Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I fell into temptation and bought Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider: A California Indian Feast at the Theodore Payne Foundation this week. I should know by now not to look around that book store. Like Ulysses, I should tie myself to the mast–pay for my native plants and get out. Somehow it never works.

Seaweed, Salmon is a pretty little book. Paperback, thin, but coffee table worthy, because it’s so interesting and at the same time, skimmable. A good gift book. It’s a loose collection of folklore, personal narrative, recipes and preparation tips for wild foods, well-illustrated with color photos. (It is not, however, a plant identification book.)

Yes, I’m on the California Indian/native plant train again (see my recent recommendations) but the wild foods discussed in this book are not exclusively Californian. It covers all sorts of common wild foods, like acorns, elderberries, and rosehips, as well as wild game. They discuss coastal foods like oysters and seaweed, as well as Southwest-specific foods, like yucca, agave, and our ever-prolific friend, the prickly pear.

What I like best about it are the personal stories, and after our turkey business last week, I’m drawn to the stories about hunting. There’s one arresting reminicence of how this man’s mother went into the woods alone with a gun, took down a big buck, dressed it and hauled half of it up a tree, carried the other half back to her camp, and treed that, too…and woke the next morning to find a mountain lion stalking the campsite. And I complain about picking pinfeathers out of turkey carcasses!

It’s worth a look. I just checked and found that it’s in the LA library system (doh!), so if you’re not in a spending mood, maybe you’ll find it at your library, too.

Gift Suggestions, from the Other Half

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Of course Mr. Homegrown didn’t ask me for input on “our” holiday gift guide. Not that I dispute his choices…but I do have some of my own.

These are the 4 most thought provoking books (in this topic area) I’ve read this year:

The first two are closely related, as they are about the horticultural practices of Native Americans in California. You might remember me writing about them earlier.  Apologies for the California bias:

Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West, by Celia Garcia and James D. Adams, Jr., Abedus Press, 2009

Co-authored by a Chumash healer and a USC pharmacology prof., both of whom write for Wilderness Way magazine. A fascinating resource documenting both historical uses and current scientific opinion on our native plants.

My post on it is here.

Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural ResourcesTending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources by M. Kat Anderson, University of California Press, 2006

I’m still fascinated with this book’s thesis: that California Indians actively managed the California landscape, shaping it into the verdant paradise that awed the first European settlers to arrive here. They were practicing food forestry in it’s most advanced form, as well as wild life management.

This book also introduced me to a concept I’m also still trying to wrap my head around: the idea that plants need us as much as we need them. Our relationship is symbiotic.  Paradise isn’t wild. Plants want to be tended, and they miss our hand. Seems these days we’re either entirely ignoring them or micromanaging them–mandating monocultures and whatnot.  My original review here.

***

The second two suggestions are also related to one another, being about people who are passionate about DIY living. We’ve also talked about these on this blog. And yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, we know both authors and we’re mentioned in both books. It doesn’t make them any less inspirational for me.

Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway WorldMade by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World, by BoingBoing co-founder and Make Magazine editor in chief Mark Frauenfelder

A quote from Erik’s reviewMade by Hand is not a how-to book it is, paradoxically, the most practical DIY book I’ve read in a long time. Why? Because it’s all about facing that fear of failure, the single greatest obstacle to actually getting out there and doing things.

Despite some internet flapage, the movement she describes is not about putting women back into a state of servitude, or about forcing everybody to wear hair shirts for the sake of abstract, green ideals. I think she does a fine job of showing that homemakers encompass both genders, and that these ideals are neither abstract nor trendy. Radical homemakers work from a place of deep passion and resolve. It’s not for everybody, but it’s probably for more people than we think. If that makes any sense at all. A good discussion-starting sort of book.

Our Holiday Gift Suggestions

That dreaded holiday seasons is just around the corner. With unemployment still high we hope that many of you have negotiated a family gift truce to limit tedious shopping. Or perhaps you’re making things to give away.

