Saturday Linkages: Balloon Jumping, Front Yard Graves and a Poo Themed Restaurant

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What If There Was No Landscaping? http://landscapeofmeaning.blogspot.com/2013/09/what-if-there-was-no-landscaping.html …

Make Your Own $35 Straw Mattress http://www.notechmagazine.com/2013/10/make-your-own-35-straw-mattress.html …

How to solder: http://www.tvbgone.com/cfe_mfaire.php 

Outrageously Themed Magic Restroom Cafe Soft Opens, Serving “Golden Poop” Rice http://eater.cc/1fxFy2N 

ORDNING stainless steel breadbox to modern mailbox http://www.ikeahackers.net/2013/10/ordning-stainless-steel-breadbox-to-modern-mailbox.html …

How To Grow Your Own Garlic http://www.nwedible.com/2013/10/how-to-grow-your-own-garlic.html …

During Your First Freezes Be Concerned About The Wind http://www.finegardening.com/item/30377/during-your-first-freezes-be-concerned-about-the-wind …

Pumpkin Tap turns pumpkin or watermelon into keg: http://boingboing.net/2013/10/21/pumpkin-tap-turns-pumpkin-or-w.html …

Tombstone as Landscape Feature by Susan Harris http://gardenrant.com/2013/10/tombstone-front-yard.html?utm_source=feedly …

“We’re going to check the burger with our hands here” http://barfblog.com/2013/10/were-going-to-check-the-burger-with-our-hands-here/ …

Jeff Speck: America Has So Many Problems. Walkability Solves Most of Them. http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/10/15/jeff-speck-america-has-so-many-problems-walkability-solves-most-of-them/ …

Distracted Driving Is Claiming the Lives of More Pedestrians and Cyclists http://dc.streetsblog.org/2013/10/23/distracted-driving-is-claiming-the-lives-of-more-cyclists-and-pedestrians/#.Uml6jtaXz3w.twitter …

Balloon Jumping: Yesterday’s Fun (and Dangerous) Sport of the Future http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/balloon-jumping-yesterdays-fun-and-dangerous-sport-1450733941 …

HOWTO make a $10 digital microscope kit for your phone: http://boingboing.net/2013/10/22/howto-make-a-10-digital-micro.html …

Pico-Dwelling: Urban Living in Less than 200 Square Feet http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/dornob/~3/UcyD8r98jAQ/story01.htm …

Branch-Like Modular Benches Have Endless Possibilities http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/dornob/~3/9OyXv2JJKMo/story01.htm …

The Venetian Handcart http://www.notechmagazine.com/2013/10/the-venetian-handcart.html …

5 MPH Home: Ultra-Tiny Caravan Towed by Mobility Scooter | Designs & Ideas on Dornob http://dornob.com/5-mph-home-ultra-tiny-caravan-towed-by-mobility-scooter/ …

Six-Legged Caravan Gives New Meaning to ‘Walking Home’ | Designs & Ideas on Dornob http://dornob.com/six-legged-caravan-gives-new-meaning-to-walking-home/ …

Out of Stock: Simple & Easy-to-Assemble 3-Shelf Wall Set http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/dornob/~3/WFfQM7iaKJg/story01.htm …

Truck recycling? http://www.we2ours2.in/2013/10/truck-recycling.html …

Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips and Bourbon http://www.nwedible.com/2013/10/pumpkin-bread-with-chocolate-chips-and-bourbon.html …

Infuse Your Booze! A Complete Guide To DIY Flavored Liquors http://www.nwedible.com/2013/10/infuse-your-booze-a-complete-guide-to-diy-flavored-liquors.html …

For these links and more, follow Root Simple on Twitter:

Are We Keeping Too Many Bees?

Someday I’ll get around to writing a fill in the blanks form for journalists doing the inevitable urban homesteading backlash story. You know, “Folks are tired of all the chores and are dumping their [chickens/vegetables/bees] and returning to a life of [shopping/golfing/riding jet skis].” This month’s backlash story concerns urban beekeeping in London.

