You Are Where You Eat

Feeding Candy to Cows

Candy for cows

Prepare to insert a candy corn joke here:

I caught this story yesterday (thanks to Judith from the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance for putting this out there) and I couldn't help myself. Feeding candy to cows? For one man in Kentucky, that's his solution to providing calories in the face of skyrocketing corn prices. Perhaps because corn is already an unnatural part of a cow's diet, candy can't be much worse? At any rate, here's the original article in full:

Kentucky Feedlot Manager Feeds Candy to Cows

While my initial reaction is just this side of horrified, feeding candy to cows brings up a host of questions in my mind:

- What's the difference between a rancher and someone who operates a feedlot? The article describes the latter by the former's title, is that accurate?

- Is corn expensive only because of drought? Or is it more complicated? What about the effect of land speculation?

- It's said another factor in the price of corn is ethanol production. What regulations are in place that makes this happen? How can they be changed?

- In the price of corn, what is the role of government subsidy programs? What do we want to see in the new Farm Bill regarding these subsidies?

- What is our role as consumers? It's easy to blame someone for feeding candy to their cows, but isn't he merely trying to produce a cheap product? Because we demand cheap meat (and lots of it!) aren't we equally culpable for the means to which that end is achieved?

- Finally, how common is this practice? Although it seems shocking, I'm curious if this occurs in pork production as well?

I'll hop off my little soap box but I'd love to hear others' thoughts. Feeding candy to cows: yay or nay?

Eating Great Britain, Part IV: Fooding

One thing I love about British food is that it’s not scary. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good walk on the culinary wild side (fufu and fish heads in Ghana, roasted grubs in Thailand, bull testicles in Spain, and sheep brain right here in the Lone Star State) but sometimes, there is such a thing as a pleasant non-surprise. Brits have mastered the meat and potato combo, along with gems like fish and chips, mushy peas, all things pickled, puddings (or “desserts” as we Yanks say) and other yummy treats (short bread? yes, please).

As our time in England drew to a close, Hubs and I took a couple of day trips into Wales. If you’ve never been, Wales is a beautiful country with lots of sheep and unusual linguistic choices. Exhibit A:

Road sign in Welsh and English 

Right. So. On our jaunt to Hay-on-Wye, “the town of books,” we were delighted by a pop-up farmers’ market but I was absolutely blown away by a food entirely novel to me: flap jacks. Now, as a card carrying American, I grew up with flap jacks as pancakes. Pretty run of the mill stuff. But let me tell you about flap jacks on the other side of the pond: they are so much more delicious, because they are even more full of fat, sugar, and carbs. They’re a little oat bar and if you’re lucky, you can find them topped with chocolate fudge. Wanna fly off to flap jack heaven? Here’s how:

  My new very favorite food 

Flap Jacks 


  * 6 tbsp. syrup

* 2 sticks butter

* 12 oz. oats


  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Butter a 9″x 13″ pan and line the base with baking parchment.
  • Place the syrup and butter into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted into the syrup and stir well.
  • Put the oats into a baking bowl, add a pinch of salt then pour over the butter and syrup mixture and stir to coat the oats.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven while the flapjack is still slightly soft, they will harden once cool.
  • Cut the flapjack into bars and let cool completely before serving.

After stuffing myself full of flap jacks, our second day in Wales was spent getting slightly lost on Sugar Loaf Mountain. Check out the kind of creepy Medieval looking forest we found:

Spooky forest in Wales 

But I digress…on our way back from Hay, we made a pit stop in Hereford (England side of the border) at the Oak Church butchery, farm shop, and garden centre (“r” before “e” because that’s how they do it). At the sight of fresh vegetables, every cut of meat you could imagine –and probably didn’t know existed–  and a cheese case that made me weak in the knees, I knew we were in just the right place.Though I stuck with a grilled portobello mushroom, Hubs bought a few gorgeous steaks and I gotta say, it was nice to see the animals right there in the field enjoying the open air and  cloudy, damp sky.

Cheeses from Oak Church 

It was one of our last nights in the UK and we wanted to make a special, slow dinner for Mum and her beau. We decided to start with local cheeses (Herefordshire goat cheese and a firmer cheese called Little Hereford), crackers and a scrumptious assortment of olives stuffed with garlic, and pickled onions stuffed with blue cheese.

