Monday, May 31, 2010

Stop buying appliances!

Last winter I attended the Family Farmed Expo at the UIC Forum. Inspired by the Eat Real Food Challenge, this was the event that got me rolling SLOW*ly into eating real. I attended several of the seminars/lectures on tips for seasonal and local shopping.

They had great ideas for where and what to buy, and recipes, and their enthusiasm was motivating, even inspirational. But they stopped their thinking at the food. One lecturer brought up no fewer than 7 appliances that she used: vacuum packer, pressure canner, dehydrater, extra freezer, food processor, juicer, pasta roller. I assume in addition she also had the typical kitchen appliances of fridge, mixer, oven, stovetop, microwave. Others mentioned bread and pasta "machines," and seemed not to understand the irony of statements that these things were pretty affordable at Target, or that you could buy them on line from this great sustainable merchant in British Columbia. Or the Outer Hebrides for all I know.

There was lots of talk about "food miles" and supporting local farmers, but not a twinkle of consideration about "appliance miles." Local is not just food. Local is buying from the last merchant-owned Rexal drugstore in your neighborhood instead of Osco, or the Centrella Market instead of Safeway, or True Value instead of Lowe's. Sustainable is not just riding a bike instead of a car. It's also using your hands instead of a machine, to do those things that the machine doesn't do any better.

You don't need all those specialized appliances to make canned goods, juice, syrup, jams and preserves, bread or anything else, and you won't lose time or quality just doing it by hand. (You'll save time just because you won't be constantly hauling out appliances. Unless you live at America's Test Kitchen, where they hell are you keeping all that stuff?)

Here are the appliances/utensils you need to preserve an entire year's harvest for your family, and to make all your baked goods at home. Most don't use any electricity, and all are available from locally owned merchants:

Pastry mixer
Egg beater
Several different sizes of whisk
A dinner fork
Potato peeler
Several size knives
Mortar and Pestle
Rolling pin
Stove top
extremely large pot (for heat canning)
Hand held mixer, (if you make baked goods that use a batter, or lots of whipped cream. Otherwise, not so much. I almost never take mine out)
Okay, extra freezer

Useful, but not necessary (I don't have these, or any of the appliances named in the text):
Stand mixer
Large food processor (I actually need one of these, because I mash a lot of veggies for preserving, like squash, eggplant, and garbanzos.)

Everything on this blog was made with these Xan-powered utensils. Not a pasta roller in sight.

Chocolate-Pear Scones

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 1/2 T cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 to 2 1/2 cups diced pears (¼-inch cubes; cut just before you use them)

½ cup honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup milk, whisked

Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Adjust a baking rack to the middle position.

Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk, then cut in the butter with a pastry mixer, knife or your hands until it resembles a coarse meal. Peel (with a potato peeler), dice (with a knife), and then stir the pears into the flour mixture. Lightly beat the honey, egg, yolk, and milk/sourcream together in a bowl (with a fork) , then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined (it will be thick and sticky).

On a well-floured surface with floured hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). Using a 2-inch round cutter or rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out as many rounds as possible, rerolling scraps as necessary. Arrange rounds about 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let them cool slightly before serving.

*SLOW=Seasonal Local Organic Whole, in case you hadn't figured that out (took me a while)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A hundredth of an acre

Not that it's really possible to calculate, since my garden is like me: a little sideways, a little chaotic, a little haphazard, and always wandering off to do something else, but I think I have 435 square feet of vegetables.

One hundredth of an acre.

I feed four people with this. Two of them don't live here right now, so I pack up food and send it home with them. Anyone who works in my garden gets some too. I'm trying to grow/preserve enough to make it through January this year, and I'm trying to do it using as few appliances as possible. (It seems silly to plant a garden and then buy 14 different appliances, all shipped from China, to preserve it.) I'm able to fuss with my garden, since it's so small, in a way that a giant potager or a small farm can't-- the more space the more you have to trust that you'll lose some, but there's enough extra to make up the difference.