But if you still need to get a little something for that special homesteader on your shopping list, we’ve got a few suggestions from our Homegrown Evolution Amazon Store. Even if you just click through the store and buy something else, your purchases will help support this website with no additional cost to you. Here’s a few suggestions from out list:

Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy

Edible Landscaping


Rosalind Creasy just came out with a completely rewritten version of her classic book Edible Landscaping. The book is full of dazzling photos, helpful design suggestions and a long plant list with detailed growing and harvesting directions. I’ve been carefully reviewing this book as we redesign our yard. Especially helpful has been Creasy’s suggestion to draw a plan, to scale, and create lists of design ideas and problem areas. Going through this process helped me spot a few issues that I otherwise would have missed.

Haws Watering Can

Haws Practican Plastic Watering Can – 6 Liters 

The Haws Practican Plastic Watering Can – 6 Liters is the Cadillac of watering cans. I don’t know how I survived without this thing. For starting seedlings, nothing compares to the gentle rain this sturdy, well made can produces. Yes, it costs a lot more that most watering cans, but it will last a lifetime and pay for itself in healthy seedlings.

REOTEMP Compost Thermometer

At a raffle we recently attended at the Huntington Gardens a gasp actually went up from the crowd when this item, the REOTEMP Backyard Compost Thermometer, came up. It’s a handy tool to assess the health of your compost and judge when its time to turn. I use it all the time. 
The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

Then there’s our book, The Urban Homestead Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, now in a revised edition.  Enough said.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping


If you’d like to get started in beekeeping there’s only one book out there that I can recommend. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Beekeeping by Dean Stiglitz and Laurie Herboldsheimer. It’s the only beekeeping book that advocates a completely natural, no-treatment method of beekeeping.

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Perennial Vegetables: From Artichokes to Zuiki Taro, A Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious and Easy to Grow Edibles  by Eric Toensmeier is the perfect gift for the permaculturalist on your list. With it you can design a food forest of hardy, easy to care for perennials that provide food, medicine and habitat for beneficial creatures.
Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis
Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition 
When it comes to gardening, it’s all about the soil. Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis summarizes the pioneering work of Elaine Ingham who views soil not as an inert list of chemicals, but rather as a living “soil food web.” You don’t feed the soil, you feed the organisms that inhabit the soil that, in turn, form beneficial symbiotic relationships with plants.
The Modern Utopian
The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities Then and Now 
Our publisher, Process Media, has come out with a collection of writings from the 60s and 70s back to the land era, The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communities Then and Now. The book is a collection of first person accounts and underground journalism from the period. Some communities are still around, but most failed. This book takes you inside this turbulent era to show what worked and what didn’t.
These books and garden items and many more are available in the Homegrown Evolution Amazon Store. Thanks for your support!

Return of Bean Friday: Bean Broth or “Tuscan Crazy Water”

Yep, Bean Friday rears its head again–or is it Frugal Friday?

Whatever it is, I’ve got this thrifty idea for you. I read about in The Italian Country Table, by Lynn Rossetto Casper. We’ve had this book for years and years, and it has some really good recipes in it that have become standards in our house, along just with a couple of duds. I’d not paid attention to her entry on “Crazy Water” before, but by her introduction, I realized it was just the sort of thrifty cooking we’ve been focusing on here during Bean Fest. The only question for me was whether this recipe was a keeper or a dud, because it sounded pretty strange. The truth is it’s sort of in between.

According to Caspar, Tuscans like to cook beans with plenty of aromatics in lots of water, and then reserve that water as a broth. The bean broth is called Acqua Pazza, crazy water.

“This soup is a revelation” is how she opens the recipe. And later she claims it could be mistaken for chicken broth. That might be the problem–I was expecting twinkling lights and perhaps a chorus from a boys’ choir when I tasted it. What I got was a swallow of thin broth which tastes mostly like warm water when it first hits the tongue, but really does have a very nice, savory aftertaste. It’s delicate.

