Bean Fest, Episode 7: The Home-Ec Supper Club

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Welcome back to Bean Fridays! A change of pace this week: Instead of a recipe, an idea.

Our friend Ari was hanging out with us a while back, and we were talking about how its fun to eat at a friend’s house, even if they don’t serve up anything special, how a commonplace dish for one person is a novel thrill to another. And of course,  how just being together is what makes it fun.

The problem is that we too often think that having people over for dinner means throwing a dinner party, and that you have to really put on the dog: clean the house, cook a fancy multi-course meal, deploy table runners and wine charms and strange little forks and who knows what. Even throwing a backyard bbq can get pricey and involved.

Well, maybe some people are liberated enough to not think this way, but I have deep, even genetically programmed anxiety about hostessing that transforms me from my usually lazy self into a Martha Stewart demon at the mere mention of a dinner party. (Ask Erik.)

Well, good-bye to that and hello Home-Ec Supper Club, also called the Beans and Rice Party.

This is the deal that Ari, Erik and I came up with. We’d invite over a mixed group of friends with similar interests in home-ec, home arts, bikes, brewing, bees, homesteading, whatever you want to call it. Practical people, basically.  Erik and I, as hosts, would provide a simple, cheap big pot of something. Cheap being key, because we’re broke. We made rice and beans. The Bastardized Puerto Rican Bean recipe from few weeks ago, as a matter of fact. Stew or chili would be another good option.

Having that on hand, we know no one is going hungry, but for variety, we threw open the door to the guests to bring anything they want–or absolutely nothing at all—but not to spend more than 5 bucks on anything they did decide to bring. We didn’t want to cause those grim forced marches to the liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine, or emergency trips to the deli case of Whole Foods. No. We wanted people’s surplus, or nothing at all. What did they have in the garden? What were they sick of eating? That’s a Home Ec Supper contribution.

It wasn’t hard to make some beans and rice, and it sure didn’t stress our budget. I didn’t clean the house up much beyond basic hygiene. There was zero tablescaping. We had 12 guests, more than Erik and I have ever had to dinner. It stretched our crockery to the limit. Some people had to eat out of bowls instead of plates. Others had to drink out of jam jars and novelty cocktail glasses. To seat them all, we had to bring our outside table inside and line it up with our usual table–and we borrowed 5 chairs from Homegrown Neighbor. Everyone had to squash up tight.

The guests arrived with amazing offerings from their yards and kitchens, everything from a bowl of sweet, ripe pineapple guavas to a salad with green tomatoes to homemade biscuits to an apple butter tart for dessert–and most excitingly (not to play favorites) a keg of homebrew. It pays to know brewers. We didn’t do any formal potluck organizing, but it worked out just perfectly anyway.

So we started with beans and rice, but ended up with a feast. But even if we’d only had beans and rice, we would have been happy. That’s the key to this. It’s not about the food, it’s about the company. Worry about food was just excised from the scheme. We all had a good time. No one was stressed, not even the hosts. We all pledged to do it again in a month at someone else’s house. And so–we hope–a tradition is born.

We invite you to start your own Home Ec Supper Club in your area. The weather is cooling, it’s harvest season, it’s a great time to come together with friends, make new ones, too, and share the bounty.

And if you do, please let us know how it went!

Squash Baby Stolen!

Squash Baby’s empty cage


This morning we woke to find that Squash Baby had been taken during the night.

Erik just returned from searching the neighborhood, hoping to find traces, remanants or, heaven help us, the perp him or herself.  Needless to say, he is cursing. He’d planned on harvesting Squash Baby today, so it is particularly heartbreaking. It had stopped adding inches (I believe it held at 36″), and had started taking on golden tones.

I only hope that the people who took it plan on eating it. If it’s feeding a family (which it could do for several days), that’s fine. If some kids took it and smashed in an alley…well, that’s best not pondered. Forensic examination of the stem stump, however, reveals that the perp did not use a knife, but rather pried the squash* free. This speaks ominously to an impulse theft.

Once I saw a Buddhist monk on TV. He held up a pretty glass and said, “This glass is already broken.”  My attitude toward Squash Baby has always been, “This squash is already stolen.” But poor Erik was much attached to the squash, and his head was filled with images of squash galettes and squash gnocchi and squash soup.  He wanted to have a squash butchering party.  Now he’s hunched over his breakfast cereal, disconsolate, and muttering about never planting anything in the parkway again.

He harvested Squash Sibling this morning, though it could have grown some more, I believe.  We’re hoping it’s ripe enough for good eating. It’s no inconsiderable squash, despite being the runt of the litter. It measures 22 inches.

Next year we will plant Lunga di Napoli again, far from the street.

