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Archive for April, 2011

Here at Chiot’s Run we started growing more edible food only 4 years ago. We started with one raised bed that was 4×10 ft. We had a bountiful harvest of beets, lettuce and broccoli our first year and we were hooked. As we’ve expanded our gardens we’ve been trying to grow more and more of what we eat. I love the seasonality that growing your own provides, vegetables and fruits can be enjoyed at the height of their season. During the spring we gorge ourselves on tender asparagus, none of it goes in the freezer as I want to enjoy it in it’s prime, not as a shadow of itself in mid-December. The same goes for green beans, I plant a small amount for us to enjoy during the summer months, but I don’t can or freeze any since it’s not nearly as good this way.

The more we garden the more we try to live seasonally instead of growing 5-6 crops and preserving them. One of the joys of growing your own is that you don’t have to limit yourself to what everyone else is growing. You can grow new and interesting things. You can also save a lot of time and money by focusing on eating seasonally and growing foods that preserve themselves naturally without any extra effort from you. Things like pumpkins, squash, cabbage, dry beans, potatoes and onions. I look that these things as staple crops that we can count on while filling in the gaps with other fresh crops, like lettuce, beans, broccoli and peas. Of course there are those things we’ll always preserve because we enjoy them, like tomatoes and peppers. But the longer we garden the more we try to live within the bounty of the seasons.

There are a few staples however that we eat almost all year long and are trying to figure out how to provide for those needs from our garden. Sometimes this means thinking outside of the box. I started growing onions a few years ago and my harvests are always meager because of our lean soil. As I’ve been improving our soil the onions have been coming around, growing to a more normal size. I don’t know if we’ll ever grow all the bulb onions we’ll need, but I’m learning to supplement our bulb onion harvest with other varieties of onions. I have some Egyptian Walking Onions that are producing lovely green onions for harvest right now. It’s perfect timing because there are no bulb onions left in the pantry. I also have a nice row of leeks that I overwintered in my mom’s garden that will be ready to harvest soon. If I have started my leek seeds early in the summer last year I would have been able to harvest leeks all winter long to supplement the main onion crop.

I also have bunching onions that I planted last fall that will be ready to harvest soon. These will also play an important role in supplementing my main onion crop as well. I’m also growing shallots for the first time as well. My potato onions are harvested before the main crop of bulb onions and help fill in the gap between the using the last bulb onions and this year’s harvest. Since they don’t store well they’re perfect for this. We eat them up while waiting for the main onion crop. I’m working on developing a plan for fulfilling my onion needs from my garden. This not only will help me grow more of what we eat, but it helps me maximize my small garden space by growing smaller crops throughout all the seasons rather than one large crop during the summer. My onion plan will go something like this:

I encourage you to think outside the normal growing/preserving box. Learn to love fruits and vegetables at their height of flavor during their season. This may mean eating things you don’t especially love at the moment, but trust me. The more you eat braised kale the more you’re going to love and appreciate this hardy winter green during those long cold winter months. It’s definitely tastier and fresher than a quart of green beans from the basement pantry!

Not only is eating seasonally going to save you some time and effort on the preserving front, but it is much healthier as well. I’m a big believer in eating locally and seasonally because these vegetables provide you with the nourishment you need at that particular time. Thick winter soups filled with healthy bone broth good saturated fat helps keep us warm and healthy during the long dark days of winter. Spring dandelions help detox the liver after a that long winter indulging in bread and more fatty foods.

What crop does your family consume that you’d like to grow more of in your garden? Are you learning to love the seasonality of growing your own?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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My mother grew up in the Greek Orthodox tradition. She threw out all the religious stuff, but happily kept the food. My daughter and I make these together every Easter, just as I did with my mother, and she with hers.

Greek Easter Twists
(Koulourakia)

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk
4 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Cream sugar, butter and vanilla thoroughly. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk and flour alternatiely, beating vigorously until well blended. I like using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour for these cookies; it makes a nicer texture when done. You may need to work the dough with your hands at the end as it will be quite dense and springy.