Caspar suggests serving it in bowls with croutons. I don’t have that much faith in it. But it is a decent vegetarian stock. It goes very well over rice, and I suspect it would be an excellent broth for cooking rice and other grains. I am fond of the waste-not, want-not philosophy behind it, and also the time saving angle. You can make a pot of beans for dinner, and end up with a supply of broth as a side benefit.

So now that all of those qualifications are done, this is how you make the broth:

First, you can’t use just any dried bean. Use light beans, like cannellini, pinto or borlotti. She particularly recommends chickpeas. I used pintos. Don’t use any dark or earthy bean, like black beans or black eyed peas. For fresh beans, she recommends cranberry beans or scarlet runners.

Basically you’re making a pot of beans with extra water. Simple stuff. I doubled her recipe, which only called for 1 cup of dried beans. I soaked 2 cups of dried pintos overnight. The next day I drained them and put them in a heavy pot and poured 2 inches of fresh water over them. To that water I added:

  • 8 fresh sage leaves
  • 6 good sized cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 medium onion sliced in half and studded with 4 whole cloves

(Just fyi, her recipe calls for 8 sage leaves per 1 cup of dried beans. I chose not to double the sage.)

Throw these seasonings in with the beans. Bring the pot to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Don’t stir. This is supposed to make the broth clear. (It didn’t really help in my case). Foam might appear on top of the water–it did for me, but it vanished by the end of the cooking time.

Simmer the beans on low, covered, until tender but not falling apart. My pintos cooked in only 30 minutes. A speed record! The plenitude of water means you don’t have to worry about sticking or burning.

At the very end, add salt and pepper.

Strain the broth from the beans. She notes that the Tuscans dress these beans at the table using salt, pepper, olive oil and maybe vinegar.  I tried it, and it’s fine. Solid. Not super exciting, but healthy and hearty. I served the beans over rice with some of the broth. Another possibility, maybe a better possibility, would be to reserve the beans for a higher purpose, like frijoles refritos, or hummus-like applications.

The broth doesn’t keep. You know how stinky beans can get when forgotten in the fridge. I don’t even want to know what might happen to this broth. So use it the next day, or freeze it for the next time you need stock.

I got about 6 cups of bean broth from this recipe.

Anyone done anything similar? Any advice?

Learn How to Compost Via the Humanure Handbook

The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure, Third EditionComposting ain’t rocket science but it does require some finesse. Following up on an earlier post which contained a comparison of different composters, I thought I’d mention my favorite written resource on how to compost. In my opinion, the best writing on the subject comes from a surprising source, the Humanure Handbook by Joeseph Jenkins. Best of all, an edition of this book is available online for free. Even if you have no intention of composting human waste, The Humanure Handbook contains excellent directions on how to easily maintain a hot n’ healthy compost pile. You can access the free edition here. Jenkins also has a bunch of great how-to videos here.

On the subject of humanure, news coverage of the terrible cholera outbreak in Haiti only gets half of the story. I keep hearing the press refer to the problem as one of a “lack of access to clean water.” True, but the other half of the problem is what Jenkin’s Humanure book is about, keeping human waste out of waterways in the first place and turning it into a resource rather than a disposal problem.

Einkorn Pasta

Jovial Organic Whole Grain Einkorn Penne Rigate, 12-Ounce Packages (Pack of 6)A publicist representing Jovial Foods contacted us about trying out a new product they are marketing, pasta made with einkorn wheat. Einkorn is either the first or one of the first grains to be cultivated. We tried two of Jovial’s einkorn products, a whole grain einkorn spagehtti and a whole grain einkorn fusilli. Both were tasty, well made pastas, superior to a Trader Joes whole wheat pasta we compared them to in a taste test. I think I’ll pick up a box of einkorn pasta occasionally, if just to cast a vote with my dollars for biodiversity.

Einkorn also has some possible health benefits. A 2006 study  in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that einkorn may present “new dietary opportunities for celiac patients” who normally can’t eat wheat products. Jovial’s website cautions, however, that einkorn has not yet been evaluated by the FDA for consumption by celiac patients. Einkorn does contain gluten but it may be in a “more digestible” form than other wheat varieties according to Jovial.

