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!

Backyard Orchard Culture

How small can you go? An image from the Dave Wilson website demonstrating one way to keep a fruit tree a manageable size.

Damn. I wish I had heard this lecture twelve years ago when we bought our house. “Rock star orchardist” Tom Spellman, a sales manager with Dave Wilson nursery, gave a remarkable talk last night on how to create your own backyard orchard. He began by dismissing most advice on growing fruit trees, noting that it is intended for commercial orchards and is completely irrelevant for backyard fruit growers. Few of you reading this blog, after all, have to worry about having space to maneuver a tractor. Spellman outlined what he considers the three key components of a successful small scale backyard orchard:

1. Successive harvest. With careful choice of varieties you can create a mini orchard that produces consistently throughout the year (or growing season in colder climates). You don’t want a bunch of trees that all ripen in July. In his own yard Spellman planted four varieties of avocados, each of which produce fruit at different times, so that he can have a crop year round. You could also, say, plant three kinds of peaces that each mature successively. Or, plant a fig, an apple tree, a pomegranate and a lemon tree that will produce in different months. The Dave Wilson nursery has a handy ripening sequence chart, that you can use to plan what to plant.

2. Size control. Basically you don’t want fruit trees in a backyard orchard, you want fruit shrubs. Rather than one 30-foot tree in a 10 by 12 space, plant four or more and prune them vigorously so that their  branches are within easy reach. The possibilities for intensive fruit tree planting are endless: trees can be planted four or even six in one hole, espaliered, grafted, arranged into hedges, even braided together. But whatever the techinque, the goal is the same–tight spacing, short trees. You don’t want to have to go up on a ladder to harvest, and you don’t want 300 pounds of apples all at one time. Follow commercial standards and you’ll have huge, hard to manage fruit trees in your backyard. Follow Spellman’s backyard orchard guidelines and you’ll have many small trees and never be without fruit.

3. Grow what you will use. Spellman told the story of someone who went down to their local big box store and bought six trees for five dollars each. The problem was that he had bought six quince trees and did not know what to do with the fruit. Grow flavorful varieties that you can’t buy at the market. One quince tree is fine (we have one) but six is way too many.

Some other points Spellman made:

  • Pruning: Spellman suggests size control in the summer and detail work in the winter. (Note: this pruning advice is for our climate in California.)
  • Commercial growers focus on eye appeal over taste. You can’t buy decent stone fruit at the market, so stone fruit is a great thing to grow at home or buy at a farmer’s market.
  • It’s never too late to start a backyard orchard or to modify what you’ve got. Even huge fruit trees can be knocked back to a manageable size through radical pruning. You may lose a season or two of fruit, but you’ll have more room to squeeze in more trees. Don’t be afraid to bust out the chainsaw!
  • Be wary of most fruit tree growing advice as universities focus on research intended for commercial growers. In particular, the spacing suggested by many sources is way too far apart. Even many commercial growers are beginning to space tighter and keep trees shorter, a result of workman’s compensation lawsuits (workers falling out of those tall trees). More intensive growing has resulted in greater productivity as an unintended result of those lawsuits.
  • Pay attention to rootstock! Rootstocks are developed for varying soil and climate conditions. Every grafted fruit tree should have two tags on it–the tree and the rootstock–don’t buy a tree whose rootstock is unknown and make sure you grow trees with rootsocks developed for your climate and soil. Dave Wilson has a hand guide to rootstocks on their website, with their advantages and disadvantages here
  • Mulch like crazy! Mulching brings bioactivity to the soil, reduces weeds and saves water.Use 2 to 4 inches–according to research less than 2-inches is bad, more than 4 a waste of effort. 
  • Fertilize fruit trees with with organic fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in potassium and phosphorus. Nitrogen promotes vegetative growth at the expense of fruit and, again, you get a tree that’s too tall to manage. Fertilizers should also contain humic acid and micro nutrients. I’d add that a soil test is always a good idea. Our soil is already very high in potassium and phosphorus.
  • Make your first pruning cut knee high–i.e. chop that little tree off at the knee. This will be the start of a pruning strategy that keeps your tree small and manageable. 
  • When you get trees at the nursery buy small trees–don’t waste your money on large trees that have been sitting around in their pots too long. The small tree will quickly catch up to the large tree and you’ll save money.
  • When you plant four or more trees in one hole keep all the trees pruned to the height of the weakest tree.
  • In heavy clay soils, plant trees in raised mulch beds.
  • Fruit trees and berries work great in containers, just remember to prune them and keep them small.
  • Squirrel control: get a dog, use a have-a-heart trap or shoot-em!
  • Another reason to keep trees pruned small is so that you can throw bird netting over them. Use the netting for only a short time–2 to 3 weeks. Roll the netting up on a cylindrical object, like a piece of pvc pipe, for storage.
  • To get decent sized fruit, thin the fruit off the tree when it’s the size of a pea. Some trees you might have to thin upwards of 90% of the fruit.
  • Whitewash trees with sensitive trunks if you’re in a hot sunny climate. To make whitewash use a 2/3rds water to 1/3 cheap white paint mixture.

