Category Archives: food

rBST, rBGH and Dairy Labeling

Some Twitter friends were recently discussing this language, found on many dairy product labels:

No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rBST-treated and non-rBST-treated cows.

A couple of people misread this as meaning that the milk in question DID contain milk derived from rBST-treated cows. However, it’s really the opposite — the dairy companies are required to use this language if they’re also advertising that the product is rBST-free. So I thought maybe I’d post some information for those who might be confused.

rBST and rBGH are used interchangeably. They refer to growth hormones given to dairy cows in order to increase milk production. The hormones were approved for use with dairy cattle in the U.S. in 1993. Not everyone was happy about this, so some companies quickly began advertising that their products did NOT contain milk from cows treated with hormones.

And Monsanto, the company that developed a recombinant version of growth hormones called Posilac, didn’t like THAT, so they used their influence and lawsuits to get the FDA to insist that dairy companies advertising their non-use of growth hormones had to add the disclaimer that there’s NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE between rBST and non-rBST milk. Because otherwise they’d be making false health claims about non-rBST milk being superior.

It’s never been conclusively proven that milk from rBST-treated cows actually harms human health, but studies have shown that the treatment results in health problems in cattle. That’s a problem both if you’re concerned about animal welfare and if you’re concerned about antibiotic use, because increased incidence of mastitis, for instance, leads to increased use of antibiotics in cattle. (REPORT ON ANIMAL WELFARE ASPECTS OF THE USE OF BOVINE SOMATOTROPHIN, European Union Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare, 1999)

In any case, public demand has swung toward milk from non-rBST milk, with many retailers (including Safeway, Kroger, Publix and Walmart) pledging to sell only rBST-free milk. And according to the USDA’s 2007 Dairy Survey (page 79), “A total of 15.2 percent of operations used bST on 17.2 percent of cows.” In many, if not most places, it is fairly easy to find rBST-free dairy products.

So, to conclude, if you see that disclaimer above, it’s most likely there because the product you’re looking at IS from cows NOT treated with rBST.

Photo by Marcy Reiford on Flickr, used via CC BY 2.0 license.

Hints for Making Your Own Jam

Saturday, I went to the farmers’ market and got a half flat of strawberries and a half flat of blueberries for JAM! I’ve already made the strawberry jam, as well as some blueberry pancakes.

You can get exact recipes and instructions for making and preserving jam in lots of places. My favorite is I won’t be giving you the step-by-step here.

However, I did come up with a few tips:

Amounts: You need a half-flat, or six pints of berries to make one batch of jam, which will be eight half-pint jars or four pint jars. You really do want to stick to this quantity, both because it’s a manageable amount and because this helps the jam to set properly. Don’t try to double or triple the recipe! Just make another batch on a different day.

You can, if you wish, make smaller batches of jam without pectin. I’ve done this before — if you have just two pints of berries, you can still make two or three jars of jam! Marisa at Food in Jars is doing a series of posts on Urban Preserving, specifically for those who want to preserve in smaller amounts, and she’s got some great recipes so far.

Time: It took me less than two hours to process a half-flat of strawberries, including sterilizing, washing, hulling, cooking, filling jars, and boiling the finished jars. Some people can probably do it faster; I am not particularly fast. My point is that it will not take all day! I actually fit this batch in between getting a child packed for camp and going to a dinner party. I’ve also been known to run a batch through the canner in the evening after work and dinner.

Equipment: I have a 21.5-quart canner, because I do full batches of jars. If you’re only doing a few jars at a time, you could use a smaller pot, even one that you already have. You just need some kind of “rack” in the bottom, which could simply be a small towel, and you need enough room to have at least 1-2 inches of boiling water above your jars. You’ll also need a jar funnel, jar tongs, and a magnetic lid lifter. You can get these things in the canning section at the supermarket, or as a handy set from Ball.

To cook a full batch of jam, you will also need a four to six-quart pot. This may seem odd, because you’re only going to end up with two quarts of jam! But when I made jam in my three-quart pot, it overflowed every time it came to a full boil, and you have to bring it to a full boil.

Get a helper: In the time-honored tradition, I use my kids. Or, you know, I train them in life skills by letting them help! You could also try a spouse, partner or friend. I had a child cutting the tops off of the strawberries (we just slice with a knife, rather than trying to pull the hulls off) while I was getting jars and equipment ready. We finished them up together, and then I let another child mash them.

Multitask: I filled the canner and put it on to boil first, because that takes the longest. I washed a couple of pints of berries, got the kid started slicing, and then put my jars and rings in the dishwasher and started them sterilizing. Then I washed more berries, and we worked on slicing the tops off together. You don’t want to end up waiting for the pot to boil, or for the jars to be ready!

If you’re not ready to jump into canning, you might like to try freezer jam instead. It’s even easier, and you get a fresher berry taste because you don’t cook the berries. Either way — it’s berry season! Go take advantage of it!



I’m starting to realize that growing a garden and subscribing to a CSA might be redundant. Fortunately, so far most of our crops are not overlapping! We are probably going to have an overabundance of peas soon, but we’ll see. We like stir-fry and raw peas (I’ve been snacking all day), so that might be OK.

