Eat It Like You Grew It.

Originally posted on Finch Lee:

The modern world has gone insane.

Atkins, Paleo, hCG. Is your head spinning yet? How do you eat to maintain optimal health? Trust Mother Nature! If you grew every item you consumed, she would align the priorities for you. Take a look:


greensThe Rundown: Greens fuel growth, protect our unborn children, and fight cancer. Nutritionists claim multivitamins are unnecessary if you eat a balanced diet with leafy greens.

Like You Grew It: Most greens can grow below freezing. Picked within 30 days of planting, lettuce produces until the hottest summer months. A 12-inch planter of loose-leaf lettuce can provide four large salads a week. Shallow roots thrive in just inches of soil, perfect for any gardener with a patch of sunshine. Swiss chard, the vegetable of the apocalypse, flourishes in the summer heat and still survives the winter. Dandelions and purslane, two of the most nutritious greens, are…

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Making Peace With Your Food

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on here, but it’s surely been a busy month! The nightshade and brassica seedlings are up. Today I plant the peas and spinach: quite late, but at least they’re going in the ground. I’ve also been writing elsewhere. My next fantasy novel, Vassal, is due to hit the editorial stage within a week. And I blog weekly for Backyard Poultry Magazine. This article got a lot of attention and Facebook shares: (Originally published with Backyard Poultry Magazine’s online blog.)


I have a rule. You may only accuse me of murder if you’re vegetarian or Vegan. Not that I want you to accuse me of murder. It’s never fun. But if you’re going to, please don’t go home and eat chicken nuggets afterward.

Our first batch of chicks came with the standard disclaimer: Sexing is 90% accurate. The feed store would not take back roosters. So my husband and I decided that, if one of the chicks was a rooster, we would humanely butcher him. We’re not vegetarian. We both grew up harvesting our meat. But if we intended to keep eating meat, we had to face the issue of raising our own, versus expecting others to raise it for us.

One of the five chicks matured into a rooster. On butcher day, my children stood ready to learn. We’ve never lied to them about their food, but on this day the source stared them right in their faces. Literally. At the end, my husband and my daughter eagerly consumed “the best chicken they had ever tasted.” I cried and ate carrots. My son went vegetarian for a month.

We told the kids they could be vegetarian when they were old enough to take responsibility for their diets. So, when my 12-year-old son eschewed meat, I assigned him to research eight alternative protein sources. He hit the Internet and returned with a list. For that month, he followed his list and consumed a diet balanced with meat-free proteins and garden vegetables.

Then he attended a Boy Scout camp that served barbequed tri-tip. My son then made the decision about his food. He acknowledged where it came from, but made his personal convictions about what he would eat and the work he would do to attain it.

Of all the social phenomena, one that fascinates me the most is how humans feel they can discriminate against each other for how they keep their bodies alive.

I grew up raising and butchering my own meat, but I can also cook a Vegan meal that will knock your socks off! But we have one rule in our house: Just like other well-thought-out lifestyle choices, nobody is allowed to discriminate against someone based on what they eat.

I mean, really. There are so many other things we could hate each other over! (That was sarcasm.)

While on the journey of raising chickens, I learned a new term: vegetarian eggs. These are not necessarily from vegetarian-fed hens. These are eggs from hens that do not come in contact with roosters. Hence, these eggs will never have the potential of creating life. Does that matter? It sure matters to some people! They cherish the choice of consuming protein yet knowing they’re not taking the life of another chicken.

But can you keep your body alive without ever taking another life?

Barbara Kingsolver, in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, says, “Most of us, if we know even a little about where our food comes from, understand that every bite put into our mouths since infancy (barring the odd rock or marble) was formerly alive.” A few paragraphs further, she says, “If we draw the okay-to-kill line between ‘animal’ and ‘plant,’ and thus exclude meat, fowl, and fish from our diet on moral grounds, we still must live with the fact that every sack of flour and every soybean-based block of tofu came from a field where countless winged and furry lives were extinguished in the plowing, cultivating, and harvest.”

Something has died for every bite you eat. A stark reality, isn’t it?

About a year ago, a friend approached me, saying with excitement, “Did you know scientists have found a way to cultivate meat in a lab?”

I recoiled in shock and replied, “How long until that gives us cancer?”

He blinked at me, speechless, then said, “But you’re not excited that you can eat meat without something dying?”

To which I referred to Barbara Kingsolver, where she states that something always dies for the food you eat.