Although I joke that I grow on the Shaker system-- a third for the family, a third for the parish and a third for G*d (in his guise as the critters)--really, there's nothing to spare. I plant 40 snow pea seeds. If I lose half, that's half our meals for a month. On the other hand, I can individually tie every one of them to their supports, which is something I did today. I don't have to thin my lettuce; instead, I can pull the tender seedlings and rearrange the rows, or slip them in bare dirt somewhere else, because there are only a hundred of them.

Every sprout is a precious child, and I take joy in each. With a 10th of an acre, or a quarter, I wouldn't feel each tiny life elbowing or spearing its way to the surface.

So a hundredth of an acre isn't very much. But I very much believe that it's one hundredth of an acre that is helping to save the planet.

Spring Stir Fry with early vegetables

1/2 tofu cake
1 rhubarb spear, diced
1 bunch asparagus
3 cups spinach

Dice the rhubarb and macerate in 1 Tablespoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes. Cube the tofu, and drain it on a paper towel to draw off some of the moisture. Saute in a hot wok in a couple tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil. Add the rhubarb, including any moisture. Saute until the moisture has steamed off. Add the asparagus and saute til it's bright green. Add the spinach and saute until it wilts.

Add soy or oyster sauce, or leave as is. Serve over rice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

One day a week

I've been getting on my soapbox a lot lately, because I lost a lot of weight recently, and people are noticing. They ask me how I did it, and my response is "by eating."

You heard that right, I lost weight by eating. I never set out to lose weight, and didn't care that much, as I wasn't terribly overweight for someone of my age (BMI 29, now down to 25). But in March, I started eating SLOW- seasonal, local, organic, whole. I actually increased the percentage of animal fat in my diet, without increasing the amount of animal products I eat. So- whole milk and whole milk products, grass-fed beef, sustainably farmed chicken, with !gasp! the skin on. I stopped buying food with ingredients, and have been making my own everything: crackers, salad dressing, bread, jam, mayonnaise, you name it.

I have not been eating any less. By eating SLOW and other efforts (walking a lot more, expanding my garden) I reduced my family's carbon footprint by an entire planet.

And when I tell people this story, the responses are predictable-- too expensive, don't have time, don't know how to cook, my kids won't eat like that (why, do they have an independent income for their own food?) and on and on.

So here is MY challenge-- change your eating one day a week.

Just one day.

Do you eat out all the time? Start cooking from scratch one day. I'll let you buy pasta, but make your own tomato sauce, and buy your lettuce in a head instead of a bag. Use oil and vinegar instead of additive-rich purchased dressing. Just for one day a week.

Do you already cook from scratch one day a week? Pick another day, and eat only seasonal, whole foods that day. I'll let you go to Whole Foods (if you must) or another aware market, and buy strawberry preserves in March, as long as they're organic. I'll let you buy pasta, but read the label and make sure it says "semolina flour, water" and nothing else.

Already doing that too? Make bread. Or jam. Or crackers (they're ridiculously easy, look for my recipe on this blog). Roast a chicken. Don't worry how it turns out the first couple of times, you're only doing this once a week, remember? Do you bake a lot? One day, don't use the mixer-save the electricity and do it by hand.

How often do you go to the grocery store? One day a week, right? Go to the local, organic market instead, or the nearest farmers' market, or Whole Foods if you must. Too expensive? It's only one day a week!

Are you like me, and way into this already? You can change yourself, and your family, and your planet one day a week as well. Eat vegetarian one day a week. Already doing that? Eat vegan one day a week (that's where I've gotten). Already doing that? Eat raw one day a week.

If you've taken your food as far as you're comfortable, then take your one day a week and walk everywhere. Use it to donate time to a community or school garden, or a political action group. Grow a tomato plant- that's way less effort than one day a week, and then use your day at harvest time to preserve the bounty. Use your day to write your elected officials and demand recycling, the end of Big Ag subsidies and work arounds, and fair rules for small family farms.

