Daniel's Honey

Honey, I Adulterated the Goods

Someday someone will make a thriller about the global honey market. It's got everything: a dying species (Apis mellifera), failing supply, growing demand scheduled to pass 1.9 million metric tons by 2015, and people eager to make a buck by stretching or adulterating the goods. Mwahahahahahaha!

I posted on the topic of honey here after I watched The Vanishing of the Bees, but after seeing some of the recent news I am compelled to write again. With the US honey harvest at a record low, the temptation is great for food manufacturers to get their honey somewhere--anywhere. Journalist Andrew Schneider, who regularly reports for Food Safety News, estimates 60% of honey imported to the United States originates in Asia, "traditional laundering points for Chinese honey." What's the big deal with Chinese honey? Well, not only may it be "stretched" with additives like sugar- or corn-derived syrups, but it may also be "tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals." In order to hide its origin, the honey is "ultra-filtered" to remove telltale pollen. The European Union has banned imports of honey from India to stem this tide of bad goods, leaving the wave to wash over the laxer United States.

There's no dark, twisting, thriller trail to the 136 ozs of honey in my house (we like our honey). Every last ounce comes from Daniel's Honey or Cascade Natural Honey at the Bellevue Farmers Market. In both cases I spoke with my beekeeper. I learned something about the bees' travel and pollination schedules (hint--they get around more than I do, including trips to California to pollinate the almond crop), and what makes a honey a certain "variety" like Blackberry, Wild Flower, or Knotweed. Genuine, unadulterated, local honey.

Although we're in the Market off-season, local honeys by small producers can still be found at some grocery stores. PAY THE EXTRA MONEY. If the honey is cheap or comes in a squeezable plastic bear or as a flavoring in processed goods, chances are you're getting the fake, antibiotic-laden imported stuff. Real honey is not cheap. A bee, in its lifetime, makes about 1-2 teaspoons of honey. It takes 10,000 worker bees to gather one pound of honey, and they fly the equivalent (each) of twice around the world to gather that pound. But the result is pure goodness. Not only has honey been used as a sweetener worldwide for eons, it has also been a cornerstone of ancient medicines for its health properties. Stick that in your sugar cane and smoke it!

So, I've gotten the bad honey out of the house. The New Year's resolutions? Avoiding the processed foods that contain it and reading this book:

Hope you'll join me!

Dang-I-Forgot-the-Briquets Meals

Not just the Fall Guy anymore

Our house has no air-conditioning, unless you count the constant chill provided by La Nina and the Summer of 2011. We did, however, hit a stuffy 78F inside yesterday--perfect weather to grill out. In preparation, I had bought a monster bag of charcoal briquets (my husband is a purist) and then left them in that very bottom rack of the grocery cart and driven home. Grrr...

If this ever happens to you on what promises to be a hot day, consider some summer slow-cooker meals. Just like the barbecue, the slow-cooker doesn't heat up your house. No slaving over a hot stove! Here are three I've made this summer, using Market ingredients and pantry staples:

Slow-Cooker Pulled Pork (this one requires planning!)
1 pork roast from Skagit River Ranch or Sea Breeze Farm or Samish Bay
1 bottle BBQ sauce of your choice OR
1 c ketchup
1 c chili sauce or salsa or taco sauce or even pizza sauce
1/4 c mustard
a few Tbsp soy sauce or teriyaki sauce or Worcestershire
a couple Tbsp honey (we have the big jar of Daniel's Honey)
minced garlic, to taste (we like a few good-sized cloves)
dash of hot sauce or Cayenne or red pepper flakes

Mix sauce ingredients and marinate roast the night before. Then dump everything in the slow-cooker, add another 1/2c-3/4 c water, depending on how "saucy" you like things, and cook on low 8-10 hours. Shred meat and serve over rolls. (I bought a baguette from Snohomish Bakery and just cut it in several pieces.)

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Black-Bean Burritos
1 lb dried black beans from Alvarez Organic Farm
2 tsp chili powder
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped (several farmers have jalapenos at different times)
6 c water OR, even better, 5 c water and 1 c leftover red wine

Throw it all in the slow cooker and cook on high for 4-6 hours. Check the beans at 4 hours. Alvarez beans are fresher, so they will take less time to cook. If you can't be bothered to watch the beans, set the cooker on low and let it go for longer.
Serve with tortillas and desired condiments. I usually scramble some Skagit River Ranch eggs and make them "breakfast" burritos.

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Thai-Style Peanut Pork (adapted from Not-Your-Mother's-Slow-Cooker Cookbook)
1 pkg Skagit River Ranch Pork Stir-Fry, thawed. (I've also thrown it in totally frozen and cooked a little longer)
2 bell peppers of any color, cut in big chunks. The farmers have lots of them now!
1/3 c teriyaki sauce
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
dash of hot sauce or red pepper flakes

Throw it all in and cook on low for about 3-4 hours. Then stir in 1/4 c peanut butter. Serve over rice, passing chopped scallions or crushed peanuts for garnish.