I’ve found Jovial’s einkorn products at Whole Foods and on Amazon.

See the Jovial Foods website for more information on their einkorn pastas and where you can purchase them..

Read more about einkorn in an article by Jared Diamond, “Location, Location, Location: The First Farmers.”

An editorial note: We get a lot of press releases and ignore most of them or recycle the choice ones into April Fools day fodder. Unlike conscientious bloggers, many newspapers and magazines turn the same press releases into articles. Every once in awhile a press release catches our eye. Our policy is to only review things we like and would buy or use ourselves. We also promise to disclose when a blog post idea originates from a press release.

Sometimes we also link to Amazon. Your purchases through those links help defray our costs. And speaking of Amazon, a search for “einkorn” turned up the following oddball item, just in time for Halloween:

Keeping Chickens by Ashley English

Homemade Living: Keeping Chickens with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock It’s about time someone got around to writing this book. The people have been demanding a concise, clearly illustrated guide to raising chickens for eggs in urban and suburban situations and Ashley English has delivered the goods with Keeping Chickens All You Need to Know to Care for a Happy, Healthy Flock. You may remember Ashley from our first, and so far only, Homegrown Evolution podcast. Keeping Chickens covers breeds, how to get chickens, how to build a coop, hatching eggs, feeding and more. There’s also a few really nice recipes for what to do with all those eggs including an omelet recipe I’ve been using since I got the review copy. You can see that recipe and a few sample pages on Ashley’s website Small Measure. Good straightforward advice here, all delivered with really nice photos. If you’re thinking of starting a backyard flock I’d pick up this handy book. Now go out and build that coop!

Passport to Survival

One of the dusty corners of the Homegrown Evolution reference library holds two examples of a book genre I always look out for: the Mormon survival manual. As far as I can tell, these tomes assume we’re, “in the last days,” a period for which the Latter Day Saints hierarchy suggests keeping a two year supply of food for your household. Having just seen the grim Cormac McCarthy/Viggo Mortensen vehicle “The Road” and not wanting to have to resort to cannibalism (those folks at the Wal-Mart sure don’t look appetizing!), I cracked open my Mormon survival books starting with Esther Dickey’s Passport to Survival.

The astonishing thing about the 110 recipes in Dickey’s book is that they make use, almost exclusively, of only four ingredients: wheat, salt, honey and powdered milk. This makes Passport to Survival one of the most unusual cookbooks ever written. From these easily stored and inexpensive raw materials Dickey makes everything from tacos to ice cream. The fake meat that forms the centerpiece of her suggested meals is made by extracting gluten from flour and then making seitan. Your greens come from sprouting wheat. Here’s a few recipes and meals:

“#26. Mock Tater Tots

1/4 cup dry milk
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup thick starch #14a

Combine, and drop mixture from a teaspoon onto a cookie sheet Bake until brown. (Make tater tots miniature size).”

Ever resourceful, Dickey’s thick starch is the leftover water made from extracting the gluten from the wheat.

“#83. Soft Ice Cream (Emergency Flavor)

1 cup dry milk
3 cups water
3 tbs.honey

Mix, put in shallow tray, and freeze solid. Break in small chunks and beat with electric mixer, bender or juicer. Serve in miniature cones made from dough #51.”

Dickey whips up some lavish meals for the bunker, again, with just flour, salt, honey and powdered milk:


“Tuesday supper: “Hors d’oeuvres #27, green cream soup #70 and #73, thin sticks #9, wheatburgers #36, oven-cracked wheat #46d, soft ice cream #83 with caramel syrup #84, barber pole sticks #90, cold milk.”


“Monday dinner: green drink #73, emergency stew #20, noodles #27, bread sticks #38, criss-cross cookies #91.”

Dickey slept outdoors into her 90s and passed away in 2008. From her obituary,

“Nobody could say Esther had not practiced what she preached. As a young couple, Russell and Esther lived in a campground for more than two months, baking bread with a reflector oven. In her own east Multnomah County backyard, she once comfortably lived in a 15-by-4-by-6-foot cave, as an experiment. She once pushed a loaded two-wheeled metal cart to Oxbow Park along the Sandy River to live in a campsite by the river for several days.

