Best diet hack ever!

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It’s January, and in America at least, that means New Year’s resolutions. Gyms are packed. Whole Foods is packed. Juice bars are packed. “Revolutionary” diet books and “foolproof” programs and “guaranteed” supplements and exorbitantly expensive electronic bikes are winging their way to doorsteps across the country even as we speak. And for what, dear friends? Although “get healthy” and “lose weight” are by far the most common resolutions, numerous studies have shown that over 80% of all resolutions are abandoned somewhere in February, if not sooner. The problem isn’t the resolution itself – it’s the way most of us go about it.

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In this country, we are nothing if not dietary extremists. We go vegan or Paleo or gluten-free on impulse, or because we think everyone else is doing it. We blindly subscribe to the latest social media-fueled/celebrity-endorsed “health” trend. (Looking at you, celery juice.) We ignore moderation as a lifestyle entirely, and instead fixate on the newest, shiniest trick that promises to make us better, healthier and twenty pounds lighter. But why haven’t the fifty previous sparkly tricks worked? Because all of those glittering promises are built on quick fixes and short-term solutions, not on building a lifetime of habits. Let’s be honest – anyone can stick to pretty much anything for a week or two, maybe even a month or six weeks. Eat more salads? No problem. Cut back on alcohol? Easy. Go full-on keto? Tougher, but still manageable.

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Here’s the trouble, though: you have to eat every single day for the rest of your life, most likely multiple times a day. If you jump on some trendy diet bandwagon and carefully measure every single morsel of food you consume, you will mostly likely lose weight – for at least a few weeks. But you will also take all of the joy of eating out of your life, and you will spend an inordinate amount of time calculating macros and other regimented nonsense and you will become someone who doesn’t get invited to a lot of get-togethers. And after a while you’ll fall off the wagon and hate yourself and just give up entirely, which defeats the whole purpose.

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This is truly the only “diet book” you will ever need.

We’re here to argue that you don’t need powders, potions, supplements or “new diet hacks.” You don’t need the latest diet book or some random guy’s workout routine off Instagram. You don’t need an expensive gym membership where ridiculously fit and tan people stroll around taking mirror selfies. Sure, those things are great, but they don’t work for most people. What works is pretty simple, but because it’s not flashy and doesn’t make influencers a bunch of money, no one ever mentions it. All you have to do is: cook. And cook regularly.

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That’s it. That’s my whole “get healthy” plan. (You’re welcome to send me $19.99 every month, but I won’t hold my breath.) Here’s the unvarnished truth, friends, from someone who spent way too many years in the food-service trenches: no matter what you cook from scratch at home, it’s healthier (and often tastier) than what you eat in restaurants, and far better than packaged, processed, boxed and wrapped foods. Don’t believe me? Look at some labels next time you’re in the grocery store, or even in your own pantry. Salad dressing, yogurt, soup, bread, granola bars and so many more examples – the vast majority of these have ingredients that you can’t pronounce, much less buy. Food processors use mysterious additives, flavorings and colors, and restaurants use substantially more fat, salt and sugar than you might at home, because these ingredients make food taste good and look good and because you can’t see what they’re adding and how much.

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If you want to do one single thing to improve your health this year, resolve to cook more. Whether you don’t cook at all and want to learn a few simple techniques, like vegetable-packed soup or stir-fries, or whether you cook frequently but want to up your game with homemade bread or yogurt, or whether you’re starting to grow more of your own food but aren’t really sure what to do with all those vegetables, we see you. And we know you can do it. Like learning any other skill, cooking well takes time and it takes practice. As you practice, as you improve, as you learn to trust your own palate, preparing simple, nourishing, whole foods from scratch will become a task you enjoy rather than punishment. Learn to embrace cooking for yourself and for your household not as thankless drudgery, but as the highest form of self-care. Just cook, and cook often: it’s the very best thing you can do to get healthier.

“Here’s a toast to a bright 2020. We’re sure to face challenges and difficulties. I am feeling oddly hopeful about things in general, despite the news. I feel like our obligation is to provide normalcy and sustenance in a rapidly changing world. We home cooks are the glue.” -Steve Sando, Rancho Gordo

 

 

Farm update: January 6

Hello there, and a very happy new year to you and yours. If you’re here for the first time, welcome! If you’re returning after our hiatus, thanks for coming back! We look forward to sharing a new year of food and farm adventures with you.

