A Recipe for Injera


One the many searches that leads folks to this cranky web site is the topic of the Ethiopian sponge bread known as injera. We think we know what’s going on. People go out to dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant and come home wondering how to make the bread, leading to a fruitless search of the internets for a recipe and our old post about one of the ingredients, teff flour.

The recipe we used comes from the excellent book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. This is a life changing recipe book that every urban homesteader should own–so go out and buy a copy!

So here’s how we made injera based on Katz’s recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups sourdough starter (check out our post on an easy way to keep and maintain a sourdough starter)

5 cups lukewarm water

2 cups whole-wheat flour

2 cups teff flour (an Ethiopian grain available from Bob’s Red Mill at Whole Foods)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda or baking powder (optional)

Vegetable oil

1. Mix the sourdough starter, flours and water. The result should resemble a pancake batter.

2. Ferment in a warm place for 24 hours.

3. Just before you cook add the salt.

4. Katz gives several options with the baking powder/soda. He says that if you like the sour flavor and don’t mind a less bubbly bread skip the baking soda. We like sour, but we thought the final result was too sour so we added the baking soda. Katz says that using baking powder will provide leavening but leave the dough sour. Again, we recommend adding some baking soda.

5. Stir well and let sit for a few minutes after adding baking soda or powder.

6. Heat up a pan and and lightly coat it with oil.

7. Spread the batter thinly in the pan and cook on one side only. Cover the pan and cook the injera over medium heat.

Injera works as both bread and utensil and the batch we made tasted better than what we’ve been served in restaurants.

The Rag and Bone Man


Loyal Homegrown Revolution reader Ken M wrote us with a challenge for us to figure out what can be done with old rags. Ken says that he’s made a rag rug once and proposes the intriguing idea of “patching a pair of jeans with rags for so many years that eventually every single thread from the original has been worn away and replaced by rags.” This sounds a bit like a poetic inversion of Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece“, in which she sat motionless on stage and invited the audience to slice off bits of her clothing.

So what to do with the rags?

1. Compost them–cotton rags will decompose just fine.

2. Mulch–a layer of cotton will make a good first layer. We’ve used newspaper in the past with organic material on top, but in our dry climate here in LA the newspaper can actually prevent water from getting to the soil when it rains. We’re guessing that cotton might work better.

3. Household cleaning–this is obvious, but we do go through quite a few rags with our too few household cleanings, not to mention keeping the bicycle chains clean.

4. Paper making–one traditional method of paper making begins with fermenting cotton rags in water for a few weeks and then beating them to a pulp with hammers. The rag and bone man pictured above is collecting rags for paper making (the bones went to make glue and other things). The contemporary version of the rag and bone man are the thift stores that ship our old clothes to the third world putting local garment makers out of business.

Ken also speculates about weaving rags, which as this website shows, yields some attractive results. The thought of weaving with rags reminds us of the late “Slim” Sirnes, a resident of the bizarre ghost town of Goldfield Nevada, who Homegrown Revolution was privileged to have met up with a few years ago. Sirnes found a way to shred aluminum cans and weave them on a loom of his design creating a unique metallic fabric that he used as a building material and to make art. Watch Slim in action here.

Why Urban Farm?


Nicolas Poussin’s “Et in Arcadia ego

It’s been a challenging week at the Homegrown Revolution compound. We lost one chick, bringing our nascent flock down to two. We decided that since chickens are social animals to add two more in case of other unforeseen problems bringing our total up to four. Such are the cycles of life and death on the new urban homestead.

Bryan Welch, who raises livestock and is also the publisher and editor of the always informative Mother Earth News, wrote an editorial in the February issue called “Why I Farm” in which he says,

“There’s a Buddhist wisdom in the stockman’s cool compassion. The best of them seem to understand that our own lives on this Earth are as irrefutably temporary as the lives of the animals, and that we should provide as much simple comfort and dignity to our fellow creatures as we can. After all, aren’t simple comfort and dignity among the most important things we wish for ourselves and our children?”

It is with this desire to know the food we eat–if just for eggs in our case–that we’ve begun our own urban small stock journey. Welch concludes his essay eloquently, “I have a lot more death in my life than I did before. And, ironically, that’s part of the reason why I feel like I have a lot more life in my life. That’s why I farm.”

Plastic or Wood?

Some time ago the folks at the FDA and USDA recommended that we replace our wooden cutting boards with plastic ones (such as the fine Elvis model on the right). This injunction rose out of rising fears of salmonella and e-coli poisoning in our food, which are, by the way, the signature bacteria of our deplorable factory farming system. But that’s another rant.

This rant is about the boards. So as we were saying, it was out with the nasty, old-fashioned, disease harboring wood boards, and in with the shiny space age boards. We fell for it. The Homegrown Revolution compound boasts a set of plastic boards (though not Elvis ones). And now what do we find out? Researchers at both UC Davis and the University of Wisconsin, Madison have discovered that plastic is not only quite good at harboring bacteria, so good that the small cuts in a cutting board are uncleanable by any means but also, and this is the kicker, wooden boards actually kill bacteria.

Researchers inoculated plastic and wooden boards with raw chicken juice fortified with bacteria. Within three minutes 99 percent of the bacteria on the wooden boards had vanished, while the bacteria on the plastic boards remained healthy. Puzzled, the researchers left the boards to sit overnight. The next morning the plastic boards boasted a healthy and increased bacterial population, while the wooden boards tested bacteria free.

FDA Bastards! Could they not have run this simple test before scaring us into buying the plastic boards? Did the plastic industry pay them to make that recommendation?