Ms. Kingsolver expounds by saying, “To believe we can live without taking life is delusional. Humans may only cultivate nonviolence in our diets by degree. I’ve heard a Buddhist monk suggest the number of food-caused deaths is minimized in steak dinners, which share one death over many meals, whereas the equation is reversed for a bowl of clams. Others of us have lost heart for eating any steak dinner that’s been shoved through the assembly line of feedlot life—however broadly we might share that responsibility.”

My older sister became vegetarian five and a half years ago, for spiritual reasons. With no basis in animal rights or physical health, she strongly felt she needed to be vegetarian, “for now.” She did not expect “for now” to last more than five years. When she discovered she had a strong intolerance to corn and gluten, reintroduced meat to her diet to undo the damage from decades of intolerance/allergy-induced malabsorption. Reversing the decision was difficult both spiritually and ethically. In the end, she had to make peace with herself and her food. Just as we all eventually do.

You can put many nouns on your food choices:

  • Vegan.
  • Vegetarian. (Lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian.)
  • Raw foodie, fruitarian.
  • Omnivore, carnivore. (Though really, if you want to know the true definition of a carnivore, talk to your cat.)
  • And what about the religions terms? Kosher, Halaal, Word of Wisdom.
  • Some religions give up meat during religious holidays.
  • Gujarati cuisine is predominantly vegetarian, due to the influence of Jainism and Hinduism in the Gujarat state of India.
  • Some people don’t eat pork; some don’t eat beef.

Just as my son decided to forego meat then allow it back into his diet when faced with barbequed tri-tip, we all have to make peace with our food. Just as my sister abandoned meat for more than five years then admitted her health suffered. And just as Vegans choose to forego all animal-based products but others in our society claim you won’t pry their bacon cheeseburger from their cold, dead fingers…we all make peace with our food.

Do you raise your own meat? Do you let others to raise it for you, accepting it only once it’s wrapped within innocuous plastic? Or have you foregone all meat, or even all animal-based products? Let us know!

If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

Our favorite things!
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Conspiring Against Cancer

Some give their lives in the fight against cancer. Sahara, twelve years old, doesn’t suffer from cancer, but she has friends and family who have survived it. Or who still fight the battle. Sahara doesn’t have to give her life, but she’s giving her hair.

baldricks 14

Last year, Sahara W. shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s, a charity that encourages donors to raise funds and shave their heads, to support research fighting childhood cancer. Last year, Sahara raised $500. This year, she strives for $1,000 in donations.

To help her reach this goal, we’d like to offer something in return.


If you donate to Sahara W’s page, you will receive in trade:

  • Your name (pen name, business name)
  • One link (your website, Facebook page, or buy link)
  • One image (shown as a thumbnail, but also linked up to your page)

Donor names will be categorized by amount donated, and the list will be posted on Marissa Ames’ author site, and on Ames Family Farm. This list will be shared on all affiliated Facebook pages, and will be regularly Tweeted. Also, other bloggers/donors are encouraged to share this page to further your outreach.

To take advantage of this networking offer, make a non-anonymous donation to Sahara W’s St. Baldrick’s page. Then message me on my Facebook page and share what name, link, and image you would like displayed. I will build the page, and inform you when it’s available to share.

This opportunity is not available for:

  • Pornography
  • Drugs, even if they’re legal in your state
  • Any illegal activity
  • Spam
  • Hate groups, or even hateful comments

All money paid goes straight to St. Baldrick’s!

Thank you! -Marissa Ames

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When Culling is Forever

Cross-posted from my blog at Backyard Poultry Magazine!

My husband and I have an agreement: When culling or butchering, he does the initial step. I do the rest. If I had to, I would do it all. If my husband was out of town on business and one of my chickens was suffering, I would take that step. But for other times, our agreement works best.


General Tso: RIP after a German shepard attack

 The uncomfortable subject of culling eventually comes up to all chicken owners. “Culling” really means that you’re getting that animal out of your flock, whether by selling, giving away or by ending its life. Because the reason for culling is one that probably won’t change, such as egg eating, illness or deformity, “culling” often refers to the humane ending of the animal’s life.

 The first time we had to cull a chicken, we knew it was the most humane choice. My adorable wheaten ameraucana was so ill that she couldn’t breathe. With a swollen face, watery feces, and the inability to raise her head, she was miserable. I debated. When it’s your first time, you debate for a long time. But I grew up on a farm, so I knew that the most humane solution is often to just let them go. My husband had a hard time doing it, but he also knew it had to be done. Within a few seconds, my bird was out of her misery.