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Our updated Snow Management Plan in action!

Last winter – our first winter at Quiet Farm – our area received an unprecedented amount of snow. Our inaugural Snow Management Plan was…ineffective, shall we say; we had no tractor and no plow and no way of getting out of our quarter-mile driveway with a foot of snow on the ground. At one point, we resorted to begging a friend with a truck to flatten the snow by driving up and down our lane so we could at least leave the farm (thanks, Joe!). Needless to say, that was not a sustainable long-term solution.

This winter we haven’t had nearly as much snow, but we do have a plan – a detachable plow for our ATV. And so far, the ATV plow has worked like a champion. We’re even thinking of purchasing other implements for the ATV, so that we can use it like a mini-tractor, since we’ve been unsuccessful in finding a reasonably-priced midsize tractor to manage our pasture. Stay tuned.

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Roasted vegetables, quinoa, greens and a bright, flavorful dressing. Dinner sorted.

What are you cooking these days? Just as we don’t celebrate the holidays in the traditional manner, we also don’t punish ourselves in January like most of America. When it comes to eating well, consistency and moderation – neither particularly revolutionary or interesting or profitable – are the keys to success. We eat mostly plant-based, so a plate of raw or sauteed greens topped with grains, a mess of deeply caramelized vegetables and some sort of vibrant sauce, plus nuts and seeds and sharp, salty cheese for texture and contrast, is a perfect meal any time of year. Roast all your vegetables, cook your grains and make your dressings on the weekend, then eat variations for lunch and dinner throughout the week. Remember, cooking and eating well isn’t punishment, and food isn’t supposed to make you miserable.

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An apple a day and all that.

Speaking of what we’re eating, fresh, local fruit is in obviously short supply in deepest winter. We have dried and frozen cherries and canned peaches from last summer, but the fresh produce options in our grocery store aren’t spectacular, to say the least. Thankfully, though, we live in Colorado’s apple basket! Stored correctly, fresh apples can actually last up to a year – and we’re still able to buy a half-bushel (about 25 pounds) from our neighbor for just a few dollars. Last season’s apple crop was badly damaged by hail and other weather catastrophes, so we’re happy to keep supporting local growers however we can. (If you buy an American-grown apple in summer, you’re buying one from the previous fall. Thankfully apples don’t carry expiration dates or everyone would completely freak out about eating ten-month-old “fresh” fruit.)

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Never mind the quilt…just look at that gorgeous deer fence!

Beyond reading and baking bread, winter is also for sewing. Some years back a friend gave me stacks of apple-themed fabrics she didn’t want, and I carefully packed them away. Then, of course, we moved to apple country and so an apple-themed quilt seemed just the ticket. I’ve sewn a couple of quilts previously for family but definitely consider myself merely a beginner; this was the first quilt I made just for me and I’m quite pleased with how it came out. My favorite aspect of quilting is that you take something that would otherwise be thrown out and make it into something warm and comforting and lovely. And yes, I probably should have been born in the 1850s. (Feel free to send me your fabric scraps if you want to see them here in future quilt projects!)

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This bird is rather easy to identify (Haliaeetus leucocephalus).

We are excited to announce that we have a pair of nesting bald eagles about a mile from the farm. Last spring we tracked a mated pair up on a nearby mesa, but we’ve never seen any so close to us and we’re thrilled to look for them on chilly walks almost every day. Did you know that the female bald eagle is larger than the male, and that she can have a wingspan of over seven feet? These are truly majestic birds, and seeing them regularly is just one of the many great things about living where we do.

Thanks for reading, friends. We’re looking forward to a terrific year at Quiet Farm, and we’re so pleased to have you here.

P.S. Two years ago we were at the National Western Stock Show! And three years ago we started our round-the-world trip in Japan!

 

On hiatus

Over the next eight weeks (at least in the U.S.), we’ll careen wildly from one overwrought celebration to another. From a holiday where we decorate with fresh, healthy vegetables but celebrate with cheap processed candy (while leaving the vegetables to rot in the landfill) to a holiday where we throw away the equivalent of fourteen million turkeys to a holiday predicated entirely upon excessive spending, consumption, packaging and waste, the next two months are a difficult and challenging time of year for many people – including us.