I believe it. I lost 25 pounds with literally no effort toward that goal. We can save the planet, folks. What will you do one day a week?

And yes, I know it's sconeday, one day a week. Here you go:

Rhubarb Cream Scones
(adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, who adapted it from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup oats
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
2 cups diced rhubarb (¼-inch cubes), about 3 stalks, macerated in sugar (abt 3 T)
½ cup honey
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup sour cream + 1/2 cup milk, whisked

Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Adjust a baking rack to the middle position. In a small bowl, mix the rhubarb with 3 tablespoons sugar.

Mix the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, knife or your hands until it resembles a coarse meal. Stir the rhubarb into the flour mixture. Lightly beat the honey, egg, yolk, and milk/sourcream together in a bowl (use the same one you used for the rhubarb), then add this mixture to the flour mixture. Stir until just combined.

On a well-floured surface with floured hands, pat the dough into a 1-inch-thick round (about 8 inches in diameter). Using a 2-inch round cutter or rim of a glass dipped in flour, cut out as many rounds as possible, rerolling scraps as necessary. Arrange rounds about 1 inch apart on baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until pale golden. Transfer the scones to a cooling rack and let them cool slightly before serving.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yet another project

Just because I don't really have enough to do, what with teaching, working for a theater as a fundraiser, putting in my garden and trying to get Hipster Supported Agriculture going, I'm going to be volunteering with a wonderful new project in Chicago to get Victory Gardens going again.

The Peterson Garden Project is an organic, community vegetable garden on the corner of Peterson and Campbell in Chicago’s 40th Ward. Thanks to the incredible energy of The Yarden (aka LaManda; really, never get to know this woman if you don't want to be drawn into her vortex of wonder), neighbors will once again be able to garden on this historic strip of Peterson Avenue. I've signed on as a volunteer in fundraising, sweat equity, and as part of the teaching team for new gardeners.

I went to the groundbreaking this morning (that's LaManda with Alderman O'Connor), and it was thrilling to see people who've been living just a block away from each for decades meeting at the garden for the first time. This week we'll be there with shovels, wood for raised beds, and piles and piles of dirt to get it going in just a few days, in time for Chicago's main growing season.

The site was part of an original WW2 Victory Garden from 1942-1945. This revival Victory Garden is being launched for the 2010 growing season for Chicago residents who, like those gardeners almost 70 years ago, want to work with their neighbors to grow their own food. One of the amazing things that LaManda discovered when she started researching the site was that the WWII Victory Garden movement actually started in Chicago.

I also scored a wild Marsh Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) that had taken root in this currently abandoned lot. I'm fairly shameless when it comes to asking people if I can dig up their plants. This is how I got most of my ornamentals. Transplanted it to my "Woodland" patch which I think is about to morph into a Prairie patch, since that's also where I've put some wild chamomile, and the One Seed Chicago beebalm.

I made this biryani for a volunteers meeting earlier this week, and anticipate providing many more treats and meals for this incredible group of people.

Vegetable-nut biryani
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, cooked in broth (I used the dregs of some coconut milk mixed with water)
Cut greens (I had arugula, radish greens, and spinach from the garden)
sliced carrots
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup raisins, plumped
1 cup crushed walnuts

Spices: curry powder, crushed coriander, turmeric (for color)

Prepare the rice according to package instructions, with 1-2 teaspoons of turmeric for color. Five minutes before it’s done, add the raisins (just put them on top and re-cover the pot, no need to mix them in.)

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan, add curry and crushed coriander to the oil and heat until it just starts to steam; add the vegetables and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the nuts; sauté for a minute or two. Add the greens and sauté until they are bright green. If the rice is not done, turn the heat under the veggies down (or off if it's going to be more than about 5 minutes).

Mix together, salt and pepper to taste.

This also keeps extremely well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sconeday: Where are you from?

According to my astrological chart, I should have lived in a large town in a rural setting. I’ve suggested to my husband that I would love to retire to such a setting, in rural Wisconsin or Michigan; he just looks at me like I’ve grown another head.

