Friday, October 24, 2014

Redefining weeds: The Dandelion

I am pretty sure everyone has seen these things, and most people define these plants as an invasive weed. This plant is something most people detest, and really, the dandelion has a pretty bad reputation, which is largely undeserved. The problem is that we somehow developed this preference for grassy manicured lawns, which really isn't great for the soil. Everything has a certain ecology, and the plants we've come to label as weeds really serve a particular function, and should be appreciated for all the hard work they do. I am somewhat of an advocate for weeds, I think they're great, and we need to recognize their many uses. I am going to get into the uses of the dandelion, not so much it's function in rebuilding the soil. I just want to foster looking at this plant in a different way.

I've started reading up on urban foraging because I think it's going to be handy information, as a lot of permaculture lecturers share their concerns of a food crisis that will be coming to a head soon. We have some pretty inefficient farming methods, and that's going to have a lot of repercussions soon. But that's a soap box for later.

The dandelion, those delightful little yellow flowers that most people try their hardest to rid their lawns of. Every single part of this plant is edible, although there are better times to eat the various parts, as dandelions can develop bitterness. So let's discuss the various parts of the plant starting from the bottom to the top!

The root: best to eat after the flower dies and the plant goes to seed, before it reflowers again. It's a root vegetable, so prepare it however you would prepare carrots. So use the roots in soups and stews, or saute them with some butter and garlic (this is the only way I'll eat cooked carrots, they need to still be crunchy). Dandelion root tea is also popular to aid with digestion and weight loss (it's a diuretic though, so be careful if you need to avoid those!). I've also read that the dried ground root can be a coffee substitute, but I really have no personal experience with that. Although I should probably try as I can no longer drink coffee.

The leaves: these are best to eat before the plant flowers, because they are the least bitter at this point. They are good sauteed, raw in salads, or steamed as you would spinach.

The flowers: these have multiple uses, you can eat them in salads, you can make wine from them (it's pretty tasty, although you need A TON of dandelion heads, I know, I helped a friend once), you can use them to flavor any fermented drink (I've tried a beer that had a nice flowery dandelion taste to it). I also remember reading somewhere that the flower heads can be battered and fried, I've never tried this, but if you have let me know!

The entire plant is rich in vitamins A, and C, and a good source of potassium and calcium. Every part of the plant is edible, and the worst will be a slightly bitter taste that needs to be cooked out, unless you're like me and you enjoy a good bitter green. So I hope I helped to change your view of this wonderful little plant, and maybe even tempted you to try them when they crop back up. Just be sure to forage for these tasty little things in an area where pesticides are not used, and regardless make sure you give them a good wash when you get them in the house.

Once again, I am not a doctor, I research everything before I put it on the blog, and I do my best to make sure I only relay helpful information. However, I cannot advise you on the medicinal properties of these plants, and encourage you to talk with a professional who is able to do so!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hello Visitor!

Hi if you're reading thing, then you're visiting my blog! Welcome, look around, learn some things, but mostly, I want some feedback. If you're a regular here, or if this is your first time stopping by, let me know what you think. If you think it stinks and I need to improve, let me know so I can make some changes, I am new to this blogging thing after all. Or if you think it's great, but you want to read some more about something I do, let me know that as well! I am doing this to share my knowledge with anyone who cares to read it, so if you're not finding yourself drawn in, or you feel I didn't go into enough detail on something you want to know more about leave me a comment!

All constructive feedback is welcome and encouraged! I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: Put 'Em Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton

I've recently been looking for books that give me more canning ideas and recipes. I am still not entirely comfortable with making my own canning recipes as I am still nervous about pH levels. But pretty soon I am going to start figuring out how to safely can some things that I love, like my family's homemade salsa. But I digress, I wanted to talk about this fantastic book. I'm only going to say a little bit about it, because really, how much can you say about a book full of canning recipes? There are great pictures throughout this book, and all of the recipes I have tried have been tasty.