For extensive how-to fruit growing advice see http://www.davewilson.com/. Dave Wilson also has a “Fruit Tube” video channel here. I’m canceling Netflix!

Dave Wilson is a wholesale nursery. To order their trees, Tree People fruit tree expert Steve Hofvendahl recommends ordering through Bay Laurel Nursery. You can order trees now for January delivery.

A special thanks to Altadena Heritage who hosted this talk and put on an amazing series of lectures. Friend them in Facebook to get the lowdown on upcoming events.

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.

A New Fitness Craze: The Kayak Balance Stool

Gif Created on Make A Gif

Today I canceled my YMCA membership and started to put together my own home gym. Bored with the usual gym accouterments, I’ve set out to build some fitness equipment on my own starting with a kayak balance stool.

I discovered this idea in Christopher Cunningham’s book Building the Greenland Kayak. To make your kayak balance stool, find a piece of scrap wood. I used a 2 x 8 and cut it to fit my ass to toe dimensions. Cut two end boards, each a foot long. Attach the end boards to the sittin’ board with some bolts or sturdy screws. The deeper the curve on the bottom of the end boards, the more tippy it gets. Cunningham suggests a depth of 1 1/2 inches to start. I’d suggest making that curve a bit on the “pointy” side, as any flatness will lead to a lack of tippitude.

Why do this? I’ve been taking a few kayak lessons lately which have showcased my inflexible hamstrings. Mrs. Homegrown describes my flexibility as that of a ginger bread man and my swimming as being like, “throwing a 2 by 4 in the water.” I’m hoping spending a few minutes a day on the kayak simulator will improve flexibility and strengthen core muscles that keep you steady in the water while kayaking. I’ll note my bad form in the animation above. I’m guessing it’s better to use your core to stabilize, rather than moving your legs.

According to Cunningham Inuit children in Greenland got a meaty bone to nibble on while they practiced on one of these things. I’m going to skip the bone for some reading material and slowly increase my time on the board.

For a fancy kayak balance board tip yourself over here.

Note from Mrs. Homestead:

Came home last night to find Erik had made this highly attractive new toy on the porch. I was actually somewhat intrigued, because it looks like it could be used to build core strength whilst reading cheap novels. Top that, pilades!

A few observations from first use. First, only Skinny-Butt Erik could seat himself comfortably on an 8″ wide plank. I’m discomforted by the issue of…um…overhang. Most folks would be well-advised to make the plank more along the the lines of 10 -12″.  12″ boards are hard to find, but the seat could be made of a 3 2×4″s. 

Beyond that, I also found the 1 1/2″ rise a little too easy to master. But we’ve learned you can make it harder by putting your feet flat on the board, thus changing your center of gravity.  Nonetheless, we’ll probably be making the curve steeper very soon.

Hops in Containers Update

“And I behold in breath of space
The autumn’s winter sleep.
The summer’s life has given
Itself into my keeping.”
-Rudolf Steiner The Calendar of the Soul Week 23

We’re going to drink “summer’s life” this winter. Year two of my hops (Humulus lupulus) in self irrigating pot experiment has yielded enough of a crop for at least one batch of beer. Read more about how we grew our containerized hops here. Some things I’ve learned:

1. There are two types of hops, bittering and aroma. Beer recipes call for both. Find out what varieties of hops grow in your climate, choose a type of beer you like, and plant at least one aroma and one bittering variety for hops self-sufficiency. I settled on cascade (very easy to grow) and nugget, both of which, when combined, make for a nice American pale ale.