Speaking of peas, I can definitely recommend the two varieties we planted this year: Oregon Sugar Pod II and Cascadia, both from Territorial Seed. Both are great for instant eating; sweet and juicy, not tough and stringy. These are far superior to the peas I’ve grown from seeds from the grocery store!

I also picked a few strawberries today; strawberries are late in the Pacific Northwest this year because we had a long, cool spring.

Potatoes, tomatoes, squash, broccoli and cabbages are continuing to thrive. I’ve also got some bean seedlings the kids planted that need to be transplanted ASAP.

Meanwhile, the CSA is keeping us supplied with a variety of lettuce and cooking greens, as well as radishes, turnips and more peas. In fact, we’re getting more greens than we can really eat in a week! I finally said to myself “So, what are you supposed to do when you have an overabundance of a certain crop? Preserve, of course, duh!”

You can can greens in a pressure canner, if you have one, but I don’t, and I’m not sure I’d want to anyway. I went with blanch and freeze, following directions from I do recommend using a salad spinner to drain and dry the greens after blanching. I also used re-usable plastic containers rather than plastic bags. Finally, if you do this, be aware that the greens will really shrink down after blanching and spinning! A whole bunch of greens (maybe half a pound?) yields about one cup for freezing.

So, come winter, we’ll still have some of our spring abundance available.

What’s For Dinner: Pasta With Sausage and Broccoli Raab

We got our first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box this past Thursday! It’s exciting, because we’ve never belonged to a real CSA before. We’ve gotten produce from the farmers’ market, and from a couple of different food-buying clubs, but never through a CSA. Our first box included garlic chives, garlic scapes, broccoli raab, arugula, several kinds of lettuce, giant red mustard greens, spinach, french breakfast radishes, and hakurei salad turnips.

That’s a LOT of greenery! We’ve already had salads galore, but I needed to figure out how to use the cooking greens, too, and in such a way that my family would eat them. Internet research told me that broccoli raab would be good with both pasta and sausage, so I decided to make a simple pasta dish.

Pasta With Sausage and Broccoli Raab
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Kathleen McDade
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 35 mins
Serves: 6
Easy pasta recipe with sausage and spring greens
  • 1 lb dry pasta (whatever kind you prefer)
  • 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (I like chicken sausage)
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1/2 lb. broccoli raab*
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped garlic scapes
  • 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • Freshly shredded parmesan cheese
  1. Put water on for pasta; when it boils, add pasta and cook according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add sausage and start browning.
  3. Chop the broccoli raab into one inch pieces and add to the frying pan. I actually just held the whole bunch over the pan and cut it up with scissors. Stir-fry the broccoli raab with the sausage for about three minutes.
  4. Add the minced garlic and garlic scapes (here again, I held the garlic scapes over the pan and cut them with the scissors. I didn’t measure.). Continue stir-frying until sausage is cooked through (or at least another 3 minutes).
  5. Add the canned tomatoes and stir. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer until pasta is cooked.
  6. Drain pasta as soon as it is cooked. Toss pasta and sauce together. Serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

*You could substitute spinach or other greens of your choice for the broccoli raab.

I’m also trying out a new techie thing — I added that recipe with the Easy Recipe WordPress plugin, which formats your recipes to work with Google Recipe View. Pretty spiffy, eh?

Raw Milk?

Uncle Jack was old when we visited his farm, but he still kept cows. He milked the cows by hand twice a day, squatting on one of those funny little stools, and we were allowed to watch.

I tried some of the raw milk, but I was a city kid, raised on supermarket milk. I didn’t like it at all.

Now raw milk is coming into fashion with natural-foodies.  It’s more difficult to buy; in fact, it’s technically illegal to sell raw milk in Oregon. Some farmers get around that by selling “herd shares” — the customer actually buys a share of ownership in a cow or in the herd as a whole, and is then entitled to receive a share of the milk produced. Farmers usually charge a purchase fee and then a monthly boarding fee for the cow(s) upkeep. Prices I’ve seen range from $50-65 for one share, plus $20-35 per month, and one share usually works out to about one gallon per week (although if the herd goes dry, your share will be smaller).

I’ve read about the benefits of raw milk. I’m not sure it’s all fully substantiated. I do like to support farmers directly where I can, but I still remember not liking the raw milk, and I don’t really want to foist it on my family. I can buy organic milk at the grocery store, but it’s $5.48 per gallon, compared to about $2.oo per gallon for regular milk. I feel guilty every time I buy the regular milk, but that’s a HUGE difference, and it may or may not be local. It’s big-business organic.

Or there’s Noris Dairy. They are local. They pasteurize their milk, so it’s not raw, but they do not homogenize it. That means the cream will float to the top. I’m guessing this would probably also taste unfamiliar to us. However, Noris also sells “processed milk” from their cows. So we could buy the more familiar type of milk from a local dairy — and as a bonus, they deliver. But their milk is $6.00 per gallon, so three times the cost of regular.