This just drives home what we already knew, and what just proves more true every passing day: plastic sucks. It is a dreadful mistake of the last century which has to meet its end this century–though of course the plastics we’ve already made will haunt us for all eternity. [Editors note: Mr. Homegrown Revolution is not crazy about plastics either but not quite as zealous, noting that Mrs. Homegrown Revolution typed this missive on a device made almost entirely of plastic. Steve Jobs has yet to come out with an iBook made from bamboo and corn husks. That being said, this haunting video about the impact of plastic on the ocean drives home the point that we need to drastically cut back our consumption of plastics and only use them for essentials]

Okay, these are the new rules. We are going to phase as many plastics out of the homestead as we can. We won’t toss what we have in the landfill right now, but when it is time to replace it, this is how it’s going down:

Wood and metal utensils instead of plastic
Glass storage containers instead of Tupperwear
Wool blankets instead of Polarfleece blankets
Down filling instead of polyester filling (even for allergy sufferers)*
Silk and wool fabrics for athletics instead of petroleum based technical fabrics
Sigg bottles instead of plastic water bottles
Sturdy reusable shopping bags instead of disposable shopping bags
Washable dish cloths instead of cellulose sponges
General avoidance of plastic packaging at the supermarket.

*Dust mites breed in much greater profusion in synthetic bedding than in down.

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands


“The bricoleur, says Levi-Strauss, is someone who uses “the means at hand,” that is, the instruments he finds at his disposition around him, those which are already there, which had not been especially conceived with an eye to the operation for which they are to be used and to which one tries by trial and error to adapt them, not hesitating to change them whenever it appears necessary, or to try several of them at once, even if their form and their origin are heterogeneous.”

-Jacques Derrida

Homegrown Revolution loves cheap low-tech solutions (not to mention pretentious quotes), which is why we especially like “bricoleur” and Tucson rainwater harvesting guru Brad Lancaster and his ongoing book series Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands. Volume one is already out and volume two is due out this summer. Landcaster’s ingenious methods involve little more than careful observation and some work with a shovel. He suggests that harvesting rainwater begins with considering the flow of water from the highest point (which for most people will be the roof) to the lowest point in your yard and then simply figuring out simple ways to get that water to percolate into the ground to nourish your plants.

We’re especially fond of his method of hijacking street gutter runoff and directing it with a small improvised check dam into a dug out basin in the parkway. We’ve watched our neighbor’s lawn watering runoff for years and wondered if we could find a way to use that water. You can watch two videos showing Lancaster at work here. And a podcast here.

Growing Chayote

On our morning dog walk Giovanni, one of our neighbors, kindly gave us a pair of fresh chayote off of his backyard vine which covers a trellis over his carport. Giovanni has wisely intertwined the chayote with an equally prodigious passion fruit vine making for a combo that produces many pounds of fruit all summer long.

Chayote (Sechium edule), for those not in the know, is a wonder plant of the gourd family hailing from Mexico and Central America. It has a mild slightly sweet cucumber-like taste. They can be boiled, pan fried, steamed, baked, pickled or chopped up and tossed raw in a salad. Though requiring a fair amount of water, it grows like a weed here and one vine can easily produce eighty pounds of fruit. Another mark in its favor is that Chayote is a perennial and, to top it all off, the young leaves and root are also edible and the tough stalks can be made into rope.

We started a chayote plant a few months ago by simply buying a few at our local market, letting it sprout on our counter top and then planting it in the ground. Since the fruit contains only one seed you don’t need to extract it–you plant the whole thing. They are very susceptible to rotting when first planted so that may explain why we got only one out of three to grow.

Chayote is traditionally grown up over a trellis or roof and we’re growing ours on a bare trellis that covers a deck in the back yard. We’re hoping the chayote will give us a summer of both fruit and shade!

Build a Rocket Stove

Rocket stoves are a highly efficient way to cook using just small branches rather than large pieces of wood and are twice as efficient as conventional open wood burning methods. They usually consist of a heavily insulated L shaped metal pipe, at the bottom of which you put small pieces of wood. You size the pipe to fit a pot, which fits down into the pipe. Efficiency is gained by the fact that the pot is heated on the sides as well as the bottom.

Homegrown Evolution was delighted to find a how to build a rocket stove video (with a Euro disco soundtrack!) hosted by a goth dude named “vavrek”:


Other Rocket Stove Designs

The Aprovecho Research Center, a non-profit organization devoted to improving conditions in third world countries through the development of low cost, simple cooking and heating technologies have developed a number of rocket stoves that you can build for your urban homestead. They have a simple model called the VITA Stove made with sheet metal (note the better soundtrack music on the video) and an institutional model made with a 50 gallon drum.

We think we’ve found a use for all those fallen palm fronds . . . rocket stove cooking!

Blueberries in a Self Watering Container


It may not be pretty but Homegrown Revolution has blueberries.

To grow blueberries in a warm climate such as Los Angeles you’ll need to choose a heat tolerant southern highbush variety. Southern highbush blueberries are hybrids that don’t require the winter chilling of their northern relatives. Blueberries also need cross pollination so they should be planted in pairs. We mail ordered two different varieties, “Oneal” and “Misty” in bare root form earlier this year from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.

Blueberries require an acidic soil, of the sort you’d find in a wet forest climate, so we planted them in a self watering container with a home made soil mix made up of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 wood chips and 1/3 azalea mix.

Their special soil requirements and shallow roots make blueberries an ideal plant for self watering containers. And attention apartment homesteaders–blueberries will work nicely on that south facing balcony.