Revolutionary Rusks

Today Root Simple is proud to present a contribution (and amazing photo!) from photographer, velolutionary, and Culver-Town homesteader Elon Schoenholz:

Rusks are sturdy biscuits of Dutch South African origin, slightly sweetened and heartily nonperishable. Like biscotti, they’re double-baked, dry and crunchy; unlike the chocolate-dipped and plastic-wrapped crap on the counter at Starbucks, however, homemade rusks are practical, nourishing and inexpensive. The version we prefer, with chopped almonds, is subtly delicious. Stored in an airtight container, rusks are good to eat for 2-3 weeks. We enjoy dipping them in our coffee. Also, they’re great cycling snacks because you can throw them in a jersey pocket; they’re good all day without refrigeration; and they provide a quick simple-carb fix, as well as protein and complex carbs.

The recipe we use is from the “Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic and Regional Recipes From the Cooks at the Legendary Restaurant

To make the most of your time and maximize energy efficiency, bake two batches and stack them all up together for the 12-hour dry-a-thon following the initial 25-minute bake. You’ll end up with about 20 pieces from a single batch, and they go pretty fast. While rusks historically were created as hot-weather food, baking them during the winter is more pleasant because you end up having the oven on all day or night.

Recipe:
Dry ingredients
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups whole wheat bread flour (the recipe calls for coarsely ground whole wheat flour but we use all-purpose whole wheat flour and then add 2 tablespoons wheat germ and 2 tablespoons ground flax seed)
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup chopped almonds

Wet ingredients
½ cup melted butter
2 eggs
¾ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
2 teaspoons pure almond extract

preheat oven to 400º
In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients
In another mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients
Pour the wet into the dry and stir until you have a soft dough
Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll or pat it to a ½-inch thickness
Cut the dough into 2×4-inch rectangles
Bake about an inch and half to 2 inches apart on buttered (parchment paper will work, too) baking sheets for 25 minutes
After you’re finished baking the rusks, pile them up pyramid-style on a baking sheet, throw them in the oven, turn the dial to 200º and come back in 12 hours

Pointers for first-time bakers:

  • Mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, and then mix them together.
  • Make sure to mix the wet and dry ingredients well, but once you combine wet and dry, don’t overmix or the dough can become tough.
  • Pour the vanilla and almond extracts into the butter first and then add the butter to the rest of the wet ingredients, as the fat will encase and preserve the flavor.
  • When rolling out the dough, use flour on the rolling pin and on the dough to prevent sticking.

Bitter Greens

Today we continued our winter planting in our illegal parkway garden adding arugula, a green that America has suddenly discovered after last month’s factory farming spinach nightmare. We also added a tough and bitter leaf chicory from our friends at Grow Italian. Hopefully, by succession planting we should have a winter and spring full of green, if somewhat bitter vegetables.

How do we prepare these bitter greens around the compound? Very simply — in a pan with garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Sometimes we add some Parmigiano Reggiano. Fresh, strong tasting vegetables don’t need much else.

Nasturtium “Capers”

Nasturtium grows like a weed here at the SurviveLA compound. We don’t water it, though if we did we might have a larger crop. The nice thing about Nasturtium is that the entire plant is edible – both the leaves and flowers have a strong peppery flavor and the flowers brighten up the Spartan salads we chow down on in the late spring. Once you plant this stuff, at least here in Los Angeles, the thousands of seeds it produces guarantee that you will see it again next year.

Thanks to a tip from our frère et soeur at Terre Vivante, editors of a great book called Keeping Food Fresh, we now have a use for all those Nasturtium seeds. Pick the seeds while they are still green and put them in a jar with a decent white wine vinegar and some dill or other herb. We keep our jar in the refrigerator and wait a few weeks before using them. I actually prefer these substitute capers to the real thing. Some things to note: we grow Nasturtium as an annual plant and it dies off with the summer heat. It can also suffer from aphids towards the end of the growing season. Plant seeds in October and November for a spring harvest.

A Prickly Situation

Today’s post is for clueless white folks as our hermanos y hermanas already know this shit. As we’ve suggested before the rule with landscaping at the Homegrown Evolution compound is, if you gotta water it you gotta be able to eat it. But there are a few miracle plants, well adapted to Southern California’s climate, that are both edible and don’t need watering. One of the most versatile is the prickly pear cactus, of which there are about a dozen varieties all under the Opuntia genus (Family Cactaceae). In the late spring the plant produces new leaves which can be harvested and eaten. Stores and street vendors sell them as “Nopolito”. Nopolito, tastes a bit like a slightly slimy green pepper and can be used in scrambled eggs and mixed with tomatoes and onions in a salsa. During the summer the very tasty fruit matures and can be eaten raw, although the abundant seeds make it a bit of an acquired taste. The fruit can be made into a jam, a drink, or a salad dressing. If forced by the zombie menace into a survival situation, the plant is a good source of water and can even be used to heal wounds.

For nopolitos use only the young leaves and extreme care must be taken when harvesting both leaves and fruit. Wear gloves when harvesting and preparing both the fruit and the nopolitos, as the plant contains thousands of almost invisible barbed spines. Thankfully these spines are easy to remove by dragging a knife across the skin or by using a vegetable peeler. Sometimes I just eat the fruit by cutting it in half, holding it with thick gloves and scooping out the flesh with a spoon.

This is one of those plants that should be everywhere here in Los Angeles. Propagate the plant by cutting off a leaf and sticking it in the ground – it’s simple – no fuss, no pesticides, no watering once established. And note that not all prickly pear varieties produce edible fruit so when you look for cuttings seek out plants that are productive and tasty. It’s the ideal plant for what we call “pirate” gardening, the act of taking over a vacant lot or otherwise abandoned public or semi-public space. Plant a bunch of prickly pear and come back to harvest the nopalitos and fruit.

More info and recipes can be found here and here.