There was one notable Thanksgiving with gluten drumsticks.”

I have the 1969 edition of Passport to Survival that I picked up on Amazon. There’s a more recent edition written by two of her daughters, but I haven’t seen it.

Should you be inspired to try your hand at wheat gluten cookin’, here’s some step by step instructions on making your own seitan from scratch on the Forkable blog.

Update 1/15/2010: I was just thumbing through my copy of the 1980 edition of the Whole Earth Catalog, and found a page devoted to Mormon survival manuals including a review of Passport to Survival. The review even included the same photo I chose for this post. This proves that:

1. The Whole Earth crew invented the internets.

2. There’s nothing I can blog about that the Whole Earth folks didn’t already cover. I owe them a tremendous debt and continue to admire their work each time I open my old copy of the catalog.

Shelter

We’ve been huge fans of author Lloyd Khan ever since reading his seminal book Shelter. For many years Khan has traveled the world chronicling indigenous and extreme DIY architecture. He has an eye for buildings that have a sense of place and a connection with nature. Reading and viewing the photos in his books you’ll pick up both practical ideas and daydream of fantastical structures at once spiritual and playful.

Like the Whole Earth Catalog, Shelter’s wide ranging and inclusive topics anticipated the non-hierarchical structure of the Internet. On one page you’re looking at Turkish rock houses, and on another geodesic domes built out of scrap materials. The lessons I’ve learned from Khan’s work are the importance of context (site, cultural, weather etc.) and the joy of putting hammer to nail to build something yourself even if you don’t know what the hell you are doing. Sometimes the most ramshackled comedies of architectural errors evolve into home. But Kahn’s encyclopedic work also celebrates craft, with many examples of builders who gathered their knowledge through many years of experience.

I go through Shelter all the time for inspiration and was thrilled to find out that Kahn has a blog (and made a nice mention of us). Some recent posts include a 12′ diameter satellite dish made into a roof and the world’s most efficient school bus.

SurviveLA Food Review: Mary Jane’s Farm Organic Buttery Herb Pasta

This guest review from one of the SurviveLA compound sistas, is the first in a look at long term food storage options. Freeze dried food like this is marketed both towards backpackers and holed-up-in-the-bunker paranoid types. Exceptionally long shelf life makes freeze dried food a good, though expensive, option for your emergency pantry.

Field Tested July 22, 2006 on Mt. Silliman

The name of this dehydrated entree is somewhat misleading. It is in fact a form of your classic boxed mac n’ cheese: elbow pasta in cheesy powder sauce, only sans the bright orange coloring. It is good, being similar to the upscale Annie’s Mac & Cheese. Maybe Annie and Mary Jane smoke pot together somewhere in OrganicVille?

I did not notice the herb flavoring, and did not miss it, because I find when you are exhausted and camping at 10,000 feet your palette is not as adventurous as it might be ordinarily. This is comfort food, and works very well in that capacity.

That said, it is ripe for doctoring, because it is so very basic. I brought along a handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes from the SurviveLA gardens (and dehydrated in the compound’s solar dehydrator – more on that in a future post), and that added the perfect amount of interest. Nuts, canned tuna, fresh veggies if you wanted to carry them, all would work well too.

You cook this entree in its own bag (a paper bag instead of a foil pouch, which is nice). All you do is add 3/4 cup of boiling water, reseal the bag and wait for ten minutes. I used a Pepsi can stove to boil the water, incidentally. It cooked well, with only a couple of the elbow noodles escaping hydrating and ending as crunchy surprises on my fork.

The pouch claims that it holds 1.5 servings: a Mary Jane’s Organics eccentricity. I scarfed the whole thing down without difficulty and I’m a girl. I think Mary Jane intends us to buy more than one dish and share them on plates like civilized beings, rather than selfishly wolfing them out of the bag. Oh well.