Post Petroleum Lecture

Albert Bates, author of a brand new book The Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook will be speaking at the Audubon Center at Debs Park on Saturday March 24th as part of the 2007 Sustainable Habitats Lecture Series. The series is put together by permaculture expert David Khan, and those of you who missed the last lecture, raw milk outlaw and dairyman Mark McAfee, missed an engaging, and provocative afternoon. So don’t miss this next one! From Khan’s announcement:

Albert Bates is a permaculture and appropriate technology instructor at the Eco village Training Center at The Farm community in Summertown, Tennessee, inventor of solar cars, pedal flour sifters and cylindrical tofu presses, and author of eleven books, including Shutdown: Nuclear Power on Trial (1979) and Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do (1990). His Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (New Society 2006) envisions the world as it will be transformed by peak oil and climate change, and offers a prescription for re-inhabitation. As one of the founders of the Eco village Network of the Americas (1994) and the Global Eco village Network (1995), Albert used his lifetime of eco-community living skills to create an incendiary meme, sparked by dedicated individuals and fueled by the pressing necessity of changing the way in which human communities relate to nature.

Place: Audubon Center at Debs Park
4700 Griffin Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90031

Time:10:00 AM
Cost:$10 on-line $15 at the door
Instructions for payment: RSVP and pay on-line using PayPal www.sustainablehabitats.org

Should you not be able to make it, Bates will be appearing the next day at the Los Angeles Eco-Village on Sunday March 25th at 8 pm. There is a suggested donation of $10 for the lecture. The Los Angeles Eco-Village is located at:

117 Bimini Place
Los Angeles, CA 90004.

Make a Sourdough Starter

Every damn urban homesteader ought to have a sourdough starter living on their countertop. It’s easy and here’s how we do it around the Homegrown Evolution compound:

1. Get yourself a glass or ceramic container with a lid. It should be able to hold at least three to four cups of starter. Don’t use metal.

2. Put into this container one cup of white flour and one cup of lukewarm water and stir until mixed. Put it in a warm place. We use the top of our stove which has a pilot light.

3. Every day, pour off one cup of your starter and add a half cup of white flour and a half cup of lukewarm water.

4. Your starter should begin to get bubbly in a few days. A layer of liquid, known in sourdough fetish circles as “hooch” will form. Don’t be concerned, this is natural and simply stir it in every morning when you add the additional flour and water.

5. After one to two weeks, you should have an active culture of wild yeasts that will make your bread rise. You can now throw out those annoying packages of commercial yeast and bake bread the way ancient folks did for thousands of years. Just remember to feed your starter every day. We use the Torah’s mitzvah which suggests first feeding one’s animals (in our case our sourdough “pet”) before feeding yourself.

6. If you feel guilty about pouring off that cup of flour every day, and you aren’t making a loaf of bread, try making some sourdough pancakes.

7. If you aren’t going to bake for a few days put the starter in the fridge. Feed it once a week. To revive it, take it out of the fridge and give it a day or two of feedings before you use it.

So how does this work? What you have done is create a hospitable environment for a pair of organisms (wild yeasts and lactobacteria) that work symbiotically. The geeks at Wikipedia put it this way:

When wheat flour contacts water, naturally-occurring amylase enzymes break down the starch into complex sugars (saccharose and maltose); maltase converts the sugars into glucose and fructose that yeast can metabolize. The lactobacteria feed mostly on the metabolism products from the yeast.

The end result is a happy frothing mixture that due to its production of acid and anti-bacterial agents is resistant to spoilage.

Unfortunately the “internets” and bread cookbooks contain a great deal of misinformation about sourdough. Here are some of the many myths out there:

You should add grapes/potatoes/rice to the flour and water mixture to hasten the development of wild yeasts. Sorry folks, the wild yeasts are in the flour and you don’t need anything except flour and water to get a mother started. The wild yeasts on the skin of grapes are a different beast and not the kind that you are looking for.

You should add some commercial yeast to get it going. Wrong. Commercial yeast is another type of yeast that does not survive in the acidic/beneficial bacterial stew that makes up a healthy starter culture.

You should mail-order a sourdough starter. Wrong again. All you need is flour and water and a bit of patience. Wild yeasts, like love should be free. That being said, once you get your starter going, you can of course spread the love around and give some of it to friends so that they can start baking immediately.

You should use bottled water. We’ve done it with plain old LA tap water with no problems.

