Posts Tagged ‘Recipes’

A Jar of Green Herb!

A Jar of Green Herb!

I know what you are thinking, and sadly the jar filled with green herb is not legalized marijuana!  While Minnesota is making strides with the legalization of medical marijuana we are still aways from legalized recreational use.  Yes, someday I hope to write an article espousing the benefits (which there are many) of both medical and recreational cannabis, but this short article is about a very different plant altogether.


As I have written about many times before, we grow a diverse array of plants throughout our extensive gardens.  Some of them are fairly uncommon perennials, fruiting shrubs, and vines and others are very common plants found throughout many gardens.  Its fun having so much diversity, but it is even better when you find a new use for something as simple and common as celery.


We have grown celery, Apium graveolens for years now.  Typically we have always harvested the ribs for use in soups, stews, salads and roasted vegetables, and have used the leaves as an addition to soup stock.  This last summer however, I dried the leaves as a means of preservation.  And that is the green herb in the jar, dried celery leaves!


The dried leaf of celery has an aroma and taste very similar to when it is fresh, but it is deeper and more earthy as well.  This winter I have used it in much of my cooking.  It is a great addition to any soup or stew, I have added it to bread dough when I make an herbed loaf, when making rubs for meats it works very nicely with all the other herbs and spices that are found on my spice rack, it adds a depth to veggie dip, and is a great all around herb that I am excited to have available.


PreservingFoodCoverI came across the idea for drying celery leaf in the book Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning.  It documents many of the traditional food preservation techniques found throughout France.  From lacto fermentation to drying, and the use of oils, salt, sugars, and alcohol in preserving food, it has many great ideas on preserving the surplus harvest from your garden.


Its also a fun book, because it so simply illustrates the depth and tradition that is found in European cuisine.  Not only do they know how to use all parts of the celery plant, but there are recipes for black currant jam with honey, lemons preserved in salt, lacto fermented veggies, and cherries soaked in brandy.


This spring as you begin to plan and plant your gardens keep in mind that there are many ways of preserving the harvest.  Some of these ideas won’t be new to you, but others may revolutionize how or what you grow!  You may have a treasure just waiting for you that has always been there, and maybe it will look good being kept in a jar!  Peace and Cheers!

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Here is a dark shot of myself and the giant puffball that I checked out from the library!

Here is a dark shot of myself and the giant puffball that I checked out from the library!

Two nights ago I found myself at our public library, diving deep into the bowels of what the Affordable Care Act will mean for my family and what our options for insurance may be.  Between looking at different websites trying to navigate this maze of government red tape, my mind would wander and my eyes would focus on the view looking down on the land outside of the library.  Our library was built over 20 years ago on land that was one of the last remaining farmsteads in W. St. Paul, MN and it still contains a few aspects of what it once was.

The fact that the county purchased this land for building a library (rather than a housing or commercial developer), was in certain regards a saving grace for some of the wildlife that called this little piece of Earth home.  So while there is a big library building and parking lot, there are a few acres of land that hold the remnants of a small oak savanna, a pond full of ducks and geese, black walnuts, birches, maples, delicious fruiting mulberries, aronia bushes, wild raspberries and many other species of plants and animals.

There is also a thriving underground network of mycelia; in other words mushrooms that also inhabit this small holdout of nature.  Sitting there in the library, daydreaming of affordable health care, my eyes were distracted by a large, white orb maybe 30 or 40 yards away from me.  From my vantage point looking through the windows, it was hard to tell exactly what it was – maybe a kid lost a ball, or someone lost a grocery bag to the wind, but whatever it was, my eyes kept coming back to it.  Something inside me knew what it was all along, so before it got too dark outside, I packed up my bag and made the short hike to find out what this mysterious object actually was.


Thar’ she be gettin’ weighed in … Yaargh!

It took me less than five minutes to find what I was looking for, and let me say it was hard to miss!  I have seen some puffball mushrooms in my life, but nothing like this!  This Calvatia gigantea, or more commonly known as a giant puffball, weighed in at just over 2 pounds and was harvested at just the right time.  It was the perfect age for eating, and had no damage from bugs.  I gratefully harvested this gigantic fungi, and headed home to show my family.

Mushrooms are an interesting food in our household.  I am a crazy mushroom freak – I love hunting for them, eating them, and learning about them!  My kids are slowly following in my footsteps and becoming a bit more adventurous when it comes to eating mushrooms, and my wife is allergic to all mushrooms so she keeps her distance.  Needless to say, I am spoiled when it comes to mushrooms as there are very few mouths that I have to share my mushrooms with.

Knowing that I could only eat so much on my own, I brought some of the giant puffball with me to work to share with a few folks who I know would appreciate such a find.  Both of my bosses in the kitchen where I work love wild crafted mushrooms.  The day before my find, we tried some sulphur shelf mushroom (Laetiporus sulphurues), which is a bright orange, highly edible mushroom common to Minnesota and most of North America.  Two wild mushrooms in two days, not too bad!

I ended up cutting thick slices of the puffball and sauteing the pieces in butter with a little bit of salt and pepper.  How to describe them short of saying they were heavenly?  They are very light with a noticeable, but subtle, mushroom flavor and a texture that literally melts in your mouth.  In the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, giant puffballs are described as choice, which means don’t pass these up when you get a chance to eat them!