Dinner was steak/portobello, with roasted vegetables, and garlic mashed potatoes. We finished up European style with a green salad and, finally, a homemade rhubarb crumble.

Our meal, starting with wine and nibbles, started around 5 o’clock in the afternoon and eased into the latest hours of the night. There was no rush, no better place to be. For  several creeping hours we ignored our phones and instead enjoyed sharing the kitchen, simple food, real face-to-face conversation, and maybe a few too many bottles of wine.

If this is the best of British eating, I’ll take it.

Eating Great Britain, Part III: Boozing

A year or so ago, I taught a writing class to folks with Alzheimer’s and dementia. On an exercise writing about travel, one gentleman commented that in England, “they have a hundred religions and only one sauce.” Well, that may have been true once upon a time. A few hundred years ago is when Voltaire first made that comment, though he cited only sixty religions. But still one sauce. Bad, bland food seems to be a pesky detail Brits have a hard time shaking. Even now, upon returning from England and telling friends (who haven’t visited the mighty island) about my trip, they instantly don a face of genuine concern before asking, “How was the food?” then wait with bated breath for me to traumatize them with tales of jellied eel and black pudding. Instead, I tell them about the fabulous vegetable gardens and spread the gospel of pickled onions. Truthfully, I don’t know how horrendous English food might have once been. Maybe pretty bad, considering its global reputation (but let’s take it with a grain of salt, especially when judgement comes from our own country that now values quantity over quality). Hubs assures me that English cuisine has greatly improved over the recent years and I have to say, I’ve not had a bad meal yet.

Rumtopf is named for the pot in which it is made

But regardless of food, one thing I’m certain they do right is booze. And how. But I’m not just talking about beer. With his abundance of fruit from the garden, my father-in-law puts it to good use by making his own rum and wine. Too many currants? Ferment them into vino! Tired of eating damson? Drown it in rum! His concoctions are good, though I have to say it’ll make your eyes cross. If you’re thinking of making fruit wine at home, check out this handy guide: 

Homemade black currant wine

And if you’re here for something stronger, I’ll pass along the easiest recipe ever. Drink the rum, and use the boozy fruit as a topping for ice cream.



1 lb. fruit (berries, peaches, plums, etc.)

1 heaping cup sugar



  • Wash fruit and cut in half.
  • Put fruit and sugar in rumtopf. Add enough rum to completely cover the fruit. Mix.
  • Close rumtopf and store in a cool, dry place. You can add more fruit/sugar/rum as you like.
  • Wait about 6 weeks and voila! Fruit flavored rum, and rum flavored fruit!

Eating Great Britain, Part II: Pickling

Pickled onions are a staple on English dining tables
Pickles. Dill, spicy, sweet, you name it. Just typing the word makes my mouth pucker a bit. I’m not afraid to say I have long loved pickles. When I was little, I would drink the brine. Straight. And as a grown-up, I love that same brine mixed with a bit of vodka and a pickle spear (simply called a pickle martini or Rabbi). At around age six or seven, some neighborhood friends and I decided it was high time we left home to eke out a living in the woods. Surviving without adults would be difficult and the others determined toilet paper, flashlights, water, and peanut butter sandwiches were a must. What did I bring to our packing meeting? Pickles. I was that kid that contributed absolutely nothing but pickles. Because what else was there?

Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled to be introduced to pickled onions on my first visit to England last summer. According to the National Onion Association, onions actually have a fascinating history. Not only are they one of the earliest cultivated crops, perhaps even a staple in prehistoric diets, the circle-in-circle design of an onion symbolized eternity to the ancient Egyptians and thus became an object of worship and esteemed funeral offering. The Romans, one of the first to travel with their food in containers, carried onions on their journeys to England and Germany. Today, pickled onions are a traditional addition to English fare, my personal favorite being an appearance on a ploughman’s (hunk of crusty bread, butter, pickled onions, Branston pickle, bit of salad, tomato, and super sharp cheddar or Stilton…a simple lunch that can’t be beat!)