And thus Finding Quiet Farm is on hiatus for the rest of 2019, though we’ll stay busy. We’re going to bundle up, hunker down and get to work on all sorts of interesting tasks, both indoors and out. We’ll be back in the new year with farm updates, lots of book recommendations, a detailed tutorial on making your own delicious meatless burgers and photos of all our projects. We’ll be quiet and productive and we’ll skip the holidays entirely, thanks very much.

Take good care of yourselves, friends, and cook something tasty and nourishing. We hope to see you back here in 2020.

Farm update: October 21

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The south lawn of our house makes a peaceful resting spot.

Is it autumn where you live? Is it crisp and cool with bright scarlet and gold leaves everywhere? Is it dark when you wake up in the morning? It is here, and we’re settling into this brief transition season before winter extends its icy grip. Much of our work these days involves cleaning, tidying, preserving, covering and generally setting things in place for the colder months. We try to take advantage of these bluebird fall days for as long as we can; once the snows come, we won’t be working outside much.

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Growing garlic takes forever, but it’s worth the wait.

Ninety of this season’s largest garlic cloves have been planted in a bed newly prepared with lots of rich compost. Last year’s garlic went into an existing cinderblock bed that was here when we moved in; a few weeks ago we broke that bed down and dispersed the soil into new trenches for garlic and asparagus. The cloves will slumber quietly here over the winter, and in the spring we’ll hopefully see green garlic peeking up through mulch and snow. Every year we’ll plant more and more garlic; we eat a lot of it, of course, but since garlic adapts to its unique environment, we want a generous quantity to save for planting.

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The water runs through a culvert underneath our driveway and out into our pasture. You can see our flume in the upper right.

We ran our irrigation water for the first time this season, and it went surprisingly well. Our pasture isn’t planted right now so the irrigation run was more of an experiment to see how the water would move through our gated pipe system. We own shares in a local creek that pulls water from reservoirs on the Grand Mesa; when we want to run water we order a certain amount for a certain period and that water is deducted from our account. This run was for two days (forty-eight hours straight!) and it requires a lot of hands-on management, mainly opening and closing gates manually in the big pipes. When we’re more comfortable with our irrigation we won’t need to babysit it as much, but we’re unleashing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water mere feet from our house, and we definitely want to pay close attention to where it’s going.

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Our tomato crop redeemed itself after a rocky start.

We harvested all of our vegetables prior to our recent hard freeze and brought in just over one hundred pounds of green, unripe tomatoes. In the past I’ve never had good luck ripening tomatoes indoors, but for whatever reason these are ripening quite well. They’re no longer good to eat fresh – the overnight temperatures dropped too low, so the tomatoes taste as though they’ve been refrigerated – but they’re perfect for sauces, soups and purees. A pantry stocked with canned homegrown tomatoes is a winter gift indeed.

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One of our little saplings, hopefully protected from winter weather (and deer). 

We’ve hustled recently to layer all of our fruit tree saplings with warm winter mulch. Some of our little trees look healthy and others are…struggling. We’re hopeful that the mulch blanket will keep the trees protected from our harsh winter weather, since their root systems are likely to still be quite delicate. One of our priority spring projects next year will be to put a drip irrigation system in the orchard so we can stop watering the trees by hand.

We’re back to work, friends. We wish you a good week.

 

Save our seeds

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Our first hard frost is forecast this week, so there is much to be done. In addition to lots of canning and preserving, autumn on a small homestead means saving seeds. We’ve talked about the importance of seed saving previously, and each season we’re working on expanding our seed bank. Never before has it been so important to save our own seeds and thereby take responsibility for our own food supply; as seed companies are again and again snapped up by massive agrochemical conglomerates, our control of our own seeds – our fundamental birthright, and the source of our food supply – becomes ever more tenuous.

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Most lettuces and other salad greens encase their seeds in little windblown puffballs.

As I wrote in our previous seed post, “Today, nearly three-quarters of all seeds planted in the U.S. – both unmodified and genetically engineered varieties – are privately owned and controlled by three large agrichemical corporations. Growing food is a basic human right, and we are quickly moving towards a future in which we will no longer own the source of our food. Lack of food leads to hunger, which leads to unrest, which leads to revolution, which leads to profitable wars benefitting those same corporations. Building our own seed banks, even if technically illegal, means we still have some say in our food supply. Seed saving is a small but powerful act of resistance.”

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How to save the world

Last Friday, millions of people around the world marched as part of a “global climate strike.” The march was intended to draw world leaders’ attention to the climate crisis in advance of the U.N. General Assembly taking place this week in New York City. While the sight of millions of mostly young people taking to the streets to make their voices heard is heartening in theory, teenagers in expensive sneakers carrying smartphones and pithy signs aren’t going to change the perilous trajectory we’re on.

