Irish Soda Bread

In honor of St. Patrick’s day we give you this still from the simultaneously captivating and unwatchable film Leprechaun in the Hood (special thanks to Dough on the Go! for insisting that we watch until the very end when the Leprechaun raps) and from our expanding comments section a recipe for Irish soda bread:

This is the other half of Homegrown Revolution here, and I have to say I am not thrilled with the recipe my comrade in arms decided to post as representative of the best of quick breads. For years I’ve been making a much better whole wheat-ish quick bread (which he seems to have forgotten) and this is how it goes:

Irish Brown Soda Bread

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1 3/4 c. whole wheat flower
3 T. toasted wheat bran
3 T. toasted wheat germ
2 T. old fashioned oats
(note: change up or skip these nuggety bits as necessary–they just add texture)
2 T packed brown sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
2 T. chilled unsalted butter cut into pieces
2 cups or so of buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425
Butter a 9 inch loaf pan

Combine first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Add the butter and rub it into the flour. Stir in the buttermilk until a soft dough forms and you can scrape up all the dry bits. Don’t overwork. It is fairly wet dough. Put it in the loaf pan and bake about 40 minutes — do the toothpick test in the center to make sure. Turn it out of its pan, and let it cool on a rack.

This is a nutty, wheaty, slightly sweet bread. The original recipe came from an ancient Bon Appétit.


A garden that looks like a meth amphetamine lab

This year around the Homegrown Revolution compound we’ve finally thrown off the tyranny of the beautiful. There’s simply too much of what we call “garden porn” out there. Coffee table garden books, Martha Stewart and 24 hours of bullshit home improvement shows set up expectations that drive us all to useless spending at nurseries and home improvement stores all in pursuit of unattainable ideals, at least unattainable for anyone not employing slave labor. Forget about creating a mini Versailles–it’s time to get down to business and grow stuff you can eat. Our new criteria for success in gardens is this–a garden must simultaneously provide food for our table and habitat for beneficial wildlife, and it must take care of itself with a minimum amount of human intervention.

We also need to start growing food everywhere we can. There’s an ugly concrete patio just off our back door. We could have spent much money and effort to jackhammer it and replace it with a yuppie entertaining deck but instead we’re growing food on it. We built some self-watering containers (for instructions on how to do this see our earlier post) and we’re growing collard greens, tomatoes and southern highbush blueberries, so far with great success. It looks like a meth amphetamine lab. But since it provides tasty fresh food, who give a damn?

Sourdough Recipe #1 The Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf

Whole wheat fetishists will have to wait for our whole wheat sourdough loaf recipe (we’re working on it–whole wheat is trickier to work with than bad-ass white flour). In the meantime here’s the Homegrown Evolution Not Very Whole Wheat Loaf based on a recipe by Nancy Silverton. You can use either our whole wheat starter or our white starter. And though the instructions are long, this is an easy recipe assuming that you have been good about feeding your starter every day and keeping it in a warm place.

Though far less complicated than manufacturing meth amphetamines (not that we know anything about that), making sourdough also benefits from accuracy in measurements, so the use of a scale will give you better results. We’ve tried to give equivalents in cups, but differences in humidity could bite you in the ass and the scale will make things easier.

Ingredients:

8 oz sourdough starter (a little over 3/4 cups)
13 oz unbleached white bread flour (about 2 3/4 cups)
3 oz whole wheat flour (3/4 cups)
2 tablespoon wheat bran
1/2 tablespoon barley malt syrup (optional–makes a darker crust and boosts the rise)
8 oz cool water (about 1 cup)
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
1. Mix the starter, flours, wheat bran, barley malt syrup and water. Throw it all in a mixer fitted with a dough hook if you’ve got one, or knead by hand like hell for 4 minutes.

2. Let the dough rest under a cloth for 20 minutes

3. Mix in the salt and knead for another for another 6 minutes.

4. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap (we use a glass bowl with a lid). Let it ferment in a warm place–in our case the top of a stove which has a pilot light for 3 to 4 hours.
5. Shape the dough into a boule (a pretentious way of saying a flattened ball) and place in a floured proofing basket. We have a wooden proofing basket, sometimes known as a “banneton”, which gives the finished loaf a medieval look, but you can also use a bowl draped with a cloth towel. Just make sure to flour the towel.

6. Put it in the refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours.

7. Take the boule out of the refrigerator and put it in a warm place to ferment for another 3 to 4 hours.

8. Preheat the oven to 500º. Take the boule out of the proofing basket. We slam it upside down onto a scrap of floured cardboard. Slash the loaf on the top.

9. Using the cardboard, slide the loaf into the oven. We have a cheap cooking stone. Turn the oven down to 450º. Spray some water into the oven using a spray bottle. This simulates the fancy steam injection systems that commercial bakeries have. Steam will give your loaf an old-world style hard crust and will be a strike against all those Wonder Bread counter-revolutionaries out there.

10. For the next five minutes open the door of the oven 2 or 3 more times and spray some water in. We’ve also just tossed water in with a glass if we don’t have a sprayer on hand.

11. After five minutes continue to bake for another 20 minutes, but don’t open the oven door.

12. After 20 minutes open the oven and rotate the loaf. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes for a total of 40 to 45 minutes until the crust turns a dark brown.

13. Remove the loaf from the oven, but resist the urge to break into it. It’s still cooking and you could get a stomach ache from the still active wild yeasts. Let it cool down before slicing.