Reader Cassandra Silver (who has a really beautiful blog) alerted us to a bee story in the Independent, “How do-gooders threaten humble bee.” The gist of the article is that urban beekeepers in London have more hives than the nectar and pollen sources can support:

The London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) is warning that there could be “too many bees” in the Greater London area for the environment to sustain. One beehive needs 120kg of nectar and 20kg to 30kg of pollen a year to sustain its bees; honey production will decrease if there are not enough pollinator-friendly plants to meet demand.

I’m confused about the article and the quotes from the BLKA. Is the concern about the bees or about having less honey? Focusing on honey can indeed lead to bee overpopulation. Bee populations self-regulate. If there are not enough food sources colonies will die off.

That is, unless people are feeding bee colonies sugar to prop them up (and I assume they are because feeding bees is one of the many misguided bits of advice that mainstream beekeeping organizations promulgate). Natural beekeeper Michael Bush has many good reasons for not feeding bees except under certain limited circumstances. One of the unintended consequence of feeding bees is that you could easily contribute to an overpopulation problem. It would be better to let populations decline and stabilize, in my opinion.

One good thing that might come out of London’s alleged bee overpopulation problem, that the article points out, is that the situation might prompt people to plant more flowering plants. Public and private urban spaces all over the world would benefit from landscaping that takes pollinators into account. Such landscapes tend to be beautiful, nourishing both to the bees and the human soul.

On Monday, the African bee myth.

Gourmet Foraging and Advanced Acorn Processing

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It’s acorn season in Southern California. I’ve long been interested in acorns, knowing that they were the staple food of the native people who lived here, and I’ve gathered and processed them before. However, once I have the acorn meal, I’ve never known exactly what to do with it. It’s highly nutritious, but I thought (wrongly!) that it was somewhat bland, and all I could do was incorporate acorn meal into baked goods. This weekend, however, I’ve had my eyes opened to the possibilities, thanks to Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich.

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Pascal and Mia putting out a spread: acorn sliders, acorn and tapioca pudding, red cabbage and red onion slaw with wild juniper berries, chocolate truffles infused with white sage and dusted with dehydrated raspberry powder, plum membrillo and beer hopped with yarrow. We were there to learn about acorns, but they fed us well!

Pascal and Mia are high caliber foragers and foodies.  Check out their sites, Urban Outdoor Skills and Transitional Gastronomy, and if you live in the Los Angeles area, you’ll definitely want to experience their forages and food workshops. Their Meetup groups are The Los Angeles Wild Food and Self-Reliance Group and Foraging Foodies LA.

It’s rare to find folks who combine deep food know-how with a love of wild foods. Too often wild foods are considered mere survival foods. Pascal and Mia are using them to develop a uniquely Californian cuisine. Just check out this gallery on Transitional Gastronomy to get a quick picture of what I’m talking about.

On Sunday, Erik and I attended their acorn processing workshop, where we learned some valuable tips regarding acorn processing, and were privileged to eat the finest vegetarian burgers we’ve ever tasted — sliders made with acorns.

acorn sliders

I’ve downed a lot of veggie burgers in my time, and I’ve come to think of them mostly as excuse to eat bread and condiments. I’ve never had a veggie burger good enough to eat on its own. The acorn burgers they treated us to were not just “good for veggie” but some of the tastiest food I’ve ever encountered.

It turns out that acorns have umami qualities, that savoriness that characterizes meat and mushrooms, along with a delicate sweetness. You just need to know how to bring it out.

Mia did say that acorns have unique qualities in how they hold and absorb moisture, so she’s been learning how to handle them. Like any new food, it takes a while to learn the ways of acorns, but it’s worth it.

