Many years ago, I heard that straw bales could be used as planting beds to grow vegetables. My first initial reaction was filled with skepticism but the reported successes made the idea intriguing. This year I’ll try my own experiment with type of gardening for the reasons that will be detailed below. I'll admit upfront that it has been great fun from the start and I can’t help myself from having great hopes for the outcome.
Pressing olive oil is apparently a very expensive proposition - the cheapest unit I could find cost around $3,000. It’s not as simple as pressing cider - to make olive oil, you have to get ripe olives, but not completely ripe. The olives are crushed with the pits (which provides a natural preservative) into a mash - the best is done with a stone grinding wheel, and the easiest with a hammer mill. Once the olives are completely mashed, they are spread on thin mats ( originally hemp, but now it’s mostly polypropylene), stacked one atop the other, then pressed. You have to be very careful to make sure the mats are totally clean because it will turn rancid very quickly. Collect the pressings in bowls, and then the oil needs to be purified - the best way is through a centrifuge. The last step is allowing the oil to heal (also called “knitting”) before bottling.
These are two different plants that are often confused. They have different growing needs.
Most people, in the US, confuse the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) with the yam (Dioscorea rotundata). They do look superficially similar, but their nutritional value, growing habits, and taste are not that similar.
Let's start with the yam.
To grow enough wheat for a year’s worth of bread, baking, and cooking for a family of 4, you need to have 400 square yards of garden space. That’s 3600 square feet – the amount of space a small to mid-sized home takes up. (corrected thanks to John Neil)
On Monday January 30th, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) held a public meeting at Suffolk University, halfway between the State House and City Hall, to change the Boston zoning laws to allow for agriculture throughout the city, making it easier for local residents to grow and sell fresh, healthy, foods in Boston and the greater Boston Metropolitan Area. Nearly 300 people attended. Boston currently has about 150 community gardens serving 3000 gardeners, the highest per capita of any US city. Now the city is trying to figure out how to change zoning to increase urban agriculture beyond gardening and household use into businesses and economic development.
Mayor Menino, the newly appointed chair of the food policy task force for the US Conference of Mayors, opened the meeting and the keynote address was given by Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc. (http://www.growingpower.org), non-profit based in Milwaukee, WI which also does work in Chicago, Detroit, Ghana, and around the world. Growing Power addresses social justice and food access issues through building local agriculture and farm-based businesses and Mr. Allen won the 2008 McArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant for his work on urban farming and sustainable food production. Growing Power has grown an underutilized 2-acre lot into a farm that produces enough produce, eggs, honey, fish and other meats to feed more than 10,000 local residents and employs more than 100 people on 20 farms, 13 farmstands, and a year round CSA.
They start by growing soil through composting to replace the existing contaminated urban soils and continue with growing worms, mushrooms, sprouts, which alone provide from $5 to $50 worth of production per square foot, and fish in integrated urban agricultural systems. There are seven different levels of production in their greenhouses, some of which are heated by compost. At their main farm, a quarter of their electricity comes from solar electric panels and 70% of their hot water is solar heated. They also have an anaerobic digester for methane production and electricity.
Growing Power also provides hand's on education and summer jobs for children planting flowers by sidewalks and corners, a measure which actually reduces crime. Green Power also has community kitchens for food preservation and processing. They are now building a five story vertical farm at their national headquarters and planning for 15 regional centers.
Will Allen said that, since food “is the one thing we have in common,” the good food movement “starts with everybody working together" and if you don't have a sustainable food system, you won't have a sustainable city.
Video of the entire proceedings at the meeting, including the presentation by Mr. Will Allen: http://www.cityofboston.gov/...
The minutes of that meeting, the recommendations by the group, maps of greater Boston food resources, and information about the ongoing urban agriculture planning meetings the city is holding:
I think one of the greatest inventions as far as cooking goes is the Crockpot or Slow Cooker. In 1970 Rival acquired from the Naxon Utilities Corporation a “beanery” which was used for slow cooking beans. After playing around with this Rival realized that they had something unique on their hands and as a result the crockpot or slow cooker became a part of the American kitchens. I use my frequently. It is an invaluable tool for working women since you can dump everything in to the pot before leaving for work and come home to dinner.
The last one fed me for three months - so far, that is - about a third of the last bag is still left. It was a high quality 25# bag, and it cost me $9.00.
I use this flour to make three different kinds of dough that I pretty much subsist on - asian pasta, egg pasta, and pizza dough.
This blog does a pretty good job of advising you about your pasta maker purchase. It's partly based on the highest user-rated pasta makers on Amazon, and the top two brands are Imperia and Atlas. The ratings are extremely high for both - both rate nearly all 5's out of 5. I chose this Atlas, and it cost me $94.00.