One of the main things about this book that I love is that it is divided by type of thing you're trying to preserve, and for most recipes it gives you multiple ways to preserve, either freezing, canning, refrigerating, drying, etc. I really liked that when I had a pile of green beans I was able to just leaf through that section and figure out what I had the ingredients for. The same with the beets I ordered from my CSA. There are few books that are so easy to use.

The beginning of the book gives you all the basics you need to know for food preservation, and they are well explained how-tos. I really recommend this book, not only is it full color which I just love, but it is neatly organized and a joy to use!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

12 Principles of Permaculture

So as I said about a month ago I'm taking an online Permaculture certification course, and it's really fascinating. It's not like the rest of the web-courses I have taken, it has actual video lectures, and it's engaging because you are encouraged to interact with the other students. It's through OSU and I highly recommend that you check it out if that's something you're looking to get to know more about. It does cost a pretty penny ($850), but after completion of this course you're certified to call yourself a Permaculture designer!

This week we learned about the 12 Principles of Permaculture, and I am just really loving how much this already parallels how I feel life should be lived. So here they are!

1. Observe and Interact: I feel like I should sing you "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's Pocahontas, but I'll spare you. This however is the same basic idea, you don't own the Earth, you live on it, and you need to take care of it, and live in harmony with it. You're not going to be able to do that if you don't interact with nature, and observe the cycles and patterns that are in place around you.

2. Catch and Store Energy: How much rain just washes off of your roof and into the gutter? How much sun energy beats down upon your land and isn't doing anything other than drying out your grass? How much wind energy? Etc. Etc. I am not saying harness it all, but find a way to harness some, and if you're using that solar energy to grow a garden well, you're already doing this in a way, because you're turning that solar energy into energy stored in that food.

3. Obtain a Yield: You should be getting something from your land other than just yard work, you should be getting a return on your investment, and this applies to all areas of your life. Why put work into something only to get more work? I think this is why I have never understood having a huge green lawn, because you're not getting anything from it, you're just constantly needing to put work into maintaining it.

4. Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback: I think this is something us US citizens really need to start doing. Do you really need an SUV or a big truck with all wheel drive? Do you really need to drive to work, can you carpool, can you walk? What ways can you reduce the waste that your household produces? If you're not seeing these things yourself and you want to improve your carbon footprint ask!

5. Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services: This can apply to so many things, chickens can be a renewable resource. But we need to value these things, and we also need to start putting more pressure on the individuals who are supposedly our representative in Washington to start valuing these things as well.

6. Produce No Waste: I'm far from perfect on this one myself, I can't tell you the stack of reusable shopping bags I have that consistently get left at home. I however have been making great strides to donate items that can still be used, to buy used items whenever I can, and to fix things that can still be useful. We mustn't forget that there are 3 R's, so many people focus on recycling, but really we need to also remember there is Reduce and Reuse as well!

7. Design from Patterns to Details: Basically, start with the big picture and work your way down, this makes things much more likely to succeed.

8. Integrate Rather than Segregate: I think this one is kind of a no-brainer. Look at nature, you'll never see all the Pine trees growing in rows seperated from all the Oak trees, you'll never see all the squirrels living in one forest, and the birds living in another. It's this way because variety makes things more sustainable, you need all the little pieces for an ecosystem to function.

9. Use Small Slow Solutions: This will lessen your environmental impact, and also make it less likely that there will be a catastrophe if you solution fails for some reason.

10. Use and Value Diversity: This one is tied in with number 8, but expands upon it. Use that diversity, make it work to your advantage, and help you produce more!

11. Use Edges and Value the Marginal: Pay attention to what's happening at the edges of your garden, or any space really. This is where energy is exchanged for so many things. We lose heat energy through the walls of our home, so we need to pay attention to the ways we insulate. If we're talking in terms of a garden, the edges are where nutrients are absorbed from the surrounding land, or water, and it is also where weeds make their way in. The edges are also where the most interaction with wildlife will happen. So you can use the edges to either draw in or repel animals depending on your needs and preferences.

