Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, February 6, 2012

NTA Book Club: Part 1 - Laying It All Out

Welcome to the first book club post for my book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You! This is the first of seven posts and will cover Part 1 of the book, Laying It all Out. The format will be the same for each Monday's postings: review followed by discussion questions. If you have questions from the section outside what I'm mentioning here, feel free to ask! I'm splitting the book up into small chunks to make the book club an easy breeze rather than feel like a midterm exam. So, expect them to be short and fun!

Part 1: Laying It All Out - Review
In this section, I describe why I started looking into environmental toxins in the first place. The most compelling reasons were linked to the fact that my son was diagnosed with developmental problems on the autistic spectrum and, more alarmingly, my husband was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of blood cancer with a relatively dire prognosis.

After wondering why two of my family members were stricken with such debilitating diseases, I wondered what environmental factors beyond genetic predisposition triggered these conditions. As I did more and more research on the potential for toxins such as pesticides, solvents and other chemicals to contribute to autism and cancers, I became curious to find out what my own body burden level of toxins were.

I also started looking at my own health problems and wondering what environmental impacts could be triggering those issues. I started looking at the true risks of many of the chemicals exposures we subject ourselves to on a daily basis and looked into whether or not those exposures meant anything significant.

Ultimately, I lined up a number of chemical body burden tests to determine how I ranked in comparison to the average American. Was my body more or less exposed to toxins and, did my aversion to chemical-based products by choosing organic and "natural" products really amount to anything?

Discussion Questions
1. How concerned are you of the long-term health consequences of the chemicals you knowingly (via consumer products) and unknowingly (via background exposure) are exposed to? Do you think they amount to anything or is it just a load of paranoia?

2. All the chemicals mentioned in the book are deemed "safe" by the FDA, do you think they are safe or do you think we need far more testing done on them?

3. Do you feel like you have more and more friends and family members being stricken by diseases like cancers and autism? Do you think these are on the rise or is it just a matter of better diagnosis and reporting?

4. Do you think that organic and "natural" consumer products are safer than conventional ones?

5. Would you undergo toxin body burden testing if you had access to it and it were paid for?

Feel free to answer the discussion questions in the comments of this post, or via Facebook if you are following along from the fan page. And, if you haven't yet read the book, you are welcome to participate as well!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How to make maple brown sugar cured bacon

Tuesday night I prepared the pork belly that we got as part of our pig share using a maple brown sugar cure as described in The Urban Farmer Handbook.

It went as such:

1. Rinse and pat dry pork belly
2. Mix equal parts coarse kosher salt, dark brown sugar and maple syrup (in this case I had 8.3 pounds of pork belly so I used 1/2 cup of each ingredient)
3. Rub mix all over pork belly
4. Place into gallon Ziploc bags
5. Store in fridge for 7 days
6. Flip bags every other day to distribute cure

While I hate the idea of using plastic bags, I hate trichinosis even more. So, in spite of my apprehension, given the amount of belly I had to work with, I used 3 one-gallon bags. After the cure is complete, I'll be smoking the bacon. More posts to come to finish the job...

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the process to whet your appetite:

The Pork Belly:

The Cure:

The Meat Side:

The Skin Side:

The Finished "Product" - three gallon Ziploc bags of curing belly:

Have you ever made your own bacon from pork belly?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Going in on a pig share

Monday night our pig farmer was kind enough to pick up our half of a pig share from the butcher and deliver it to our front door. I ended up sharing a whole hog with Annette Cottrell from Sustainable Eats and the author of The Urban Farm Handbook after she hooked me up with Luke Conyac of Conyac Brothers' Farmstead.

I had gone up to visit their farm a few weeks earlier to watch the hog slaughter that was masterfully done by two gentlemen from Silvana Meats who came to the farm to process the pigs.

The Conyac brothers raise a mix of Herefords, Gloucestershire Old Spots and what we got, something that is called a Bluebutt, which is a cross between a Hampshire and a Yorkshire. I had the delight of seeing all of their pigs in their natural environment as I hung out for a while post-slaughter. They run a small farm operation of less than 20 hogs, which makes for a cozy farmstead.

They raise their hogs on rotated pastureland and supplement with a local certified organic feed. As you can see in the picture above, they make quick work of the grass and shrubs, which necessitates the need to move them from one section of the farm to the next. This particular pig we got was finished on an organic grain mix of barley, oats and wheat from a nearby supplier in the Skagit Valley.

The Conyac's charge $2.75 per pound live weight and then there's the slaughter, butchering and smoking costs from Silvana Meats. In the case of my pig, the hanging weight was about 88 pounds per half (minus the head, trotters, entrails and other sundry parts).

As a result, we had delivered roughly 70 pounds of meat (which ended up being about $6.50/pound) as follows. Not a bad deal for local, organic, pastured pork raised in an ├╝ber-sustainable way:

  • 1 shoulder roast
  • 2 smoked ham roasts
  • 1 smoked picnic ham
  • 2 ham hocks
  • 5 pork loin roasts
  • 1 country style ribs
  • 1 pork spare ribs
  • 1 baby back
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • pork belly
  • pork sausage

I spent Tuesday evening getting the pork belly prepared for a week long curing in the fridge for making bacon. I'll be doing a separate post on that, but as a teaser, here's a picture of the belly in the maple brown sugar salt cure: