The tale of the worm bin celery

parsley flower

This is related to my recent post about our flowering radish. It’s a tale of botanic dumpster diving and another reason why you should let your food plants go to flower when you can.

Last year I threw the crown (which is to say, the bottom) of a celery plant in my worm bin. I probably should have chopped it up for the worms’ sake, but I didn’t. Later, sometime in the fall,  I rediscovered the celery crown. Instead of rotting in the bin, it had sprouted leaves and looked surprisingly vigorous. So I pulled it out and popped it into an empty space in one of our raised beds.

I didn’t have much hope. Celery doesn’t like our climate much, and I consider it one of those plants which is easier to buy than to grow.

To my surprise, the plant did quite well, though it did have a feral quality to it, despite its mild domestic origins. It didn’t grow fat, moist stalks which can be used to scoop up peanut butter. It grew stringy, dark green stalks which tasted powerfully of celery. It made excellent stock, and chopped into fine pieces, it was good in soup, too. Since I don’t eat much raw celery, this suited me fine.

All winter long I used this plant as the basis of my cold-weather cooking–chopped onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of every pot. It was a real treat not to have to buy celery for such a long time, and to have that flavor available whenever I wanted it. I should add that the leaves were just as flavorful as the stalks

As a side note, I’ve heard of a breed of celery made to work precisely this way, called cutting celery, but I’ve never grown it intentionally. The celery in this post looks very much like my homegrown “cutting celery.” Perhaps commercial celery wants to revert to this?

Months later, the hot weather arrived, the celery started to bolt (that is, send up flower stalks). When a plant bolts, it puts all its energy into flowering. At that point, its not much use to us as food. I was sad to lose my bottomless celery supply, but I was excited about the flowers.

Pollinating insects love celery blossoms. Actually, they adore the whole family of plants to which celery belongs, called Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (which I tend to call Umbrella Fae, which is wrong, but right in my head). This family includes carrots, celery, dill, coriander, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, etc. If you can let any of this family bloom in your garden, do.

The parsley flowers grew almost as tall as me, and they were surrounded by clouds of tiny insects every day –shy, tiny little pollinators that I can’t name.

I love to let things go to flower and seed in the garden, because it is a way of giving back to the rest of nature. Flowers for the insects, seeds for birds. And by giving back, you help balance your garden. We’ve had significantly less issues with destructive insects since we learned to let our garden go a little wild.

Sadly, this celery never got to seed, because it collapsed under its own weight one day. Its thick, hollow stalks folded and the head of the plant fell to the patio.  I had hoped to save a little seed and try to grow a plant the next year from scratch. But now I’m thinking I’m going to throw a whole crown of celery in the worm bin this fall, and hope this happens all over again.

collapsed parsley plant

Secrets of Kimchi Revealed in Pictures

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Hae Jung shows off her special Kimchi gloves.

I spent this morning with Hae Jung Cho and Joseph Shuldiner going over some of the recipes we will be teaching at a hands-on workshop at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Hae Jung showed Joseph and I how she makes kimchi. Here’s a few of her secrets starting with:

mini shrimp in kimci

Fishiness! Hae Jung said you can make kimchi without mini-shrimp and fish sauce, but it just won’t have as much umami.

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Then there’s the special hot pepper flakes that can be found in any Korean supermarket. They come in a course grind for kimchi and a fine grind for use as a general seasoning. Before the Portuguese arrived in Korea with peppers from the New World, kimchi was more like sauerkraut.

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Before stuffing the kimchi into a crock, Hae Jung showed us a way of folding the “sohk” (the mixture of the pepper flakes, fish sauce, mini-shrimp, onions, daikon radish, some greens, garlic and ginger) between the leaves of Napa cabbage that had first soaked in brine the night before. You don’t have to do the special folding, but it’s considered classy.

From this point the kimchi sits at room temperature for a day or two and then goes into the refrigerator. We packed it into a giant crock.

I’m really looking forward to tasting this!

There Will Be Kraut–Lecture on Fermentation at the Historic Greystone Mansion

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I’ll be delivering a lecture on fermentation as part of a two day fermentation fest put on by the Institute for Domestic Technology. From the description on the IDT website:

Let the kraut begin!

Healthy, tasty, fermented foods are the new “health foods”. Though ages old, fermented foods are nature’s natural way of food preservation, with an added twist: they’re good for you! See why über chefs of the moment are pickling, curing and fermenting their menu items from scratch.

Our guide for for the weekend Fest will be Erik Knutzen, Urban Homesteader, author and one of our popular Institute instructors.

Friday, April 26th ~ Saturday, April 27th

Kickoff Evening Lecture and Kraut Tasting: $20 ($25 at the door)
Friday, April 26th, 6pm ~ 8pm  |   Greystone Mansion Historic Library (Beverly Hills)
For tickets see the website of the IDT.

If you have never witnessed one of Erik Knutzen’s trademark PowerPoint presentations, you are in for a thrill. Not only are they educational, they are entertaining, subversive and also hysterical. Who knew fermentation can be so many things?

Erik’s evening lecture, especially prepared for KrautFest is entitled:
“Fermenting Revolution: how fermented foods can change your diet, your life and the world”

In recent years, there’s been huge interest in fermented foods, everything from traditional sauerkraut to kombucha. Health food stores even dedicate entire refrigerator cabinets to pricy “pro-biotic” supplements. Erik Knutzen, co-author of The Urban Homestead and Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World, will give an overview of the world’s fermented foods and discuss how you can make your own. He’ll cover everything from sauerkraut to pickles to sourdough bread to the great kombucha controversy to the health benefits of fermented foods. He may even discuss arctic explorer Knud Rasmussen’s untimely death from eating fermented auk meat. The evening will also feature a special sauerkraut tasting.

The evening includes a kraut tasting and book signing.

Roasted Asparagus

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetopolita, where she'll tell you how to make it.

This, believe it or not, is a cake! I found it at Sweetapolita, where she’ll tell you how to make it.

Erik’s aunt just called to ask me how I cook my asparagus, because she wants to make it for company tonight. It’s so easy to make perfect cooked asparagus that I forget that some people find it intimidating. Maybe that’s because of those dedicated asparagus cookers they sell, and associations with silver tongs and Hollandaise sauce and hotel brunches. Yet the truth is all you have to do is roast it.

Here’s a universal rule: everything tastes better roasted. Even vegetables. I can’t think of one vegetable that doesn’t roast nicely, and asparagus is one of my favorites. All vegetables are roasted the same way, basically, but here’s an asparagus specific recipe.

Roasted Asparagus

Pre-heat your oven to 400F (is that 200C?)

Trim the pale, woody ends off of the asparagus. Lay the asparagi down on a cookie sheet or in a baking dish–or hey, even a roasting pan!  Somewhere they can spread out in a single layer. Drizzle them with lots of olive oil, then get in there with your hands and toss and massage that oil in, so all the stalks are completely coated. Lay them back down in a single layer. Give them a generous salting and a grind of pepper and chuck the pan in the oven.

Roast for about 30 minutes at 400F until tender but still retaining a bit of spine. Fat stalks might take longer, skinny, less long.

  • You may like to push the time in the oven until the asparagus browns, if you like that roasty, almost-burnt flavor, like I do.
  • You can roast them with lemon slices on top, too, if you swing that way.
  • While they’re good hot, they’re also fine at room temperature, or even cold out of the fridge in salad-like applications.

How to make your soup wonderful: Wild food soup stock

nettle soup stock

We’ve mentioned urban foragers and foodie extraordinaires Pascal Baudard and Mia Wasilevic before. They not only forage food, but go on to make really good stuff with it. One of their websites is Urban Outdoor Skills, and I like to go there to check out a section called the Food Lab, where they talk about food products they’re experimenting with, and give how-to’s.

A few months ago Erik brought home a beautiful bouquet of nettles. I decided to try one of the Food Lab projects that intrigued me — Wild Food Soup Stock Preserved with Salt. This is no more than a bunch of finely chopped vegetables, herbs and greens (wild or not) mixed with plenty of salt to preserve it.  I made mine with onion, celery, parsley and those nettles. It makes a strong, salty paste that keeps well in the fridge. My first jar is almost finished, and I’ve been using it for months. It still looks good.

Pascal says this is a traditional European method of making instant soup stock, but instead of using it as a stock by itself, I’ve been using it as a finishing touch at the end of cooking up a pot of something.  It really helps at that tricky moment when you’re standing over your soup pot, spoon in hand, asking yourself, What does this soup need? Somehow it improves the flavor in a subtle, magical way–and in the meantime, garnishes the soup with tiny bright confetti flecks of green. Note that this stuff is super-salty–so I hold back on the salt until I add this, and then add more if necessary.

Is Urban Homesteading Over With?


It seems that we’re back in a period of irrational exuberance. I know because I keep hearing about people lining up to buy crumbling 1,000 square foot bungalows in dodgy Los Angeles neighborhoods for $1,000,000. History tells us that during these periods folks ditch their chicken coops and vegetable gardens and head to the mall to shop.

I hope I’m wrong, that during our next economic bubble people will be more sensible. And the fundamentals have not changed, specifically the uncertain future of fossil fuels. I’m not trading my trips to the feed store for a shopping spree at Hot Topic anytime soon.