We’ve had to cull a few more sick chickens. When my husband’s dog proved that he could not be trusted with the hens, we took a couple severely injured chickens and ended their suffering.

 “I don’t like doing it,” my husband said.

 “If you did,” I replied, “I’d really worry about you.”

Through my social network of chicken owners, friends learned that we were willing to cull. A few came to me, asking for help. They were owners who loved their animals, and could no longer stand to see them suffer. And though they knew what they had to do, they just couldn’t bring themselves to do it.


One friend brought two chicks, purchased from an ill-reputed hatchery. One was blind and could not walk straight, and had to be hand-fed. The other, with a tumor wrapping around its neck, was 6 weeks old and still the size of a 1-week-old chick. The owner knew they would eventually suffer and die, but she just couldn’t bring herself to do the task. She told her children that the chicks had gone to live at our farm, and my husband quietly helped the poor animals on their way.

To thank us, the friend also brought a crate of beautiful nectarines for my canning project.

 I rarely talk about culling, except to other chicken owners. People who have never owned livestock tend to condemn others for culling. They haven’t seen the suffering, haven’t cared for the animal, haven’t tried all possible solutions. I’ve glued chickens together, administered antibiotics. I even took one chicken to the vet. Culling is a last resort. We never enjoy doing it, but we’re relieved when it’s done.

And I’m relieved that I have a partner who is willing to take the burden from me if he can.

If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

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Duck Eggs vs Chicken Eggs

How does a duck egg measure up compared to a chicken egg? How do they taste? Are they really better for pastries?

(Cross-posted from Backyard Poultry Magazine’s blog.)

I’ve heard many claims about duck eggs. I’m sure you have, as well. They sell for $1 apiece at your friendly neighborhood corporation-run health food store. Pastry chefs laud their rich, creamy texture. But what can you really expect from a duck egg?

First of all, here are the general nutrition facts for duck eggs versus chicken eggs.


Chicken Egg, Large, Raw


Chicken Egg Caloric Ration

Chicken eggs (large egg, 50g):

  • Calories: 71
  • Total Fat: 5g
  • Cholesterol: 211mg
  • Sodium: 70mg
  • Total Carbohydratge: 0g
  • Protein: 6g





Duck Egg, Raw


Duck Egg Caloric Ratio

Duck eggs (70g):

  • Calories: 130
  • Total Fat: 10g
  • Cholesterol: 619mg
  • Sodium: 102mg
  •  Total Carbohydrate: 1g
  • Protein: 9g




What are the benefits to eating duck eggs?

  • Duck eggs stay fresher longer, due to their thicker shell.
  • Duck eggs are richer, with more albumen, which makes cakes and other pastries fluffier.
  • Duck eggs have more Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • People who cannot eat chicken eggs, due to allergies, can often eat duck eggs.

What about nutrition?

I’ve read several articles on the nutrition of a duck egg. This article by Local Harvest claims duck eggs have twice the nutrients of chicken eggs. The information is debatable, though. When it comes down to the finer nutrients, such as Vitamin A, D, E, etc., duck eggs follow the same rule as chicken eggs: It depends on what the bird eats.

If you only allow your ducks to eat poultry food, the eggs will not be as healthy as if the ducks are allowed to eat plants like algae, spinach or grass. This is why eggs from backyard chickens are healthier than store-bought eggs. And this is how a farm-fresh duck egg can be healthier than an egg from ducks that don’t have a varied diet.


Duck Egg FAQ

I’ve heard that duck eggs are alkaline. Is that true? I’ve heard this claim as well. As far as the duck egg itself: no, they’re not. The yolk is full of fat, and fat is an acid. Do they turn to alkaline in your body? So many health gurus claim they do, but I don’t know if enough research has been done on this topic to verify that.

Someone told me that duck eggs have no cholesterol. That person doesn’t know the nature of eggs very well, do they? All egg yolks have cholesterol. Duck eggs have three times the cholesterol of a chicken egg. If you love duck eggs but are concerned about your health, try making an omelet with one duck egg and two duck egg whites.

How does a duck egg taste? Most fans of duck eggs describe them as richer and creamier. Some say the flavor is stronger, some say it’s lighter. Strength of flavor can often depend on the duck’s diet.

