Date Day!

Getaways.  We all need them and even though I rarely leave the state it makes it no less refreshing.  This trip was to Neptune beach for the Jag’s class reunion but we left a day early to have a date day.

The end of September this year found Neptune Beach, chilly, windy and rainy.  That didn’t dampen our spirits at all as just being at the beach has a calming and wonderful effect.   Day 1 saw a smooth drive up and an early check in for the first night at our favorite hotel–the Sea Horse Oceanfront Inn, old Florida style

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The Jag and I had Thursday all to ourselves before moving to the Marriott on Friday and the start of the reunion.

Arriving just before noon it was definitely time for lunch

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We headed across the street to one of our favorites, the North Beach Fish Camp

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For my favorite dish Mayport Shrimp n’ Grits.  Yes, I ate it all.  And that pretty much laid me out for the afternoon.  We did go for a 3 mile walk on the beach but I still had the “heavies”.

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Since it was early and I was still full it was either a nap or the 5:30 pm class at M Body Yoga. It would either revive me or put me down.  The former prevailed.

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A quick shower, a little black dress and off to some fine dining and romance with hubby.

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I enjoy my food and Ocean 60 serves up the finest culinary delights and an ambiance to match.  I had one of the nightly specials “pecan crusted pan seared trigger and butter poached bay scallops topped with a roasted peach, arugula and red onion salad served over basmati jeweled rice pilaf with toasted almonds, dried cherries, cranberries and citrus zest finished with a lemon buerre blanc”.  Wow.  Again, no leftovers.  Hubby had “Tuscan grilled pork with wild mushrooms and bacon served over whipped potatoes and topped with a Marsala demi”.

Dessert was disappointing.  Creme brulee was not on the menu that night so being in the mood for a custard we opted to try out Whit’s.  It sounded promising.

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I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just didn’t taste like the frozen custard I make.  For starters it was too “white”.  Cream isn’t white and if there really were some egg yolks in it would have been an off white color.  Taste — better than most but it tasted “fake” mostly likely due to the pasteurization of the cream.  As a rule I never eat ice cream out; when you make your own from raw cream, pastured egg yolks and maple syrup you’re not going to find that quality and taste at most places.

The evening was still young so back to the beach for a starlit walk along the ocean and then a solid night’s sleep.

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The next morning we enjoyed our coffee on the the beach as the sun began to rise

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The balmy breeze gave way to quite reflections

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followed by an amazing hot power yoga class with my favorite instructor Denise at M Body yoga.  Denise has perfected the fine art of restoring one’s mind and body yet taking you to the brink.  Great way to start the day.  Now, on to the reunion. . .

Our 7 “Kids”: Snittums

When we left off with Part 2 we had just lost Clyde and Bonnie was very lonely. . .

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Hard to believe that was 20 years ago.  I wore a little too much make up back then.  Yep, that’s a Polaroid from the vet’s office.

1994: Snittums
Please honey, please. Sharon’s son’s girlfriends’ cat just had kittens. Sharon was a girl I worked with at a dental office back in the pre fitness years. I was beginning to feel slightly unlucky with all black kitty cats and she mentioned there were 2 white ones.

I went to see them and when I sat down on their couch one little white one crawled up onto my chest and would not let go. Ok, he chose me sort of but I was hooked. Home he came; now what to call this pretty white kitten?  I suggested snowball, eight ball, salty and a few others none of which my husband liked. Well, I asked him what should we call him? He was a male, territorial, somewhat distant except around me and he liked people food.

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And was into everything.  Oh my, nasty nasty just look at those past vices we had.

After we had him for a few days we were eating dinner one night; chicken fettuccine (we also ate pasta back in those days) and when I went to refill my water and came back to the table he had jumped and landed all 4 paws right onto my dinner plate and was chowing down. In the beginning he liked me way better than my husband who soon named him Little Shit much to my chagrin. “Little Shit” became Seminole at the vet’s for propriety’s sake. His name soon turned into Snittums (a version of little shit that we would both use).