I read with such envy my rural and small town friends on the web; I would love a life that allowed me to do something as simple as walk to a farmer’s market, or to know my neighbors. I spent my high school years in a small city, but at the very edge, where there was a farm across the street, and full blown country an easy bike ride away. My parents hated it, but I still get a thrill when I manage to get out under the sky, where you see what we city folk call “nothing” from horizon to horizon.

My family, and my husband’s, have no farmers in our backgrounds for at least 5 generations. The first farmer we’ve been able to possibly identify are my Irish triple greats who came here in the 1850s or 60s, although that’s a guess; they may have been urban victims of the Irish troubles; we’re not really sure why they came. Other than that, we know that they all emigrated from cities to cities-St. Louis, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, LA. I have an uncle who was an engineer that moved his family from NYC to a Christmas tree farm in upstate NY, because he invented the machine that allows pine farmers to plant them mechanically (if you know a Christmas tree farmer, he probably uses my uncle’s invention). But he’s the outlier.

My yearnings for dirt come out of nowhere. No one else in my family shares it. They support it, and love the food, but the desire to grow things and be part of the cycle of life has been bred out of their genes for the last 150 years or more.

Coconut lemon scones
Adapted from: Group Recipes

4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup oats
8 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
>1/4 cup cane sugar

1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup thin yogurt
5 tbls butter
4 tbls shortening
1 cup Coconut Milk
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla or lemon extract

1/2 cup diced dried pineapple (NOT the sugar coated kind)

Pre-heat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together dry ingredients (including zest) in a large bowl. In a separate bowl (or measuring cup) mix together coconut milk, lemon juice and vanilla and set aside for the moment. Take butter, shortening, and lemon zest and cut in to dry ingredients until you have a crumb-like texture. Mix the wet ingredients in to the dry ones until a sticky dough forms.

Turn dough out on to a floured surface and using floured hands, gently pat out the dough to 1" thickness. Cut out scones using a round cutter (a juice glass works fine) and place with sides touching on parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Putting in the garden

I cheated the frost date by a day, and put seeds into my garden today.

The very first thing I ever grew on purpose was an edible- raspberries from the backyard of my friend Holly's grandparents. More than 20 years later, they're still going strong, with offspring growing in other Chicago gardens, as well as in friends' gardens in Ontario, New York, and Nebraska.

What with losing half my employment this year, I decided to take on numerous web challenges: the Growing Challenge to put in something new every year; Project Grow for Spitfire nasturtiums, which several dozen gardeners all over North America are testing for Renee's seeds; Eat Real Food to try to eat SLOW: Seasonal, Local, Organic, Whole.

My own personal challenge is to grow and preserve enough vegetables to make it through January. I routinely get into November still harvesting, but I haven't put as much energy into saving my food.

I've got 480 square feet+, including a new bed that increased the growing area by a third. Over the next several weeks, I'll slowly be planting seeds and starts. So here's my garden this year:

The Serpentine Bed
Cherry Tomatoes, Black Beans, Roma VF tomato to save seeds for Populuxe seed bank/, Broccoli, turnips/ climbing beans/ cucumber, winter melon, dill/ onions, beets, carrots.

The Wagon Wheel Bed

Two types of eggplants, Dragon Tongue beans from MrBrownThumb, Spitfire nasturtiums/Blue Lake and Slenderette bush beans, 5 types of heirloom tomatoes, parsley, garlic/ parsnips, leeks, spinach, onions/snow peas, radishes, then shell beans in succession, bell peppers in pots.

Garage sideyards

Pumpkin and mustard
Greens, then asparagus, raddichio, bok choy/broccoli

Three sisters bed

Two types of heirloom corn, Ghost rider pumpkin and Butternut squash from Chiot's Run, pole beans, nasturtiums plus shishito peppers in a pot.

