Wild Edible: Bermuda Buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae )

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo by MathKnight

It’s Bermuda buttercup season in Los Angeles. Burmuda buttercup, also known as sourgrass, soursop, African wood-sorrel and  many other names, is a member of the wood-sorrel family. It originated in the Cape region of South Africa and is now found all over California, parts of Australia and probably other places as well. Here, it comes with the rain and vanishes with the heat.

It’s a “weed” (Wikipedia describes it as a noxious weed and an invasive species) so if you look it up on the internet you’ll mostly find information on how to eradicate it. It’s true, it’s terribly persistent, because it spreads through underground bulbs. But I think its attractive–usually more attractive than whatever neglected patch of landscaping it has colonized. More importantly, it’s super tasty.

It packs a potent, lemony punch, like true sorrel, which makes it an excellent salad green, and that’s how I use it–raw, in salads. The leaves, stems and flowers are all tasty, but for salads I just use the flowers and leaves. They provide a bright, lemony note which is just wonderfully fresh and tasty with tender new lettuce–springtime in a bowl.

As its true name, Oxalis, indicates, it is high in oxalic acid (as are many more common greens, like spinach), and (mandatory warning) oxalic acid should not be consumed in enormous quantities or if your physician has warned against it for some reason. But its sour nature makes it unlikely that you could stomach enough to hurt you.

Give it a try if you haven’t yet. If this form of oxalis doesn’t grow near you, other edible wood sorrels– or naturalized true sorrel–might. Have a look around.

Note the structure: 3 hearts joined at the center, and the distinctive brown freckles on the leaves.

Oxalis pes-caprae has another use–as a dye. I’m experimenting with that this week, and will talk about the results in a future post.

Los Angeles Bread Bakers Blog

Just a short time after planting–a field of wheat sprouts in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Bread Bakers, that I helped co-found along with Mark Stambler and Teresa Sitz, now has a blog: losangelesbreadbakers.blogspot.com. A big thanks to Saul Alpert-Abrams for putting it together and to Paul Morgan for blogging!

Paul has been writing about the wheat we helped plant at Maggie’s Farm in Agoura Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles on the western end of the county. It’s the second year that we’ve helped farmer Nathan Peitso with planting wheat. We got no crop last year due to either birds or not harvesting the wheat soon enough. We’re hoping for better luck this year.

Thanks largely to Mark Stambler, California has a cottage food law and Paul is also posting videos of a presentation that took place this weekend on how to get a cottage food permit in Los Angeles.

And if you’re in Southern California and interested in learning about bread baking and meeting other bread bakers feel free to join our meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Los-Angeles-Bread-Bakers/. LABB is for everyone–amateurs, pros and people who have never baked bread in their lives. If you’re not in SoCal start up your own bread meetup!

Food Storage as Art

Artist Jihyun Ryou’s work uses food storage techniques from the pre-refrigerator era in a way that’s both useful and beautiful. Her goal is to, “Try to bring your food in front of your eyes” to counteract that tendency we all have to make our refrigerators unintentional composters.

The techniques she demonstrates include:

  • Evaporation
  • Sand, both to keep vegetables vertical and to decrease humidity
  • Using the ethylene gas in apples to keep potatoes fresh

Ryou’s website is: www.savefoodfromthefridge.com

How to Cook Perfect Scrambled Eggs

How do you make perfect scrambled eggs? Two words for you: double boiler. It’s a method I learned from a book I had out from the library, Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook’s Manifesto. I can’t say that I read the rest of the book, but the double boiler egg method sure works well.

You melt some butter in a double boiler first to help keep the eggs from sticking. You can also use a pan held over (but not in) a pot of boiling water if you don’t have a double boiler (and I don’t have a double boiler). It takes longer to cook eggs this way, of course, but you get nice soft and fluffy scrambled eggs. You do have to clean the pan immediately or you will invoke the wrath of your spouse when it comes time to do the dishes. I don’t think I’ll go back to scrambling eggs in a pan ever again.

New National Center for Home Food Preservation Blog: Preserving Food at Home

Pumpkin leather. Image from the blog of the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

When I’ve got food preservation questions–about food safety or I need a reliable recipe–I go to the National Center for Home Food Preservation. The Center provides science based food preservation advice and is funded by the USDA.

They launched a blog in November, Preserving Food at Home that is now in my blog reader. Recent holiday-centric posts have covered tips on freezing leftovers, how to ship homemade foods and what to do with a pumpkin surplus as well as the dangers of pumpkin butter.

Home food preservation is very safe but, to be honest, I’ve been alarmed at a few of the questions I’ve received while interacting with the public as a Master Food Preserver. Preserving Food at Home is an important food safety resource and I’m looking forward to reading their weekly posts.

Do you have a favorite food preservation blog? Leave a comment . . .

Hoshigaki Success!

I’d estimate that one out of ten new homesteading projects succeeds. Which is why I’m especially happy that the long process of drying persimmons the Japanese way (hoshigaki) has been a big success. The white powder that looks like mold is sugar in the fruit that has risen to the surface. The result is, incidentally, very different from drying persimmons in a dehydrator (which also tastes good but has a much firmer texture–hoshigaki has the texture of a gummy bear).

It took about a month. One observation is that the persimmons that got the most sun also developed the most “frosting”.

Hoshigaki sells for upwards of $35 a pound–I just saw some at a Japanese market and they did not look as good as the ones I made. This is definitely a project I’ll be repeating next year. They would make a great gift along with some green tea.