Wild yeasts are in the air and you have to “catch” them. Yes, there are yeasts in the air, but there are many millions more in the damn flour. If we had to “catch” wild yeasts we’d be making bread with Los Angeles yeasts, which would likely to be too busy yakking on their cell phones in search of an agent to bother helping to leaven a loaf of bread.

So now you have no excuses–creating a sourdough starter simple and there is no mystery to it. Get into your kitchen and get a starter going. To make a wheat starter go here. Check out our bread recipe for how to use your new starter here.

Injera

Hermann Göring is alleged to have said “When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun”. These days when Homegrown Revolution hears the world culture we reach for our knife and fork, since our compound’s test kitchen has been busy experimenting with the bubbling and frothing world of live cultures through the ancient art of fermentation.

We revived our sourdough starter (to be explained in a future post), and cooked up a batch of the fermented Ethiopian crepe-like bread called injera. Injera is made by fermenting overnight a mixture of sourdough starter, whole wheat flour, water, salt and teff flour.

Teff is an extremely fine grain grown in Africa. It’s so tiny in fact that a handful of seeds is enough to plant a small farm. Teff is grown in the US by the Teff Company of Caldwell Idaho and is available (though somewhat expensive) at Whole Foods via Bob’s Red Mill. The teff growing folks claim that the iron from teff is more easily absorbed by the body, and that it also includes high levels of calcium and fiber. According to the Teff Company Gezahegne Abera, Ethiopia’s champion marathoner insists on Teff wherever he travels.

Our home-cooked injera was delightfully sour, a perfect counterpoint to spicy food and much tastier than the injera we’ve been served in our local Ethiopian restaurants. Rumor has it that many Ethiopian dives here skimp on the teff by substituting whole wheat flour and skipping the fermentation. Too bad there won’t be any room for growing more teff in America, since we’ll soon be using every available agricultural space for corn to produce ethanol so that we can continue to drive our big-ass SUVs to the mall. In the meantime we’ll enjoy the teff while we can as we declare March the month of fermentation.

Homegrown Revolution got our injera recipe from the astonishing and highly recommended book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. Katz offers recipes for every imaginable fermented food, from kimchi to Andean chewed-corn beer (a recipe that involves gathering a bunch of friends to chew corn kernels, spit them out, and then ferment the results).

Anyone up for a chew-in?

Silver Lake Farms

This week Homegrown Revolution visited Tara Kolla the founder of Silver Lake Farms. Kolla runs a ambitious and beautiful flower farm on a medium sized lot right in the heart of Los Angeles. She specializes in freshly cut sweet peas, but also grows anemones and ranunculus and sells them at the Echo Park, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, and Los Angeles Arts District farmer’s markets. Kolla believes in the power of the local, and only sells at farmers markets within a five mile radius of her unique urban farm.

But best of all Kolla will be sharing her gardening knowledge with a new class she will be offering:

“Organic Gardening: Introduction” takes place at Silver Lake Farms on Sunday, March 18 from 1pm-3pm. There are 12 spaces available for this class so register now at http://www.silverlakefarms.com or call (323)644-3700.

Also, as a reminder–permaculture expert David Khan will be offering his regular introduction to permaculture this Saturday March 3rd. After the lecture Mark McAfee President, of Organic Pastures, LLC. will present a talk entitled “Got Real Milk?”. Lunch will be available but you must RSVP. See www.sustainablehabitats.org for more information.

The Brooklyn Bee


“if bees were to disappear, man would only have a few years to live”
-Albert Einstein

Homegrown Revolution spoke to urban beekeeper John Howe today who keeps a couple of hives high atop the roof of his home in Brooklyn New York. He got the idea to take up urban beekeeping when one day a bee landed on his plate while he was eating at an outdoor restaurant and now his hives produce around 150 pounds of honey a year which he sells at a couple of locations in Brooklyn. He’s self taught and figured out beekeeping more or less on his own thanks to the internet, books, a little help from a beekeeping club in Long Island, and advice from a beekeeping supplier.

Howe said that the key to urban beekeeping is maintaining good relations with the neighbors since bees have a tendency to swarm on occasion and people are always shocked to see a basketball sized cluster of bees hanging out on a local light post. He deals with these sticky situations through careful neighborhood diplomacy and, of course, free honey.

Howe argues that his honey is more organic than commercial honey since his bees pollinate plants in an urban location that does not have the sort of intense insecticide application seen in agricultural areas. Since he’s the only beekeeper in the neighborhood he knows that when he sees a bee in the two nearby parks they probably belong to him. Howe’s suspects that in addition to pollinating the local plants and trees his bees also collect pollen from cut flowers at outdoor florist stands.