* N.B. Squash Baby was technically a pumpkin, as noted in a previous post.

Bean Fest, Episode 6: Walton’s Serbian Lima Beans

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Welcome back to Bean Fest, our Friday focus on the wonderful world of beans.

Our friend, Walton, sent in this recipe, which he got from friends. I don’t know anything about its Serbian-ness–whether this is a traditional dish there, or what. Maybe some of you can enlighten us. (I forgot to ask Walton.)

[ETA: Walton wrote in. It is a genuine Serbian dish. The recipe was given to Walton by his friend's mom, Mrs. Milosavljevic. Thank you, Mrs. Milosavljevic!]

What I can tell you is that it is amazing: full of flavor and almost dangerously rich. If you know anyone who thinks eating beans for dinner is akin to wearing a hair shirt, make these for them. Dried Lima beans have a buttery taste on their own. Add to that a huge quantity of olive oil, and the scrumptious umami-savoriness of long-cooked onions, and you’ve got a palette paradise.

I’d classify these as a special occasion food, because they are so rich. One modest serving will fill you up. We ate them as a main dish with a basic green salad, which works nicely to counterbalance their oiliness, and had hunks of bread to sop up the juice. This recipe would work well as a side dish, of course. They’d also do well on a holiday table.

And best of all, they’re easy to make. They don’t have many ingredients, and there’s nothing complex about their cooking. They just take a little longer than most beans because of the time in the oven.

This is the recipe as he sent it:

Serbian Lima Beans

    * 1 lb small lima beans
    * 1 1/4 cups oil
    * 1 1/4 lbs sliced or chopped onions
    * 1 tspn pepper
    * 2 tspn salt
    * 2 tspn paprika
    * crushed red pepper / chili powder to taste
    * couple bay leaves
recipe
    * cook lima beans according to package (do not over cook; will cook a bit more in the baking process later)
    * fry onions in oil stirring frequently til very limp/well cooked (think near mush)
    * add spices to onions, mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust according to taste.
    * add well drained lima beans to onion mix (reserve some lima bean water)
    * pour into 9 x 13 baking dish; you want there to be some fluid (to bake in); if dry add some reserved lima bean water
    * insert bay leaves into beans in dish
    * bake, covered, at 375 for 30 minutes
    * bake uncovered, at 350 for 15-20 minutes til golden brown (take care not to burn)
Walton’s Notes:
  • I would suggest putting the bay leaves in the water with the beans when you first start cooking them.
  • Also, this seems like a lot of olive oil, but it really makes the flavor, so I’d suggest you use some kind of tasty extra-virgin with a strong character. 
  • The onions should be caramelized slowly, barely making any noise while they cook down. This is the other strong flavor of the dish. Start the onions during the last hour of the beans boiling.

Buon appetito!

This is what they look like fresh out of the oven

Mrs. Homegrown’s notes:

Not much to add here.  FYI 3 not-too-large yellow onions = 1 1/4 lbs.

I goofed by not reading the recipe correctly, so I caramelized the onions solo, instead of in the 1 1/4 cups of oil. (For some cracky reason I thought the oil was added later.) I had to back paddle and simmered the finished onions in the oil for about 10 minutes, hoping the flavor would infuse into the oil in that time. I think it worked. The mind boggles to think it might have been even better if I’d cooked it correctly.

Do be sure to cook the onions a nice long time, as Walton noted. That is the key to the recipe, and a point I don’t want anyone to miss.

The only thing I was unclear on was how much bean water to add back into the baking dish before cooking. Figuring wet beans are always much better than dry, burnt beans, I poured the reserved water into the dish until it just barely covered the top layer of beans. Then sealed the baking dish with foil. That seemed to work just perfectly.

Woman Fights Off Bear with Zucchini

Stop it, lady! Hey! Ouch!

Many thanks to Heather who left a link this in our most recent Squash Baby post, asking if we planned to use our Squash Baby to fend off bears.

It’s true! A woman bested a bear with a squash. Witness this article on the website of Montana television news station, KXLH. See photos of the very zucchini which smote the bear! Admire the heroic collie, who was wounded in the fray! (but will be okay.) Marvel at the sturdy jeans worn by the Squash Warrior, torn by the bear’s fearsome claws.

And to answer Heather’s question, I have no doubt that Squash Baby could lay a bear flat, the only problem is that I’m not sure I have the upper body strength to swing it around! Good thing the only bears in our neighborhood are found in bars.