Where do I get duck eggs, and are they expensive? If you’re near rural areas or know people with backyard flocks, wheedle them for a few eggs. Expect to pay more. If you go to a health food store, expect to pay a lot more. But if you keep ducks in your yard, expect to pay less. The food-to-egg ratio for the highest-laying ducks is even lower than that of a chicken.

How do I cook duck eggs? You cook them the same way you would cook a chicken egg. Because they have a lower water content than chicken eggs, you should be careful when frying them, as overcooking can lead to a rubbery egg. Because duck eggs do cook up fluffier, my favorite ways to use duck eggs are:

  • Cakes and pastries
  • Breads
  • Omelets
  • Custards and flans
  • Quiches


Sheryl’s Cream Puffs

These are excellent with duck eggs, but chicken eggs can be used as well. Be sure to keep the dollops small. They fluff up in the oven.

  • 1C Water
  • 1 Stick Butter
  • 1C Flour
  • 4 Eggs

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bring the water and butter to a boil in a saucepan. Once the butter is melted, add the flour and stir until a ball is formed. Continue to stir the flour mixture until slightly cooled. Add eggs, one at a time, until each egg is fully incorporated into mixture. Place teaspoon-sized dollops onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in oven 30 to 45 minutes. Remove and slit immediately to release steam. Serve with whip cream.

What’s your favorite thing about duck eggs?

If you want to learn more about backyard chickens, subscribe to Backyard Poultry Magazine, or subscribe to our email newsletter, or join us on Facebook to stay in touch with the latest information you need.

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Deep Purple Shepherd’s Stew

purple stew

No photos were edited for this blog post. If anything, that color is a bit muted.

There’s really nothing special about it. Some lamb, some carrots, some potatoes and onions, parsley and thyme and garlic.

But it’s purple!

One of the joys of growing your own food is the delightful variety. My family loves to focus on color when we plant vegetables. Really, we’re also focusing on nutrition, because specific nutrients coincide with specific colors in produce. For instance, orange and yellow indicate beta carotene. Purple indicates high levels of anthocyanins, a strong antioxidant. The more purple, the higher the levels. That’s why blueberries are so healthy.

It doesn't have to be a ladylike carrot. Just a purple one.

It doesn’t have to be a ladylike carrot. Just a purple one.

First, take a crockpot. Chop up 1-2 pounds of lamb. Pour in a can of beef or vegetable stock. Turn onto low and cook for at least an hour.

Then, chop up 4 or 5 purple carrots and add those in. The deeper purple, the more purple color your food will be. The color in purple carrots does NOT cook out. I’ve had some very lavender curry because I used a couple of purple carrots.

Add a red onion… which is, actually, purple. The color of the onions isn’t going to help the color of the stew much, but you might as well coordinate, right?

Cook that for awhile, until the carrots are just starting to turn tender. Add a few cloves of garlic. What the heck? Make it Italian Purple garlic. Salt your stew. Add fresh herbs. Add more beef or vegetable stock, if necessary, to keep everything submerged.

Rainbow Potatoes, September 2012

Rainbow Potatoes, September 2012

Now it’s time for a pound or so of purple potatoes! I like to grow Purple Majesty because of the intense color. You can see a freshly cut Purple Majesty there. If you cut these then boil them, you’ll get lavender mashed potatoes. If you bake them whole, you’ll get royal purple baked potatoes. Beautiful, aren’t they? Wash and chop your potatoes, and add them to your stew. Cook it all until the potatoes are tender.

Do you like a thick, gravy-like stew? When it’s almost done, add some flour. Either standard flour or gluten-free works fine. Whisk it in, then let the stew boil to thicken up.

Now… invite friends over for dinner, and hope they’re open-minded. Deep purple shepherd’s stew tastes just like the regular kind, but it’s rather shocking to see.

My kids have gotten used to odd food colors. We have green, yellow, and “black tomatoes.” Purple, pink, yellow, and white potatoes. Carrots and Swiss chard in five colors each. Because, when you grow your own food, there’s a reason to do it. If I’m growing to compete with grocery store prices, at least I can produce a rainbow of vegetables that the store can’t even begin to offer!

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Duck Egg Flan

Not a traditional recipe, this easy flan recipe tastes more like crème brulee and satisfies some of the pickiest flan adversaries. This recipe is cross-posted from Backyard Poultry Magazine, where I blog about all things chicken-related.

flan-closeupThis is my go-to dessert recipe whenever I entertain friends who are unfamiliar with urban farming or backyard poultry. I often serve it after a salad of fresh greens, and perhaps an eggplant lasagne with fresh homemade mozzarella. Really, I mostly like the expressions of pleasant surprise when they taste it. I never tell them how easy it really is.