Needless to say, the perfect side to any of these would be a fresh salad, leaf or chopped. With the Thai Pork, I often steam some broccoli or green beans or peas and just add them to the finished dish because the sauce is so luscious. Couldn't be simpler, so hit the Market this week and don't despair if the charcoal or propane runs out.

Off the Beaten Digestive Tract

You hear plenty about the benefits of eating organic, local, sustainable, etc., but not enough is said about how farmers market offerings provide variety from the run-of-the-mill produce at the supermarket. In their efforts to promote biodiversity and keep heirloom varieties in existence, our farmers don't just raise cherries, peaches, blueberries, and so on--they raise particular strains of them. If the variety's name isn't listed on the sign, ask!

This past Saturday, in my determination to branch out from Rainiers and Bings, I bought a pound of Van cherries. Dark red/purple like Bings, but a little sweeter. Nothing may surpass the blushing beauty of Rainiers, but a blind taste test might win Vans new converts.

Speaking of blushing, the array of peaches and apricots is dazzling. When I read David Mas Masumoto's Wisdom of the Last Farmer, I learned that "blushing" varieties of peaches crowded out non-blushing in supermarket demand, simply because they were prettier, not more flavorful. Yes, we are really that shallow. I've noticed both blushing and pale-faced peaches and apricots at the BFM and am determined to try them all. Consider Collins Family Orchard. I bought a couple pounds each of their peaches and apricots, put them in a brown paper bag at home, and enjoyed them a couple days later at the peak of perfection. Mouth-watering. For my fellow peach-pie makers, Collins reports that freestone peaches should be along in a few more weeks. And, if you buy them by the box (as pie-makers will), they'll be $1.20/lb! For a great peach pie recipe, check out the Bellevue Farmers Market Cookbook.

It's not only fruits and vegetables which can be called by name. Salmon lovers have long had their favorite varieties as well, fished in favorite locations. In our house we've been into the fresh sockeye found at Two If By Sea on Thursdays and Loki on Saturdays. I'll leave you with this recipe we enjoyed last night, adapted from Good Housekeeping:

Honey-Grilled Salmon
3 Tbsp Daniel's Honey (Wild Flower variety)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly-ground pepper

Sockeye salmon fillets, up to 24 ozs total

Mix rub ingredients with 1 tsp very hot water to blend. Spread this all over the salmon fillets. Grill over medium heat until salmon turns opaque and flakes easily with a fork, turning salmon once with a wide spatula. (We just grill it on a rack.)

Try one new thing this week at the Market. You'll be glad you did.

The Bees' Needs

Amid the Netflix furor, my husband and I popped in the disc for The Vanishing of the Bees. "I don't really want to see it," said the hub, "but I probably should." Not just because we were paying good money for the privilege of having that disc at home and will soon be paying more, but because I often subject him to Frightening Food Films, including Food, Inc., Super Size Me, and even, indirectly, Temple Grandin or Napoleon Dynamite.

The Vanishing of the Bees went beyond a "should watch" in our house because I'd been hearing about the mysterious, widespread disappearance of honeybees in North America (had no idea it was a global phenomenon) and was aware of random efforts like Haagen-Dazs's "Help the Honeybees" ice-cream fundraiser, but--even closer to home--we're a family of honey-eaters. Yes, 1/3 or more of the world's food supply might depend on the efforts of the humble honeybee, but when that fraction is your 1/3, you'll really sit up and take notice!

Top Five Uses for Honey in Our Household:

  1. To sweeten the afternoon tea.
  2. For my son's peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches. The kid does not do jam.
  3. For making Deborah Madison's granola. Her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone gets put through its paces in our house (and we're not even vegetarians). Here's a link to the easy, tasty recipe.
  4. To dribble on hot-from-the-oven buttered biscuits. (Also Deborah Madison's recipe, with 1/3 graham flour substituted.)
  5. To mix into Samish Bay's Greek Yogurt, along with a sprinkling of granola. (See #3)

Featuring beekeepers, farmers, politicians, Michael Pollan (no pun intended), and thousands of the little buzzers themselves, Vanishing of the Bees builds a compelling case for the crucial role bees play in the global food supply and what could be possibly leading to their catastrophic losses in so-called "Colony Collapse Disorder." Both a scary movie and a hopeful one. It made my husband want to keep a little colony in our backyard, following in the footsteps of his step-grandfather, who decades ago raised bees in Dayton, Washington, selling both honey and honeycomb locally. Thankfully this urge passed, since, in true UrbanFarmJunkie fashion, I would rather just pay the experts to do it.

Bellevue Farmers Market vendor Daniel's Honey of Black Diamond can be found on both Thursdays and Saturdays. I bought the monster 40-ounce jar for the discount and also because I like my honey stored in glass. That way, when it starts to crystallize, as all honey does, I can just give it a quick nuke in the microwave. Real honey from real local beekeepers is liquid gold--that was the sidebar I learned from the movie. Frequently, imported "honey" is adulterated with all manner of things to bring down its price. Chinese honey, in particular, has been called out several times, both for containing adulterations like high-fructose corn syrup and antibiotics banned in the U.S. But, hey, our country demands a cheap honey supply for its multitudinous processed foods.

With honey especially, buy local and know your farmer!