Homegrown Revolution wishes that we could end this story musing about a bright future for urban beekeeping, a future in which each neighborhood has a beekeeper to pollinate the many fruit trees that should grow on our city’s streets, but sadly bee news these days is on the depressing side. If the Albert Einstein quote is correct we’re in trouble since bees have been disappearing in the past year due to a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder, in which the hive flies off and simply does not return. The cause of this mysterious problem is not yet known, but many beekeepers including Howe suspect that pesticides may be the culprit. Upwards of 30 to 60% of hives in 24 states have vanished in what could prove to be a huge economic and ecological disaster since many crops including almonds and avocados depend on bees for pollination. Howe himself has lost one hive. Read more about this depressing story on the BBC and it that ain’t enough doom and gloom, there’s the tale of an insecticide called fipronil, sold in the US under the brand names MaxForce and Combat, which is suspected in the deaths of billions of bees in France.

Speaking of the symbolism of the beehive Robert Macoy said, “It [the beehive] teaches us that as we came into the world rational and intelligent beings, so we should ever be industrious ones; never sitting down contented while our fellow-creatures around us are in want, when it is in our power to relieve them without inconvenience to ourselves.” Pesticides are the crutch of the lazy, and it’s time for us all to figure out better, more enlightened forms of agriculture in order to save the industrious and essential bee. And it’s time for more urban beekeepers like John Howe. Pay a visit to his website and blog and buy a jar of his honey if you find yourself in Brooklyn.

Weed Eating Italian Style

Here at Homegrown Revolution we’re big proponents of eatin’ your weeds, which is why we were delighted to stumble upon an article on virtualitalia.com that contains a couple of weed recipes including dandelion egg salad and stinging nettle lasagna. As the article points points out Italians are one of only a few Western cultures that still actively forage.

Spring approaches and with it a free salad bar and produce section just waiting to be picked. Homegrown Revolution declares 2007 the year of the weed!

The Homegrown Revolution Broadleaf Plantain Pizza

For years a trade organization called the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, has been lobbying the Italian government to create a “DOC” or d’origine controllata, to designate the proper form of Neopolitan pizza as a way of countering the indignities perpetrated internationally by the likes of Dominos and Wolfgang Puck. The VPN’s regulations include the following requirements:

1. A wood-burning oven: The pizza must be cooked by wood. Gas, coal or electric ovens, while they may produce delicious pizza, do not conform to the tradition.
2. Proper ingredients: 00 flour, San Marzano (plum) tomatoes, all natural fior-di-latte or bufala mozzarella, fresh basil, salt and yeast. Only fresh, all-natural, non-processed ingredients are acceptable.
3. Proper technique: Hand-worked or low speed mixed dough, proper work surface (usually a marble slab), oven temp (800° F), pizza preparation, etc.

While we haven’t constructed a wood burning oven yet, in the summertime it’s possible to make a authentic Neopolitan pizza at the Homegrown Revolution compound topped with buffalo mozzarella (available at Trader Joes), and Roma tomatoes and chopped basil from the garden. But in the wintertime we eat the Homegrown Revolution pizza, a highly unauthorized combination of mozzarella and chopped broadleaf plantain, a common lawn weed (though any green will do). It’s tasty and what we predict the California Pizza Kitchen will serve when the shit goes down.

We use the following recipe, which is adapted for home kitchens from the VPN’s regulations, for the dough:

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115º)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
Mix water and yeast and proof for 7 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a heavy-duty stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and mix on low for 30 minutes. Shape dough into a round and let proof in a covered and oiled bowl for 4 hours in a warm place (we use the top of the stove which has a pilot light). Divide into two pieces and proof for another 4 hours. Preheat your oven to 550º, top your pizza and bake for eight minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

For guidance on how to work the dough see the helpful videos on the VPN website.

A Homegrown Revolution manifesto by way of a short (true) story.

1. Fitness is part of the urban homesteading thing
So on our daily bike ride to the downtown YMCA we spotted four tires laying by the side of the road.

2. Try to grow as much food as you can
Tires are a great way to grow potatoes–we’ll explain this when we try it ourselves. Meanwhile you can read about doing this, as well as many other uses for old tires in the informative archives of Backwoods Home Magazine.