Break the dough off in small portions, rolling it on a cutting board until you have a roll about the width of your finger and 6-8″ long. Form into traditional shape- a circle with the ends pressed together, or a twisted “braid.” Beat an egg and coat each cookie (I use my fingers rather than a pastry brush). Bake them plain, or sprinkle with sesame seeds first.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 400F/200C for 20 minutes, rotating the tray once to ensure even cooking. Makes about 28 cookies.

What are your Easter/Passover/Equinox food traditions? Share them here or on the Not Dabbling Facebook page.

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Carrot Cake Oatmeal

carrots and oats

I’ve recently become “addicted” to an easy and very healthy breakfast perfect for all of those carrots we’ve seen winter over. This is such a healthy and fulfilling – and filling! – meal that I’m satisfied for hours. It has lots of complex carbs, protein, omega-3s, lovely vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E, manganese, folate, zinc, potassium, calcium, iron,  and lots of fiber.

Don’t let the name fool you though. This is in no way a sickeningly sweet breakfast. Just a touch of syrup is all it takes to brighten up this dish. Sorry, cream cheese frosting not included!

  • 1/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup water (with 1 tsp whey*)
  • dash salt
  • 1/4 cup carrot shredded, finely
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or cream (less if you like it thicker)

*The night before, soak your oats  and carrot in water and 1 tsp whey. This will cut down in cooking time and help make the oats and their nutrients more digestible. If you forget to do this step, add 20 minutes to your cooking time and wait to add your carrot until half the cooking time is complete.

  1. Add oats, carrot, salt and water to saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and walnuts.
  3. Serve in bowl and top with maple syrup.

You can also find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life blarging about raising poultry, family, and working on her one-day farmette.

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I like to watch for backlash.

It happens whenever people try to take back control of their lives–in their faith, or their schools, or their health, or their food. You will suddenly see a flood of media stories, movies, books, and studies proving that what your common sense tells you makes sense–for instance that growing your own food is good–is in fact having exactly the opposite effect from your desired one.

With gardening, this often manifests itself as derisive dismissal of urban and suburban gardeners and local source advocates (I refuse to use the awful term “locavore”) as elitist.

The main charge is often about the cost, and its corrollary of consumption for its own sake, i.e. the less you spend on any given item, the more items you can own. If you’re spending so much on your garden, how can you possibly keep up with the latest fashion?

I won’t fight that battle. For my household, spending more on food is a no-brainer. Everyone seems to be able to accept that better clothes cost more and better cars cost more and better jewelry costs more, but when it comes to the things that should matter- food, health, education- we seem to think that cheaper is better.

But do we in fact spend more? Last year I decided to track my gardening expenditures and effort. I have a 30×70 foot yard, with about 1/3 of it devoted to edibles, somewhere around 400 to 600 square feet (hard to be exact, because my beds are all weird shapes, I plant in both containers and the ground, and I intermingle edibles and ornamentals). I grow from early May to late October, and I grow to preserve. I feed four people, although two of them don’t live here (my grown kids), so they don’t always get their fair share.

Here’s what I spent (time and money)

  • Seeds $15.55 (I also save seeds, so I get a lot of my seeds by trading, and by saving seeds for various seed banks)
  • Tools $130.44
  • Soil and amendments 129.01
  • Bedding plants $53.23
  • Misc. gardening supplies (fencing, seed starting etc.) 106.57
  • estimated additional electricity to run freezer & seed starting set up for one year $100
  • Canning supplies $62.00
  • Chest freezer $280.00
  • Rain barrels $150

Total gardening expenditure: $434.80 (584.80 with rain barrels), total preservation expenditure $442. Roughly amortize the seed table, preserving & rain barrels over 10 years, and that’s less than $500 for 8 months of vegetables, fresh and preserved, that fed 4 people. That works out to about 44¢ per day per person. As far as I’ve ever been able to determine, that guy must have really worked hard to spend $64 on one tomato (the pièce de résistance of home gardening backlash books).

