a new pair of sneakers for my stinky feet. Next we biked to the farmers market where we loaded up on goodies to make an amazing fresh tomato sauce. I think my favorite thing about summer eating is the sauce I create using locally grown heirloom tomatoes. Nothing. Compares.

On our way home we stopped by the pond to visit the geese. The babies are almost as big as their parents now and you have to look closely to spot them in the crowd.

As we watched the geese we noticed two TINY birds scooting across the water. “Are those ducklings?” I asked. We crept closer and sure enough, they were two baby mallards taking their first swim. Piled at the pond edge were the rest of the ducklings squeaking and peeping for their mamma to return. After a few minutes of worrying that mamma might be gone and we might have to raise a flock of ducks we heard urgent quaking and in swept mamma mallard. She seemed alarmed that two ducklings had decided to take a swim without her around and quacked loudly to get the babies to come to her. It took a lot of paddling and squeaking, but the ducklings finally caught up. The entire experience was just amazing and adorable.

I love that the baby geese still swim with their parent in a single file line.

Such a big baby!

Ducklings!

Snuggling ducklings. So stinking adorable.

Mama and babies.

After a while we peddled back home and I whipped up a delicious lunch of open faced zucchini and carrot sandwiches using goodies from the CSA share. The sandwiches were so good that I thought I would share the recipe!

Sammich!

Belle’s Open Faced Sammich

1 TBS olive oil
An equal portion of zucchini and carrots, shredded (we used our food processor with the shredding attachment and it worked wonderfully)
1 or 2 handfuls of chopped green onions (depending on how many onions you fancy)
2 cloves minced fresh garlic (more if you want to not make any new friends that afternoon)
Several tablespoons fresh basil Chiffonade
Red pepper flakes to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add your garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for a minute. Add the green onions and sauté another minute.  Add the shredded veggies and cook until they reach the softness you desire (I like mine still crispy so I cooked them for about five minutes). Add the basil cook for an additional minute. Salt and pepper to taste and then remove pan from heat and cover.


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Smoothie Challenge

Growing up in Florida had tons of advantages. We had a seemingly endless summer. We had a beach. We lived in a cute little house in a neighborhood packed with kids. We had fun, creative parents. It was a good life. The one thing that was lacking, though, were visits with our extended family. Our cousins, aunts and uncles all lived a 24-hour drive north which meant that visits were few and far between.

It was not until I moved to Kentucky that we were  finally close enough to visit my extended family on a regular basis. I am constantly surprised to see the similarities between myself and these folks with whom I share genes. Not only do we favor one another, we also have a lot of common ground: particularly, my beautiful, earth-loving cousin F. As a little girl I admired F. She was pretty, care-free, hip and everything I hoped to one day become.

I remember riding with her to a thrift store, wind whipping through the windows as her car flew over the hilly northern countryside while we listened to tapes of REM. I remember writing her letters on cat stationary and receiving letters back that were written with elaborate curly lettering in bright magic marker. I also remember annoying her with my constant desire to “be friends.”

Many years later we have reunited and found that we actually have a lot in common including one huge obsession with nutrition and health. During our visit last year F. sang the praises of green smoothies. I went home excited about adding this new power food to my diet. I plopped my blender on the counter one afternoon and began to stuff it with tangerines.

“Whatcha making?” Bird asked.

“A green smoothie,” I responded as I shoved and entire head of Romaine lettuce into the blender. “I’m making enough for us both!”

“That is disgusting,” he said.

Slimer

I argued that it would be delicious and full of nutrients and then flipped the switch and watched as the oranges and lettuce were brutally whipped into one oozy green liquid like what I would expect to come from Slimer during a sneeze. Bird winced. I removed the lid, sniffed and then tried to hide my horror. It smelled disgusting. Determined, I poured two big glasses and handed one over to Bird. One sip and we knew this was a kitchen fail. It was disgusting.

I tried making a few other green smoothies and had similar results each time – they all tasted like dirt or grass. How delicious greens could yield something that tasted so much like what I believe licking a lawn mower would taste was beyond me. It seemed this health craze was not for me so I put the lettuce back where it belonged – in the salad bowl.

Last weekend Bird and I again headed north to the family farm for a reunion. On a quest for lunch variety, I asked that F. give me some pointers on green smoothie making. In particular, what can I do to make them not taste like dirt. Always eager to share her health knowledge, F. enthusiastically agreed and on Saturday we gathered around her kitchen to meet what goes down as the most amazing kitchen gadget known to man – the Vitamix.