Here is the unidentified bolete from the library. Any guesses?

Another mushroom that I found the next day, also on this same land at the library is some type of bolete.  There were a few dozen of them growing in the footprint of a birch, so it leads me to believe that it is the birch bolete, or Leccinum scabrum or possibly the Slippery Jack that is comprised of a few other varieties of boletes.  This is a perfect example of why it is so important to make a positive ID before consuming any mushroom.

According to my Mushroom Field guide, boletes contain the largest number of edible species of any family of mushrooms.  While there is a good chance that the one I found is edible, and most likely quite good, I will not be taking a bite until I can make a positive ID, which most likely will not happen this season.

Making a positive identification of mushrooms can be done in a number of ways.  The first and easiest is by visual observation.  This works for some mushrooms without any problems.  I was taught about the “FoolProof Four” which include Morels, puffballs, sulphur shelfs, and chanterelles.  I have found three of the four and am still trying to track down chanterelles.  From my understanding, chanterelles do have a few look alikes that are not good for you, so having some back up methods of making positive identifications for mushrooms is a good thing to know about.

Other methods include knowing whether a mushroom has gills, pores, or some other way disseminating its spores.  Aroma can also be a clue, like the first time I found Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) there was an overwhelming smell of anise, which in the case of oyster mushrooms is an identfying characteristic.  Location of where it was found can be helpful, but by no means does it prove anything about the exact species.  And then there is a relatively simple test that you can do called a spore print (I will write about this sometime, I promise) that can also help you to ID a mushroom.  While I will not go into detail here about a spore print test, it is a very helpful way in determining what a mushroom may be.

Ultimately, if you are into mushrooms and enjoy hunting them and eating them, then educating yourself is the most important thing you can do.  The internet is very helpful, but personally I have found real life books to be more enjoyable when it comes to learning about mushrooms.  The National Audubon Society Field Guide To Mushrooms has been indispensable on my mushroom forays throughout the years, for it is full of great pictures and very scientific descriptions that have lead to some neat discoveries.  Another one that I have found helpful is Edible Wild Mushrooms of N. America by David W. Fischer and Alan E. Bessete.  This book is not nearly as comprehensive as the Audubon Field guide, but focuses more on edible mushrooms and all the wonderful ways that they can be prepared and preserved.

Just like gardening, tapping maple trees, or trying to catch a swarm of bees, mushroom hunting (and eating them as well) will always be an exciting and somewhat seasonal part of my life.  As I write, the seasons seem to be changing in front of me!  Cold winds blow out of the north, the leaves are changing colors and are falling to the ground, and I can see the Dark Days of winter looming not far off over the horizon.  But even with this season winding down there is always the hope of the future to keep us going and moving forward.  Soon enough the cold embrace of winter will keep me inside more than I would like to admit, but even winter does not last forever!  Before I know it, I will be out again, scouring the ground for the ever wonderful Morel!  Peace & Cheers

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Here is all the food I pulled out of my new favorite dumpster!!

Here is all the food I pulled out of my new favorite dumpster!!

Last winter I wrote an essay entitled The Tragedy of a Disposable Culture.  It was inspired by my observations of a world gone mad by garbage and a particularly good dumpster score at a construction site.  I ended up pulling out a bunch of 8 foot 2x4s, 2x12s, ½ by, 8 foot sections of plywood and other random, but useful materials.  Some of that lumber has been used in beehive equipment and a lofted bed for my son, while the rest awaits a future project of some kind to manifest itself.

My days as a dumpster diver started in earnest back when I was 19.  As a poor college student who excelled at missing class due to environmental activism, joint rolling, and hangovers, I had plenty of time to explore the small college town I was living in.  On the north end of town there was a grocery store that kept an unlocked dumpster.  I stumbled upon it one night and felt like I had hit a jackpot.  Inside the dumpster were pre made veggie platters, bagels, and bags of apples.

Being the good vegetarian I was back then, this was a great find.  I loaded myself up with as much as I could carry and headed back to the dorm to figure out how to proceed.  I got my friend Chris to join me, and we headed back up to the dumpster with some bags, warm coffee, and a joint we shared together underneath the stars.

That night we made it our mission to liberate as many of those goodies as we could; not only feed ourselves, but to feed as many other college kids as we could find.  We loaded up the veggie platters and apples, and also realized there was a whole garbage bag worth of bagels for the taking.  Without hesitating, everything that could be salvaged was, and we headed back.

As we entered into the main part of the campus, enough people were out walking around (it must have been a Friday or Saturday night) that we decided to just start handing out the bagels.  Some people thought we were nuts, but most (being poor college students like ourselves) were grateful for some free food to go along with their beer.  We nearly emptied the bag in less than an hour!

The next day I gorged myself on veggies and finished the apples, and with what I couldn’t eat fresh, I turned the excess produce into a big stew that contained broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots – nothing had ever tasted so good as that dumpster stew!  For the remainder of that year in Wisconsin I would often visit the dumpster.  Some days were better than others, but I usually came away with at least a snack to tide me over in those lean days of my failed attempt at higher education.