So I thought I’d plug a few search terms relating to urban homesteading into Google Trends to see what is going on. This is, of course, highly unscientific–Google Trends may just reflect media generated interest, not what people are actually doing. Here’s what I found:

Backyard Chickens

Many urban homesteading activities are seasonal–in spring people start searching for information on chickens and vegetable gardens, so you’ll see upward spikes towards the end of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Judging from the results on “backyard chickens,” it looks like that it’s a trend that is growing in popularity. Some of this activity may be related to legalization efforts, but I’d like to think that it reflects a growing dissatisfaction with our industrial agriculture system.

Gardening

It seems that searches for gardening of all kinds–I tried “vegetable gardening,” “vegetable seeds,” “rose pruning” and “lawn care,” are down. I think this may reflect a demographic shift–an older generation dying off. We need to get young people gardening!

Bread Baking

No wonder I can’t seem to offer enough bread baking classes.

Bicycles


Cycling is down, but I’m sure this reflects disenchantment with Lance Armstrong and professional cycling.

Searches for “bike commuting” are up slightly.

It’s inevitable that media interest in home ec topics will decline when the stock market is up. Just remember how quickly vegetable gardens and chicken coops were abandoned in the 1980s. But I have a good feeling that the lessons of the last few years will stick better than they did in the 1970s. What do you think?

Citified Parched Corn

parched corn

Dried corn on the left, parched corn with peas and blueberries on right

I was thinking about trail food, and wishing for a portable snack which was not based on nuts and chocolate chips (though there’s nothing wrong with that!) or too sugary, like dried fruit or energy bars. Then I recalled parched corn.

Parched corn–dried corn which has been roasted–is one of those legendary Native American foods, like pemmican, which you hear about but don’t necessarily ever get to try. Parched corn is a lightweight, long-keeping, high-energy trail food. It can also be ground into flour and used in cooking. I have vague elementary school memories of claims that a warrior* could walk a whole day nourished on just a handful of parched corn.

(They did not mention that the warrior might be cranky at the end of the day–which I suspected might be the case. I’ve heard similar claims about Roman soldiers marching on handfuls of barley. Poor guys. But now that I’ve tried parched corn, I must admit that it is strangely filling. I managed to spoil my supper by doing too much tasting as I roasted the corn. So maybe the claim are real and–geek alert!– parched corn is our homegrown Lembas bread.)

Parched corn, being tasty and useful, was widely adopted by the Europeans who arrived here. So it was turned out to be the Official Snack Food of wagon trains and trappers and the like.

I went looking for a recipe and found my idea was hardly original. Preppers and outdoorstypes love their parched corn and there are plenty of recipes and tips out there. The only thing that I have to offer that is different is that this is a rather sissified, citified, consumerist version of parched corn.  And it is delicious. Chewy, sweet, a little salty… and most of all, corny.

Continue reading…

Someone Please Buy Me a KoMo Grain Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

KoMo Medium Mill

So out of the hundreds of vendors I visited at the Natural Foods Expo I’m literally down to only one that I found interesting: KoMo grain mills. Being an avid fan of baking German style breads such as Volkornbrot, I almost fainted with excitement when I stepped up to the booth of Pleasant Hill Grain, who imports KoMo mills to the US.

KoMo’s products are designed by a German/Austrian team, Peter Koidl and Wolfgang Mock. Unlike cheaper grain mills that have metal grinders, Komo mills use a corundum/ceramic stones. This kind of material generates less heat and higher quality flour. KoMo makes quite a few models in varying capacities. Some are motorized and some are manual. They also make an interchangeable milling insert if you need to keep glutenous and non-glutenous products separate.

The salesperson showed me how easy it is to disassemble the mill for cleaning.  The two models I was considering were the KoMo Magic and the KoMo Medium Grain Mill. I got so excited that I had to use supernatural powers of resistance to keep the credit card from flying out of my wallet on the spot.

Komo's "FlicFloc Manual Flaker."

Komo’s “FlicFloc Manual Flaker.”

In addition to grain mills they also make a manual flaker, the “FlicFloc” with a striking, triangular design. For now, I’ll stick with my crapular $30 surplus store flaker. They also make a number of kitchen granaries that had me reaching for the credit card.

The only downside I can see to KoMo products is price. But these mills seem so well designed that I’m fairly certain they will long outlive cheaper mills. If you have one please leave a comment.

Thankfully there’s an entire youtube channel devoted to spinning KoMo grain mill porn. I’m cancelling my Netflix! And, sorry, but I have to note how much these mills look like a herma (NSFW!)