Squash Baby’s Sibling

Squash Sibling sleeps tight under wire mesh and specious warnings

Mrs. Homegrown here:

A quick update on the squash baby circus. There’s a surprise addition to the family. In my first post, I said one of our two squashes had been stolen, leaving us with only one squash, which provoked Erik’s Guantanomoization of our front yard. In turns out there was a tiny 3rd baby hiding under a big leaf. We didn’t notice it for a while. But like zucchini, these things grow incredibly fast, so it became infant-sized in the blink of an eye. Erik fitted it with its very own chicken wire security blanket and positioned a warning sign right in front of it.

Squash Sibling measures 20 inches. The Original Squash Baby ™ is now a squash toddler, is holding at 36 inches, and requesting its own Twitter account.

Note of interest: Craig over at Garden Edibles, who sold Erik the squash baby seeds (Lunga di Napoli) points out that “Squash Baby” is really “Pumpkin Baby” — or perhaps “Punkin Baby”–because the Lunga di Napoli is, in fact, a pumpkin. A darned funny looking pumpkin.

Pot o’ Goodness: Low, Low-Tech Water Conservation

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Continuing on the greywater theme, on big cooking days, when I’m doing a lot of boiling, steaming, soaking and rinsing, I collect all that used water in a big pot and take it out to the garden to water the plants. It’s full of nutrients, and won’t cause any blackwater* problems as long as you:

  • Use it immediately. It will turn foul if left to sit too long.
  • Pour it straight into the soil–don’t splash it all over edible leaves. Remember, soil purifies water.
  • Don’t use water full of food chunks or grease, as this will attract vermin and cause smells.

I know it’s only a little bit water that I’m saving by doing this, but to me it’s a symbolic act, almost a prayer. And heck, it hasn’t rained here since March, so every bit counts. Also, the plants really like the super-water. I think of it as a smoothie for them.

Another option is to re-use cooking waters as stock. This is something I don’t know much about. Sometimes I’ll take some nice bright green water leftover from steaming or blanching greens and use that to start a vegetable stock. But I’ve heard of people using pasta water as the base of soups. Have any of you tried that, or other techniques along those lines? Do tell.

And let us know if you have any quirky ways of saving water.

*What’s blackwater? It’s water which is dirtier than greywater, and therefore not usually recycled. Typically this is water coming from the toilet and the kitchen sink. Food particles from the sink turn septic quickly, and grease and heavy soap are not good for soil. However, our greywater guru, Art Ludwig, does say that kitchen sink water is nutrient rich, and suggests workarounds that allow sink water re-use, like grease traps or plumbing the sink so only the rinse water goes to the garden.

Hens Busy Dust Bathing

It’s difficult to capture the cuteness of this chicken behavior with a still camera–we really should try to make a  video.  Anyway, this is called “dusting” or “dust bathing.” The ladies have dug a hole in our yard and are gleefully rolling around in it, flicking loose dirt under their wings and driving it between their feathers. This is an innate behavior and an important part of chicken hygiene. Dusting suffocates skin parasites that prey on chickens, and it also seems to be pleasurable for the hens, judging by their blissful expressions.

After dusting they puff up and shake off, and settle in to do fine cleaning by preening. When they’re done, they’re all pretty and shiny.

It’s really important that chickens have constant access to dirt–loose, dry, sandy dirt–so they can dust at will. If for whatever reason your chickens don’t have this access, whether that’s because they’re being raised in a concrete floor, or are trapped inside because of bad weather, or your chicken run is swamped with mud, or whatever, it’s a smart thing to provide them with a tray of dirt so they can bathe. Dusting is nature’s favored method of insect control.

ETA: To give you some indication of size, a kitty litter tray would be a good size for a few hens to share, a cement mixing tray for a bigger flock.

Warning: Rant Ahead

We first got our own hens because we disagreed with the industrial style of raising chickens and farming eggs.  But at the time that disagreement was purely theoretical–now it’s stronger than ever, because it’s based on practice. The more we know, and experience the fundamentals of chicken life, the more appalling the industrial practices become.  One fundamental is that chickens are designed to live on dirt. They love to scratch, peck, dig and bathe in it. Take dirt away from them and you have to scramble to make up for that deficit in unnatural ways. Being unable to scratch, chickens get bored and peck at each other–so their beaks have to be cut off. Deprived of the ability to dust, they get mites and lice, and have to be treated with pesticides. It’s just sad.

Evolution is Evolving

Mrs. Homegrown hard at work reconfiguring the Blog-O-Nator

 Mrs. Homegrown here:

We’re going to be doing some redecorating and redesign on this site over the next few weeks. The main reason we’re doing this is to make the blog more useful and accessible. This means, to start, that we’re going to clean up the tags and rearrange all the links and stuff on the right side of the page.