And so that is how I got my start diving into dumpsters.  Since those days back in Wisconsin, I have a hard time passing a dumpster without peeking my head in to see what might be hiding down in the deep, dark, and sometimes stinky depths.  Most times it is just truly garbage, but on those rare occasions something great is procured – romex wiring and brand new electrical plug-in boxes, boxes of nails, a whole universe of dimensional lumber, box fans, books, extension cords, a multi-tool, cleaning supplies,  and five gallon buckets have all been found in my local dumpsters and back alleys.  But it hasn’t been since the glorious food dumpster in college that I have had luck in finding high quality food for the taking, that is until yesterday!

Yesterday I was doing a bit of grocery shopping at a store that is fairly new to us and our area.  While it is not a store I typically shop at, I was intrigued by a flyer we had received with the Sunday paper and thought I would check it out.  Surprisingly, the prices are pretty affordable, and if you are an ingredients list reader like I am, most of the products I was interested in purchasing contained a short ingredients list that I could read and pronounce all of the words contained in the list with no problems!

I got the small amount of items I had set out for, but was amazed by a few things I noticed while walking the aisles.  Almost all of the fresh produce is over packaged – snow peas laid out on a foam tray wrapped up in plastic, individually wrapped cukes, two tomatoes to a tray – you get the picture.  Upon seeing this, my mind flashed backed to the dumpster of glory I talked about earlier – that dumpster contained the same kinds of things, over packaged produce that was still good for eating, and lots of it.

I paid for my items, and decided right then and there to see if my suspicions were correct.  I pulled my small car around to the back of the strip mall, found the proper dumpster, and casually went and stuck my head in.  WOW!!  Not only were my suspicions correct, they were exceeded by what I saw in there!  Snow peas, bunches of celery, cabbage, citrus, and a tray of multi-colored bell peppers that were just out of reach.

Being that it was the middle of the day and well past 90 degrees, I quickly grabbed what was within arms reach and got out of there.  Checking for cameras as I left (which I couldn’t find), I felt secure about going back later in the night to check back in on the dumpster.  On that first trip I left with a perfectly good head of cabbage, a few trays of the aforementioned snow peas, and celery.  Because of the heat I ended up feeding the peas and the celery to the chickens, but still a good use of otherwise unwanted food – spoiled veggies turned into egg protein!

As day turned into night and I finished my evening chores, I suited up in working clothes, put on my boots, grabbed a flashlight and a couple of buckets and headed back to the dumpster.  This trip was even better!  I ended up leaving with 8 pints of grape tomatoes, a bunch of organic bananas, 3 oranges, and more celery.  I was stoked!

With the tomatoes we are going to make a salad with mozzarella balls, and basil from the garden, and salsa using cilantro and purple jalapenos from the garden as well.  The bananas, just slightly soft to eat fresh are going to be turned into banana bread with some sunflower seeds in it, the cabbage is most likely going to get fermented into a small batch of kraut, the oranges are perfect for eating by themselves as is, and once again the celery went to the chickens.  What a great abundance of food that otherwise would have been tossed into the landfill.

It breaks my heart knowing that this dumpster is filled with food almost everyday.  What is even worse, is that there are millions of other dumpsters just like it around the world.  Lucky are the ones that are not kept under lock and key and compaction, but most are.  So really, the crisis of kids going to bed hungry, and people not knowing where they are going to get their next meal is not a matter of there not being enough food, but a problem of distribution.  If a company can’t make money off of the product, it is easier to just toss it, rather than offering it to food shelves and kitchens or directly to the people.  This is insanity, and it is wrong!

FNBWhile this topic is too big for me to tackle in one small essay, there are solutions to this problem of distribution.  The group Food Not Bombs who I used to work with back in my punk rock days is one of these solutions.  Founded in Massachusetts in the early ‘80s by anti nuclear activists, Food Not Bombs has grown into a worldwide movement of independent collectives that serve free vegan and vegetarian meals at rallies, protests, and impromptu gathering.  Lots of the food that FNBs uses is dumpstered and donated, and then cooked up and offered for free to anyone who is hungry.

Food Not Bombs, along with many other groups that have similar intentions, are fixing that distribution issue.  Just like in Permaculture where we can take the problem and turn it into the solution, FNBs is liberating perfectly edible food from dumpsters and feeding those who are in need of a good, wholesome meal.  Not only is this act one of compassion towards our greater community, it is also a shot across the bow of the corporate, food elites.  It is taking the food back to where it belongs, in people’s stomachs regardless of who they are or how much money they have to their name.

It is hard to imagine what the possibilities might be if all the food that can be found in dumpsters – fruits and veggies, packages of cheese, and crates of olive oil (just to name a few) were to make it into the hands of the people who need it the most.  What would happen if everyone went to bed with a satisfied belly?  What would happen if we no longer equated the ability to eat with how much money you earn?  What amount of resources could be saved if we ate all this food (or at least fed it to livestock or even composted) instead?  These are questions we can ponder all we want, but in reality it comes down to one thing – If you have access to a dumpster(s) like this, take full advantage of it.

