Little City Kitchen Co. Blog

My stories about local food, fermentation, and formerly organic baby food
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A Guide to Mindful Meat Consumption: The Little Locavore Blog Series by Little City Kitchen Co.

I have a confession to make… For as much of a local foodie as I have become, I intentionally delayed reading Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivores Dilemma, for about two years.  You could say that I wanted to bury my head in the sand, but I was just convinced that I would turn into a vegetarian if I really learned about where my meat comes from.

Eventually I opened the book, and while I can proudly say that I’m still an avid meat eater, I’ve become highly selective about the type and quality of meat I consume.  I haven’t decided whether I’m a butchers’ greatest customer or worst enemy, but before I make any meat purchase, I need to know how it was raised, what it was fed, how it was processed (a very pretty industry word that means how it was killed), and how it gets to my plate.   Yup, I’m THAT girl…

Which brings me to today’s blog.  What does the average person need to consider when buying meat, and where are some reliable sources for the good quality stuff?

Defining “Mindful” Meat

I could dedicate pages and pages to this topic, but today we’ll keep it short and sweet.  Here is what you should consider when purchasing meat:

How It’s Raised: The best quality stuff you can buy is pasture-raised from small farms (remember those words from our last egg blog?), not from conventional feeding facilities.  For beef, “happy cows” are meant to eat grass, so opt for a grass-fed variety if you can.  For pork, chicken & duck, look for pastured varieties.

What It’s Fed:  For cows, grass is the best option, with organic grains as the second-best option.  Feeding animals organic grains can be an expensive proposition, so some farmers opt for a high-quality conventional feed that doesn’t include any genetically modified grains.  Talk to your farmers…the better quality their food, the better quality the meat.

By asking these questions to your meat purveyor, it will be clear that you’re looking for meat with high nutritional quality that has been raised in an ethical environment.

Where to Buy:

Farmers Markets: Most established farmers markets have grass-fed beef or pastured meats available now.   Buying from them allows to you establish a relationship with the farmer and only purchase the cuts or amounts that you need.  And if you have a big freezer, you could consider another great option: buying a ¼, ½ or whole cow!  They cut it up for you and you get everything in small, vacuum-sealed packages.

Meat-focused CSA:  If you don’t make it to the farmers market, consider subscribing to a meat CSA.  This is another way to buy directly from the farm, and just like a veggie/fruit CSA, you get a box of fresh meat cuts delivered directly to your front door (or to the pickup location near you).  Check out LocalHarvest or EatWild to locate a meat CSA in your area. These sites are a little confusing, so when in doubt, just start calling the farms!   I know that Tara Firma Farms and Marin Sun Farms both have great meat CSA’s pickup spots throughout the Bay Area.

Butcher Shops: The next best option is to buy from a local butcher shop that practices “whole animal butchery”.  Instead of getting boxes of specific cuts in Cryovac bags, these butcher shops buy the whole animal and butcher up everything themselves.  It means that every part of the animal is used and nothing is wasted…the way is should be!

I still haven’t found a great listing of high quality butcher shops in the Bay Area, but here’s the best I could compile, and many of these practice whole animal butchery.  If you know of others near you, please email me so I can add to this list.

Avedanos (SF, Bernal Heights)
Marina Meats (SF, Marina)
Fatted Calf (SF, Hayes Valley
Star Meats (Berkeley)
Marin Sun Farms (Oakland/Rockridge, Point Reyes and more)
The Local Butcher Shop (Berkeley)
4505 Meats (SF, Hayes Valley, Ferry Building Farmers Market)
Bi-Rite (SF, Mission District)
Oliver’s (SF, Dogpatch)
Harley Richter Meats (pickup & delivery,
Canyon Market (Glen Park, carries BN Ranch meat…)

A Guide to Legumes: Incorporating Beans into Baby Food – Scoop on Starting Solids blog series

Let’s face it, cooking dried beans can be a daunting task, and it’s certainly not the first food you would associate with baby food.  You have to soak them ahead of time, cooking times are unpredictable, and we all know what property helped them to become notoriously known as the “musical fruit”.  How do you easily incorporate these nutrient-packed little legumes into your baby food, and can you do it in a way that’s easily digestible?

This is not a blog about how to cook dried beans (I’ll leave that to you & Google).  It’s about how to make them beans digestible for baby and to give you some recipe inspirations for baby food that you can use when you’re making your own.

And for those who have no interest in cooking dried beans from scratch, we’ll even talk about a specific brand of canned beans…one of the few canned items that I recommend for parents.

Behold the Bean

What makes them good for baby?  From a nutritional standpoint, beans are packed with fiber and protein, about 8g of each in ½ cup.  They’re digested and absorbed slowly, making baby (and us) feel fuller for a longer period of time.  Beans are also very low on the glycemic index, which means there’s no dramatic spike in insulin.  They’re great for maintaining consistent blood sugar levels and are typically a very satiating food.