2. Plant your hops somewhere where you will see them every day. I’ve enjoyed watching our hops bines grow just outside our bedroom window. They’ve come to symbolize summer for me as well as a restful night’s sleep. Plus the harvest window is brief and you need to keep a close eye on those cones–when the they get papery it’s time to pick them. I dry them for a few hours in our solar dehydrator, but you could also just let them dry for a few days inside with a fan pointed at them. After drying they go into bags in the freezer.

3. Plant hops in such a way that you can access them for easy harvest. Hops grow upwards of ten to twenty feet and beyond. If you can harvest them safely without cutting them down you might be able to squeeze more than one crop out of them in a season.

4. Hops need rich soil. I’m considering putting them in the ground next year with a lot of compost. I fertilized them in their containers, but clearly they could have used more nutrients. I did not get as much of a crop as I did the first year.

5. Hops are apparently deadly to dogs, so  be careful if you have a pooch. I don’t know if they will eat them off the bine, but they’ll definitely try to get them in the compost pile.

6. Prune to the strongest two bines for each plant and train them in a “V” shape. It’s really important to keep different varieties labeled and separate so, come harvest time, you know which one is which.

While painting the south side of our house I put up a pulley and rope system so that I can grow more hops. The pulleys will enable me to lower the bines during the August/September harvest season. More on our hops planting plans next spring.

Hipster Honeybear

Mrs. Homegrown here:

Erik puts molasses in his coffee and keeps the molasses in an old honeybear. I’m endlessly amused by the honeybear’s resulting mustache. Now, if he just had the handlebar mustache, I’d take him for a hip kid, one of those boys in tight jeans pedaling their fixie whips around the neighborhood. But it looks like he’s got a soul patch, too. So he’s either a refugee from the 90′s (Grunge being the last great soul patch era), or perhaps a jazz musician? Or, if you squint and pretend his cap is a beret, a Frenchman.

Citron

The Citron (Etrog) and its anatomy.

I just attended a fascinating lecture by fruit expert David Karp on the history of the citron (Citrus medica) or etrog in Aramaic. I’ve only encountered citron in a candied form buried deep within a fruit cake. I’ve also seen the bizarre Buddha’s Hand, another kind of citron popular in Asia as both food and medicine. What I did not know is the significance of citron in Jewish history. Citron is used in the rituals of the harvest festival of Sukkot. According to Karp, a tree mentioned in a passage in the Torah, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of goodly trees.” was, at some point, interpreted as citron.

For orthodox Jews the citron must be perfect. Teams of rabbis equipped with magnifying glasses and jeweler’s loupes carefully inspect each fruit, with prized specimens going for several hundred dollars.  Karp said this has had unintended consequences. It’s virtually impossible to grow perfect citron without pesticides. Workers in citron growing areas have increased rates of cancer. And it’s forbidden under Jewish law to use the fruit of a grafted citron tree, or even a tree descended from a grafted tree, making growing healthy specimens even more difficult.

I have to say that after taste-testing citron products in the courtyard after the lecture I was not at all tempted to snag one of the trees that Karp gave away. And the intricacies of Jewish law make growing citron for ritual use an arduous and expensive proposition–sadly, citron will not be a road to riches for us, even in our perfect growing climate here in Los Angeles. We’ll stick with our quince and apricot trees which, incidentally, along with citron are contenders for the forbidden fruit of the garden of Eden (most apples don’t grow in Mediterranean climates). 

For more on the history of citron see, “The Secret Life of Etrogs” in the Jewish Journal.

Bean Fest, Episode 4: Frijoles Refritos

Refritos are not photogenic, so I decided to show the more tempting end use. Photo by Ernesto Andrade.

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I can’t believe I’ve never made frijoles refritos--refried beans–before. All these years of scooping that suspicious stuff out of the can–what was I thinking??? Now I see refritos as the natural destiny of any leftover beans.