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Snittums also went the route of vaccinations and annual visits but he was a very, very picky eater.  They had him on people food before we got him and all we could get him to eat was Sheba cat food. Sheba it was. Bonnie and he got along well and continued to stay at the pet resort while we were on vacation for the most part.

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1995: Bonnie is now 4 years old and Snittums is 1. They were due for their annual vaccinations and we were heading to the beach for our family reunion. For convenience as well as safety we decided to board them at our vets. Upon the return from the beach my husband went home to pick up the kids while I spent the day with my nieces at Busch Gardens. When we arrived at home with the family in tow to finish out the weekend with a cookout my husband says “PJ, I have something to tell you”. Uh oh, the cats???? Where are the babies, oh no, I was quickly overreacting into a panicked and anxious state. “Well, Snittums is right here but the vet has lost Bonnie.”

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WTF what do you mean the vet has lost Bonnie???? “Well, the vet boarded his black cat while he and his wife went on vacation and when he got back late last night, he went to get what he thought was his cat” (but really Bonnie, our cat) “and took her home and let her outside. When he arrived at work this am he realized his mistake but cannot find Bonnie.”  OMG, the floodgates opened.

Wow, seriously? Now mind you we liked this vet, he was a nice man, he felt horrible; his wife was crying and nothing like this had ever happened. Reward posters were put up around his neighborhood, either my husband or I took turns going out to the vets house each day  calling her name and looking for her. This went on for about a month. No sign of Bonnie. We assumed the worst; she was after all a declawed house cat, no way could she survive in the wild without food and claws.

Again, I was broken hearted and Snittums was lonely. After about 45 days we had all but given up hope.

Stay tuned for the arrival of Snickers. . .

Mustard Greens

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I’ve had a couple of very busy weekends filled with seminars and other fun events but it kept me from my favorite weekend pastime of spending at least half the day in the kitchen along with foraging for food.  So much to my delight having this past weekend “off”, I found fresh, locally grown organic mustard greens at Urban Oasis on Saturday morning and I knew just what was going to complement my slow roasted pork shoulder that evening.

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And boy were they ever pretty.  Of course there was bacon involved.

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Cut most of the rib out from each leaf, chop into bite size pieces, rinse well and drain.

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Saute the bacon until just crisp

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Add the onion and cook until tender

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Add the greens, sea salt and pepper; cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender.

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They definitely cook down, should’ve gotten 2 bunches

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Serve with Crystal hot sauce if desired or eat as is.  Yum!

Recipe & Ingredients

1 nice bunch fresh organic mustard greens
3-4 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, diced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

Remove most of the rib from each leaf.  Chop greens into bite size pieces, rinse in cold water and drain in a colander.

Heat a large cast iron dutch oven or stainless steel pot to medium and add in the chopped bacon.  Cook until just crisp stirring often and reducing the heat slightly if needed.  Stir in the onions and continuing sauntering until they are tender.  Add the greens, sea salt and pepper to taste, reduce the heat to low and cover.  Cook 15-20 minuted or until tender.

Country “Fried” Steak

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As soon as the weather starts to cool and the ball games dominate the weekends one of our favorite meals is a healthy version of country fried steak.  Put it on before the game or at half time; it slow cooks in the oven for an hour and a half and the smell is just heavenly.

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Start with a nice big piece of grass fed round steak, bone in is always better.  Adds flavor and I try and grab that piece and enjoy the marrow in the middle of the bone.

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Pound it on both sides evenly; this will thin it a little as well as tenderize it

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Cut into pieces

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Slice your mushrooms and onions

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Heat your lard, tallow or coconut oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet.  Season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and sear the pieces of round steak until slightly browned.  Transfer to a plate.  Saute the onions in the pan for about 3 minutes or until slightly tender; add the mushrooms and saute for an additional 3 minutes.

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If we made our own beef stock it should look something like this — nice and gelatinous.

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Put the steak back in along with accumulated juices and cover with the mushrooms and onions.  Pour in your beef broth and let it melt.  Cover and bake at 325 for about an hour and a half or until meat is very fork tender.