I went with a high-end device. At this stage in my life, I guess I'm looking for lifetime tools, and I couldn't be more pleased with this decision. The dies are precision-made, it's dense and heavy, and the gears are exceedingly smooth.
The pasta maker review blog, above, also says good things about a low-end pasta maker made by Prime Pacific. It's described as being not quite as heavily built, but it only sells for $36.69 on Amazon. Users give it lots of 5's and quite a few 4's.
How about this KitchenAid electric stand mixer extruder? Well, I've never used one, but the reviews are mixed on Amazon, and lots of Kossaks weighed in with both pros and cons in last week's diary. The cost is half again as much, at $145.00 on Amazon. Since I haven't been down that road, there's nothing more that I can really offer, other than "discuss among yourselves!"
Speaking of electric powered pasta makers, I kept that option open when I purchased my Atlas, which can be retrofitted with an electric motor for about $100.00. I very quickly found that this would be unnecessary for my needs - the hand crank suited me just fine, and I don't seem to get the feeling where I wish I had "3 hands". I saved that $100 for another day.
None of these units seem to need much at all in the way of either maintenance or cleaning. You can put a light vegetable oil on the extruding rollers if you wish, or you can dust them with flour first, but even those steps are optional. I don't perform either ritual. I found a bit of a quirk when it came to cleaning - you apparently cannot use water on these! I can't seem to find out why that is, but my thinking is that maybe the roller assembly is made from carbon steel which can be especially prone to rust. It's not really a problem in the least - a 1" hardware store paintbrush will clean it perfectly. A tip - run wax paper through the roller dies and cutters. It will shred the paper, of course, but not only will it help clean the assembly, but it will leave a little kitchen-grade wax behind for clean, welcome lubrication. This works perfectly.
Of course part of our objective here is home economics, so let's see if we can save some pennies. Try searching for your brand of choice through AllofCraigs.com - a site that aggregates all the ads from all the Craigslists nationwide. Worth it, because these devices are easy and inexpensive to ship. Also try auctions, estate sales, garage sales and eBay for these at less than retail. People sometimes don't really know what exactly they have for sale, so the potential for a real bargain is certainly there.
Asian pasta from last week has two ingredients - flour and water. Egg pasta also has two ingredients - flour and eggs. This guy is the best. I can't improve on this Youtube video - especially the part where he shows you how to knead an egg pasta dough:
Approximately 4 cups of high-gluten flourSome egg pasta hints and tips:
7-8 large fresh eggs, cracked
salt to taste
1 Your number one problem will be a dough that's too wet. So don't make it too wet :-) This video, above, correctly suggests that you'll soon begin getting the moisture right every time.
2 Eggs can be different sizes, of course, so you have to adjust the amount of flour to the amount of egg protein - not the other way around.
3 You want high-gluten flour so that your noodles come out tough, hardy and substantial, which helps prevent your noodles from falling apart or becoming gummy in your dish.
4 If you want them to be more hardy and substantial yet, substitute either corn flour or semolina flour for some of the bread flour, above. These flours have more gluten proteins yet.
5 Let you dough ball rest - for hours, preferably. This step does several things, but most fundamentally, it lets the moisture spread evenly throughout your entire dough ball. Rub it with vegetable oil first to keep it from sticking to its container.
6 The last tip is to knead them in a cross-wise fashion like the video indicates. This creates tough, perpendicular layers which add structural strength to your noodles. Like a kevlar vest :)
Divide your finished, kneaded dough ball into eight equal sections, and put four in each marked baggie. They freeze perfectly and keep for months.
In the morning before you leave home, take some of them out to thaw - one for each person who will be eating that night. They only take 30-40 minutes at room temperature to defrost and become pliable.
Then create your pasta - in my Atlas I have the choice of spaghetti or taglietelle noodles with the standard attachments that came with my model. Looks like the Imperia line, mentioned above, offers a few more options:
Lastly, rack-dry your pasta - ideally for the entire day. You can purchase a pasta drying rack, but I just made my own out of fiberglass window screening stretched onto a wooden frame.
I published the second diary in the series yesterday about subsisting healthily and inexpensively on flour products. I felt compelled to share share you the fruits of that labor today - Chicken Alfredo.
I made spaghetti noodles yesterday, and dried them. They came out perfectly.
I didn't create the dough yesterday - I made the dough a month ago and froze it.
Then I used only one of these portions out of the eight I originally made. It took 30 minutes to thaw - then I ran it through the spaghetti die on my pasta maker.
I got a bunch of chicken thighs for a pittance, and here they are, fresh out of the pressure cooker. Just took a few minutes to take the bones and skin off. I made lots of chicken - I'll have a lot left over for another day.
While I boiled the noodles, I made the sauce.