12. Creatively Use and Respond to Change: Sometimes things that you see as problems, can in fact be new tools. Your giant shade tree was knocked down in the last wind storm? Well, that opens up new space, and options for placement of sun-loving plants! Never view anything as a set back, just as a change that you need to consider and adapt to.

So there you go the 12 principles of Permaculture, I hope you've enjoyed this mini-lesson, and there are more to come!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz

I can't say enough good things about this book. It was easy to read (I power read through this in about 3 days), informative, and interesting. I picked up the e-book for my Kindle on a recommendation from a friend, because I had posted on Facebook that I was interested in learning more about fermentation, and really wanted a good book to get me started. This book has so many different fermentation recipes, that it's going to keep me busy for a while.

Let me go into a little more detail about the recipes, since there are so many of them in this book. First of all, there is a huge variety, not only are there recipes for traditional favorites like fermented pickles, but there are also recipes for Ethiopian dishes. There are bread, beverage, vegetable, and anything else you can think of fermenting. The best part is that, as he explain in the book, you can do most of these fermentations with little more than a food-safe sterile container, and salt water. I currently have a batch of vegetables/fruits on the counter fermenting away in a brine solution, and I am very anxious to see how they are turning out but I want to give the ferment a few more days.

I think one of the more important things that I need to stress about fermenting is that a lot of people are going to tell you how dangerous fermenting foods can be. Well, this is true, but from my experience thus far, it's also really easy to avoid any problems. Thing is, anytime you talk about canning or fermenting, someone somewhere is going to bring up the B-word, Botulism. Yes, that is a very dangerous bacteria, and yes it does love to grow on foods, but the key here is hat botulism LOVES a low acid, low oxygen environment. So how do we prevent this B-word from getting into our ferments? Well, the main thing to keep in mind is airflow. There are a lot of sites I've seen that talk about putting a lid on your ferments, and that scares the crap out of me, as a beginning fermenter, I am not versed enough with airlocks or any of that to trust myself with lidded ferments. However, covering the lid of the jar with cheesecloth and securing it with a rubber band is just the trick. The airflow stays at max, and you don't have to worry about depriving all those good little bacteria of the oxygen they need to thrive. Another issue is light, which is why I keep mine covered. I have previously used fabric bags (again something breathable) to keep my jars in the dark, but recently, I've started crocheting covers. Whatever you choose to do if you're using glass containers (my personal preference) this is what I suggest. Keeping things submerged in the brine is the last major piece of this puzzle. But of course I am simplifying.

So if you're interested I suggest you do your research, until you feel comfortable giving it a shot. Once again, I highly recommend the book "Wild Fermentation" as it will be a great guide as you get into this wonderfully fun food science experiment. Also use your nose and taste buds to guide you. You're going to know when a food is bad because it will smell bad, and it will taste bad. Botulism will give things a distinctly unpleasant mildew-like odor. Always be cautious, but trust me once you start fermenting you'll see how easy it is, and you'll get hooked. Pretty soon you'll end up like me and you'll have an entire shelf full of fermented goodies that you're not consuming fast enough.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autumnal Harvest Soup

I love Autumn, not only do I get to break out my sweaters, but it's also the best time to make soup. Not just because the weather gets a little chilly, but also because there are so many fantastic things available at the farmer's market that make for good soup. Also this year I am once again participating in the Juniper Hill Farms CSA. They are fantastic, they deliver to my worksite, which is awesome, but I can also customize my picks from week to week. Earlier this summer, I was able to get a canning package of beets from them, and now I have canned beets sitting in my cabinet, just marinating in goodness, waiting to be eaten!