Take what you can and eat it yourself.  Experiment with recipes using what you have on hand.  In the case of the cabbage, practice preservation techniques like fermentation.  Or if you find a bag of lemons, preserve them in salt or make lemonade.  The possibilities are endless.  If you find more than you can use or preserve, share it with friends or family.  If you have a local chapter of Food Not Bombs, or some equivalent organization, donate the food to them and even better, volunteer and get involved (This is something I need to start doing again as well).  And if you have produce that is not fit for human consumption, feed it to your chickens or other livestock.  Novella Carpenter, in her book, Farm City describes how she fed her two urban hogs a diet of dumpstered fish parts, peaches, and other produce that Bay Area residents discarded on a daily basis.  Whatever you decide to do with your dumpstered food, the important thing is removing it from the waste stream and keeping it out of the landfill.

As for me, I plan on visiting this new dumpster a few times a week.  While my family is not starving from a lack of food, I plan on taking full advantage of this resource and using it in conjunction with our garden produce and eggs from our chickens.  I have no qualms about eating produce or other grocery items out of a dumpster, and if I can cut down on my monthly food costs, and fill up my larder at the same time, even better.  And if I come across someone in need in my community, I am going to share this little secret of mine with them so they can reap the benefits of this magical dumpster as well!  Peace & Cheers

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Yes it is bread we fight for, but we fight - for roses too!!

Yes it is bread we fight for, but we fight – for roses too!!

Two nights in a row we have had giant thunderstorms.  Big ones, like wind gusts of up to 80 MPH BIG!  It may be the icing on the cake to a very wet spring, and as I enter into summer on this rainy, windy, and overcast solstice, I can rest assured that the gardens have been well watered and are ready for some sun .  We have seen enough rain in the last three months up here in Minnesota to pull us out of a significant drought.  Last year there seemed to be drought of epic proportions throughout the world, and now I have heard about floods in India and Canada and many other places – the pendulum of nature now swings erratically and finds it hard in this new world of global climate change to find equilibrium.

While the world burns in ever growing forest fires, drowns in flash floods, and despairs in economic insecurity and social in-justice, our gardens grow.  Through hard times and climate change, a garden well tended, even when faced with challenges, still can provide us with an abundance of sustenance, inspiration, and beauty.  I want to show you a bit of that abundance, that which is growing and inspiring on one small half acre lot in the upper midwest of the U$A.

I went out with our camera today, and took a few photos of what has been happening on the homestead on the longest day of the year, 2013.  Peace & Cheers …


A bowl of Honeyberries, and the world’s best strawberries – serve with homemade yogurt and you will be in gardener’s heaven!!

I do not think I have ever had this nice of tomatos on the vine, this early in the season!  Homemade salsa here I come!!

I do not think I have ever had this nice of tomatos on the vine, this early in the season! Homemade salsa here I come!!


A one year old Liberty apple tree, that I grafted up last year. It has now surbvived two giant wind storms – I think this one is a keeper!

This is a grafted Giragaldi, dwarf mulberry.  Mulberry trees show up like weeds around here, and are hard to get rid of.  So instead, I turned the problem into the solution and tracked down a dwarfing variety, that has big, tastey berries.  Hopefully it survives the winter!

This is a grafted Giragaldi, dwarf mulberry. Mulberry trees show up like weeds around here, and are hard to get rid of. So instead, I turned the problem into the solution and tracked down a dwarfing variety, that has big, tastey berries. Hopefully it survives the winter!

With all the rain we have been getting, the mushrooms have been exceptional this year.  As an amatuer mycologist, I love mushrooms of all kinds and here are two in a beautiful picture - the slimey looking orange ones are called Velvet Feet, or Flamulina Vela tupis.  The one on the right I am not sure of, but appears to be a cup mushroom, possibly what is known as a Pig Ear, not sure though??

With all the rain we have been getting, the mushrooms have been exceptional this year. As an amatuer mycologist, I love mushrooms of all kinds and here are two in a beautiful picture – the slimey looking orange ones are called Velvet Feet, or Flamulina Vela tupis. The one on the right I am not sure of, but appears to be a cup mushroom, possibly what is known as a Pig Ear, not sure though??

These are some of our raised bed gardens.  These are our workhorses as far as our CSA shares go.  It is amazing as to how much food can be grown in intensively managed beds.  Radishes, salad mix, spinach and peas havbe already been harvested with great zeal!!

These are some of our raised bed gardens. These are our workhorses as far as our CSA shares go. It is amazing as to how much food can be grown in intensively managed beds. Radishes, salad mix, spinach and peas havbe already been harvested with great zeal!!

OK, so this one is actually from two days ago, but I had to include it.  It is one of my swarm traps atop a 12 foot step ladder, in hopes of catching a swarm that issued forth from one of our hives.  Saddly the trap did not work, and the bees found a new home elsewhere - hopefully a big, old, hollow tree down at the county park!!

OK, so this one is actually from two days ago, but I had to include it. It is one of my swarm traps atop a 12 foot step ladder, in hopes of catching a swarm that issued forth from one of our hives. Saddly the trap did not work, and the bees found a new home elsewhere – hopefully a big, old, hollow tree down at the county park!!

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Hey everyone!  A big heads up to anyone who is in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or other upper Midwest locations.  Some dear friends of mine are putting on a great event called the Gathering of the Guilds.  It is a chance for people to get together and talk gardening, permaculture, food justice and many more things. Please refer to the info below for details.  Hope to see you there!!  Peace & Cheers …..

