Monthly Archives: April 2012

Book review: Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese

The subtitle of this book is “What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch — Over 120 Recipes for the Best Homemade Foods,” and while lots of the recipes looked delicious (and the few I tried were exceedingly popular in my household), my favourite part of this book was the commentary about what foods are worth cooking up at home, and what foods should just be purchased instead.

Jennifer Reese is a funny and articulate writer, but more importantly, she is a dedicated do-it-yourself-er who sets out to try homemade versions of just about anything she can think of.  I think most of us who try to live sustainable city lives can relate to her struggles to figure out where to draw the line in terms of self-sufficiency.  In this book, she balances cost, effort and taste when deciding which foods are best made at home and which can be left to specialists.  Each recipe is rated based on the amount of hassle it takes, the tastiness of the results and a cost comparison between store-bought and homemade.    Here’s a sample of Reese’s scientific analysis of homemade vs. store-bought potato chips and orange-apricot conserve:

Orange-Apricot Conserve:  “Make it or buy it:  You can’t buy this jam.  Make it.
Hassle:  In the dictionary under “hassle” there should be a line drawing of a woman standing at a sweltering canning kettle, lifting out jars.
Cost Comparison:  You can’t really compare this with store-bought jam, as there is no product on the market like it.”

Potato chips:  “Make it or buy it:  Buy it.
Hassle:  I went through a box of Band-Aids and half a roll of paper towels one night because I didn’t heed warnings about mandoline safety.
Cost Comparison:  Homemade chips cost about $0.40 per ounce.  Lay’s classic potato chips:  $0.60 per ounce.”

I was stoked that Reese really spares no effort to thoroughly research her decisions.  She keeps bees, unsuccessfully experiments with keeping ducks in her laundry room, cures her own meat, makes her own hot dogs (verdict:  not worth it, in case you were wondering), makes a ridiculous amount of different cheeses, and keeps chickens and goats (“If rather than a lush green garden, you want your outdoor space to resemble a Third World village, I suggest getting some chickens, who will methodically denude the landscape of every blade of grass, low-lying weed, and wildflower.  And if you want to ride yourself of shrubbery and small trees as well, get goats.”).  She lives in a regular suburban neighbourhood, so her experiments are relatable for lots of us city dwellers, and I like her enthusiasm and willingness to experiment.  You get the sense reading this book that she is trying out all these different techniques for getting her food because she is excited about doing it, not because she wants to write a gimmicky book.

In all, you should grab this book at the library, as it is rad!  I liked how fun it was to read, and how useful the recipes are, but I also really appreciated reading about someone else’s internal battles over how to be sustainable and self sufficient, yet still realistic and sensible about what you can fit into your life.

On a similar note, I recently came across this article called The Homesteading Hypocrite.  The woman who wrote it discusses her battles with balancing her ideals with the inevitable messiness that is real life.  She talks about finding herself in situations that feel hypocritical or ridiculous (i.e. being too busy in the garden to have time to cook dinner, so having her partner pick up sushi), and struggling to live a life that conforms to her ideals but is still realistic.  I really dug her honesty and willingness to admit that sometimes we all fall short of our intentions.  It’s so much better to face up to this fact and decide where to go from there, rather than pretend that we’re all doing a perfect job of fulfilling all of ideals and ignore the parts of our lives that still need examination and work.

Haultain Common Weeding Party, Saturday April 28th, 2-4 pm

Thanks to the folks who attended last Sunday’s work party, we have put almost all the bones of the new Haultain Common design in place!  Our keyhole paths have all been built, the new blueberry plants are in place, and we wove a willow pea fence and planted peas to climb it.

The next step is to tackle the borage and calendula that are trying to take over.  Once we’re done this step, the garden will be spruced up for spring and looking awesome.  If you’re free this Saturday afternoon, stop by and give us a hand with the weeding — it’s really easy work (the plants are tiny), and good opportunity to hang out in good weather and chat it up with other rad gardening folks.

Hope to see you there!

Location:  The Haultain Common, 1420 Haultain at Asquith

Tour of Bounce Back Farm, Sunday April 29th, 1-3 pm: CANCELLED!

Hi folks,

Unfortunately, we’ve had to cancel tomorrow’s tour of Bounce Back Farm due to lack of people signed up.

Shannon, one of the rad urban farmers from Bounce Back has asked me to let you know that if you’re interested in popping by anyway, there will be folks there working from 11 am to 8 pm.  Projects for tomorrow include planting seedlings for Grow a Row and finishing the composting greenhouse (!), so there will definitely be some cool stuff happening.  Feel free to drop by the farm at 3080 Washington Ave if you’re so inclined.

Re-growing vegetables

If you’re looking for a creative way to make your food budget stretch further and get a bit of gardening into your life, you might want to try re-growing your used up veggies!

I recently read about re-growing green onions on a windowsill, and was amazed at how simple the process is.  You just use the onions normally, leaving the bottom white part and roots intact.  You plunk the roots into a jar of water, forget about it on your windowsill for a week or so, and then come back to harvest the regrown green parts.  I gave it a try at home, and was stoked on how ridiculously easy it was.  This would be an especially great way to extend the life of your food in the winter when you’re often forced to buy most of your food at the grocery store rather than pluck it from your garden.

I was so excited about the success of the green onions that I started looking into whether this technique could be used for other plants.  Apparently there are a ton of other plants that can be re-grown this way — who knew?

