Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jul 30 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Zucchini Muffins

Last summer, I talked a lot about living in town for school and having a small container garden on my back patio. Since then, I have graduated and moved to downtown St. Louis. I don’t even have an outside windowsill for a box of flowers, let alone a bigger space for a few pots of tomatoes and peppers.

Luckily, my parents have a huge garden- one luxury that comes with living on a farm. I've been making the 3-hour drive back home nearly every weekend since I've moved, so I've been benefiting from the garden, too. It’s incredible how much money one can save by growing a few vegetables rather than purchasing the produce from the store.

This week’s haul included green beans, cucumbers, sweet corn, and a giant zucchini. There are a ton of options for preparing zucchini, so prepare for lots of recipes to be shared as I eat my way through 8+ cups of it!

Tonight’s experiment was zucchini muffins. I used different ingredients I had on hand, like black raspberries, blueberries, and walnuts. Each recipe makes 10-12 muffins, depending on your definition of 2/3 full. Recipes are below, let me know what you think. :)


Gracie Weinzierl
Illinois

A farm girl about to launch her career in agriculture communications and leadership, Gracie is a 4-H alum, Sigma Alpha sorority member, proud owner of two adorable kitties and senior at Illinois State University. Follow her blog at A Farm Kid’s Guide to Agriculture.

Originally posted July 27, 2014, on A Farm Kid's Guide to Agriculture. Reposted with permission.

Jul 29 2014

15 Common Meat Myths That Need to be Crushed for Good

1. Myth: Inspectors Rarely Visit Meat Plants


Fact: Few industries in America are regulated and inspected as comprehensively as meat and poultry plants. U.S. meat packing plants where livestock are handled and processed are inspected continuously. Large plants may have two dozen inspectors on site in a two-shift day. Plants that process meat or poultry, but do not handle live animals are inspected daily. These inspectors have a wide range of authority. They may cite plants for non-compliance forcing changes in procedures; prevent the use of certain equipment; condemn meat products that they deem to be unsafe or mislabeled; seize and detain meat products; and withdraw inspectors from plants, which forces the plant to cease operating. A review of USDA records will show that they use their powers frequently.

2. Myth: Meat is Less Safe Today Than It was in the Past


Fact: Federal data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) document steep declines in bacteria on meat and poultry. For example, the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh ground beef declined by 85 percent since 2000 to approximately one-third of one percent of ground beef samples tested. That means that the pathogen will only be found in approximately 1 in 300 samples. Salmonella on fresh pork has declined by 63 percent since 2000 while Salmonella on chicken has declined by 21 percent since 2000. An environmental pathogen called Listeria monocytogenes that can contaminate a range of protein foods has also declined markedly on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products. Between 2000 and 2009, L. monocytogenes declined 81 percent and now is found in less than one half of one percent of samples tested.

3. Myth: Meat is Full of Antibiotics and Other Drugs


Fact: Antibiotics sometimes used in livestock production – but never in meat production. Under the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules, farmers and ranchers must wait a defined period to send animals to market if they have been given antibiotics or other medications. In meat and poultry plants, USDA inspectors sample carcasses and organs to ensure no residue violations are found – and they almost never are. USDA randomly tests carcasses for residues of pesticides, contaminants and veterinary drugs including antibiotics. In 2011, it screened for 128 chemicals, and 99 percent of the tested carcasses were free of all of them.

4. Myth: Hormone Use in Beef Production is a Health Concern


Fact: Hormones like estrogen are used in modern beef production to increase the amount of beef that can be harvested from cattle. However, these hormones are the same as, or synthetic versions of those naturally produced by cattle. The estrogen that is used in beef production, for example, is used at levels that are a fraction of what is found in soybean oil, soybeans, eggs and what is produced by the human body. Consider that a pound of soybean oil contains 900,000 nanograms of estrogen per pound. Compare that to 1.9 nanograms per pound found in beef produced using hormone implants and 1.7 nanograms per pound in non-implanted beef