But I digress. Autumn is soup weather, and one of my favorite "recipes" is something I call Autumnal Harvest Soup. It changes slightly from year to year, but the point is that it clears out what I need to use up, and makes one heck of a tasty soup. I also notice I tend to make it around the time of the Autumnal Equinox. So here's this year's recipe, all the ingredients were purchased at either the farmer's market, or received from my CSA:

2 leeks (white parts online, sliced really thin)
3 carrots (peeled and sliced)
1 butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cubed)
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 medium apples (peeled, cored, and cubed)
4 potatoes (peeled, cubed)
2 quarts of stock (I used vegetable, but I've also used chicken)

Basically toss all of the ingredients in a slow cooker, turn it on high and then walk away for a few hours. Anywhere from 4-6 hours. Then take your immersion blender and blend it all up. Or carefully put small batched in a blender and blend until the soup has an even pureed consistency. Then grab some bread, or make yourself a grilled cheese like I did, and ENJOY!

You Ferment For Me...

Although, it's been a long time in the making, I've recently started really getting into fermenting foods. I made a batch of pickles last year, and while I really enjoyed their taste, they were soggy, they were not spicy, and the recipe I was following suggested water bath canning! Let me tell you a little something about fermented foods, and then we'll discuss why I was so angry about the canning process. First of all, fermenting is not new, it's been used probably as long as agriculture has been around in order to preserve foods. Mostly it consists of putting a lot of something in a brine and just letting it sit there until it pickles itself. It's really tasty, and once you've had a fermented pickle, those lifeless things you buy in a store just never taste quite as good. I say lifeless because fermented pickles are teeming with life, bacterial life that is! I know, some of you may be put off by the thought that there are bacteria living in fermented pickles, but they are the same beneficial bacteria that are living right now in your guts. These guys help digest food, keep you healthy, and there needs to be a certain amount of them in your guts in order for you to feel good (it's often referred to as your intestinal flora, or gut flora).

So why should you be concerned about keeping the bacteria in your guts happy? Well, there has been recent evidence that suggests that gut flora being in an imbalance may make you fat! ( So we should not only welcome more probiotic foods into our diet, but prebiotic foods as well (so eat those fruits and veggies!). However, the fermenting stuff I am about to introduce is probiotic, so enjoy the pictures, and since this my new obsession prepare to hear much more about it!

So this is the recent the most recently finished fermenting project. I tried making sauerkraut for the first time ever! It was incredibly simple and it tastes amazing. Not to mention the crazy color because I used half green and half red cabbage. It looks pretty amazing, it's a bright magenta color! However, I made a 2 gallon crock, and now I am faced with having way more kraut than I know what to do with. I have just been eating forkfuls of it here and there. But then I hatched a scheme to get some of it out of my house, I am hosting a Reuben dinner party! I will definitely be posting pictures, as I am incredibly excited to get my friends together and enjoy a ton of fermented goodies! We will all be filled with beneficial gut flora after that party!

This was the previous fermenting project, pickles. I was trying to make them spicy and picked up a pickling spice from the co-op, but next time I am going to add more peppers to the mix myself. It was still pretty good, and a huge improvement over last year however. The secret I have learned is tannins. Though some people put naturally harvest grape leaves, oak leaves, or mustard leaves in their pickles, I didn't have access to any of these things (well, access to any I was sure were pesticide/chemical free) so I put a few pinches of black tea in there from a tea bag that had busted open, and viola! They are crunchy, and a couple of pinches was enough to keep them that way without altering the flavor. That is a gallon sized mason jar that I fermented these guys in, and they fermented in a week! We had a very hot very humid mid-August here, so they were sped along in their natural processes!

Last but not least this is the current experiment in my gallon jar. You can see the cozies I crocheted for this jar, and my half gallon jar. One of the important aspects of fermenting is that they need to be kept out of direct light. But since I like keeping an eye on my projects, I wanted to keep them on the counter in my kitchen, hence crocheted cozies! I took green tomatoes, onions, ground cherries, carrot, and a jalapeno and tossed them together. I made some brine and put a jar on top to keep everything submerged. This is something that I am super excited to break out and try soon, they have been fermenting close to two weeks now and this is the first time I've just flat out gone my own way in fermenting and tried something completely new. I am by no mean an expert, and I did a ton of reading and research before I even started fermenting anything at home. I'll be posting some book reviews very soon about books that had fermenting recipes in them, for those of you interesting in undertaking this adventure as well.