Despite the fact that we are by far the world’s largest consumer and by extension the world’s largest polluter per capita, the U.S. is the only country in the world still debating the very existence of climate change. While other countries have their heads down working to find solutions, we’re still arguing over whether this is actually happening, and if so whose fault it is. (Spoiler alert: ours.) This disparity will be on full public view this week at the U.N.; once again, we’ll look like idiots on the world stage, a role in which we’re becoming increasingly comfortable.

Here’s the painful truth: we can’t protest the idea of large corporations destroying the planet, because we are the reason those corporations exist. If we didn’t buy their products – if we didn’t upgrade our iPhones every year, if we didn’t rob each other at gunpoint for thousand-dollar puffer jackets, if we didn’t accept and then dispose of two million plastic bags per minute – these corporations wouldn’t be able to plunder the planet. We are the problem, and by that logic we also have to be the solution.

Mental health professionals have reported a sharp uptick in the number of people seeking treatment for depression related to the environmental catastrophe we’re facing. It’s a massive, complex problem, and it’s easy to feel hopeless when confronted with its scale. On a personal level, I’ve long since graduated from severe eco-anxiety and now find myself teetering on the cliff of abject climate despair. I don’t think we’re going to be able to fix this, but we can’t choose to do nothing and watch the world implode around us. With that in mind, here are five things we can implement immediately that might just make a difference.

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You can pickle that

Are you swimming in zucchini and other summer squashes right now? We are, and grateful for it; if not for squash and kale and basil, I wouldn’t have grown much of anything this season. But what to do with all that zucchini, once you’ve grilled it in thick slices and tossed it with pasta and made overly-sweet not-at-all-healthy zucchini bread and so on? Those plants keep producing, even the surprise volunteers that showed up in the potato towers and the compost pile. Well, you could pickle that.

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What to do when the zucchini are threatening to take over.

The Quiet Farm household isn’t a huge fan of traditional cucumber dill pickles. I’ve tried them all the ways over the years – even traditional barrel fermentation, which meant that I once dumped five gallons of moldy, slimy cucumbers and their brine into our overwhelmed compost pile back at our old house in Denver – and it’s never been something that we’ve loved. (One of my sacrosanct rules of preserving: only make what you’ll actually eat.) Our altitude means that canned vegetables have to be processed much longer in a boiling water bath so pickles are almost always soggy; limp, overcooked cucumbers aren’t my thing. Also, even though I adore sharp, acidic flavors, standard vinegar pickles are sometimes just…too much.

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The FAQ Series: Tomatoes

People think of tomatoes as a summer crop – as in June and July summer. And perhaps you live in a Magical Land of Elves and Unicorns (hello, Florida and southern California!) where field-grown tomatoes are available virtually year-round. Here in western Colorado, however, field-grown tomatoes don’t come on strong until August and September – but of course all the food blogs and magazines are telling us that it’s now time for apple cider and winter squash and pumpkin spice everything. It’s a confusing period, this shoulder season.

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Seed packets offer plenty of information – and if it’s an heirloom, they’ll be sure to mention it.

There is no debate that tomatoes are the star of the garden. They’re by far the most popular crop for home gardeners as well as the biggest seller at farmers’ markets, and more tomatoes are grown each year than any other fruit in the world – including apples and bananas. There are more than twenty thousand known varieties of tomatoes, and new cultivars are developed every year.

Like the word organic, the word heirloom gets thrown around a lot in reference to tomatoes. But what is an heirloom tomato, exactly? And why do they cost five dollars a pound?

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Small victories

In ten years of growing food, this is by far the most challenging season we’ve ever experienced. Between punishing hail, voracious deer, late snows, devastating winds, crafty rodents and ten million grasshoppers (I’m certain the locusts are on their way), we feel we’ve taken everything the world can throw at new farmers. We might be down, we might be bruised, but we’re not out yet. And in that spirit, how about we count up some wins?

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Thanks, sunflowers, for cheering us on with your bright faces.

Our farm is awash in sunflowers right now, not one of which we planted. They weren’t here last year when we moved in (historic drought?), but we’re so glad to see them this year. Hopefully they’ll continue to self-seed and their cheerful countenances will be part of every summer here.

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