If you’ve heard that duck eggs are better for pastries …  believe the rumors. They’re true. The yolks are creamier. This adds extra calories to the egg, but when you’re making a flan with sugar and whipping cream, a few more calories per egg is a fairly negligible addition. I find that duck eggs make custards and flans creamier, breads richer and quiches fluffier than chicken eggs.

Since my family loves this recipe and I often have 10 or more duck eggs to spare, I double the recipe and use my springform pan.

Though I prefer the creaminess of duck eggs, chicken eggs may be substituted. Standard evaporated milk may replace goat’s milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract may replace the vanilla bean. Additional sugar may be used in exchange for honey.

Step 1 - Ingredients

Mmmmm… ingredients…


  • 1 and ¾ cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup evaporated milk (goat’s milk)
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise (I double the vanilla)
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 large duck eggs
  • 2 large duck egg yolks
  • 7 tablespoons sugar


Combine  cream, evaporated milk and salt in a heavy saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream mixture, and drop in the bean. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. After steeping, remove  bean pod. (If you are using vanilla extract, this step may be skipped. Simply combine cream, milk, salt and vanilla.)

Step 3 - Line Springform Pans to Avoid Leakage

If using a springform pan, wrap aluminum foil around the bottom so the pan doesn’t leak

Preheat the oven to 350F, and position  rack in the center of the oven. If you are using a springform pan instead of ramekins, wrap aluminum foil over the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Have all pans ready to go.

Just starting to boil! It's already amber-tinted from the honey.

Just starting to boil! It’s already amber-tinted from the honey.

In another heavy saucepan, combine the honey, sugar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves completely. (Note: the mixture will already be a light amber because of the honey. If you replace the honey with additional sugar, this mixture will start out white/clear.) Increase heat to high and cook without stirring until the syrup turns deep amber, swirling the pan occasionally. Do not stir at this stage, or the sugar may crystallize. This amber stage may take about 10 minutes after the sugar has dissolved. Keep an eye on the mixture. The change from light amber to deep amber is fast. For candymakers, this will be a soft crack stage.

Not quite dark enough, but DON'T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

Not quite dark enough, but DON’T LEAVE THE KITCHEN!

There! Don't cook it any longer!

There! Don’t cook it any longer!

Quickly pour caramel into six ¾-cup ramekins, or a small baking dish. If doubling the recipe, as I do, use a full-sized springform pan or equivalent size. Using oven mits, immediately tilt each ramekin to coat the sides with syrup. It hardens fast, so work fast! Set the ramekins in a baking dish that is deep enough that you can pour in water to come up at least halfway.

Swirl quickly to coat the pan

Swirl quickly to coat the pan

The coating hardens fast!

The coating hardens fast!

Separate two of the eggs into yolks and whites. Save the whites for an egg white omelet to eat the next day, to pay for the calories you’ll be eating with this dessert!

The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

The brown bits are from real vanilla pulp. Yum!

Whisk eggs, yolks and 7 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl just until blended. Gradually whisk in the cream mixture, being careful not to create much foam. Pour the custard evenly into the ramekins, on top of the now-hardened syrup.

Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it's sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

Fill the pans, then pour in boiling water while it’s sitting in the oven. Less sloshing!

Set the baking pan in the oven before adding enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Setting the pan on the rack helps prevent sloshing as you carry the pan. You may also choose to set the pan in the oven before filling the ramekins with custard.

It's set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

It’s set! The fork comes out clean, but the middle is still very jiggly.

Bake until the centers of the flans are gently set, about 40 minutes. The flan will still look squishy. If you’re unsure if the centers are set, press gently with your finger. If the top bounces back, it’s set. You can also insert a clean fork. If the fork comes back out mostly clean, the flan is done.

Remove the flan from the water and transfer to a rack to cool. Chill until cold, about two hours, then cover and chill overnight. This flan can be made a couple of days ahead of time. To serve, run a small sharp knife around the flan to loosen, and turn the ramekin over onto a plate. Carefully lift the ramekin, allowing the syrup to run over the flan.

The Morning After

The Morning After

After serving, you may notice glass-like cracks in the bottom of your ramekin or pan. This is simply crystallized sugar from the syrup. Soaking the pan in hot water will dissolve the sugar.

If you try this recipe and enjoy it, please let us know. And if you know how to make it even better, then by all means, please share your secrets!

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