The time I spend in my garden is minimal, first because it’s a mature garden (I started in the late 80s), so weeds and infrastructure are not much of an issue, and also because it’s small. While my city friends’ jaws drop when the see my “huge” garden, I like to say it’s 1/100th of an acre. By most standards, it’s tiny. In April, I need several 4- hour work days, then during the planting weeks in May, June and July maybe one or two more 4 hour stretches in each month. Other than that, I can basically “garden” on my way from the garage to the back door when I get home from work. This doubles as my grocery shopping as well.

I have to confess, because my vegetables are so cheap, I do spend the surplus on other stuff: local, pastured meat and dairy (the “expensive” stuff), guaranteed free of GMOs, antibiotics, chemicals, and factory-farm pathogens.

And yes, I also track my food expenditures– about $12 per day for the four of us, or $1 per meal, including all entertaining and 2-5 restaurant or carry out meals per month.

Don’t let the backlash discourage you. Small is beautiful. Local makes sense. Grow real food.

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Today is Palm Sunday. Tuesday starts Passover. Friday is Earth Day. One week, three traditions, four gardens.

***

If I, Xan, celebrate a faith at all, it’s earth- and goddess-based. I follow the Wiccan calendar, not as a wiccan, but because the celebrations and explanations make sense to me. I like to understand how our holidays relate to the earth, although interestingly, the goddess’ calendar skips April, moving from Ostara (Easter!) in March to Beltane or May Day.

Fortunately, the modern Earth movement stepped in with Earth Day. I’ll be down on my knees planting peas and strawberries. I’ll be down on my knees trying to stare my experimentally early plantings of beets and chard into sprouting. I may get down on my knees and harvest some green garlic and early chives.

I suppose you can call it prayer if you like.

***

Growing up in a deeply conservative family I learned to celebrate Easter with a focus on grace and hope. Here at Chiot’s Run we still hold deep religious convictions but in a completely different way than most religious conservatives would expect. You won’t find us at sunrise service, the pancakes breakfast or even in a church building on Easter. You also won’t find any shiny new clothes, chocolate bunnies, or dyed eggs in our home.

If you stop by you’ll find us outside celebrating our religious beliefs by witnessing the coming to life of the garden here in NE Ohio. We’ll be listening to chorus of nature singing praises – they can after all do it much better than I can. I believe this holiday is all about connecting with God and being thankful for the life we have and the beauty that surrounds us. Easter is a celebration of life to me and this time of year nature does that best!

***

Here in Tennessee things are different than I remember. I grew up in such a diverse cultural area that sometimes it’s difficult to remember that Everywhere isn’t so diverse. Half my life was spent very near one of the largest “melting pots” of our nation, the other half has been spent coming of age in a very religiously conservative area. The funny thing is that I was always on the outside looking in. The festivities of those other religions always looked so interesting! Why didn’t our church do things like that? When I did grow up and come to terms with religion, I realized that the things I was envious of were another someones beautiful traditions.

pasque flower

Becoming an adult and making my own home, I’ve made my own traditions with my family. Every year I host my parents for the weekend so we can reunite. We share a simple meal and enjoy the warm Tennessee weather. We garden, we’re honest, and we play. We celebrate nature and family with good food and laughter. Our spiritual celebration will be inside our hearts and minds. As for my legacy: I now pass on a tradition of family, Earth, respect, love, and food to our daughter.

***

Emily at Tanglewood Farm, here! Easter has always been an intense time of year for my family. My father is a priest in the Episcopal church, and my mother is agnostic. I grew up respecting and enjoying the ritual (and music) of the church, while also questioning constantly the various faiths placed before me. It was clear to me when I became a teenager that my parents didn’t care whether I believed in specific religious or non-religious things, the just cared that I had faith. Gosh they’re cool.