I reduced some chicken stock by half, added in some minced garlic, powdered some of the chicken meat with salt, pepper and a dust of flour, put in about a quarter cup of peas, then the chicken, and cut the thickness of the sauce a little with a dash of half-and-half.
Some things I didn't put in the Alfredo:
1 Butter. Too much fat. I already had butterfat from the cream in the dish, and the concentrated chicken stock added back a lot of flavor. I could do without it.
2 Green and red peppers. Would have put them in if I had them. But I didn't :-)
3 Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I didn't have this either, but again I thought the flavor was sufficient and the dish had more than enough milk fat.
4 Much salt. A little, but not much. Too much is not very good for you.
It was a successful dish. Frankly the sauce tasted "restaurant". With home-made pasta, it was a much heartier, naturally denser, more satisfying meal than it would have been with store-bought pasta.
The last one fed me for three months - so far, that is - about a third of the last bag is still left. It was a high quality 25# bag, and it cost me $9.00.
It all started with gyoza skins. Gyoza are pot-stickers, and I literally wrote the blog on them, where I stated my opinion that they might well be the "perfect food". Two-thirds vegetables and one-third meat, flavorful and beyond easy to cook. They can be an entire meal, and you can make a great dipping sauce with only two ingredients - soy sauce and vinegar.
All I needed was the skins.
Now when I lived in SoCal, you could pick these up at the neighborhood 7/11. I live in dear old dad's ancestral home now, on the frozen shores of Lake Erie, and gyoza skins simply aren't to be found. Just about anywhere.
Long story short, I could buy them by the frozen crate (they only last two days once defrosted), but shipping costs were outrageous for this sort of frozen shipped commissary item. So I looked around and found this blog, and I decided that the solution was to make my own. First, I'll need an Italian Pasta Maker.
It's pretty much a precision extruder with 3 rollers, and the distance between the rollers can be set using a knob with a scale from 1-9. First, flat rollers, for making long, thin pasta sheets. You can make flat lasagna noodles with this. Then a tagliatelle die roller which produces "ribbons" (think 'fettucini'), about 1cm wide, and a spaghetti die. It's simple, and I'll go into greater detail about it in Part II.
The dough is beyond simple - there's two ingredients - flour and hot water. I chose to make it in my biggest food processor because six cups of flour is a handful, but it came out perfectly.
6 cups flour
2 cups boiling water
salt to taste
Next step was to divide the dough ball into 12 equal sized more managable parts, and roll them out with my rolling pin. But I didn't have a rolling pin, so I used this empty bottle of Joel Gott Cab 2009 instead :-)
BTW, a simple 1 inch diameter wooden rod makes a great rolling pin as well. Now just roll out each ball into a strip about a half an inch thick to prep it for the pasta maker. Then just roll it through the pinch rollers like this:
I made the dough ribbon increasingly thinner by setting it first on zero (thickest), then two, then five - then I used a cookie cutter to make a circle about 3.5 inches in diameter.
When finished, I ran the remainder through the tagliatelle die, and this is how much that was left over:
They came out perfectly. This stack represents only about a third of them - six cups of flour is a lot ! Here's a tip - use cornstarch between the skins to keep them from sticking to each other. You can make huge batches - they freeze perfectly.
It's a whole post just to talk about the filling, but I'll refer you again to this "knol", which tells you everything you'll need to know. For an overview, use 2/3 vegetables to 1/3 meat, use lots of aromatics (especially fresh grated ginger - it maybe works the best!), and keep the mixture relatively dry to prevent soggy gyoza.
Yeast Cake is a German coffee cake. A proper Yeast Cake is dense so it can be dunked into the coffee Germans so love, and it is marvelous with either coffee or hot cocoa, beer or wine. It is too dense and not sweet enough for tea. This kind of makes me sad because I love tea. My grandparents, afraid I'd never grow, made me drink tea and hot milk and refused to let me drink coffee or sodas so I never developed a taste for coffee. I drink it now and again, but only with lots of milk and sugar. Friends tease that I drink a little coffee in my milk.
Itzl loves coffee the way I drink it. He also loves hot milk with hazelnut flavoring in it. And he likes Yeast Cake with his milky coffee. He likes the Yeast cake broken up into the cooled coffee.
This is a failed Yeast Cake:
WARNING: This diary discusses the raising of rabbits for human consumption. If this topic disturbs you, please do not proceed.
A lot of people ask about preserving them, when to harvest and how to keep them.
I’ve done it automatically for so many years I hardly think about it anymore: toss the seed onto the ground, water it, watch it grow, pinch and snip for fresh and when it gets big or bushy, cut larger bits to preserve, let some go to seed to collect seed for next year’s harvest – except for the herbs that take two years to grow and harvest, like parsley.