5. Myth: Nitrite in Cured Meats is Linked to Diseases Like Cancer


Fact: The U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), which is considered the “gold standard” in determining whether substances cause cancer, completed a multi-year study in which rats and mice were fed high levels of sodium nitrite. The study, finalized in 2000, found that nitrite was not associated with cancer. NTP maintains a list of chemicals found to be carcinogenic. Sodium nitrite is not on that list. Not only does nitrite NOT cause cancer, scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have discovered that nitrite actually has health benefits. When nitrite’s safety was questioned in the 1970s, scientists had not yet discovered that the human body makes nitrite as part of its normal, healthy nitrogen cycle. While this is surprising to many people who for years have thought they should avoid dietary nitrite, study after study has shown that nitrite can help regulate blood pressure, prevent injury from a heart attack, promote would healing and much more.

6. Myth: Animal Welfare in Meat Plants is Not Monitored


Fact: Under the Humane Slaughter Act, all livestock must be treated humanely. They must be given water at all times, given feed if they are held at a plant for an extended period and they must be handled in a way that minimizes stress. Federal veterinarians monitor animal handling continually and may take a variety of actions — including shutting a plant down — for violations.

7. Myth: Grass Fed Beef is Safer and More Nutritious than Grain Fed Beef


Fact: Extensive research has shown that beef from grass-fed and corn-finished cattle is equally safe. While some unreliable online sources claim that grass-fed cattle have lower levels of E. coli O157:H7 in their intestines, studies show that the there is no difference in the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in live animals fed a variety of diets. In fact, E. coli O157:H7 has been found in the gut of deer and they are never fed corn. Grass-fed beef has slightly lower levels of saturated fat than corn fed beef. While grass-fed beef does have slightly higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than cattle finished on corn and grain, neither type of beef is a rich source of omega-3s compared to fish. Salmon, for example, contains 35 times more omega-3s than beef. Whether these differences translate to a truly meaningful health benefit in the context of a varied diet has not been established.

8. Myth: Household Ammonia is Used on Hamburgers


Fact: This inaccurate notion has been spread by some movies and TV personalities. Ammonia is naturally occurring, found in the human body, beef, other proteins, and virtually all foods. It plays an important role in the body’s nitrogen cycle and in helping the body synthesize the protein. It also maintains the pH level that the body needs. One form of ammonia - ammonium hydroxide - is used in processing foods like baked goods, cheeses, chocolates and some beef products. This is not the same type of ammonia in household cleaners. It is classified as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is approved in most other countries, including the European Union. When used for meat processing, ammonium hydroxide creates an environment that is unfriendly to pathogenic bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7 and provides a significant food safety benefit

9. Myth: Hot Dogs are Made From Everything But the Oink


Fact: In contrast to the popular saying, the process of making hot dogs is extremely clean and not particularly complicated. It starts with cuts of meat similar to what you find in your grocer’s case and with trimmings, small cuts of meat that result when the larger pieces are cut into steak. These are ground into small pieces and placed in a mixer. High speed, stainless steel choppers blend the meat, spices, ice chips and curing ingredients into an emulsion or batter. The mixture is continuously weighed to assure a proper balance of all ingredients. The mixture is then pumped into an automatic stuffer/linker machine, where it flows into casings. While rumors suggest that hot dogs use “everything but the oink,” it is uncommon today for manufacturers to use variety meats – like hearts or livers — hot dogs. When they are added, the package will clearly state “with byproducts” or “with variety meats.” The particular variety meat used also will be listed in the ingredient statement.

10. Myth: Livestock Have a Greater Environmental Impact than Cars


Fact: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data show that all of agriculture contributes seven percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions while livestock production accounts for three percent of greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, transportation accounts for 26 percent. Research at Washington State University, Cornell and other universities shows that beef production has evolved and, over time, has required fewer and fewer natural resources to raise the same wholesome products that help us continue to feed a growing global population.