So I’m still buying the regular supermarket milk, unless I happen to see a screaming deal on organic. I do try to buy local-ish on other dairy products, like butter, sour cream and yogurt (Tillamook or Darigold). But with milk, we’re not there yet.

Investing in Food

People often say that organic and natural farming just isn’t profitable. Some farmers insist that conventional methods developed in the 20th century are necessary in order to make a living.

But there are investors out there who see it differently. Yes, wealthy people who could be putting their money into Wall Street!

In this OPB news story, individuals and groups of angel investors have been putting money into “slow food” and getting a satisfactory rate of return during a time when they might be taking a beating on money invested in Wall Street.

Meanwhile, I’ve joined a local food buying club, and am sending some of our dollars directly to farmers in exchange for locally grown/raised potatoes, onions, eggs, and beef. I feel like this is money well invested, too, even though I don’t see a direct monetary return. And we’re saving money by banding together with neighbors to buy!

Teach a Kid to Cook, and…

You can feed your kids up with good home cooking, and they’ll thrive, but what about when they get out on their own? Will they be able to feed themselves for life? Kim Painter wrote about this recently in USA Today. She points out that teens and young adults today often have no idea how to cook real food. Why? I imagine it’s a combination of factors. Working parents may not have time to teach them; many schools no longer have home economics classes; parents may not even know how to cook themselves!

Knowing how to really cook means that your child will be able to feed himself healthfully and economically, even if he loses his job and has no money.  Or if the power goes out and she has to concoct a meal over a fire or camp stove. It’s both a life skill and a survival skill.

So how do you make this happen? Painter included several suggestions in her article. My favorite is learn together. Painter suggests taking cooking classes together, which is fun if you already know how to cook, but is an excellent idea for those who don’t. Low cost classes are often available through community centers or through the community education department at community colleges.

You could also work your way through a cookbook together. This is a big part of  how I learned to cook. I had two kids’ cookbooks, and my parents (yes, both of them!) helped me make recipes from them. The Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook is great for this (even though it’s not the same one that I used, and still have).

Some books are more parent-oriented. Picture Yourself Cooking With Your Kids by Beth Sheresh, the kitchenmage, has tips and information for parents plus a wealth of recipes for parent and child to cook together. This book includes great step-by-step visual directions.

Hungry Monkey, by Matthew Amster-Burton, is part memoir and part cookbook. Amster-Burton includes advice for really enjoying food together, tips for helping kids start to cook, and recipes that the whole family will enjoy. He makes a point of not sticking to kid food. Recipes includ pad thai, bibimbap, and (my personal favorite) penne with brussels sprouts and bacon.

What’s Cooking With Kids is a website full of information from Michelle Stern, author of the soon-to-be-published Whole Family Cookbook. Michelle’s company  also offers classes and workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As for my family, we cook together sometimes. I’ve usually got at least one kid helping with dinner (the other main way that I learned to cook). But we don’t always make a formal effort to cook together. Perhaps we should do this on a regular basis?

What do you cook with your kids? Or, how did you learn to cook?

Disclosure: Those book titles up there? Those are Amazon affiliate links, so if you click one of those and buy something, I get a little bit of money to help run this site. Thank you!

Accidental Meals

I think I’m a pretty good cook. But sometimes I mess up, or stuff just happens, and we have to deal with it! Here are a couple of examples in which we did NOT deal with it by getting takeout.

Pease Porridge Hot, Pease Porridge Cold

I thought I’d throw some split peas, rice, and broth/water into the crock pot in the morning, and season it up for dinner in the evening. Easy, right? But the liquid/solid ratios are different in the crock pot. Usually you need less liquid in the crock pot, because the liquid doesn’t cook off as much. But apparently that doesn’t hold true for rice and/or split peas, so what I found when I got home was a fairly dry mush.

I had to take one kid to a LEGO club meeting, so I decided to wait and fix the meal after dropping her off. I stopped at the store and picked up some more milk (not related to the soup) and some pre-cooked bacon pieces.  I added some extra water to the mush and stirred in the bacon (as well as some sauteéd carrots and onions). It was still mush, not soup (mostly because of the rice), but we ate it. And we ate the leftovers later. But not nine days later.

Pizza and/or Breadsticks

I love pizza, but I’m currently (and successfully) losing weight. I wanted to try making a lower-fat, lower-calorie pizza. My plan was to use some frozen bread dough, homemade tomato sauce, part-skim mozzarella, turkey sausage, and olives. Frozen dough requires thawing and rising, which means the timing can be tricky. I asked my husband to take care of it during his midday break, when he’s normally home. The instructions for a quick thaw say to heat the oven to 200, put a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, put the dough in a pan in the oven, and TURN THE OVEN OFF. Unfortunately, he missed that last step, so the dough thawed and then baked slowly at 200 until we got home.

Fortunately, when I bought the rest of the pizza fixings, I had also bought a large package of English muffins. So we had English muffin pizzas instead. And the bread? It was baked through, although flat, and it actually made a good appetizer, warm and torn apart into breadstick-like pieces.