Gathering of the Guilds – 3 Days of Permaculture Skill-shares, Workshops and Networking

September 14-16, 2012

At Harmony Park Music Garden (79503 298th St., Clarks Grove, MN 56016) Open Map

Gates open at Noon on Friday – Come early to set up your camp and help us create the event.


We will provide the infrastructure and logistical planning-YOU provide the knowledge. ALL SKILL LEVELS ENCOURAGED. This gathering will offer local permaculturists, farmers, gardeners, activists, and others a chance to spend a weekend sharing skills, making connections, and learning.

WE NEED YOU to facilitate a workshop or share a skill. Some ideas include:

  • Sheet Mulching
  • Animals in Permaculture
  • Hugelkulture
  • Composting
  • Urban Permaculture
  • Bees and Pollinators
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Vermiculture (Worms eat my garbage)
  • Seed Saving
  • Freezing, Canning and Drying
  • Fruit Tree Grafting
  • Humanure
  • Tree Pruning for Tree Health
  • Wild Edibles Walk
  • Grey Water Systems
  • Rainwater Catchment, Storage and Use
  • Seed and Plant Swap (Bring your extras and bring home some new additions)

This is a family friendly, drug and alcohol free event. There is onsite tent and RV camping, a Community Kitchen to provide 6 meals (bring your garden surplus to contribute), a kids space with ongoing activities.

We request a $20 donation to cover toilets, kitchen staples, and site rental.



For questions or to R.S.V.P please email:



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Paula Foreman (L), Angelica (C), and Khaiti(R), hard at work in Angelica's Gardens certified kitchen! Photo Courtesy of Angelica's Garden

Today I had the pleasure of attending the 1st annual Farm Enterprises in Small – scale Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Stillwater, Minnesota. Wow, how wonderful it was to be around such a great group of people. I first found out about the conference from a friend of mine, and immediately signed up. After the first few emails sent, I found out that Angelica Hollstadt was one of the farmers setting this event up. I first met Angelica about fifteen years ago at a CSA farm that I worked on for the summer. She was renting land from the same farm to grow food for her brand new business, Angelica’s Garden. Over the years, I had run into Angelica off and on at the St. Paul farmers market. I was really glad that I was going to see her again, since it has been a few years since she has sold her products at the market. Anyways, along with Angelica, Andrew and Khaiti French of LTD farms, Susan Dietrich of Very Prairie, and Paula Foreman of Encore farms were also involved in setting up and running the conference.

The morning started out with coffee and mingling with other attendees. After getting settled, and a short intro from Angelica, Paula Foreman took the mic and told us about her Encore Farm. She has found a niche market growing and selling dry, heirloom beans to restaurants. She farms about 2 and a half acres of rented land, and does almost everything herself. She has been at it now for about 5 years and is hoping to finally start seeing a profit this year. Most of her major equipment purchases are out of the way, she has a dedicated customer base, and loves what she is doing.

Next up, Susan Dietrich and Angelica did a presentation on the Minnesota and Wisconsin “Pickle Bill(s)”. These are state laws that have been set up to allow small scale farmers to make, process, and sell home canned products and baked goods. Without getting into too much detail in this post about the Pickle Bill, let’s just say that it provides small time farmers a great outlet for using excess produce in value added products. For those who want to do more research on the Pickle Bill, here are a few links to check out –




Following that, was Andrew and Khaiti French. They did a great presentation about their Living the Dream Farm. They both came from working in food coops for many years, and decided to start a farm. The main part of their presentation was the transition from a homestead to a farmstead. A farmstead being where you are making a living from the fruits of your labor. In their case, their main income is derived from duck eggs, but they also run a CSA, grow chickens and turkeys, and also raise a few pigs. Andrew and Khaiti are great, I didn’t get much one on one time with either of them, but they are young, dedicated, and truly seem to love what they are doing! It was truly inspiring!

Last but not least, Angelica gave us a photo tour of her certified processing kitchen that is in the basement of her house. This is where she now makes all of her fermented and pickled foods. She talked a bit about licenses, inspections, and all the hoops she has had to jump through to become a commercial operation. What she is now doing goes way past the pickle bill, and is her main business!

All of this today was not only inspiring, but also incredibly pertinent to today’s world. We now have over 7 billion people in the world and that is a lot of mouths to feed. All of these farmers and food processors are everyday people, and that is how we are going to feed our selves as we continue down this road. The food system we know and rely on today is balanced on a very shaky base. If one block falls, the whole system will come crashing down, and from my vantage point, when I look out and observe the predicaments of global climate change, peak oil, resource wars, and environmental degradation, it makes me happy to know that people like these folks are out there doing something radical that is good for us and the planet. I left with a great quote today from Paula Foreman. When told by someone that she wasn’t a farmer because she didn’t have a tractor or any outbuildings on her rented land, she responded with this, “It is a farm because I say it is a farm!!” Amen to that sister. That is the kind of attitude that will see us through the hard times ahead, that and a whole hell of a lot of hard work and cooperation! Peace and Cheers!


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Two loaves of finished, summer baked bread, Yum!!