Then, a little bit down the road, we’re going to change our look. (!!!) I know it’s always a little traumatic when a blog you read regularly redesigns itself, but let’s face it, the place needs a fresh coat of paint. But again, that won’t be a for a bit.

In the meanwhile, forgive any weirdness that might occur as we figure out what we’re doing.

Bean Fest, Episode 5: Black-Eyed Pea Salad (Lubyi Msallat)

We still haven’t learned to take the picture before we start to eat–and were too impatient to keep eating to take a close-up! Chick pea salad, pita and sheep’s cheese.

Mrs. Homestead here:

This week’s Bean Fest installment comes from a cookbook we’ve been trying out over the last week called Vegetarian Dishes from Across the Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian. These recipes really fit well with our kitchen just now, considering its emphasis on classic summer vegetables (like eggplants, cucumbers and tomatoes) and bulk bin foods like beans and grains.

This black-eyed pea appetizer (meze) is of Syrian-Lebanese origin and is easy to prepare. All you have to do is boil up the beans* and then make a dressing for them. Erik said it reminded him a little of a tabouleh, except it had beans instead of grains.

*Black-eyed peas (aka cow peas) are beans. Sometimes they are called black-eyed beans, in fact. What’s the difference between beans and peas? Both are members of the legume family, but pea plants have tendrils, while bean plants do not.  That’s the easiest distinction to make, though I’m sure it gets more complicated the more you know.

Lubyi Msallat

1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight
1 clove garlic
1 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 small onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1/3 cup olive oil

Cook the beans:

Drain the soaking water off the beans and put them in a saucepan. Cover with a couple of inches of fresh water and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook until the the beans are tender (but not mushy), adding water as necessary.  As you do this, try not to be envious of people with pressure cookers.

Prep the dressing:

The book says “crush the garlic and salt together” so I used our mortar and pestle to grind the salt into the garlic clove.  (I imagine you might be able to do the same in a bowl with the bottom of a sturdy glass. Otherwise, I’d either mince or press the garlic and add the salt to the salad separately.)

Then, after the garlic and salt are crushed, mix the lemon juice into the garlic-salt paste. (Again, this could be added separately).

Combine everything:

Drain the beans well, maybe rinse them too, as black-eyed peas seem prone to generate some scum when cooking. Toss them with the chopped onion and parsley.  Now add the salt-garlic-lemon juice and the cumin. Mix everything thoroughly.  Pour the oil over the top.  Garnish with paprika, if desired, and lemon wedges.

Serve hot or cold or room temperature, along with pita bread. A great picnic food, or just to keep in the fridge for a quick lunch or healthy snack.

Tune in next week for another episode of Bean Fest!

We like this: Shovelgloving

cute cats shamelessly stolen from Shovelglove homepage

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Just a note to point you to a site rec’d by one of our commenters in our last post. It’s for a DIY exercise system based on swinging a sledgehammer around: http://www.shovelglove.com.

Swinging around a padded sledgehammer, that is, like the one the cats are inspecting above. (Though frankly I’m not too convinced that a sweater will do much to protect anything from a sledgehammer. Okay, maybe it will protect the floor from accidental scratches, but I think those cats better not be lulled into complacency by its fuzzy, friendly appearance.)

Generally I don’t like “exercise” as a concept. I avoid gyms the way others might avoid leper colonies or malls during the holiday season, because it seems inherently ridiculous to travel to a climate-controleld machine-space and pay to expend energy toward no particular purpose. Yeah, I know, the idea is that exercise makes you healthy, but isn’t life supposed to be full of free exercise? When did it become an isolated activity?

Anyhoo, this shovelgloving business (shugging, I think they call it) is, admittedly, still a bit on the abstract side for me, meaning the labor doesn’t produce anything, but heck, I’m an urbanite. My entire life is rather abstract.  I lack wood to chop, butter to churn, rails to drive &etc. — at least on a day to day basis.

On the good side, it’s free (as long as you have a sledgehammer–and if you don’t, you should–very handy things, sledgehammers), you can do it at home, it at least references useful body motions, and it looks like lots of goofy fun. It will make more sense when you go see it.

That one shovelglove page, minimal at first glance, leads to a whole world of videos and other time sucks, so be careful if you’re trying to get anything done. But speaking of procrastination, check out the author’s main page, Everyday Systems. The shovelglove is not his only idea. He also has a fiendishly simple diet plan and lots of other funny and commonsensical ideas to explore.

And yes, before any of you say it, it is potentially quite dangerous to swing a sledgehammer around. So if you try it, be sure not to knock yourself or your loved ones in the head. And start slow and move thoughtfully and with good posture to protect your back from injury.

I’m going to try it, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Unless I brain myself.