While the men-folk cooked up some caribou and onions, the women folk started pulling out all sorts of things to blend. F prepared three blended treats for me: one delicious fruit “sorbet” and two green smoothies. She went easy on my palate with the smoothies and explained you have to work up to all greens. A little fruit here and there is good to help cut the bitterness (or lawn-mower mouth). Both of the smoothies were actually quite palatable and after three years of eating humus sandwiches for lunch my taste buds rejoiced. “Change is GOOD! Have these for lunch!” my mouth cheered.

This morning I started what is going to be a two-week green smoothie challenge during which I will make a different smoothie each day. I considered buying a recipe book with green smoothies but decided to save the $$ and instead rely on my own creativity and the Internet. I think I’ll share some of my creations here, as surely you are all just DYING to know what that green thing is that is stuck in my teeth *wink*  I will also rate the smoothies on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being so bad I can’t choke it down, and 5 being so good I wished I had more.

Smoothie No. 1:

1 handful organic baby spinach
4 large swiss chard leaves
1 sliver ginger
1 stalk celery
5 cubes frozen pineapple

VERDICT: I made this in the a.m. and then stored it in the office fridge until 4 p.m. today. The first right-out-of-the-fridge sip was NOT GOOD! All I tasted was celery and none of the ginger or pineapple. The smoothie then sat unloved on my desk for 20 minutes while I answered some e-mails. When I returned to it I noticed it had liquified a bit more and warmed slightly. I gave it a quick stir and then tasted again and much to my surprise it tasted better. It seems that by letting it warm slightly the ginger and pineapple flavors had a chance to really come out. I still think I would have left the celery out of this one.

RATING: 3
This smoothie was not bad. Given time to warm slightly, I think I could drink it on a regular basis, although definitely not every day.


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The Salad Days

The rainbow beets really make this salad beautiful. If you can't find rainbow beets, any beet will do.

We have had a LOT of salad lately. Between my bountiful garden and the CSA there is literally more salad than we can eat. The unintended side effect of too much salad is major salad dressing burnout. My creamy vegan dressings are yummy but heavily laced with fresh garlic and onion. Last week I decided it was time for a change – I wanted a light, lively dressing that did not leave me with hot breath of doom. A bit of poking around in my cupboard lead me to a bottle of truffle oil and a pile of lemons. Enter: Belle’s Lemony Truffle Dressing. I know, real original name, right. So crappy name, but an awesome dressing. Especially when paired with garden fresh greens, fresh rainbow beets, turnips, carrots, green onions and flax seeds. Should you decide to try this, splurge and treat yourself to a small bottle of truffle oil, you will not be let down.

Belle’s Lemony Truffle Dressing

1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 Tablespoon truffle oil
1 Tablespoon minced fresh basil
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk ingredients together and toss with a large bowl of salad. (My salad consisted of one head of butter lettuce, two small beets, one medium turnip, three carrots and one green onion and served four as a lunch.)


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Lettuce Rejoice! (I have not killed the lettuce)

Garden 2011!

Many of you may remember last years post about the chia head we received as a gag wedding gift. I reread this post and was amused not by the gag gift, but by the naivety I had in thinking our tiny little seedlings might actually amount to something. I hang my head in shame today and confess that the only things we  harvested from that garden were:

  • the tiniest green pepper on earth
  • a small handful of tough green beans
  • several super creepy white cucumbers (seriously y’all, how can you mess up a cucumber?)
  • weeds
It seems our first year of marriage was bountiful in every imaginable way EXCEPT gardening.

Hallelujah! The lettuce lives!

While I am now a little less naive about my gardening abilities, or lack there of, I am still an eternal optimist and like to believe that if at first I fail, try again! And so I did. This year we added fresh organic gardening soil to the garden boxes and purchased organic plant starts from Whole Foods and Good Foods. I added plants slowly, paying attention to the weather and the rain. When it was certain we were past the point of an agonizing frost (God help me, I probably just jinxed it) I carefully nestled my plant babies into to the soil.

Since then, I have visited the plants daily to water, weed, inspect for bugs and offer a little positive encouragement. I’m sure my neighbors think I’m nuts. “Hi Broccoli!” I sing. “How are you today…” My cats thrive when I talk to them, surely my plants will, too. Much to my delight, the plants are actually doing well! After a week or so in the ground they began to peek over the edge of the garden box. “Look!” Bird said while peering out the window. “I can SEE them!” This was exciting because very few of last years plants made it past the garden box ledge.

Romaine!

Today I wandered outside to have my first harvest: I picked enough fancy organic lettuce to make two large salads and a handful of fresh dill for dressing. Then I “harvested” some clover sprouts from my indoor sprouter (yes, I grow my own sprouts for sandwiches and salads) and put together an amazingly delicious homegrown salad! It was a truly blog-worth event. Stay tuned for more updates, or obituaries, from Bird and Belle’s Adventures in Gardening Take III!

Wee baby broccoli!