Last August I wrote an article concerning excessive summer heat and cooking outside. Well it looks like we are experiencing the same kind of weather, and this time maybe even worse. Where ever you live in America (maybe except for Alaska) everyone has been experiencing temperatures in at least the 90’s, and more likely up past 100 degrees. This kind of heat, along with the humidity, can be oppressive and deadly for many people. Window fans and air conditioners are working over time, swimming pools and beaches are packed with people, beer sales are up, and it is definitely not the time of year to be baking bread, unless….

This evening we tried another new experiment with cooking outside. My wife is a wonderful baker; breads, cookies, muffins, etc, but with this kind of summer weather, we are not real fond of the idea of turning on our oven. So we thought we would try baking bread on our grill. Karyn got the dough started in the afternoon, giving the yeast time to work it’s magic – to make the dough rise. About an hour and a half before we wanted to eat, I started to prepare the grill. I got out my bag of Royal Oak lump charcoal, an arm load of bricks and set to work. For this project I used more charcoal than I normally use because I knew I had to reach a temperature of between 300-350 for at least forty five minutes. My big grill is a Chargrill, and is basically a barrel set on it’s side, with an additional fire box for indirect heat grilling. I started coals for both the main grill and the fire box and was able to maintain a temperature of about 305 degrees. Not bad in my opinion!

You can see the brick perimeter, the Dutch ovens, and the side fire box at the top right of the photo. Not a fancy set up, but it baked bread very nicely!

Once the coals were going nice and hot, I built a perimeter of bricks to help hold in the heat and make it more oven like. Once that was completed, I also placed two, well greased, deep cast iron pans (Dutch ovens) onto the grill and let them heat up for about ten minutes. Once the pans were hot, we slid the doughy loaves into them, and covered them with lids. One piece of cast iron that we are missing in our arsenal of cast iron pots and pans is lids, so we used enamel canning pot lids, and they worked just fine. We did not open up the grill for about the first thirty minutes, and the first time we did check on the bread we were a little worried, it appeared to not be baking properly. We gave it another fifteen minutes before checking it again, and magically it was starting to look like a finished loaf of bread. After ten more minutes, we removed the Dutch ovens and flipped out the bread onto the cutting board. Wow!! The two loaves looked terrific, the bottoms were not burned, the tops were nicely browned, and when we cut through the first one, it was perfectly baked all the way through! Needless to say, the bread was delicious and we did not have to warm up our kitchen to bake it.

I think this way of baking will lend itself well to most bread recipes, but only a little trial and error can prove that. As far as the fuel is concerned, the lump charcoal I buy is about five dollars per bag. Unless I am smoking big pieces of meat for long periods of time, a bag usually lasts quite a while. For the bread, I used maybe a quarter to a third of a bag of charcoal. In terms of cost for fuel and for ingredients, my guess is that it cost us about five dollars, not bad for two big loaves of bread! So for any bakers out there, baking bread in 100 degree weather is not impossible, you just have to get a little creative, and experiment. Find your favorite bread recipe, some bricks if you got them, fire up your grill, crack open a cold one, and bake some bread! Cheers!

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Hey, look at those horseradish roots 'mon!

Although we are barely into June, and the Summer Solstice is still two weeks away, the weather went from a sort-of spring like season to the dog days of summer overnight. The bulk of our gardens are in: 15 tomato plants this year and about the same number of peppers ( a mixed lot this year – jalapeños, Bulgarian carrot, Hungarian hot wax, and Wisconsin Lakes), the corn/squash/beans are in, spuds, lots of onions and leeks, direct seeded okra, collards, cabbage, Asian cabbage, bok choy, beets, turnips, garlic, herbs and other perennials. We are trying to do a lot more succession planting this year, so when the spring peas are done, in goes more beans and turnips (or beets, greens, or more radishes). Our gardens are always an experiment and we are always trying new ideas, techniques, and varieties of plants. Here are a few examples: this year I am mulching some of our garden walkways with cardboard buried in wood chips. The cardboard will help to suppress the weeds, the wood chips will hold in moisture and help break down the cardboard, and both will add organic matter and nutrients to the soil throughout the coming years. Another new addition to the garden are trellises for growing squash. One is a vine habit butternut squash, and the other is a vine habit zucchini that can be used for summer or winter squash recipes.

The start of our small apple tree nursery!

Up next are some updates on one of my new hobbies, grafting apple trees. As mentioned in an earlier post, I went to a grafting workshop this spring at the Seed Savers Exchange farm down in Iowa and was completely inspired to learn this skill. Since the time of the workshop, I mail-ordered rootstock, received a ton of apple genetics(scion wood) from a comrade in California, and have proceeded to graft another 13 trees. I am learning that grafting is a craft and not an art. Yes there are numerous ways to graft a tree, but there is not really room there for individual expression. Whether you are bud grafting or using the whip and tongue method, there are right ways and wrong ways and right tools and wrong tools. So far, from the three trees that I brought home from the workshop, only one graft has taken and is actively growing, the other two are either still dormant and healing or they are dead. The other thirteen trees were grafted about two weeks ago and just potted up today. I am a little more confident with the success rate with these ones than with my first three. My technique and patience got better with more practice .

