004 Egg Ethics, Solar Food Dryers and a Question about Earth Ovens

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On episode four of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss the tricky ethics of eggs and mayonnaise, what kind of solar food dryer is the best and we answer a question from Ed about earth ovens.

Plans for the Appalachian Solar Food Dryer can be found in an article on Mother Earth News.

We have a detailed post on how we built our adobe oven here.

If you want to leave a question you can call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected].

The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho.

A downloadable version of this podcast is here. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store. Note that it takes a few hours for the new episode to show up in iTunes.

Sourdough Rye Bread Class at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano

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Ditch the preservatives and plastic wrap. Join us and learn how to make homemade, all-natural bread from scratch.

Learn to bake the healthiest bread on the planet: a 100% whole grain sourdough rye. In this class you’ll learn how to start and maintain a sourdough starter and how to work with whole grains. We’ll reveal the secrets of whole grain baking, plus you’ll learn how you can grind your own grains.

In the end, you’ll take home a loaf to bake in your oven. You can’t buy this kind of bread so you better learn how to bake it yourself!

By baking bread at home, you’re in charge of what goes into every loaf and can choose to incorporate local and organic ingredients. Other benefits of baking at home include using less energy (used in harvesting, processing, and shipping store-bought bread), using less plastic packaging, and spending less money.

Become a baker and join us for the rye class on Sunday, June 22, 1-3p.

We’ll provide ingredients, and everyone will go home with a jar of starter ready to make bread.

Instructor: Erik Knutzen

For more information or to sign up head over to the Ecology Center.

Sourdough Bread Class at the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano

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Ditch the preservatives and plastic wrap. Join us and learn how to make homemade, all-natural bread from scratch.

Learn to bake bread the natural way, with a sourdough starter. Sourdough cultures make breads with bolder flavors, a longer shelf life and deliver the health benefits of living, fermented foods. In this hands-on workshop we’ll make a simple loaf using a version of the miraculous and easy Chad Robertson Tartine recipe.

By baking bread at home, you’re in charge of what goes into every loaf and can choose to incorporate local and organic ingredients. Other benefits of baking at home include using less energy (used in harvesting, processing, and shipping store-bought bread), using less plastic packaging, and spending less money.

Become a baker and join us for a weekend of heart-healthy, bread baking workshops: Saturday, June 21, 1-3 to make Sourdough and/or Sunday, June 22, 1-3p to make Sourdough rye!

Topics discussed will include:

  • How to make your own sourdough starter (also known as a levain)
  • Types of flour
  • How to simulate a commercial bread oven at home
  • Hydration ratios
  • Kitchen tools for bread baking
  • Shaping a boule
  • Working with whole grains
  • Troubleshooting

We’ll provide ingredients, and everyone will go home with a jar of starter ready to make bread.

Instructor: Erik Knutzen

For more information and to sign up head over to the Ecology Center.

What Epuipment Do You Need to Bake Bread?

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We get a fair amount of spam comments on this blog. Exterminators, search engine optimization purveyors and even, this morning someone promoting gossip news about Beyoncé and Jay-Z (a bit off topic for an appropriate technology blog, perhaps?).

One spam comment that came in last week fascinated me. The website had an extensive collection of bread baking how-to videos. Within a few minutes, on the first video I watched, the instructor was already selling a ton of equipment I’ve never heard of: strange $800 mixers, bread machines, dough conditioners etc. Even with the aid of all those gadgets and industrial ingredients, the instructor went on to describe a method of bread baking that involves a whole lot of unnecessary work to produce loaves that looked to me like squishy supermarket bread.

The ingredients you need to make bread are elemental in their simplicity: water, flour and salt and you can make a perfectly good loaf of bread with no equipment at all. But there are a few inexpensive pieces of equipment I like to use:

1. A digital Scale

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Measuring flour and water by volume is so inaccurate that both of the professional bakers I took classes with last year refuse to give cup equivalents in their recipes. Using a digital scale solved 90% of my bread baking problems. The scale pictured above is not the scale that I own, unfortunately. The one I have works just fine, but the OXO Good Grips Scale has a really great feature: a pull out display. This makes it easier to read the scale when you’ve got a big bowl on top of it. It’s inexpensive, and I’ve seen it for sale at my local Whole Foods. It’s also the scale we use when I teach classes at the Institute of Domestic Technology.

2. A proofing basket

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If you want to make a boule, you need a proofing basket. The one on the right is the economy option: a nine inch bowl from the 99¢ store with a piece of canvas or linen from a fabric store. The one on the left is a 8-inch Round Banneton Basket on Amazon. It works just as well as the much more expensive German bannetons I picked up at a restaurant supply store.

3. A loaf tin

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On Josey Baker’s recommendation I’ve been using a loaf pan a lot lately. It’s a lot less trouble and a lot more forgiving than trying to shape a boule. Plus you get a good sandwich loaf. The loaf pan I’ve been using is a enamelware hand-me-down that measures 8 1/2 inches by 4 1/2 inches.  Baker recommends one made by Chicago Metallic. I don’t like Teflon and you don’t need a non-stick pan. Use some oil and flour and your loaf shouldn’t stick.

4. A Dutch oven or combo cooker

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Mark Bittman popularized the practice of baking boules in a Dutch oven. The technique simulates the humid environment of a commercial bread oven. It works great. For years I used a regular Dutch oven. Just recently, however, I purchased a Lodge Combo cooker, essentially a Dutch oven with a skillet instead of a lid. To bake bread in it you use it upside down. It’s easier to slide a loaf of bread into the pan than it is to plop a loaf down into a Dutch oven.