11. Myth: Superbugs are Common on Meat Products


Fact: A true superbug is very rare in nature and even more uncommon on meat and poultry products. A superbug is a bacterium that will make you sick and is resistant to all antibiotics. Some recent reports have claimed finding superbugs on meat and poultry products by saying a bacteria found is resistant to at least one antibiotic, but by nature many bacteria are resistant to at least one antibiotic, but can easily be treated with other antibiotics. The FDA has said that it is an oversimplification to say that resistance to any single antibiotic is a risk to human health. Overall USDA sampling data show that bacteria on raw meat and poultry products are decreasing across the board - not increasing

12. Myth: Livestock are Aware and Afraid of Being Slaughtered


Fact: Based on research from leading animal welfare expert Temple Grandin and others, animals are unaware they are about to be slaughtered when arriving at a processing facility. Grandin notes that cattle will behave the same whether they are going into a veterinary chute on the farm or in a processing facility, a strong indication that they are unaware they are going to be slaughtered. Other research shows that pigs watching stunning and slaughter of another pig had little or no change in heart rate, cortisol or ?-endorphin levels. When they are afraid, animals will back up or refuse to move forward. The most likely causes of agitation in processing facilities are distractions such as lighting problems, air blowing towards the animals, movement or high pitched noise. A lone animal by itself in a chute may also become agitated because he is separated from his herd mates. That’s why it is important to handle animals in groups.

13. Myth: Meat Plants are Rarely Cleaned


Fact: Thorough cleaning of meat and poultry plants – from floors and walls to conveyor belts and grinders happens every single day meat plants are open. The sanitation steps taken plants are similar to those a hospital would take to clean an operating room including taking apart each piece of machinery; scrubbing the equipment, ceilings and floors with foam cleansers; testing for microbes and USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspection and approval before a plant can reopen for business.

14. Myth: “Meat Glue” is Commonly Used to Create Steaks From Scraps


Fact: Transglutaminase is a protein that is used to bind ingredients together in many foods. In meat products, for example, it can help hold bacon around a filet mignon to create a bacon wrapped filet or it can help hold several smaller cuts together to make a larger cut that can be sliced. Unfortunately, the clever nickname “meat glue” has made transglutaminase sound much more exciting that it is. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized transglutaminase as safe and it has been safely used for many years. Canada, Australia and many of European countries also recognize this as a safe food processing aid. Transglutaminase is not classified as an allergen. Still, when it is used, it will appear on the ingredient label.

15. Myth: Americans Currently Consume Too Much Meat in Their Diet


Fact: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends five to seven ounces of protein per day which includes meat, poultry, seafood and beans. Based on USDA data men currently eat 6.9 ounces and women 4.4 ounces of protein daily. This group is the only one consumed in the correct amount recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.

This post was created by a Community Brand Publisher, which means it is not sponsored and has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed's editorial staff.

Originally posted May 15, 2004, on BuzzFeed.

Jul 27 2014

Food for Thought: Technology on Farms

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Jul 25 2014

Can the Removal of Home Economics in the Classroom be the Cause for America’s Obesity Epidemic?

Sure we can blame the food companies that advertise high caloric, fat riddled, salty and sugar laced foods to us via radio, television and even our smartphones, but could the removal of home economics in the classroom be the cause of our current obesity epidemic? Do Americans even know how to cook outside of the box, bottle, and tin can?

The U.S. currently has the highest rate of childhood obesity worldwide! In 2013 approximately 1/3 of American children were either overweight or obese with 17% specifically suffering from obesity. In fact, most of the American diet is comprised of 70% processed foods, which includes everything from chicken nuggets to crackers to even yogurt! It's clear that children don't understand the importance of healthy eating, but do parents understand? And if so, do they have the skills to lead by example?

America experienced a major cultural shift around the 1950s when more working wives and mothers began to pursue convenience in the grocery aisle. Generations later, what began as shaving a few minutes off of dinner prep time, has resulted in a public health risk that threatens the health and well being of our growing population, and could ultimately bankrupt our nation in medical costs alone. In 2008, medical costs for obesity related illnesses rolled in at nearly $147 billion dollars!

Cue Superhero Music...

Enter Home Economics stage right...

Now I'm not suggesting that all women should tie on their aprons and whip up scratch cakes in the kitchen, I'm merely stating that given our current struggle with poor eating habits and limited food prep time, there needs to be a modern take on home economics (for both sexes of course) with a real emphasis on cooking minimally processed foods quickly, developing a strong foundation in nutrition education and portion control, and establishing a firm grasp on food safety and food preservation. This type of education would foster savvy consumers of all ages with the ability to differentiate healthy food options from those that are riddled with misleading labels.