A crop of sadly small onions are perfect for pickling

Unfortunately, I’ve not been so brilliant with our own onion crop. We planted yellow and white onions as our first garden crops but tragically, failed to thin the rows. The result? Onions with beautiful tops but coming out of the ground very, very small. So right before leaving for last month’s visit to England, I pulled up our tiny onions after realizing they would be perfect for pickling. I let them set for two weeks while I was away and upon my return, already missing family and friends in my second home, I opened the jar and tried my first batch of pickled onions. I’m happy to report they taste just like in England. Crunchy, salty, refreshing.

Other than their irresistible taste, pickled onions are great because they can be done in the refrigerator (no need for a boiling water bath) and not give you botulism. My father-in-law pickles onions and his steps are simple: 1) peel the onions, 2) sprinkle with salt and let sit for 24 hours 3) rinse and place in jar with brine.

…But for my first attempt I didn’t yet have that not-so-secret English recipe, so I used the refrigerator pickle recipe from The Hip Girls’ Guide to Homemaking: 

My own pickled onions were as good as I hoped

Pickled Onions 


  • 1 cup vinegar (I used white, but the Brits I polled recommended malt)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • Spices (I added 2 chopped garlic cloves and some peppercorns, but you can add whatever your pickle-loving heart desires!)

1. Wash and cut up your vegetables and pack them into a clean jar. *You don’t need to buy Ball jars, you can just save and reuse salsa jars, pasta sauce jars, etc. You can also opt to blanch your veggies, though I prefer the crunch of raw.

2. Add spices.

3. Combine in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil the vinegar, water, and salt. *Add sugar for sweet pickles.

4. Pour the boiled brine over the vegetables in the jar.

5. Seal your jar and let them sit in fridge for at least one week (the longer you wait, the better they’ll taste) and voila! Pickled onions!

Anyone else pickling vegetables this summer? What’s your favorite method? 

Eating Great Britain, Part I: Gardening

picking English strawberries

The worst thing about being an expat wife is splitting life between two countries. And the best thing about being an expat wife is splitting life between two countries. We have to time phone calls just right, miss one family during the holidays, and deal with expensive flights and an exchange rate wildly out of our favor. On the other hand we have the perfect excuse to visit England anytime we want, play Austin tour guides on occasion, and –my personal favorite– swap our particular food and drink traditions, whether it be the esteemed Texas barbeque or the uniquely British pub culture.

Besides the image of a pint of bitter in front of a roaring fire, we all know the quintessential English garden: think roses in full bloom and lots of other flowery things that don’t grow particularly well in Texas heat. Ya know, the old Mary, Mary, quite contrary…thanks to all that abundant rain, not only do the Brits have great flowers, they can also grow a staggering variety of fruits and vegetables. Granted we have the sunshine and heat necessary for some real treats like melons, okra, and hot peppers. But on a visit to my father-in-law’s garden allotment, I couldn’t help but be a bit green with envy. Rows of Japanese onions, trellised beans, berries, currants, gorgeous lettuces, potatoes, and who knows what else.

fresh broad beans
Dad and June’s bountiful allotment is a short walk from their home in Bidford-on-Avon. They can be found there nearly every day, turning compost, tending plants in the greenhouse, and harvesting. They know the other gardeners, from the Japanese expat who modeled her garden after those from home to the man that prefers pesticides over hand weeding. Dad and June recently planted their first plum tree and explained that while they try new potato varieties, they always put in a row of Nadine, which are reliable and consistent. They eat what they grow; only stopping at the shop for milk, the butcher for meat, and the baker for bread. To me, it looks like simple living at its best. Besides, I always say that you don’t slow down because you get old, you get old because you slow down. And what better way to stay young than growing food?

a rare sunny afternoon in England

Cottage Food Laws

A photo of PhyllisWe’re coming up on the first birthday of SB 81, the Texas cottage food law that was signed by Gov. Rick Perry on June 17, 2011 and went into effect last September.

Cottage food laws allow individuals to make certain non-hazardous foods (generally baked goods, jams, spices, etc.) in their home kitchen and sell them directly to consumers; currently, there are 32 states with cottage food laws. In theory, these provisions remove barriers for both entrepreneurs and consumers.

But in my dear Lone Star State, it’s not been all sugar and spice and everything nice. Home bakers hit a serious roadblock when the proposed labeling rules were unveiled. In a flurry of red tape, cottage food producers had to include an ingredient list in descending order of prominence including metric measurements (is it just me, or is that essentially publishing your secret recipe?) and also the words, “Made in home kitchen, food is not inspected by the Department of State Health Services or a local health department” in at least an 11-point font.