A grafted Gano apple tree - An old time, yellow skinned apple flushed and striped with red, is crisp, juicy, and long storing!

One mistake I have made has been using the wrong kind of knife. A true grafting knife is beveled on only one side which allows for a very uniform flat cut. I have been using a pairing knife that has a sharp bevel on both sides of the blade. This makes for more of a chopping cut rather than a clean slice. Between now and next year I will hopefully either have bought a proper grafting knife, or grind down and resharpen (with only one beveled side) my current pairing knife. Overall I give the skill of tree grafting an A plus. This skill allows you to create and build new trees for a fraction of the cost of buying already grafted trees and will provide food for you and your family for years to come.

Staying on the subject of apple trees, grafting, and saving money; producing my own clonal rootstock for grafting apple trees has also become a fascination of mine. Why purchase rootstock when you can grow it yourself. After seeing instructions in the Raintree Nursery catalog, The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips, and talking to a few experts on apples, I realized that this too was within my skill level.

Suckers coming up from the rootstock of the Prairie Fire crabapple. The mulch will promote root growth and turn it into next years rootstock for grafting!

The Prairie Fire crab apple that I got this spring is grafted onto some kind of apple rootstock (most likely full sized apple tree rootstock), and it is sending up sucker shoots like no one’s business. Rather than cutting them off, I am leaving them and piling up rotted wood chips around the growing suckers. The idea is this: by adding a layer of organic matter that promotes root growth, these suckers will turn into next years rootstock. They will start growing roots where there are wood chips, I will add more rotted chips throughout the year, and next spring cut them free and graft onto them. At this point it is still just an experiment, but we should know in the next few months if roots are growing where I want them to, we’ll see.

The horseradishes' new home!

Last up for right now is horseradish. Armoracia rusticana is a hardy, vigorous perennial most likely originating in Russia. Well adapted to cooler climates, we thought horseradish would be a good addition to our Minnesota garden. We first planted it last year and have now moved it to its new location due to horseradishes ability to spread and take over. Horseradish propagates itself through its roots; any root that happens to get cut off and left in the ground will form a new plant. To solve this problem, we cut out the bottom of a giant plastic pot, dug a nice big deep hole, and buried the open bottomed pot in the hole. This should do a good job of containing the horseradish roots and prevent it from spreading. We will harvest for the first time this coming fall and will make a number of recipes with it. Mixed with white wine vinegar, sugar, spices of your liking, and whipped cream or mayo, you have a traditional sauce eaten with roast beef. Horseradish grated into a tomato based sauce (ketchup) is great with fish and shrimp, and one of my favorites is using it in the filling for deviled eggs. Horseradish also has traditional medicinal uses for coughs, toothaches, and many more. If using medicinally, always remember to do your homework, check with numerous sources, and if you still have questions consult with a professional.

Going into June most of my spring projects are done. The gardens are in, the chickens have a good home, my trailer is finished (so I can start hauling stuff), and the heat has been turned on. The temp right now is about 93 degrees and tomorrow will be about the same as today. I will be a happy gardener if we can get one good rain a week this year, I am keeping my fingers crossed. I hope everyone has a good growing season this year with bountiful harvests. Cheers!

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Freshly harvested asparagus and dandelion flowers!!

It has taken it’s sweet time to arrive, but I believe spring is finally here in Minnesota.  The dandelions are in full bloom, the lawns of the chemical aristocrats are full and green, and the first harvests’ (both wild and domesticated) of the season are starting to come in.  After waiting patiently for two years, we are finally able to harvest asparagus from our garden.  Asparagus officinalis, has been a cultivated plant since at least the time of the Egyptians, and has always been considered a delicacy because of it’s short growing season.  So far we have grilled it and used it in a quinoa salad, sautéed it in butter with onions, and have used it in a ham and cream sauce pasta.  As our patch of asparagus matures and fills out, I hope to be able to harvest enough to pickle it.

Mother's Day meal - Chipotle, raspberry chicken breast, quinoa salad with spring greens and asparagus, and beer battered, deep fried dandelion flowers!

Next up, Dandelions!  By far, these beautiful flowers and greens are one of my favorite plants (I have one tattooed on my forearm), both for culinary, and philosophical reasons.  Any plant that can grow in the cracks of concrete and society, and blaze the path for the return of wild(er)ness is a friend of mine!  I have been eating dandelions for about eight years now.  When I first moved into my house, my neighbor, who is of Lebanese decent, turned me onto eating dandelions.  We use the greens in salads and pasta, they can be used like spinach in Spinakopeta (a Mediterranean spinach pie) and any other way you might use lettuce or spinach.  Another aspect of dandelions that is overlooked is it’s contribution to healthy gardens.  Most people think of it as a weed, but dandelions are far from that.  Due to their huge taproot, they bring up nitrogen and other nutrients for other plants to use and they also attract beneficial insects for pollination.  The day that America can end it’s war against the dandelion will be a good day for our food security, our soils health, and the survival of the honey bee.

A plate 'O Morels!!