As I reflected on our First Lady's efforts to change the school lunch menu, it became apparent that her efforts gained little traction because so many American kids are eating fast or heavily processed foods at home! The shift in mindfulness on what our nation eats needs to happen in the classroom in order for parents and children to grasp the importance of healthy eating. What is emphasized in the classroom is more likely to be reinforced in the home. Furthermore, it provides parents with the opportunity to learn with their children if they lack some of the aforementioned skill sets.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not passing judgment on what you eat or what you feed your children. In fact, I write this after having just indulged in a few fist-fulls of caramel popcorn; and with a husband and 2 children under the age of 3, I can attest to living a busy life that sometimes interferes with everyday cooking. I'm only advocating for each and every one of us to have the opportunity to be educated on what it means to be a healthy eater so that we can make sound choices for our individual lives and for our families. The ability to understand the basics of a nutritious meal and to execute it in a relatively short amount of time is something that would change American lives for generations to come.

It's time we start raising healthy Americans in mind... and body.

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Originally posted on July 23, 2014 on Momma Mina

Reposted with permission

Amina Nevels
Chicago, Illinois

Amina is one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visits Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms share their thoughts by blogging about what they experience on these farms, including five takeaways. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers.


Jul 24 2014

Farm Life Opposite

Recently, this blog shared a post about being under 30 and over $1 million in debt. That really struck a chord with me (even though I'm 31).

It served as a good reminder that, in many ways, going from a "normal" life to a farm wife requires a complete shift in thinking. I often find that for all the "truths" that apply to suburban life, the exact opposite is true for farm families.

Non-farm jobs get paid on a regular basis, whether it's weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Farmers get paid sporadically throughout the year, whenever they sell grain or a contracted crop is harvested. Some years that amounts to three payments in a 12-month period, therefore you have to be REALLY on top of your finances.

Non-farmers are taught that loans are bad and to be avoided, if at all possible. Farmers not only need loans, we RELY on loans. We may only get paid three times a year, but our bills are due every month just like everyone else. In order for them to be paid on time, we get an operating loan. An operating loan can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the farmer's operation. The operating loan is basically a one-year line of credit to fill in during the times we haven't been paid for a few months. The loan is always paid back at the end of the year. Sure, paying interest irritates farmers just as it would any other person but, for farmers, it's simply part of life.

The same goes for credit cards. Most people are taught not to use credit cards for things they cannot afford. Farmers use credit cards for things they really can afford but, due to the timing of our income being varied, may not have the cash for this very second. For example, a new combine costs around $200,000. Not too many people have that kind of cash on hand. And that's just ONE of the pieces of machinery we require. Farming has a lot of overhead.

One thing we have in common with non-farmers is that the majority of people want to live reasonably close to where we work. We don't just live reasonably close; we live where we work. Literally. But we aren't so different. Non-farmers might be checking their work email at 11 pm and farmers might be out checking their irrigators.

One last difference also has to do with our proximity (or lack thereof) to the rest of society. Because we live 35 miles from the nearest city, when we do drive there to shop, get groceries, run errands, etc. we tend to buy more, spend more and do more at one time. This leads to the difference in fuel efficiency as a priority. Most people are taught that they should buy the most fuel-efficient vehicles they can. Farmers still care about fuel efficiency but oftentimes the vehicles with better gas mileage are either too small or not made for the rough terrain. The average MPG of our two main vehicles is 15 MPG. My husband cannot haul grain in a Prius and I can't fit two kids, a golden retriever and enough groceries to survive the apocalypse into a Camry. Not to mention, it's pretty tough to take lunch out to the field without four-wheel drive.

All in all, we aren't so different; like everything else in life, it's just a matter of perspective.

Lauren Shissler
Topeka, Illinois

Lauren is a suburban girl gone farm mom, growing popcorn and green beans with her husband in Topeka, Illinois (better known as Goofy Ridge). She uses her own experiences to blog about farm issues and how they relate to both rural and urban families. To read more from Lauren, visit her blog Growing on Goofy.