3. Cargo bikes rule
Later on in the day we decided to go pick up the tires using our handy cargo bike, the Xtracycle. We can’t say enough good things about this invention, though we should note that carrying large car tires on a bicycle looks completely insane.

4. The importance of bike safety
At a signal two hipsters on fixed gear bikes pulled up next to us.

One of the hipsters said, “Too bad you can’t use those tires.”

Homegrown Revolution muttered, crazily, “We’re going to grow things with them.”

“Yeah, you’re going to grow some bud.” responded the hipster and peddled off–note, a fixed gear is much faster than a cruddy mountain bike with an Xtracycle carrying two car tires.

5. First aid training and general preparedness
As we rounded a bend, in front of our local medical marijuana dispensary (oh, the irony) we saw one of the hipsters on the ground tangled up in his bike moaning in pain in the middle of the Sunset Blvd. bike lane and surrounded by shimmering fragments of a car tail light. He had run into the back end of a parked car. Homegrown Revolution stopped and prepared to use our inadequate Red Cross first aid training. Just as we finished saying, “Are you o.k.?” the hipster jumped up.

6. The importance of bike safety part 2
He motioned to one of two attractive women on the sidewalk and said, “It’s your fault, it’s because of you, I was staring at you.” Robert Hurst, in his excellent book The Art of Urban Cycling covers this very problem. Fixed gears, high traffic speeds, poorly designed bike lanes, inattentive motorists, and voyeurism make an especially dangerous cocktail. Stay alert out there folks and read Hurst’s book (read an interview with Hurst here).

7. Karma
The hipsters jumped back on their bikes leaving Homegrown Revolution, the two women, and the security guard at the marijuana dispensary staring at the dented and completely trashed back end of someone’s new Kia. There was a pause as we were all relieved that the hipster was able to walk away from what, judging from the huge dent in the Kia’s trunk, looked like a pretty bad impact. There was another pause as we all realized that he had left the scene without making amends for the damage. The two women looked at me as Homegrown Revolution suggested lamely that, “They [cars] hit us all the time.” There was yet another awkward pause, followed by Homegrown Revolution quickly leaving the scene.

In a moment of vertiginous karma, as we made the turn off of Sunset one of the car tires flopped over causing us to wobble ominously in front of an oncoming SUV. Homegrown Revolution quickly recovered, and even returned through nasty rush hour traffic to get the other two tires.

Quick Breads


Here at the Homegrown Revolution compound we used to make our own sourdough bread. In fact we used the exhaustive, fetishistic and ridiculously detailed instructions to be found in Nancy Silverton’s book Breads from the La Brea Bakery. Silverton did for bread what Starbucks did for coffee, before she arrived on the scene America was a Wonder bread wasteland but now, in our coast to coast boho yuppified age, you can even find decent La Brea Bakery bread in the red states. Now we’re a bit contrarian at Homegrown Revolution, so while we’re not quite ready to go back to Folgers (though that day will come), we are ready to try some down home white trash quick breads. OK, so Homegrown Revolution has changed our minds on the previous paragraph, and we’re back to making sourdough. That being said, an occasional quick bread ain’t a bad thing:

Quick breads are easy, involve no yeast or rising times, and are nearly foolproof, which is why the knuckle draggers in flyover country like them so much. Now the problem we had in our boho days with maintaining a sourdough starter is that it required daily feeding–in fact it was a bit like having a pet–a very boring slightly messy pet that leaves moist and moldy flour all over your countertop. Sourdough is best for slacker cooking geeks who plan on baking bread almost every day, a process involving multiple risings and sometimes dicey results if the ambient temperature is either too cool or too warm. By all means give a try sometime, but for the lazy we recommend quick breads, which can be whipped up quicker than riding the Xtracycle to Trader Joes.

With this in mind the Homegrown Revolution test kitchen will be experimenting with quick breads in the next few months and presenting the results. Today’s quick bread experiment, we are happy to report, was very successful–Whole Wheat Walnut Bread from the book Country Wisdom & Know How.

3/4 cup unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed [note: SurviveLA recommends reducing or eliminating the sugar--this recipe is a bit too sweet for our tastes]
1 cup walnuts, coarsely broken
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Combine all the dry ingredients. Mix the buttermilk and the vegetable oil in a separate boil. Mix the liquid and dry ingredients together just enough to make sure they are combined. With all quick breads you should minimize the amount of mixing. Bake at 350º until a knife inserted into the bread comes out dry. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the pan you use.

We invite Homegrown Revolution readers to submit their own bread recipes.