And now we come to the word on everyone’s mind: digestion.  Here are some suggestions on how to make dried beans more digestible…for baby and for your entire family.

Tip #1) Soak dried beans for 2 whole days – This is a process called “sprouting”, but you drain the beans before they actually sprout.  Change the water 1-2 times per day and keep the soaking beans in the refrigerator, not on your kitchen counter!  Most of the gas-causing agents are in the skins, so a 2-day soak with several water changes usually takes care of 80% of the gas problem.

Tip #2) Add kombu or other sea vegetables when you cook the beansKombu has enzymes that further break down the beans making them more digestible.  Add a 2-3 inch strip to the beans to the pot during cooking.  Available at most natural food stores.

Tip #3) Ease babies into beans the first time – start small if little ones are new to legumes.  Give a few spoonfuls of your bean-based baby food to start, and feel free to combine with your favorite fruit, veggie or meat.  If you use the two methods above (like I do at Little City Kitchen for all our bean flavors), then the chances are baby will be able to digest them easily.

Canned beans

I don’t generally recommend canned items, but there are occasionally some items that are good compromises.  Native Forest coconut milk is one of them (the brand we use exclusively at Little City Kitchen), as are canned beans, specifically the Eden Organic brand.  Most canned goods have BPA in the lining, but the Eden Organic brand are both organic and come in BPA-free cans.  If you’re going for a canned bean, then this is the brand to buy.

Recipe ideas

Once your beans are cooked (or drained and rinsed if you’ve gone the can route), just throw them in your food processor with water or coconut milk, add any other fun ingredients and buzz away.

  • Red beans: wonderful source of iron, go “Cajun” style with some okra, celery and green pepper, or sweet with some cinnamon and coconut milk
  • Black beans: for savory, saute up some onions, mushrooms & garlic or for sweet, add some fruit like mangos or peaches and coconut milk
  • Garbanzo beans (chickpeas): think hummus here…lemon, basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese
  • White cannellini beans: go savory with some roasted carrot, parsnip and orange zest

Go forth to the bulk bins at Whole Foods and report back with your own bean adventures!

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.

The Scoop on Nitrates & Baby Food: Dig into the Carrots, Beets & Spinach…

For those of you who have attended one of the Little City kitchen baby food cooking classes or demonstrations, you’ll know that I love an interactive class. I watch everyone around get inspired by the questions and conversation, which inspires me as well.  There are always common themes, but one topic that seems to be coming up frequently is concern about nitrates.  Should you be concerned with nitrate levels and avoid baby foods like beets, carrots & spinach?

I asked our favorite pediatrician, Dr. Julia Getzelman, founder of GetzWell Pediatrics for her perspective.  She said that by six months old (when most babies start eating solid food), babies have enough stomach acid to digest just about anything you could throw at it, including nitrates.  In fact, she goes on to say that “kids would have to eat more than is almost humanly possible for nitrates to even be in the toxic range.  Whew!

The AAP has only issues some cautions around nitrates if you’re dealing with a baby under the age of three months old.  This doesn’t apply to 99.9% of the parents I speak with throughout the day, but see the full statement here if you’d like to read more.

Common Causes of High Nitrate Levels

Just to put your mind even more at ease, let’s talk about three common causes of high nitrate levels, and some suggestions that the everyday parent can use if they’re still concerned:

Cause: Unregulated well water – not too common here in the city
Solution: Use tap or filtered water in formula or if you’re making your own baby food
(Note – we use reverse osmosis water at Little City kitchen for all baby food)

Cause:  Conventional/synthetic fertilizers
Solution: Buy organic fruit & veggies, which are grown without synthetic fertilizers

Cause: Long storage times
Solution: Buy fruit & veggies from a local source.  Spinach from the farmers market is better than spinach from the grocery store.

In our cooking demos and classes, I talk a lot about giving kids a variety of foods.  Veggies such as carrots, beets and in particularly dark, leafy greens like spinach are all healthy foods to introduce early.  Don’t let your concern about nitrates get in the way of feeding your kiddos these great items!

So the short version: don’t be too concerned about nitrates, but if you still are, use local & organic produce and tap water to make your baby food…or buy some of ours!

Since the Burlingame farmers market is closed until April, we’re doing special orders every few weeks.  Next pickup/delivery date will be Sunday, February 5, so stay tuned for our flavors of the week.

Jill Epner is the owner of Little City Kitchen Co. is a Bay Area company making handcrafted, organic, frozen baby food with an International twist.  Follow us on Facebook, or sign up to receive our newsletter with information on starting solids & making your own baby food.