Jul 23 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Super Simple Peachy Barbecue Chicken

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 6 hrs to 8 hrs (low) or 3 to 4 hours (high)

Ingredients

2 1/2-3 pounds chicken drumsticks, skinned (if desired)
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup apricot or peach preserves
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
Fresh peaches, cut into wedges (optional)

Directions

Place chicken in a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker. For sauce, in a small bowl stir together barbecue sauce, preserves, and mustard. Pour over chicken.

Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 6 to 8 hours or on high-heat setting for 3 to 4 hours.

Transfer chicken to a serving dish; cover and keep warm. Transfer sauce to a medium saucepan. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until sauce is desired consistency. Serve chicken with sauce. If desired, garnish with fresh peaches.

Originally posted from Midwest Living.

Jul 22 2014

American Farmers Just Love Their GMOs and You Should Too

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released its latest data on farmers planting of crops genetically enhanced to tolerate herbicides (HT) crops and to resist insect pests (Bt).

HT soybeans went from 17 percent of U.S. soybean acreage to 94 percent in 2014. Plantings of HT cotton expanded from about 10 percent of U.S. acreage in 1997 to 91 percent in 2014. The adoption of HT corn reached 89 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 2014.

Plantings of Bt corn grew from about 8 percent of U.S. corn acreage in 1997 to 80 percent in 2014. Plantings of Bt cotton also expanded rapidly, from 15 percent of U.S. cotton acreage in 1997 to 84 percent in 2014.

See the chart below for the trends.

Why are modern biotech crops so popular with farmers?

Earlier this year, U.S. News reported the views of Illinois farmer Katie Pratt:

According to Pratt, her family uses GMO crops because of the clear value they bring to their family business. They have greatly reduced the amount of insecticide that needs to be sprayed, and they only need to treat the weeds at one point, not several times over a growing season. Her soil has now improved, because she and her family don't have to tromp through the fields as often. The family also uses less fuel, because they spend less time in the tractor. “No one is more aware than the farmer of the impact we have on the environment, in addition to the urgency to feed and fuel a growing population, while reducing our footprint on the planet,” she maintains.

And remember folks, biotech crops are not only good for the environment, eating them as caused not so much as a cough, sniffle, sneeze or bellyache. For example, a statement issued by the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the largest scientific organization in the United States, on October 20, 2012 point blank asserted that “contrary to popular misconceptions, GM [genetically modified] crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply. There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.” The AAAS Board concluded, “Indeed, the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe.

Originally posted on Reason.com.

Jul 20 2014

Food for Thought: Precise Planting

Do you have questions about food and farming? Check out our FAQ page to learn more, or Ask a Question of your own. And for more Food for Thought posts, visit this section.

Jul 18 2014

Boomerang

Today was Anna's 4H Livestock Show.

When I say I really have nothing to do with Anna's 4H experience, it is no understatement. While she and Joe had headed to the general projects show on Saturday, I stayed at home with the kids (and maybe took a nap). Yesterday, they loaded up to take the cattle to the weigh-in, while I loaded up my kids to the country club pool.

Today, however, I went to the show, loading up my crew and snacks and toys once again, putting on shoes I didn't care about, and herded my friends to the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds I went to as a child.

The fairgrounds in my home county.

The fairgrounds where my uncle, my dad, and now my girl had/have their hands in the livestock show.

As I pulled into the fairgrounds lot, careful to park in an area that wouldn't have to back up around trailers (have I mentioned I'm terrible at backing up? Even with sensors and a camera? Sheesh.), it hit me.

These are my people.

The people in the stands, the names on the animals were all familiar, if not darned friendly. Name after name after name were of people I knew from towns I grew up around, played sports against, and thought I would never, ever see again.

Ever.

However, I boomeranged.

I'm back in my home county, and now that we have kids involved in county events, it's more apparent that I am truly home. As she took the ring, she did so with a young man from a family who have known me since the toddler years, had my dad as a teacher, went to church with my aunt and uncle.

The man in the ring, guiding the cattle, assisting as needed? He's the dad of kids I used to always babysit for.

The guy cleaning out the chicken coops as the little kids and I walked through, killing time between classes? He's my old neighbor who teaches Ag at my high school.