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Once the meat is done remove from the pan along with the mushroom and onions and it’s time to make the gravy.  Heat the juices over medium heat to just barely a boil; add the 2 tbs arrowroot dissolved in 2 tbs of water to the pan and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.

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I served with mashed potatoes but mashed cauliflower will work equally well.

Enjoy!

Recipe & Ingredients

2 -3 lbs grass fed bone-in round steak
2 tbs tallow, lard or coconut oil
2 onions, sliced and halved
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 ½-2 cups beef stock*
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp arrowroot
2 tbs cold water

Preparation

Pound a nice piece of round steak until slightly thinner, cut into serving size pieces. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 min, add in your cooking fat and allow it to melt.

Season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Place meat in skillet until browned, flip and brown other side. Reduce heat slightly add onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, add mushrooms and continue to cook until tender about 3-4 minutes more. Return steak to skillet, smother with the mushrooms and onions and add in beef stock allowing it to melt, cover and bake at 350 for approximately 1 hour. Reduce heat to 300 and cook approximately 30 minutes longer or until meat is tender.

After steak is cooked remove meat, mushrooms and onions from skillet. Stir 2 tsp arrowroot into 2 tbs water until dissolved. Add to juices; bring to a low boil stirring constantly until thickened, about 1-2 minutes.

Serve with mashed cauliflower or mashed potatoes.

Stock the Larder & Beef it Up!

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Take stock!  Pun intended. You make it through your workouts on a daily basis don’t tell me you’re going to let a stockpot intimidate you? I didn’t think so.

Even in Florida it will soon be officially fall. I smell cooler days and beef stew simmering on the stove, shepherd’s pie, pot roast and other savory seasonal delights. Most of these dishes will require beef stock. You can buy some but the conventional brands will be loaded with msg, chemicals and who knows what other laboratory made toxins. The organic brands found in health food stores are better and will do in a pinch but nothing beats homemade. . .

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Pick a weekend day you’ll be hanging at the house. Start with some beef soup bones (meaty ones, knuckle bones, marrow bones, a combo is best and preferably from a grass fed cow). Roast them at 425 for about 30 min turning once or until they are nice and brown along with a large onion and about 3 cut up carrots. Reserve any juices.

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Place the roasted bones and vegetables along with the reserved juices into a large stock pot. Add 2 coarsely chopped celery stocks, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 6 black peppercorns, several sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf, approximately 12 cups of filtered water (or enough to cover) and 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (to draw out the minerals). Let sit for 30-45 min. Bring the stock to a boil, remove any scum that surfaces to the top and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 6-12 hours.

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Strain the stock using cheesecloth and pour into Mason jars. Discard the meat and vegetables or reserve for other uses. Let cool. I store in 1, 2 and 4 cup mason jars in the freezer that way I have them available for whatever quantities I may need. Some people prefer to refrigerate overnight and skim any fat off the top. I personally like the flavor that a little fat imparts into my stock.

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Recipe & Ingredients

5-7 lbs of meaty grass fed beef bones*
4 or more quarts cold water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1-2 onions, quartered
2-3 carrots, cut into1-2” pieces
2-3 celery ribs w/ leaves, cut into 1-2” pieces
Several sprigs fresh thyme tied together
6-8 black peppercorns
1-2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh parsley

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425; place all meat and bones along with the carrots and onions in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for about 45 mins, turning once halfway through until nicely browned. Once browned place into a large stock pot along with any accumulated juices. Add the vinegar and the water. Let sit for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile take ½ cup water and add to roasting pan. Place over 1-2 burners on low heat and stir with a spatula to loosen any browned bits. Add to the stock pot.

Add the celery, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaves. Put the heat on high and bring the pot to a boil. Spoon off any scum that rises to the top. After skimming, reduce heat and simmer stock for at least 6 hours and as long as 12. Just before finishing, add the parsley and simmer another 10 minutes.

