Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Face of Hunger

So today is Earth Day and in honor of that, I am starting my week-long commitment to a cause that covers not only the Earth, but more specifically, each of our home towns. I was absolutely humbled when I was asked last week to take part in a joint Austin Food Bank/Austin Food Blogger project. Mission impossible? Not quite.

Our introduction to the project officially took place last night, where I met with a group of new (to me) and amazing people here in Austin at our local food bank. We toured the facility and learned more about how our local food banks support the community. We learned about "the face of hunger" and that each one has their own personal story. We got a hands-on at the programs that supply food pantries all around town from this warehouse. We walked through the organic gardens set up on the premises that are used to educate future supporters in starting their own gardens to help provide fresh produce. I, like the rest of my fellow bloggers, was humbled by the statistics of hunger, the effects it has on our nation, and the simple-yet-effective ways that we can all help out.

The project that we have agreed to take on - in a nut shell - is this: Take a typical list of what a client would receive from the food bank and cook with it for a week.In our case, the list was derived from what was available at the Pflugerville pantry on a specific day last week. Along with this bag of groceries, we can buy additional items based on the few extra dollars that would come in the form of a Lone Star Card from SNAP (the Texas food stamp program) and/or if you qualify for WIC. We were each told to go about this as our own personal journey so that we would have many unique perspectives to share with our readers.

So I've initially chosen to go about this as if my husband (the main bread winner) were to have lost his job and we were depending on my part time job to make ends meet. Here is the interesting part to me - more than half of the clients at these pantries fall into this category. So how will it feel to have a job, insurance, a car and a roof over our head, but possibly not enough food at the end of the day to sit down with our family to a good meal? That's a good question and what I'm about to find out. Follow me and other Austin bloggers as we journal our perspectives on the face of hunger and try to uncover ways to bring more awareness to your table. Maybe then, we can all find a way to change the face of hunger. I'm jus' sayin'!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Live Within Our Means?

This past Thursday, I got to take my brother and his family to Johnson City for the LBJ "Ranch Tour". They're out visiting from California and having them out at this time of the year, when the wildflowers are at full throttle, is an extra thrill. With that in mind, a trip through the Texas Hill Country was the perfect idea, or so we thought, until our lovely Austin skies decided to open up and give those lovely flowers a nice drink. I must say that even with dark clouds and the sticky rain we still managed to have a great time. I love little unexpected field trips that lead to informative yet interesting ventures into the world of food. Thursday was one of those days.

I was not aware that the LBJ Ranch had a working sustainable farm on the premises. Call it fate or the nasty weather that got us a one-on-one tour with the docents - either way it was quite memorable. I have been on working farms before where they function exactly the way a pioneer family would many years ago. I got the Hog & Calf Slaughter 101 class from a regular volunteer and was absolutely amazed at the way the animal was used, with absolutely no waste. I saw bowls of fresh crackling's used to flavor the canned veggies and I saw jars among jars of canned meats and produce and pickles and jams. If that was not enough, I was invited into the kitchen where the staff had already begun to settle down for lunch. I was amazed at the farm table and all of it's condiments. Fresh butter, fresh farmer's cheese, garden salad from their sustainable garden. Meatloaf made with a freshly butchered calf. Potatoes and bread, and of course, my favorite was this blueberry crumble dessert sitting on the table cooling, just about to be finished off with fresh churned buttermilk. Are you salivating yet? I sure was! I could not help but take in that aroma (of course my empty stomach did not help either).

While the others in our group were out checking on all of the cute animals, my brother and I continued to ask questions about the farm and the "old" ways of doing things (a desire for food knowledge is something we share). We learned about how life on a farm could be altered by the severity of each passing season, as well as how each farm was generally a part of a local co-op. After seeing how much was done with the tools they had as a part of their "simple life", I thought about why I feel the desperate need to have all the latest cooking gadgets. After all, this farm kitchen was filled with delicious food and all made with the simplest tools. Okay, so I don't plan on butchering my own hog anytime soon or using their dried bellies for party balloons, however, I do think I need to take far more advantage of my local farmers and learn much more about being sustainable. Will I give up my Kitchen-Aid? Probably not! But I do plan on canning more this summer and right about now, some fresh bread with homemade butter on it sounds like a piece of simple heaven... I'm jus' sayin'!

Homemade Butter

1 clean jar with tight lid
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1 very strong arm

Pour cream in jar. Shake vigorously. When you think your done (it will probably just be whipped cream) give it some more shakes until you hear a loud clunk and you see through the cloudy water a hunk of golden butter. Drain the liquid. Replace with clean water and shake and drain. Do this 3 times until the water is clear. This is called "washing the butter". When the last rinse is done it's ready to spread. If you prefer a bit of salt in your butter you can add a pinch in the first shaking.