Although I understand letting consumers know what is in their food and where it came from, I can’t help but feel like these are a bit extreme. But thanks to a grass-roots campaign new labeling rules were published just a few weeks ago, which seem to have at play a little more common sense and a lot less bureaucracy (for more details, visit Texas Cottage Food Law).  Unfortunately, some producers are coming up against city zoning laws that threaten to put them out of business– on Tuesday, the Planning & Zoning Commission of the city of Frisco will decide whether to hold a public hearing on their home occupation rules, which currently forbid home bakeries.

Cottage food laws or baker bills are growing across the US

Cottage food laws, or baker's bills, are growing across the US (photo courtesy: Robyn Lee) 

This entire cottage food battle –the achievements and the challenges– has my mind begging a few questions: when did we start invoking the name of public health as a way of scaring citizens? Frankly, I put far greater trust into the food of a local producer trying to support their family over a corporation creating profits for shareholders. Hands down. And when did we stop trusting ourselves? Somewhere along the way, we’ve been convinced by food marketing and government entities that we –the individual– cannot possibly take care of ourselves. We cannot possibly grow our own food or bake our own treats. I disagree. I say let them eat cake…and bake it too, for Pete’s sake!

What about your state? Do you have any cottage food laws? If not, want to get one going? Visit   

Share the Garden Goodness

A photo of PhyllisJune marks the beginning of our sixth month in urban gardening and general homesteading shenanigans. Happy half-birthday to us! Hubs and I have learned some hard lessons (watermelons will overtake everything if you’re not careful; without thinning, peach trees drop their fruit; and the dogs will poop in the garden boxes given the slightest opportunity), and I don’t doubt the next six months will continue keeping our egos in check.

Some of the lessons have been absolutely necessary, namely: patience. Though we both have country in our background, we’re city folk these days. And although our particular city prides itself on a laid-back, casual lifestyle (we named a downtown street after Willie Nelson, my friends) we are guilty of getting swept away in the flurry of work, volunteer obligations, birthdays, baby showers, and everything in between. Growing our own food has required –demanded– us to slow down. We pay attention to the details: the weather patterns, the birds and insects on our property, and does that Ancho Gigantea look a little droopy? And we wait, wait, wait, until just the right time to plant those seeds or thin that row. Nowhere has anticipation been more painful than waiting for harvest, as my mouth practically waters everyday I see our tomatoes on the vine. I’m this close to pulling them off, green, and frying them in a pan.

But not all lessons have been so difficult. One in particular has been delightful: sharing. In our excitement to garden Hubs and I maybe –okay, absolutely– overdid it with our summer vegetable sowing. Hear me now, believe me later: no two people need four watermelon plants, six okra, eight squash, or seven cucumber (I believe wholeheartedly we need four tomato plants). While I’m giddy at the prospect of learning to can, our pantry space might not support my new hobby. So. Giving away it is.

A few weeks ago, we were hosting a cookout and after a couple glasses of wine, I gave a giggly tour of our newest garden addition– the front yard rows. Star of David okra, Lebanese squash, Yellow Crookneck squash, and Pencil Pod beans were barely peeking out of the soil. I beamed with pride as our friends oohed and aahed. Exactly seven days later, they had more than quadrupled in size and were becoming proper young plants. I was thrilled. We again had friends over for dinner. One in particular praised the new veggies and wished she had her own. While everyone finished dessert I snuck out to the front yard, gently dug up a few plants and put them in small pots with soil. I loaded them into her arms on her way out.

okra seedling
Okra seedlings turn out to be a great gift.  

I prized those veggies. I carefully nurtured them to life, protected them from the elements and helped them grow. I couldn’t wait to eat the fruits of my labor. But more than that, I realized, I wanted someone else to feel the same quiet satisfaction of growing something good. That day, our rows were a little bit thinner but our hearts a little bit lighter. The cherry on top? Getting a message the next week from our friend, glowing about her new plants and how much they perked up her backyard. She, too, is excited for the harvest. 

The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, tells us “kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

I have a feeling our garden will be creating a lot of love in the coming months.