The ritual present in my father’s church was always pretty spectacular around Easter time, despite my father’s constant exhaustion, and my mother was supportive of us all. From the fresh palms on palm Sunday, to the lighting of the new fire (of course lacing it with gunpowder for dramatic pyrotechnics – I love my dad), ritual was thick and rich. We had candlelight services and rang bells and made noise to celebrate the rising of Christ. Through all of this I maintained a sort of appreciation for the community and strength behind others’ beliefs while also keeping a certain distance from the religion itself.

I find myself grown (kind of) at this point and I still hold that the church that I grew up so involved with has some amazing lessons to teach in morals, history and general community. Beyond those lessons I find myself with my mind to the abstract, my nose to the breeze, my toes in the dirt… I appreciate religion, but I feel like it’s beyond me to say what is and what isn’t. If I were meant to have understanding of greater things than myself, I would.

Easter, regardless of whether you’re religious and which religion you follow, coincides with (and symbolizes) a time for renewal across the Northern Hemisphere. It’s pretty great that it should coincide with Earth week this year. I will be celebrating the two simultaneously by planting our new fruit trees and thinking about what it is to be alive. I have and celebrate faith in myself, faith in the green grass, faith in the blue sky… faith in existence, I guess.

Whether you are devout, searching, anti, etc… all that counts is that you recognize your connections to your community and your family, and you celebrate in whichever way feels right to you.

How do you celebrate Easter in your home?  

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The term “Real Food” definitely applies to the vegetable garden, but here at Tanglewood Farm I’m using this year to try to find ways to grow and preserve more than just our own veggies and fruits. I know this month is our month of gardening posts, however at the core of it, we’re really blogging about growing food. This spring we are growing food in the garden as well as in the farmyard. We’re growing vegetables, fruits, eggs, milk, and yes… even meat.

When eating any food, I find that the more involved in its existence and its presence on my plate, the better I eat and the more satisfied I am. I love to feel the dirt slowly giving way as I pull a beet for my salad, almost like the void beneath is sucking it down like a vacuum, or the sharp recoiling spring of the cane as I pluck an  almost-ripe red raspberry. These experiences are so starkly different from being handed a slapped-together cookie-cutter meal at the local such-and-such chain restaurant. Ick.

I love to sit down to a meal and to be able to identify the work that went into everything: the hauling of compost, the dibble of seeds, the spreading of mulch, the work of the rain and the sun itself… all the way to the act of cooking and baking the food in the kitchen. It’s the most satisfying feeling I can think of. It goes right to my core and radiates from within: Satisfaction. Complacency. Happiness.

To prepare for the season of growing, we have our seeds and our bareroot plants (100% heirloom/open pollinated this year). We also ordered heritage white-laced-red Cornish chicks (WLR because they’re prettier, Cornish because they’re meatier), as well as a couple straight-run layer chicks (heritage Buckeyes and Welsummers). Should any of the layer chicks be cockerels, they’ll be sent to freezer camp once they reach full weight. We want to have a small laying flock that can provide us with eggs, as well as the unfortunate bit of meat here and there.

We’re also growing/raising sheep this year. Unfortunately sheep are not as easy to raise as chickens are, and earlier this week tragedy struck when our youngest ewe, Gertrude, went into early labor and delivered a premature lamb, stillborn. It was very sad, but also humbling and grounding. Gertrude is alive and well, and when it came down to it, it was easy for me to see that her health is all that really matters to me. Should our remaining pregnant ewe, Ingrid, give birth to any rams, depending on conformation, they will likely be raised to mature market weight and then also sent to freezer camp. If they’re ewe lambs, I’ll do a little jig for joy and they’ll either be kept for future breeding or sold as fiber ladies. (I’m noticing a very intense polarizing trend in the preferred gender among various species in the farmyard.)

In the meantime, while either growing or raising our lamb(s), we are hoping to get a bit of milk from Ingrid. She’s not the world’s heaviest milking Icelandic, but she does have a well developed udder so I’ll be trying to take a little off the top once the lambs are established as healthy and strong. Icelandics make a wonderful triple purpose sheep, having lustrous and strong double coated wool, rich creamy milk, and excellent bone structure and meat quality. They’re one of a very few breeds that are triple purpose, so we’re glad to have them. The sheep milk, however, certainly won’t be enough for our milky adventures this year.