Praise the Lard

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Once upon a time the majority of Americans were virtually free of heart disease, cancer, obesity and other lifestyle related diseases. They hunted their own food, ate the whole animal, grew their own fruits and vegetables and cooked the majority of their meals themselves. They ate and moved throughout the day as nature intended.  They were healthier and happier than today’s Americans.

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Photo credit Wikipedia

Around the beginning of the early 1900’s and probably even sooner this all began to change. There was an evil villain called Proctor and Gamble that made their living by harvesting cotton. Nothing wrong with that; however they had a large amount of a rather bothersome by product called cottonseed. Always looking to increase their bottom line they wondered if anything could be done with this to turn a profit.

They experimented and found that through intense heating and pressing they could extract oil which cost next to nothing to produce. The oil however was rancid and unstable but after hydrogenating it they could extend the shelf life indefinitely. When this oil cooled it looked very very similar to lard. They called it Crisco.

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The evil villains came up with a dastardly clever marketing plan and promoted and touted this product as a healthier alternative to lard. It worked; haplessly brainwashed Americans bought into it. And alas, thus began the steady decline of America’s health and the beginning of the rapid rise in heart disease and obesity.

Unfortunately this trend has continued throughout the past several decades and only recently are more people starting to realize that we need to get back to the traditions of long ago man and only then will the modern day maladies disappear.  Why?  Plain and simple, “real” lard is healthier; it’s a close second to olive oil in mono saturated fats, it’s an excellent source of Vitamin D, it is shelf stable (needs no refrigeration) has a high smoke point making it excellent for cooking, tastes great and it is natural and sustainable.  It’s not rocket science.

Where can you find this fabulous wonder fat? In your local grocery? Sadly no. Lard found in grocery stores today is hydrogenated and from conventionally raised pigs that are not fed the right foods nor allowed to roam freely.  Avoid this lard.

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Best thing to do in source your own and render it yourself. It’s not hard.  For years I have used Peaceful Pastures; a quality farm in Tennessee that delivers to select cities in both Florida and Georgia.  I also found a local farmer that pastures his pigs and feeds them right in my hometown of Tampa  Harmony Hill Farming.

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Ideally you want the leaf lard which is the fat from around the pig’s kidneys. After you locate some it’s very easy to render it. Chop up the lard into smaller pieces and place in a large cast iron or stainless steel pot.

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Place the lard over medium low heat and add about ½ cup of water; this will eventually evaporate.  Go find something to do because this is going to take awhile.

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The fat will start to melt.  Check it every so often–about every 20 minutes in the beginning.

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And about every 10 minutes as it gets closer to being done.  I had 2 pots going if you’re wondering why it’s now in the cast iron one.  I liked to do a big batch, that way it’ll last awhile and I like to give it as gifts.

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It’s getting there but not quite done.  You want to let it cook until only the cracklings remain and there is barely any visible fat.  Careful though, too long and it can actually burn.  What I prefer to do is remove most of the melted fat when it’s a little beyond this stage and then let it cook down a little more.  That will produce a slightly darker lard which I will label as savory lard and store it in a separate jar.  It will have a little stronger flavor and I reserve it for cooking stews, pot roasts and things of that nature. The pure white lard will not impart any flavor to your foods and is excellent for baking.

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After the majority of the fat is melted down carefully transfer to Mason jars.  I use a strainer lined with cheesecloth to prevent any small pieces of cracklings getting through.  The lard will be a light golden color as you see far left.  As it cools and begins to harden it will lighten (far right).

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After it solidifies it will be a beautiful snowy white.  You can store in it in your pantry for 3+ months, the fridge for 6+ months or in the freezer for a year.

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The lard makes an excellent fat to cook with; I saute my vegetables in it, use it interchangeably with butter, season my cast iron with it and as a general all purpose cooking “oil”. While we’ve yet to fell the evil villains we can do our part by eating for health and performance not to mention taste.


If you’re nothing to do while rendering your lard or want more details; check out this video from a few years back when my friend Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist and I spent a Sunday afternoon rendering lard. And my husband was kind enough to film it during a football game.