You can read our blog post on how to make Japanese dried persimmons (hoshigaki) here.

Note from Kelly:

I thought we should say something about flavor here. They are not as sweet as I thought they might be. Which is not to say they’re not sweet, they’re just not super-sweet. They have a sort of meaty richness to them–in a strange way, they remind me a little of Fig Newtons, minus that seedy texture. The sugar dusting (sucrose powder?) is very delicate and a bit floral. I can only taste it if I touch my tongue to it.

These are traditionally served with green tea, and I have to say that tradition nailed it–that’s a perfect combo of flavors. Other than eating them ceremonially with tea, they are a very nice dried fruit and can be used any way you usually use dried fruit.

Using a Whirley-Pop to Roast Coffee

Maybe not such a good idea to use an electric popcorn popper . . .

One of the perils of creating how-to books and blog posts is when one of your bits of advice blows up in your face after writing about it. Such is the case with my suggestion of roasting coffee in a hot air popcorn popper. Yesterday, my West Bend Air Crazy popcorn popper made good on the crazy in its name, started smoking and stopped working in the midst of coffee roasting.

In my guilt ridden imagination I can already see dolphins choking on the remains of my now useless West Bend Air Crazy. I can also imagine the letter from the West Bend legal team reminding me that I was using the air popper for something it was never designed to do. And then there’s the ire of West Bend’s Chinese factory workers cursing my privileged lifestyle. But worst of all is the wailing of wives and husbands angry that their partners had been suckered into the idea of roasting coffee at home with an air popper on the advice of some dumb blogger.

Let me make amends. My coffee geek friends use a manual, hand cranked stove top popcorn popper called the Whirley-Pop. Here’s why:

  • You can roast a much bigger batch.
  • You have more control over the roasting process (by regulating the heat on the stove).
  • No electronic parts, thus nothing to break down.
  • You can roast over a fire if your utilities go out. Having caffeine (if you’re the addicted sort) during a hurricane/earthquake/Mayan apocalypse is really important.
  • Root Simple is supposedly about “Low Tech Home Tech.” There ain’t nothing low tech about a plastic hot air popper.

There are a few disadvantages to the Whirley-Pop:

  • Not plug and play. You have to stand over the stove, regulate the heat and turn the crank.
  • Smoke can set off fire alarms–harder to take outside than the air popper.

My air popper might have lasted longer had I roasted coffee in it without the top on as one reader suggested. I could also have just ended up with a bad popper. Apologies to anyone who rushed out to get an air popper. Maybe it will work better than mine did.

At least with our high tech blog I can correct mistakes. It would be harder if Root Simple was a mimeographed newsletter–the Whirley-Pop of information delivery methods. But we’ll see what format the blog is in after this week’s Mayan apocalypse . . .

How To Roast Coffee in a Hot Air Popcorn Popper

UPDATE 12/17/2012: My hot air popper died on me. See my new blog post on coffee roasting.

Roasting my own coffee has been one of the most satisfying and easy homesteading projects I’ve ever taken on. I look forward to my delicious, freshly roasted coffee every morning. Roasting your own coffee is so simple, I can’t believe that more people don’t do it.

Here’s how I do it:

1. Every couple of months I order green beans from Sweet Maria’s in Oakland. I’m particularly found of their eight pound sample pack. They choose the varieties–usually from multiple continents, carefully sourced and half the price of what they would cost roasted (if you could even find these interesting coffees). One of these days I’ll find a local source for green beans, but until that time I’m very happy with Sweet Maria’s.

2. I roast a couple of days supply of coffee maybe twice a week. I do it with a West Bend Air Crazy popcorn popper. Note that not all hot air poppers will work. Sweet Maria’s has a complete list of the right kind of hot air poppers here. One drawback is that you can only roast a small amount at a time–no more than a half cup. It takes about 6 minutes for the roast that I like. I keep the kitchen doors closed to prevent the smoke alarm in the hallway from going off. You would probably better get better results with a manual, hand-cranked popcorn popper such as the Jiffy Pop popcorn popper, but I like the convenience of the air popper. I just dump the beans in and in a few minutes I’m done. One drawback is that the West Bend popper is poorly constructed. Repeated use has sort of melted the top a bit. If you roast coffee with and air popper and have a better suggestion for a popper brand, please leave a comment. Despite the slightly deformed shape of my West Bend, it still works fine.

3. Once the roast is complete I dump the beans into a metal colander to cool them off. The beans out-gas CO2 for a few hours so after they cool they go into a 75¢ foil valve bag that Sweet Maria’s sells. I roast in the evening before going to bed. By morning the coffee is ready to use.

4. I make my coffee in a stainless steel French press. And, while I enjoy my fresh roasted coffee I’m also aware that it’s a bad habit. From a prepping perspective it would be much better not to be addicted to caffeine. But it sure is tasty!

How to Bake a Traditional German Rye Bread

In the interest of health, I’ve focused my bread baking obsession of late on 100% or near 100% whole rye sourdough loaves. I’ve used as my guide a nicely illustrated book How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His specialty is just the sort of rustic German style breads I’ve always wanted to learn to bake. What I love in particular about his caraway rye sourdough loaf (pictured above) is the crust. Unlike most other breads you don’t slash it before tossing it in the oven. The goal is a kind of perfect imperfection–a hard, thick crust with as many fault lines as the state of California. And this is a bread that requires no kneading so you can easily fit it into a busy schedule.

Here’s how I make it (recipe based on Hadjiandreou’s caraway rye sourdough):

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