On and on and on and on I walked around seeing people I hadn't seen in years, and who didn't expect me to be there. I must have made it abundantly clear I was never coming back.

The best part? Our name was pronounced right. Not just ours, my cousin's (Mottaz, my maiden name…I know, I went from bad to worse in the name department) was pronounced correctly. When my girl won Reserve Grand Champion, we had a cheering section, even though my parents are on opposite sides of the country this week. Neighbors, friends, relatives. People knew us. They recognized us. They were supporting us.

It was surreal.

While speaking to a couple I have known all my life, who have been 4H leaders long since their kids have left the hallowed halls of 4H, I spoke of moving home to the "home farm." Pete, the dad, choked up as he spoke of the honor it was to have his daughter and family in the same situation.

I never thought of moving back to the home county in a way that would choke up my dad.

But it means something.

My boomeranging isn't just nice because I have someone to talk to at cattle shows, someone to cheer on Anna as she won Junior Showmanship (YES… SHE DID THAT, TOO!! Proud, proud mama!!), it's nice because it means something. While I never was a huge 4Her, I was a Knox County girl, and am a Knox County girl, and when people know your history, your beginning, that's a big deal. A comfort. A happy place to be when you're sharing your home with your children.

The lure of what's bigger and better and broader is strong. I felt it. I needed to branch out. I'm happy I did, and there are days I wish I could head back, but the boomerang affect is strong. Roots are stronger. Friendly faces and correct pronunciation of names may seem small, but in a big, big world, it's nice to come home to a familiar place.

Today, I truly came home, and I couldn't be prouder.

Emily Webel
Farmington, Illinois

Emily and her husband, Joe, raise cattle, corn, soybeans and alfalfa for hay for their animals in Illinois. Together they are raising their four children to be good stewards of the land. Read more from Emily on her blog, Confessions of a Farm Wife.

Originally published July 14, 2014 on Confessions of a Farm Wife

Reposted with permission.

Jul 16 2014

What's Cooking Wednesday: Garlic and Herb Roast Beef Sandwiches and No-Mayo Potato Salad

JR is on the swim team this summer. That means that, in addition to daily practice after camp, he has weekly meets that start around 5 pm and end, well, end several hours later if we’re lucky. Zuzu does the swim team during the school year. Those meets start at 6 am and end, well, end several hours later — if we’re lucky. Our mistake, plainly, was signing our kids up for a sport than has “meets” versus “games.” I hope that you are able to avoid this same fate.

Swim meets that last for hours right around dinner time call for easy-to-prepare picnic fare. Sure, we could cobble dinner together from the swim club snack bars except that Combos and Good Humor bars are not my idea of dinner. (JR begs to differ.) I prefer to pack some sandwiches, a side salad and containers of fresh fruit into an insulated bag packed with cold packs and carry it along to the swim meet. I may be stuck there for hours, usually timing one of the lanes, but at least we eat well.

Even if you are not a swim team parent, my guess is that you will have some occasion to pack a picnic this summer, be it an outdoor concert, a baseball game or other casual outdoor event. So, here are some of my favorites ideas for picnic fare.

First, roast beef and cheddar sandwiches on ciabatta. These are not your tired lunchbox roast beef sandwiches. With rustic ciabatta rolls, Cabot Creamery Garlic and Herb Cheddar and fresh baby greens, these are gourmet-picnic-basket roast beef sandwiches. I like to add horseradish mayo to mine, but my husband is a rabid mayonnaise hater, so I use a coarse-grained mustard for his. That's a good option if your sandwiches will be outside without refrigeration for an extended period - no risk of spoilage.

I highly recommend this potato salad recipe for all your outdoor eating occasions because it also does not contain mayonnaise and therefore is less likely to spoil. As a potato salad lover with an mayo-phobic spouse, I have become quite the expert in potato salads dressed with vinaigrettes. While my favorite food in the world is still my grandmother's traditional potato salad with mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar dressing, this one also holds a place in my heart. I like to use fresh shallots, which I find at the farmers market at this time of year, for their mild flavor. If you cannot find fresh shallots, feel free to substitute red onion.

Happy picnicking!

Originally posted on West of the Loop.

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