These few items, plus a plastic container large enough to ferment your dough in, are all you need. If you get fanatical about baking like I have you may want to consider a mill, but that will have to be the subject of a longer post. That said, I could make a decent, rustic looking loaf with absolutely no equipment at all (except, maybe, the scale). Bread is the most elemental of foods. It can be made with just our two hands.

Saturday Linkages: Mobile Pods, Soil Erosion and Getting Doored by a Porta-Potty

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A pod on wheels. Image: Relaxshacks.com

A Micro Pond-Side Reading Pod/Cabin for an NYU Professor: http://relaxshacks.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-micro-pond-side-reading-podcabin-for.html?spref=tw 

7 Ways to Prevent Soil Erosion – http://tafarm.us/1qIPpp

Interactive: Inside the changing American diet http://ti.me/1hPvPrK  via @TIMEHealth

Maybe there’s hope? Report Offers a Way For California to Become Water-Sustainable http://www.kcet.org/news/redefine/rewild/commentary/report-offers-a-way-for-california-to-become-water-sustainable.html …

Man on bike strikes porta-potty door; two hurt: http://bit.ly/1pisQdq 

Could a medicine used to treat gout also save our citrus? http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/could-a-medicine-used-to-treat-gout-also-save-our-citrus …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

In Praise of Poultry Staples

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A neighborhood chicken tragedy involving a coyote reminded me of an important coop building detail worth repeating:

Use galvanized poultry staples not staple gun staples to secure your 1/2 inch hardware cloth (and don’t use chicken wire–the gaps are so big that raccoons can reach right in and eat your poulrty through the wire). Poultry staples are nailed in with a hammer. I use a pair of needle nose pliers to hold the staple while I hammer it home. Regular staples rust and are not strong enough to keep out predators.

A last detail is to periodically inspect coops for possible weak points. I’m overdue for this. I’ve scared away a coyote twice now this year in our backyard (during the day!).

003 Cooking From Scratch, Tortillas, Fencing and Listenter Questions

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This week on the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss cooking from scratch, making tortillas, bathroom catsfencing and answer a reader question about chickens in small spaces.

If you want to leave a question you can call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected].

The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho.

A downloadable version of this podcast is here. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store. Note that it takes a few hours for the new episode to show up in iTunes.

What’s the Best Solar Food Dryer?

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Appalachian Food Dryer. Image: Mother Earth News.

Dehydration is a great way to put up food. Second to freezing, it’s the best way to persevere nutrition without adding sugar or salt. And if you use the power of the sun, you won’t need to spend any money on electricity.

In a desert climate you can just put your food out on screened trays. But just a bit of humidity in the air makes this approach risky. Food can spoil before enough moisture is removed. That’s why you should build a solar food dryer.

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Brace Direct Food Dryer. Image: FAO.

There are two basic designs for solar food dryers: direct and indirect. Direct dryers are just a box with a piece of glass on the top. Indirect dryers use a box to collect the heat of the sun and then, thanks to the fact that hot air rises, take that heat up into an enclosed box that contains the food you want to dry.

The Poistk Dryer

The Poisson Indirect Dryer. Image: Mother Earth News.

Which design works best? Dennis Scanlin, Coordinator of the Appropriate Technology Program and Professor of Technology at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina has been studying solar food dryer technology for decades.  According to Scanlin, indirect drying is the way to go. Scanlin tested three dryers, the Appalachian Solar Food Dryer (an indirect dryer that he invented) against a direct dryer developed by the Brace Research Institute and the Poisson indirect dryer. In an article in Permaculture Activist, “Evaluating Solar Food Dryers: Stocking Up with Solar Power,” Scanlin says,

The Appalachian indirect dryer produced higher temperatures than the other two dryers and also removed more moisture from the tomatoes drying inside each day. In one test, the Appalachian dryer removed 32 oz. (0.95 L) of water during ta day, while the Brace direct dryer removed only 20 oz/ (0.59 L), and the Poisson dryer only 15 oz. (0.44 L). The Appalachian dryer was able to remove as much as 3.73 lb. (1.69 kg) of water in a single sunny day from tomatoes drying inside.

Scanlin also notes that direct dryers degrade the quality of the food and possibly nutritional value due to direct UV exposure.

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Our Appalachian Food Dryer, badly in need of a paint job.

We built a Appalachian Dryer several years ago and it works great. You do need to remember to bring in the food at night to prevent rehydration and spoilage (for some reason I often flake out and forget to bring in the food). For awhile I had an electric Excalibur Dehydrator on loan and it’s a lot more convenient. But, of course, it uses electricity and makes a lot of noise.

Since I built my Appalachian Dryer Scanlin has decided that it’s not necessary to use insulation. This makes the project even simpler. For just around $200 worth of materials you can easily make an Appalachian Dryer out of plywood nails and screws.

You can find plans for Scanlin’s dryer here.

Making Tofu From Scratch at the Institute of Domestic Technology

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Around once a month I teach a bread class at the one of a kind Institute of Domestic Technology, founded by our friend Joseph Shuldiner. The IDT is not your usual cooking school and its offerings are difficult to define succinctly. If I had to take a stab at explaining what the IDT does it would be that it teaches things worth doing from scratch that most people haven’t attempted since the pre-Betty Crocker era: cheesemaking, home coffee roasting, bacon curing, bread baking, jam and exotic projects like making your own nocino and toothpaste.

One of the perks of teaching at the IDT is getting to sit in on some of the other classes. The coffee roasting class changed my life. Now, every morning, I look forward to fresh coffee I roasted myself in a Whirley-Pop Popcorn maker. This past weekend I sat in a new IDT class taught by author Andrea Nguyen on how to make tofu from scratch.

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