There’s not much labor involved with making this bread especially if you’ve got a mixer, but it does require some scheduling. You’ll note that the time in the refrigerator gives you some flexibility if you’re not a complete homebody.

If you try this recipe, leave a comment and let us know how it went!

Post Petroleum Lecture

Albert Bates, author of a brand new book The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook will be speaking at the Audubon Center at Debs Park on Saturday March 24th as part of the 2007 Sustainable Habitats Lecture Series. The series is put together by permaculture expert David Khan, and those of you who missed the last lecture, raw milk outlaw and dairyman Mark McAfee, missed an engaging, and provocative afternoon. So don’t miss this next one! From Khan’s announcement:

Albert Bates is a permaculture and appropriate technology instructor at the Eco village Training Center at The Farm community in Summertown, Tennessee, inventor of solar cars, pedal flour sifters and cylindrical tofu presses, and author of eleven books, including Shutdown: Nuclear Power on Trial (1979) and Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do (1990). His Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (New Society 2006) envisions the world as it will be transformed by peak oil and climate change, and offers a prescription for re-inhabitation. As one of the founders of the Eco village Network of the Americas (1994) and the Global Eco village Network (1995), Albert used his lifetime of eco-community living skills to create an incendiary meme, sparked by dedicated individuals and fueled by the pressing necessity of changing the way in which human communities relate to nature.

Place: Audubon Center at Debs Park
4700 Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Time:10:00 AM
Cost:$10 on-line $15 at the door
Instructions for payment: RSVP and pay on-line using PayPal www.sustainablehabitats.org

Should you not be able to make it, Bates will be appearing the next day at the Los Angeles Eco-Village on Sunday March 25th at 8 pm. There is a suggested donation of $10 for the lecture. The Los Angeles Eco-Village is located at:

117 Bimini Place
Los Angeles, CA 90004.

Make a Sourdough Starter

Every damn urban homesteader ought to have a sourdough starter living on their countertop. It’s easy and here’s how we do it around the Homegrown Evolution compound:

1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.

2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.

3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.

4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.

6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.

7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.

So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:

When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.

The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.

Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:

You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.

You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.

You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.

You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.

Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.

So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.

Injera

Hermann Göring is alleged to have said “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. These days when Homegrown Revolution hears the world culture we reach for our knife and fork, since our compound’s test kitchen has been busy experimenting with the bubbling and frothing world of live cultures through the ancient art of fermentation.

We revived our sourdough starter (to be explained in a future post), and cooked up a batch of the fermented Ethiopian crepe-like bread called injera. Injera is made by fermenting overnight a mixture of sourdough starter, whole wheat flour, water, salt and teff flour.

Teff is an extremely fine grain grown in Africa. It’s so tiny in fact that a handful of seeds is enough to plant a small farm. Teff is grown in the US by the Teff Company of Caldwell Idaho and is available (though somewhat expensive) at Whole Foods via Bob’s Red Mill. The teff growing folks claim that the iron from teff is more easily absorbed by the body, and that it also includes high levels of calcium and fiber. According to the Teff Company Gezahegne Abera, Ethiopia’s champion marathoner insists on Teff wherever he travels.

Our home-cooked injera was delightfully sour, a perfect counterpoint to spicy food and much tastier than the injera we’ve been served in our local Ethiopian restaurants. Rumor has it that many Ethiopian dives here skimp on the teff by substituting whole wheat flour and skipping the fermentation. Too bad there won’t be any room for growing more teff in America, since we’ll soon be using every available agricultural space for corn to produce ethanol so that we can continue to drive our big-ass SUVs to the mall. In the meantime we’ll enjoy the teff while we can as we declare March the month of fermentation.

Homegrown Revolution got our injera recipe from the astonishing and highly recommended book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz offers recipes for every imaginable fermented food, from kimchi to Andean chewed-corn beer (a recipe that involves gathering a bunch of friends to chew corn kernels, spit them out, and then ferment the results).

Anyone up for a chew-in?

Silver Lake Farms

This week Homegrown Revolution visited Tara Kolla the founder of Silver Lake Farms. Kolla runs a ambitious and beautiful flower farm on a medium sized lot right in the heart of Los Angeles. She specializes in freshly cut sweet peas, but also grows anemones and ranunculus and sells them at the Echo Park, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and Los Angeles Arts District farmer’s markets. Kolla believes in the power of the local, and only sells at farmers markets within a five mile radius of her unique urban farm.

But best of all Kolla will be sharing her gardening knowledge with a new class she will be offering:

“Organic Gardening: Introduction” takes place at Silver Lake Farms on Sunday, March 18 from 1pm-3pm. There are 12 spaces available for this class so register now at http://www.silverlakefarms.com or call (323)644-3700.

Also, as a reminder–permaculture expert David Khan will be offering his regular introduction to permaculture this Saturday March 3rd. After the lecture Mark McAfee President, of Organic Pastures, LLC. will present a talk entitled “Got Real Milk?”. Lunch will be available but you must RSVP. See www.sustainablehabitats.org for more information.

The Brooklyn Bee


“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.

Weed Eating Italian Style

Here at Homegrown Revolution we’re big proponents of eatin’ your weeds, which is why we were delighted to stumble upon an article on virtualitalia.com that contains a couple of weed recipes including dandelion egg salad and stinging nettle lasagna. As the article points points out Italians are one of only a few Western cultures that still actively forage.

Spring approaches and with it a free salad bar and produce section just waiting to be picked. Homegrown Revolution declares 2007 the year of the weed!