Here’s a recipe from Mia’s Transitional Gastronomy site for acorn timbales. If you serve these on a bun, instead of in a pool of (amazing looking!) nettle veloute sauce, you will have the acorn burger I experienced this weekend.  Do be sure to note the part where she asks you to refrigerate the mix before cooking. She told us that if the mix doesn’t have time to set up, the patties will fall apart. The recipe doesn’t specify how long to chill, but I believe she said overnight. (You could also make a log of the mix and freeze it for later, like cookies.)

I’m going to forage some acorns of my own this week and see if I can replicate those sliders. In the meanwhile, after the jump  I’m going to share some processing tips that I picked up.

Let us know if any of you process acorns,  and if you have any tips or recipes!

Continue reading…

What I’m Growing this Winter

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Winter in our Mediterranean climate is when we grow cool season vegetables. It’s my favorite time of year here. The hills turn green, the smog blows away and we have that phenomenon called “rain” (hopefully).

As usual, I’m planting seeds from an Italian seed company, Franchi. Here’s what I’m growing:

Arugula “Coltivata Sel. Ortolani”
One can never have enough arugula. It’s my favorite vegetable. This year I’m trying Franchi’s arugula “Coltivata Sel. Ortolani.” Franchi sells both “cultivated” and “wild” varieities of arugula (confusing, since the “wild” varieties are actually cultivated). Cultivated varieties tend to be milder and less sharp in taste. I like them both. Franchi highlights certain varieties by featuring them as “Selezione Speciale” which is why I chose this particular arugula.

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Chicory “Pan di Zucchero”
I chose this chicory on the recommendation of Franchi’s West Coast distributor The Heirloom Seed Store, who had a booth at this year’s Heirloom Exposition. The owners of the Heirloom Seed Store, who run a farm in the Santa Cruz area, raved about this particular chicory. It’s a large-leafed variety that can be used in a salad or cooked.

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Radicchio and Chicory Mix: “Misticanza di Radicchi”
I’ve never gone wrong with Franchi’s salad mixes. The best damn salads I’ve ever had in my life have been made with these mixes.

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Mache “Valeriana Verte de Cambrai”
This is my first attempt at growing this cold tolerant weedy vegetable.

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Portuguese cabbage
I’m usually hesitant to grow cabbage due to pest problems. But I thought I’d give this unusual variety, that does not form a head, just for the novelty factor. It’s the primary ingredient in a traditional Portuguese soup called caldo verde, or “green broth.” This cabbage variety is also heat tolerant as it’s from southern Portugal which has a climate similar to ours. I’m hoping the open leaves don’t provide as much slug habitat as normal varieties.

If you grow during the winter (or are in the Southern Hemisphere) let us know what you’re planting this fall.

On Shoddy Workmanship

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An engraving by William Morris. Note the skunk proofing.

You’re in a hurry. You’re frustrated and impatient. You say to yourself, “I don’t really need to secure this skunk proofing, my vegetables will be fine.” You might call it shoddy workmanship. I call it half-ass-itis. I’d say it’s the number one sin of the DIYer and I always know when I’m doing it.

There are those whose personality tends towards careful and elegant craftsmanship. You’ve probably met such a person. They craft their own musical instruments and win the blue ribbon at the county fair for their perfectly textured quince jam. I’m not that person (I’m more like this NSFW video). But we have freedom of choice. That’s what makes us human. We can change.

I had a rude reminder of my shoddy workmanship the other night when skunks breached poorly secured bird netting that protected a newly planted bed of vegetables. But at least I can do a better job of securing my skunk proofing as a start. Step by step, I vow to pay more attention to details. Otherwise they’ll be no home grown vegetables this winter.

Craftsmanship is not to be confused with perfectionism. A craftsperson is not afraid to make mistakes, to fail and to learn from setbacks. But to cut corners and know you’re taking an easy shortcut is to fall into halfassitis mode.

William Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Morris’ craftsmanship was a reaction to the newly industrialized world. I can’t think of a better role model for countering halfassitis thinking.

Do you suffer from halfassitis or are you a detail person? Comments!