Riana is an American food writer who now lives in rural South France with her husband and baby daughter, and she is, frankly, amazing. The woman wastes NOTHING. I've followed her cooking over a fire, not shopping for half a year, and giving up toilet paper (I'm telling you, she's serious about this). She also has the energy of ten of me. Behold this excerpt from a recent post, in which she describes what she has going on in her oven in one afternoon:
I filled the oven to brim since it takes up the same electricity as a load of clothes in the dryer. Besides the chocolate tarte (with leaf lard crust to die for), roasted three beets with olive oil and garlic (the bright red beet skins saved to make Easter egg dye), a butternut squash cubed and roasted, duck broth and carrot top antioxidant soup (in the oven!) for our duck won ton soup tonight, a millefeuille of golden carrots, sweet onions and fish for lunch and duck l’orange salad.
There has never been a moment that I have not admired the people who live this way--frugally, responsibly, close to the earth and being good stewards of what they've been given. Back when Chris told me that her family, which is roughly three times larger than mine, produces something like a third of the trash that my family produces (yes, this means that we're trashier than Chris' family), it was a huge wake-up call. That's when I really started noticing things like excessive packaging. I thought I'd been pretty alert before, but I was kidding myself.
Since we've moved to this house, we've been progressively "de-cluttering," though as soon as we get rid of a truckload or two, another pile seems to materialize in its place--we have a long way to go and our work cut out for us before we get down to a more minimalist place. I have never been a big shopper (my husband has that role in our relationship), but I cut the flow of money further, where I could, and continue to look for ways to do that. Case in point, tonight's trip to the grocery store with my fistful of coupons, which yielded $212 worth of goods for which I paid $92. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in that, but once you start down this road, you begin to constantly look for more, for ways to do better. Saving money on groceries and shampoo is not benefiting me if I'm turning around and spending those savings on books and magazines and restaurant sushi. It's my intention, in a couple of months, once Alex's truck is paid off and Bella is out of private preschool, to begin socking my grocery savings into a savings account, so that there's a more tangible result to show for all my scrimping and stockpiling. Right now, however, we are broker than broke (thanks, tornado season!), so that will have to wait.
In the meantime, I'm learning about the "slow food" movement, and getting ready to plant vegetables and raise chickens. That's right. Since we live on a giant rock now, I'm going to try some box gardens (thanks to my Twitterbuds who recommended "Square Foot Gardening") to raise organic veggies, to eat in-season and to stock our freezer for later in the year. But the important thing here is the chickens. I am beyond excited about the chickens, and if you ask my husband, he will tell you that I can't shut up about the chickens.
I had a small flock of Araucanas and Sebrights once before, along with a 3-foot-tall Dominique or Barred Rock (not sure which) rooster. They fell, one by one, to the poodles. I'd let the dogs out to play, and the next thing I knew, one of those darn chickens would have flown into the dog yard and gotten herself rapidly devoured. I have to give the poodles points for efficiency, though, because there was never anything left but a pile of feathers and a gallbladder. The rooster...well, I know for a fact that he went down fighting. His name was Gary, and he was enormous, and used to actually go for little constitutionals on the street where I lived. It was a sight to see, Gary strutting down the road and back home again. One day he just vanished, and I assumed that he'd fallen victim to fowl play (HAR!) while on one of his walks. Around that same time, Delta lost her collar and had several deep scratches on her face--I thought she'd gotten her head stuck in the fence in front of the brambles, or something. I think you see where this is going.
A couple of weeks later, while clearing the tall grass behind the barn, I discovered all that remained of Gary. I almost wish I had a picture, because words cannot convey the horror...there, in the underbrush, was a flash of purple. Delta's collar, which had been pulled off over her head. And firmly and forever affixed to that collar were two giant chicken feet, clutching it like macabre yellow vice-grips. I can't even imagine the scene that culminated in poor Gary being separated from his feet, but to this day I admire his tenacity. I did not reclaim the collar--I figured Gary had earned the trophy, even if it was posthumously.
So now, new chickens are coming! This time, there will be a dedicated and secure chicken yard, most likely with netting over the top so they can't fly out. On April 7th, I'll be receiving a tidy little flock of day-old Buff Orpington chicks. They're beautiful birds, and a heritage breed, not a modern commercial cross. Most of the cockerels will become meat, and the best hens will be used for eggs and to hopefully reproduce and sustain our flock, so that we're not just buying a new flock of chicks every year. What I like about this arrangement, aside from the potential sustainability, is that it gives me an opportunity to really take responsibility for what I feed my family. Even most "organic" chicken is cage-raised (egg farming seems to be even worse), and it's almost impossible to know the conditions in which the animals are kept. I'll know that these birds are healthy and happy, that they're fed natural, wholesome, species-appropriate food, that no pesticides or antibiotics or hormones are involved. I'll know that the animals who serve me live a robust life and meet a humane end. The meat and eggs they produce will be better for us, better for the environment, and in the big scheme of things, taking one family, who eats more chicken than any other protein, off the factory-farmed poultry grid is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
I also like that Bella is learning where meat comes from, and that she won't grow up distanced from the source of what winds up on her plate. If you're going to eat meat, it seems to me to be better to be responsible for it, to know what you're eating and how it was treated--and I think this philosophy also puts her in a better, more informed position for choosing to be a vegetarian or a vegan, should she feel led to do that. Heck, you might check back here in six months and find out that I myself am now a vegetarian with a giant flock of pet chickens. Who knows? It's doubtful, though--even though I have maintained a vegetarian and even a vegan lifestyle at times in the past, I was only able to do it with the consumption of a great deal of soy product, mainly meat substitutes, tofu, soy milk, and TVP. And, well, knowing what we now know about soy, that's just not smart, especially for someone with estrogen issues...and since Bella likely carries my predisposition toward estrogen-dominant disease, I'd like to not load the deck against her at the start.
Other things we can do to further distance ourselves from industrial farming includes only buying beef from our local, independent butcher, who slaughters one or two cows a week--cows which are brought in by local farmers. We already eat very little beef, and even less pork, but the dogs eat beef, so it's good to know that we have a source we can trust. We can also buy locally farmed catfish easily, and can catch trout from clean waters almost all year long. And as skeeved out as I initially was when Alex started seriously pursuing hunting, now that I've enjoyed several meals that his efforts have provided, I can appreciate the logic of the hunter/game relationship. I definitely feel better about eating wild game than I do factory-farmed beef, pork, or poultry, and that big tom turkey that Alex brought home last month was mighty tasty, and provided us with meat for several meals, plus gallons of rich, clear stock for the freezer (my Jewish friends will weep at the fact that I did not save the schmaltz--what little there was). We've barely made a dent in the freezer full of venison that came from the single deer he got this winter.
So, yeah...I'll probably be talking more about the chickens, and "slow food" in general, and posting pictures of ridiculously decorated henhouses and oodles of fuzzy baby chicks, so just get used to it. Like I said, I can barely shut up about THE CHICKENS. If you have thoughts or suggestions on slow food or slow living in general, I'd love to hear them.