The Savory bed
Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, chamomile, cilantro (coriander), summer savory, caraway, taragon, mint in a pot, plus fragrant ornamentals

Here and there: cabbage, brussels sprouts, strawberries, concord grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, more chamomile, more mint, more cilantro, lavender, salad burnett.

Many of the seeds came through swaps from the community on, and a good number of them from Chicago garden bloggers through Shady Swap. The pictures are from last fall.

I also have 600 square feet or more of ornamentals and a pond. I do not have lawn.

So-delicious it might be illegal Tilapia in coconut lime sauce with asparagus

3/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Zest and juice from two limes
1 T finely diced candied ginger
1 T finely diced cilantro leaves (from the garden)
1 T peanut oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 pound tilapia from

Fresh asparagus in season

Put all sauce ingredients in a small food processor or blender and mix. Melt 2 T butter in a frying pan, sear both sides of the tilapia, then add the sauce and simmer til fish is cooked through. Place asparagus on top of it, turn heat to low or intermittent, cover and steam until asparagus is bright green.

For vegan, substitute portobello or lots and lots of shiitake mushroom, plus pine nuts for the fish.

Serve over basmati rice.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sconeday experiment

Or, Trust Your Instincts, But Read The Recipe

On the last day that my daughter was home, I decided to have warm scones ready for her when she got up. I had the idea in the back of my head to try the apricot compote-for-honey substitution with scones, so I was pretty excited about these. I'm really a novice baker. I'm a complete ease around a stove top and a frying pan, and I can make a stew with my eyes closed. But baking scares me, and I tend to stick to the recipe closely.

Except of course, that's hard to do when you don't read the recipe.

"I can do these without looking up the recipe," sez I to myself sez I. "I've been making scones once a week for months now."

The dough looked lovely-- a gentle orange color-- and smelled divine. It was kinda stiff, I almost rolled it, but thought, no I like the rough "drop" scones. Just before sticking them in the oven, I glanced at the recipe and realized, oops.

Forgot the butter.

Yes folks, I forgot to put the butter in the scones. Too late to do it right now, the dough was all mixed. So how do I get butter evenly mixed through a dense dough filled with nuts.

I melted it folks. Kneaded it in, and reformed the scones. They're going in the oven now; I'll be back in 15 minutes to tell you how they are. In the meantime, here's a lovely picture from my garden.
Well, they're a little gummy, but they taste delicious! So the conclusion is, you can screw up a baking recipe, but I don't recommend it.

Apricot-walnut scones
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 Tbs cane sugar (or 1 Tbs packed brown sugar)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tbs dried or fresh orange zest

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup fresh orange juice, with zest
1/4 cup apricot compote
1/4 cup sour cream, or plain or vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup dried apricots, diced and plumped or 1/4 cup crushed walnuts

Heat oven to 425F/218C

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. Cut in butter (NOTE: DO NOT FORGET THIS STEP) using a pastry blender or by rubbing between your fingers until it has the consistency of corn meal. Whisk together honey, apricots, and sour cream in a measuring cup. Pour all at once into the dry ingredients, and stir gently until well blended. (Overworking the dough results in terrible scones!)

To prepare the dried apricots, plump them by boiling them for about a minute on stove top or microwave. Drain and pat dry, mix into the scone batter.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drop batter by generous spoonfuls. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until the tops are golden brown, not deep brown.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Feng Shui in the Garden

I started using DIY feng shui in my house about 10 years ago. To me, feng shui is a structure on which to build your own sense of balance in a space. I map my baguas and try to balance the elements, but at heart I'm just trying to make a room "feel" good.

You can spot a room that has been arranged with a cold heart, or without the hand or input of the room's users. It will seem dead or impersonal. The light sits heavily in an unbalanced room and the air doesn't move.

I asked a friend who is a knowledgeable amateur to come look at my garden, and she helped me rebalance it. We laid a new patio and reshaped the central bed. We added a water feature and paths.