Refried beans (that name is a mistranslation–refrito means well cooked, not re-fried, but the name stuck) are simply cooked beans that are mashed in a frying pan along with some seasonings and fat. What makes them a little shady to the health conscious and vegetarian set is that they are traditionally fried in lard. But vegetable oil can be used just as well, and I’d add for the sake of fairness, that real, home cooked lard from well-raised pigs is not such a bad fat. For what it’s worth.

To make refried beans you just need to have some cooked beans on hand, the classic choice being pintos.  In Tex-Mex cooking the pintos meant for refritos are first cooked with onion, garlic and a pork rind. Considering that refritos are fried in a bath in oil, garlic and onion, you could theoretically start with very plain boiled beans. But on the other hand, if the beans are tasty at the start, they’ll just be all that more tasty after frying with yet more onion and garlic. Which brings us back to the idea of them being the perfect use for leftover beans. I think this would work well with any leftover beans, whatever the type.

I cooked up my pintos for dual purpose eating. Half were to go over rice, and half reserved for this experiment, so I my beans weren’t plain. Because I liked John’s Bastardized Puerto Rican beans from last week so much, I followed that technique and did a long saute of onion, garlic and parsley in the bottom of the bean pot, then added the drained, pre-soaked pintos and enough stock to cover the beans by about an inch. These I simmered uncovered for a little more than an hour until everything was tender, then I added lots of salt and pepper.

The leftovers from that batch were put in the fridge overnight to become frijoles refritos.

If you read a refried bean recipe, it will ask you to drain your cooked beans and reserve the bean stock. So if you have a pot of beans with lots of liquid, do that: drain and reserve the liquid. My cooked beans were cold, and whatever liquid they still had around them had congealed into a sort of bean gravy.  Don’t worry if that’s true for you–don’t worry about any of it. Refritos are so easy to make its impossible to go wrong. Keep reading.

Just get yourself a big frying pan. Heat up a couple tablespoons of oil or fat of your choice in the bottom. Add a good quantity of minced onion. (I used 1/2 an onion for 3 cups of beans). Saute until the onion turns translucent. Then add in a clove or two of minced garlic, if you like, and cook that for another minute or so. If you like spicy beans, at this point you could also add some chopped fresh hot peppers or some red pepper flakes.

Once this flavor base is established, add a couple of cups of cooked beans to the pan and mash them with a potato masher or back of a spatula, stirring as you go to mix in all the fat and flavor. Here’s a little hint: if you’re making a big batch, don’t put all your beans in the pan at once, because smashing them will become a nightmare. Start with a couple of cups, mash those, then add more bit by bit.

Your goal is to make the beans into a paste, so you have take them to the correct level of dryness–and that is going to be dictated by your own personal preference. So if you’re smashing up well drained beans, you’d add the reserved liquid back in 1/4 cup at a time, until the beans had reached the consistency you like. In my case, I couldn’t separate the beans and liquid in my leftovers. As it turned out, they mashed up a little too wet, but the excess moisture quickly cooked off. If they’d seemed too dry, I would have just added a little water–or stock, if I had some.

That’s really all there is to it. It only takes a few minutes. Taste the beans as you go and adjust the seasoning. More salt is always a good call. It’s up to you whether you want a chunky or smooth texture. Make the beans richer, almost silky, by adding a little more oil or fat as you’re mashing and cooking.

Once they’re done, they’re ready for all the classic applications: burritos, quesadillas, sopes, tostadas, dips. They’re also good eaten with a spoon, hot out of a bowl with a little cheese and maybe some diced tomatoes or avocado on top.

***

Bean Fest continues next Friday! If you have a favorite recipe, send it in.

Behold the Squash Baby

He’d lay down his life for his squash baby

Mrs. Homegrown here:

It’s 36 inches long as of today, and mystifying passers-by. I think I underestimated its size in the first post, where I claimed it was 20 inches. It was probably closer to 30″ at that point. The curvature makes it hard to judge. (I love the way it arches out of the raised bed–see the pic below). The thing is actually inching into the driveway now. Every time I pull the car into the garage I worry that I’ll clip it.  How would I ever face Erik again?

(For backstory on this, click here.)

I wanted to remove the nasturtium and other leaves blocking the view of the squash for this photo, but Erik cried, “No, you’ll ruin the camouflage!”