Another sure sign of spring is mushrooms.  Not just any mushroom, but the highly sought after and prized morchella esculenta, or also known as the Morel mushroom.  My son and I just found some yesterday while visiting my in-laws out in the country.  I have written about morels before so I won’t go into great detail, but for those of you who have never tried them, they are amazing.  We ate ours with chives from the garden and scrambled eggs.  Probably the best breakfast ever!  Depending on the weather, here in the Twin Cities we may have anywhere from a week to two weeks to continue finding them.  I have a new spot I am going to be hunting this year, and if I have any real success there may be another post about morels coming up!!

One last spring edible I would like to share with you is Garlic Mustard.  Alliaria petiolata, is a new plant to me.  I have heard about it, but never knew what it looked like.  All that changed a week or two ago when I found it growing in the back of my yard.  With the help of Wikipedia and a few wild crafting websites and books, I made a positive identification and mixed it in with a dandelion salad.  It is really good (it actually does taste similar to garlic), but it has a few down sides.  According to the Minnesota DNR website, garlic mustard is highly invasive and according to wikipedia, it also suppresses the growth of mushrooms in forests (maybe that is why it is getting harder to find morels in the spring)!  Anyways, now that I know what it looks like, it is all over the forest floor.  I will continue to use it as a salad green, but I will never feel bad about over harvesting garlic mustard, it is everywhere!  Now these are just a few examples of what you can basically get for free in the spring, don’t forget about burdock root, nettles, herbs like lemon balm, mint, chives and many other plants.  Keep your options and your palate open and you might find a new food that you can fall in love with!  Cheers!

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All you need to make yogurt yourself! Milk, yogurt starter, and a crock pot!

Here at the Autonomy Acres urban homestead, we tend to eat quite a bit of yogurt. So much in fact, that for a long time we special ordered it by the case from our local food co-op. A case of organic, Stoneyfield yogurt would cost us around $21.00, and that was with a ten percent discount because of our membership and by ordering in bulk. A case consists of six, 32 oz. containers, and we could burn through those in about two weeks depending on our routines and schedules. That got to be a pretty expensive yogurt habit. We knew about makings our own yogurt, and even tried it once about a year ago and did not have very good luck. That all changed this past Christmas when we received the book Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O’Dea. It is a cook book dedicated to cooking with a crock pot. My wife came across the crock pot recipe for making yogurt and that rekindled our interest, so we gave it a try. I was a little apprehensive at first, but soon got over that by the time I tasted our first batch. We did it! We made our own yogurt and it turned out great! We followed the recipe as it is written and did not deviate at all. O’Dea’s recipe is based on one half gallon of milk, yogurt starter, powdered milk/gelatin (optional), a crock pot, and about twenty-four hours of spare time. Using this recipe was a great starting point for us, but we soon realized that starting with one half gallon of milk was not enough for our family, and figured out a recipe using a whole gallon of milk. To help us with this, Ricki Carroll’s book, Home Cheese Making, filled in the missing gaps that O’Dea’s book did not cover. The key to making yogurt is bringing your milk up to about 180 degrees F and then letting it cool to about 116 degrees F. O’Dea’s yogurt recipe was based on times rather than temps, and if you are only making a half gallon batch, that works. However, when you add more milk and bump the recipe up to one full gallon, you need to go by the temperature instead. So the combination of the two recipes works this way: pour 1 gallon of whole milk into your crock pot, (on high) warm up the milk to 180 degrees F (this will take a few hours), once 180 degrees is reached, turn off your crock pot, crack open the lid and let the milk cool down to around 116 degrees F. This is where the other ingredients are used. From your cooled down milk, remove four cups of milk and put into a mixing bowl. If you want a thicker yogurt (which I do) add one cup of powdered milk, and your yogurt starter (use the directions included with the starter to determine how much to use). Mix these together and then add back to the rest of your milk. Cover with the crock pot lid, wrap it in a towel and let it sit over night (you want the ambient air temp to be around 65 degrees F). In the morning you will have yogurt. We drain ours using a colander and cheese clothe for about an hour and you will end up with about a pint and a half of left over whey (save the whey – it can be used in other things). A few important things to keep in mind – if your attempt at making yogurt is successful, you should only need to purchase yogurt starter once, from there on out substitute one half cup of yogurt in place of the starter (your home made yogurt has all the beneficial bacteria still in it – it is alive and wants to reproduce itself). The left over whey after draining the yogurt is not garbage! Whey can be used in baked products like bread or muffins, we have used it in soap making (in place of the water), or just feed it to the chickens or pigs if you have them (they will love it)!

Finished Yogurt! Yum!!!

The yogurt we make tends to be a bit thicker than your conventional store brought brands, and also a bit more tart. We like to add a little honey or fruit to cut back on the tartness, and if you don’t want it so thick, just don’t drain it as long. Looking at home yogurt production from an economic standpoint, we are now saving a ton of money by doing it ourselves. We use chemical/growth-hormone free whole milk, and it costs about $4.50 a gallon. We end up with just shy of three quarts of finished yogurt and are now saving a lot of money. We make our yogurt about every other weekend (sometimes every weekend if we have been eating a lot), just remember to save one half cup for your next batch. I suppose now the only thing we are missing is a goat to produce milk for us! Maybe that will happen sometime in the future when we are sick of taking vacations! If you like yogurt, I recommend making your own – it is fun, easy, and cuts out some of the middlemen in food production. Happy eating! Cheers!

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