I was thrilled recently to find Ann Bingley Gallops over at Open Spaces Feng Shui. In her recent newsletter about feng shui in the garden she states, “to get good Feng Shui going in your garden, start with the Bagua, using it just as you would in a room of your home.” On her site, there’s a pdf of the Bagua map (right sidebar, scroll down), which identifies the nine most important parts of your life and aligns it with specific areas of your space.

She continues: “The entry to your garden is the place from which you enter it most frequently. Now, look around and use the map to think about how each area is working to support your life.

“For example, what's in the back left-hand corner, which is your Wealth & Abundance area? After you've ascertained that it's not filled with debris or things you don't want or love, think about what you could add to enhance this important zone: good lighting, strong vertical plantings, and red, purple or gold flowers, for instance.”

This area used to be the dumping ground of the garden. To fix it, we laid out a round patio of scavenged marble and flagstone, and lined it with golden flowers—daffodils, tulips, squash. The entry way has “sentinal” flowers in red and purple: columbine, glads, eggplants, and nasturtium.

Here’s Ann again: “How about the Relationship area, in the back right-hand corner? Enhance this section with romantic flowers in shades of red or pink, and with plantings that "pair up" nicely.” In our garden, this is vegetables. Since I always plant for beneficial pairings, this worked out nicely—tomatoes with parsley and carrots, broccoli with radishes, beans with squash and corn.

Here’s Ann on water features: “Looking at the Bagua map, the best locations for a pond or fountain are the Life Journey, Family/New Beginnings, and Wealth/Prosperity areas. These areas are all associated with Water or with the Wood element, which is nourished by Water in the cycle of the Five Elements (here is more information about the Five Elements).

Luckily, our pond could really only be put in the Life Journeys bagua. Plus, because it’s near the entry path the first thing you experience when walking into the garden is the sound of flowing water. Very auspicious.

My small yard (23x60) has 10 distinct beds, separated by grass, brick, glass block or mulch paths. Ann: “Finally, consider the "path of Chi" as you lay out your garden. A graceful, sinuous path encourages Chi energy - and people! -- to slow down, explore and enjoy your garden. And welcoming Chi energy into your garden with an open, inviting pathway will bring you its positive benefits, over and over again."

I think I got it right, because even dogs that come into my garden follow the paths.

Here are some more portraits from my garden, and some panoramas to trace the progress of the design.

Thank you to Ann Bingley Gallops for her permission to reprint extensively from her blog, newsletter, and site, Open Spaces Feng Shui

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cracker Wednesday

My crazy Chinese-Greek-French-Swedish-Irish-Hungarian heritage has major benefits, one of them being that uncle-in-law with a farm in Hungary. He brings homegrown goodness back to the States a couple of times a year, including at various times, shelled walnuts, apricot compote, honey, cherries (packed in homemade whisky) and wine. This month's bounty was 3 quarts of walnuts, with which I made walnut butter, and a quart of apricot compote.

So I'm substituting the apricot for honey in all my recipes this week:

Sourcream-apricot crackers

1 cup plain flour
1 cup wheat flour
1 teaspoon seasalt
2 tablespoons softened butter
1/3 cup+2 T milk
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup apricot compote (a very thin apricot jam, essentially.)

seasoning: 1 teaspoon each seasalt, coriander, 1 T dried orange zest

Preheat oven to 150'C/ 300'F.

Grind the seasonings together in a mortar; whisk the milk, sour cream and honey together to form about a cup of thick liquid

Add the seasonsings to the flour, and in a mixing bowl or food processor, cut the butter in until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. (I start this with a knife or pastry cutter, then finish it with my hands.)

Slowly mix in enough liquid to form a soft, but not sticky, dough.

Divide the dough into four portions and roll out one at a time, until paper thin. Some people recommend a pasta press, but a rolling pin works fine. Keep turning the dough over, and lightly coating it with flour so it doesn't stick to the pin or the board.