Here is a rad tutorial on re-growing celery.  Like the green onions, you start the stalk sprouting in a dish of water, but after that you transplant it into a container, and it keeps on keeping on from there.  Mary and Tim of the blog 17 Apart who put together the celery tutorial also have amazing how-to guides on re-growing sweet potatoes and bok choy on your windowsill.

If bok choy and green onions aren’t exotic enough for you, you can even try re-growing a pineapple in a container!   This is a pretty posi way to enjoy tropical deliciousness while keeping the travel distance of your groceries reasonable.

Have you ever tried re-sprouting any of these plants or others?  I would love to hear about your experience with this cool technique.

Fantastic Fermentation

I’m in the throes of putting together a fermentation workshop for an awesome high school group next week, and the recipe research has gotten me all amped up on taking on m0re of my own fermentation projects in the near future.  I would love to hear about any fermentation experiments any of you have been working on (whether successful or not), but for now, here is a bit of info on lacto fermentation, as well as some resources for learning more.

What is live-culture food?  Why is it so good for me?  To make live-culture food, you encourage lactic-acid-producing bacteria (lactobacilli) to colonize your food and convert its starches and sugars into lactic acid.  The lactobacilli themselves enhance the digestibility of food, increase its vitamin levels, and produce many helpful enzymes.  As well, lactic acid (the byproduct of the lactobacilli) is a natural preservative because it lowers the pH of the food, making it a less hospitable environment for harmful bacteria.  So, not only are you producing good bacteria, but you’re driving away the baddies at the same time.  Oh, and it makes your food taste delicious.

How do I make fermented food?  There are various different ways to convince your foodstuffs to ferment, but they can be loosely grouped into two categories:

1) Leaving it out and allowing it to accumulate microorganisms (e.g. sauerkraut, pickles, ginger beer)

2) Using a starter or inoculating it with an active culture (e.g. tempeh, yogurt, kombucha)

Here are two simple recipes that I think are great introductions to how easy and delicious lacto-fermentation can be:

Crème Fraiche (a cross between yogurt, sour cream and whipped cream:  try it on desserts or swirled into soup)
-500 mL heavy (whipping) cream
-2 Tbsp buttermilk (or commercial crème fraiche, or crème fraiche from a previous batch you’ve made)

  1. Mix cream and buttermilk together, and put in a jar.  Cover with cheesecloth or loose plastic wrap.
  2. Leave in a warm spot for about 24 hours.  It is ready when it is thick and has a slightly sour, nutty taste.
  3. Chill before using.   It will keep in the fridge for 7-10 days, where it will keep getting thicker and tangier.

Ginger Carrots (a simple and tasty ferment — a great way to get some basic techniques down)
-4 c grated carrot
-1 Tbsp grated ginger
-1 Tbsp salt
-4 Tbsp whey, water or lemon juice

  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Pound with a meat mallet or potato masher until the carrots start to release their juices (about 5 minutes).
  3. Put carrots in a jar, ensuring that the vegetables are covered by the brine, and that there is about 1” of headspace at the top of the jar.
  4. Cover the jar and leave it out for 3-7 days (taste as you go to see when you think they’re ready).  Once it tastes right to you, seal the jar and put it in cold storage.  It should keep for at least 6 months and keep tasting more and more fermented and tasty.

Resources: 

My two favourite books for fermentation recipes are Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz (check out his website as well), and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, both available at the library.  Wild Fermentation is solely fermentation recipes and is a bit more casual and free form in style, and definitely encourages lots of experimentation, which can be fun.  Nourishing Traditions has a lot of various kinds of recipes (not just ferments) and  is subtitled “The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats”, so expect a bit of rhetoric along those lines, but all the recipes I’ve tried are solid.

I also like checking out the Pickling section on Punk Domestics, which is updated regularly and has a wide variety of cool recipes.  A blog called Nourishing Days has a good series on Fermented Food For Beginners that is a good read.  Cultivated Cultures:  Exploring Fermented Foodways is a blog by a guy who received a fellowship to travel the world for a year exploring fermented food traditions (which I am max envious of).  If you’re looking for a source of cultures such as kefir grains or kombucha, GEM Cultures is a great place to look.  I highly recommend the links section on Sandor Katz’s website, which has an incredible array of fermentation resources.

Haultain Common Planting Party, Sunday April 22nd, 2-4 pm

The Common is really starting to come together for the season, but we will need your help to get more elements of the permaculture food forest in place!  We will be planting blueberries and strawberries (tasty times ahead!), constructing keyhole paths, and weaving a pea fence out of willow branches (a very cool skill to learn).  This event is a great chance to learn new skills, hang out with rad and community minded gardeners, and help out an important community resource.  Hope to see you there!

Cost:  free!

Location:  The Haultain Common, 1420 Haultain St at Asquith

Year Round Veggie Gardening, Saturday April 21st, 2-4 pm

ImageLiving on the mild west coast means we are some of the few folks in the country who can grow food all year round! Join us for this workshop to learn about crop rotations, season extension, and how to plan your veggie garden so you have a delicious twelve-month harvest.  We’ll be seeding trays of veggies for you to take home and get your garden started.

Location:  The straw bale building at the Compost Education Centre, 1216 North Park St, Victoria, BC

Suggested donation, $5

PLEASE EMAIL slugs.coordinator@gmail.com TO REGISTER!