In addition to the sheep, I have purchased a share of a goat (named Gen) at a local goat dairy. I got to meet Gen today, as well as the rest of the goats out at Silver Moon, and it was a great experience for me. If you aren’t familiar with livestock “shares” they’re an interesting method of selling livestock. Basically it comes down to me getting to own Gen for a portion of the week. Whilst owning her, I have access to her for snuggles, kisses, photo ops and, yes, milk. I  met her primary owner, Renea, today and she was very pleasant and kindly showed me all around their farm, introducing me to their wonderful fiber rabbits, meat rabbits, quail, muscovies, chickens, and even their horses.

I can’t wait to make goat cheese and sheep cheese and yogurt… or omelettes, and egg salad, and mayonnaise… or smoked sausages, or lamb bacon, or …

You get the idea. This spring is about learning for us, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to be involved in your food. It doesn’t mean going out and slaughtering animals yourself persay, (at least not unless you’re comfortable with it) but you could start by asking the waiter at a restaurant where your beef comes from, or if they’ve looked into local options to take the place of their imported meats…

You could ask around for a local farmers market for animal shares, be they dairy or meat, or just cuddles shares… Take control of what you’re eating, and learn to sit back and take a deep breath, a big bite, and enjoy.

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Unearth a Garden 2011

Last year I was so inspired by all of the gardens I saw sprouting up all over the countryside. Huge gardens everywhere! People had gardens in neighborhoods of all types. Families started replacing shrubbery with tomato plants, signs for “homegrown” or “organic” vegetables started popping up on the sides of roads everywhere. And yet I was surprised to see so few community centers lacking in available gardens for the Community.

Here we have churches, schools, senior centers, half-way houses, small-businesses, and so on – all resting on large pieces of unused land. Just. Growing. Grass. And yet not far down the road there is someone that is hungry. Or someone who does not understand the concept of healthy eating. Or someone who doesn’t have the space or experience to garden.  Aren’t community centers supposed to assist the community in times of need?

So again this year, I am heading up Unearth A Garden over at my personal blog. It’s a simple concept, really, and the more of us involved the bigger the impact we can make on our communities. Pick something from the list below that is feasible. It doesn’t have to be expensive or overly time-consuming, but the more involved you are the bigger impact you will make on your community!

1. Donate extras: Donate a corner of your edible garden to charity. Give to a local food bank, shelter or orphanage, senior center, or a neighbor in need.

2. Educate: Take on some some help this summer from your neighbors. Teach someone how to grow a garden from preparation to harvest, and let them enjoy the rewards. Talk to homeschoolers, kids on summer break, and people who don’t have a garden. If people talk to you about your gardening habits, I’m betting they’re interested!

3. Share some of your yard. “Rent” out part of your yard to friends and neighbors so you can share your gardening experiences together and learn from each other. Apartment dwellers may especially be interested in borrowing some land for a summer to grow some fresh produce of their own!

4. Promote a garden through a community center that you’re involved with. Whether it’s your church, senior center, or library – what better way to celebrate community and give back than to share the harvest with those in need? A co-op would be an excellent source to allow people to work together and learn from each other, as well as feed each other.

5. Start a small garden of your own for the first time. Learn something new and taste what it’s like to have fresh food that you grew. Feel the satisfaction of doing it yourself instead of relying on the grocery store, even if it’s just a few potted herbs or a tomato plant.

6. Donate some heirlooms to someone who is short on cash. Heirlooms are not only successful plants, but seeds can be saved legally and stay true to seed.

This year I hope to take on a couple more students in exchange for free labor. Last year I donated my extra harvests to a local women’s shelter. This year I’ll be planting a plot for them. If I have more to spare I hope to leave some surprises on a few neighbors’ doorsteps!

What will you Unearth? Head over to Unearthing this Life to get a badge and sign up!

Unearth a Garden 2011 Badge

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