Lightly brush the sheet with a flavorful oil (nut or olive); if you like your crackers salty, sprinkle ground sea salt on the oiled crackers. Using a sharp knife or pizza roller, cut the dough into 1" square crackers. Line cookie sheet with parchment (or just put them directly on an ungreased sheet), then transfer crackers to the cookie sheet if you rolled it out on a board.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp. Allow to cool on the tray and then store in an air tight container for up to a week. This recipe made about 200 1" square crackers.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Since I make scones once a week for breakfasts and snacks, I decided that "Monday" is now "Sconeday" Watch for a new scones recipe on most Mondays! This is the only recipe idea I ever had that I could not find that someone else had already come up with it.

Beet scones
a Mahlzeit original recipe

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
about 1 cup grated cooked beet (1 medium beet)

1 large egg
1/4 c honey
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour cream
1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Preheat oven to 425°.

Boil beet(s) until just al dente (don't overcook, because it needs to be firm enough to be grated). Allow to cool enough to handle, then grate it.

Mix together first 6 ingredients. Cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add beets and mix until just blended. Whisk together egg, buttermilk, and orange extract in a separate bowl until blended. Add to flour mixture, and mix just until blended and slightly moist. Dough will be sticky, and pink.

Spoon large tablespoonsful onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or line a sheet with parchment paper). Bake at 425° for 12 to 15 minutes (shorter time for smaller scones). Makes 9 large or 12 medium scones.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spitfires and walnuts, hipsters and uncles

My garden, long a private refuge, has become a community. It's rather a pocket metaphor for how one's life changes with time. In the past I've only brought people into the garden once a year or so, for a garden party we give each year at "peak," around mid to late July. This year, I've got friends helping me with tasks through my Hipster Supported Agriculture project, and a huge online community of mentors and friends that is growing and developing daily.

One of these communities is the GROW Project. I got involved in this through the blog that helped me find the online gardening community, MrBrownThumb. Renee's Garden sent free seeds to several dozen gardeners all over the country; we're planting them in various ways and conditions. I'm planting mine in stages; the newest event is planting the wintersowns at my stick trellis, the "Narnia Gate" on April 26 (left, you can see the spitfires at the base of each branch). These are thriving; I did not cloche these at all, and they lived through two hard frosts, one quite heavy. (Full progress in small type at the bottom of the post).

Left: along the fence. Right: Narnia Gate. The gate is dappled shade; the fence will be full sun, but right now the seedlings are shaded by the lilies.

I still have a good handful of seeds, which will be planted direct in about a week in various other spots in the garden, both for climbing and for trailing.

My recipe today also comes from my growing community. My uncle-in-law lives on a farm in Hungary. When he visits, he brings us food he's grown. This time we got several pounds of walnuts and a quart of apricot compote. While I come up with a recipe that combines the two (yes, a walnut apricot bread is in our future), I made walnut butter to give away with the Hipster Supported Agriculture project, another community project inspired by Kinder Gardens, yes, yet another community project.

Walnut butter
2 quarts walnuts
2-3 tablespoons walnut oil or light flavorless oil like safflower, canola or corn
1 tablespoon sea salt

Add all the ingredients into a food processor. Start grind at a low speed if you have the option, gradually increasing to high. Blend for about 60 seconds; do not blend too long because you do not want to overheat the walnut butter to preserve the enzymes. Check for taste, add salt if desired. I did it about 1 1/2 cups of walnuts at a time, since I have only a 3 cup processor. Two quarts of walnuts made 1 quart of butter.

Prior events: I'm growing Nasturtium "Spitfire" for the GROW project. Thanks, to Renee's Garden for the seeds. I planted 6 seeds in Ferry-Morse organic seed starting medium on March 8, and got 5 seedlings. These were cloched for 6 weeks, but not for the past week or so. One of them didn't make it, but the others are thriving, and are getting big enough to start weaving through the cyclone fence. There are also 9 seeds planted in a wintersown container, in plain soil mixed with perlite. These poked their heads out of the dirt on April 3 and were planted out in the shade on April 26.