Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Preserving the Bounty

Full on harvest time is definitely here!

There are two zucchinis for a dollar at the market, swiss chard leaves as big as elephant ears, bushels of peaches just begging to be turned into pies and chutneys.

I am feeling a bit of a struggle to keep up and preserve all this lovely food, while also remembering to relax enjoy it at its freshest!

Over the past few weekends and evenings I have done a little bit of preserving at a time.

Fresh zucchini has been lovely grated and served with spicy sesame noodles and cooked egg. It's so good fresh, and really doesn't freeze or can well.

I was at a loss for the best way to preserve zucchini until I came across this post by the amazing Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook about how to sun-dry zucchini and preserve it in oil.

That's our first batch above in the top photo, and you can click on the link to Hank's blog to get his recipe. I'll have a separate blog post dedicated to our homemade solar dehydrating system soon.

What are some of the other ways to preserve?

Last Thursday was time for canning peaches... and I hope to have many more quarts canned over the next few weeks. Plum-ginger jam is also on the list of things to make. Somehow I'll find the time?

Canning in simple syrup isn't the only way to preserve fruit. I also made up a few batches of real maraschino cherries.

Yes, those popular bright red sugar bombs that show up in your Shirley Temple or Manhattan were once made with real fruit soaked in a glorious alcohol to preserve the fruit year round.

Maraschino is actually a "bittersweet, clear liqueur flavored with Marasca cherries". Luxardo is the most most popular brand of this type of liquor, which happily the Wine Source had in stock!

Chowhound has a really interesting forum discussion where people debate how good cherries soaked in Luxardo actually are, and various recipes and methods.

I'll post the results of my own experience soon!

Canning can get pretty exhausting, so sometimes it's nice to just freeze a baggie of fruit. Simple and easy for once!

Freezing tip: to avoid having your fruit freeze into a solid block, lay all of your berries or fruit slices flat on a tray to freeze. Then once the individual pieces are frozen, you can move the bag around in the freezer as needed.

With all this preservation of food, when it comes time to eat actual meals I just want a simple summertime meal without any cooking or minimal oven use.

A big batch of potato salad made on Saturday hit the spot for days. Tasty, hearty, and cooling!

Special thanks to my friend Kara for homemade mayo... the salad was originally part of a fundraiser for the Boone Street Garden but it was so hot the market was quiet. More salad for me!

A few slices of cantaloupe, grated fresh zucchini tossed with a little oil, vinegar, and spices, and you've got a fresh, easy, and very cheap summertime meal.

Oh, and don't think I've forgotten fermenting as a way to keep produce longer... two experimental quarts of peach vinegar are fermenting in the mini-fridge as a way to use the peach skins and other bits leftover from canning.

I just mixed the fruit odds n' ends with water and inoculated it with some Bragg's raw apple cider vinegar from OK Natural Market. Cap the jar with some cheesecloth or fabric to let in air, and stir daily. Supposedly this should turn to vinegar in a month. I'll let you know how it turns out. Anyone out there made their own vinegar before?

Also I couldn't resist buying cucumbers at the market and couldn't eat them fast enough, so I sliced them into spears and tossed them in a pan-asian chili blend of korean gochujang chili paste and sriracha. Can't wait to eat them just like I've been eating the grated zucchini, on cold sesame noodles with cooked egg! Yum.

Sun-drying, canning, freezing, fermenting... am I leaving something out?!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's Scorching Out... Let's Solar Bake!

It's a toasty 101 degrees here in Baltimore today. Pretty uncomfortable... but at least I get to finally try solar baking!

I was reminded about solar baking a few weeks ago when listening to a Kojo Nnamdi show. Here's a link to the show if you want to listen yourself.

The show discussed American diplomat Patricia McArdle's experience in Afghanistan, and how useful solar ovens can be for that country and many other third world countries.

Firewood is still a major source of cooking fuel in many countries, resulting in massive deforestation and requiring a lot of labor to gather enough fuel. Solar ovens are a great source of renewable energy, and can free up the time of many woman and children who no longer have to collect firewood and stand over a hot fire to reheat food.

Solar Cookers International is the best place to go for recipes, designs, and other fun facts. 

Of course, solar oven baking doesn't just have to be about using the best source of renewable energy we've got (the sun!) It's also a fun science experiment, and a great way to cook food while not having to turn on your oven in this hot hot summer heat.

My favorite part in Patricia McArdle's interview was when she was demonstrating her first solar cooker at a village in Afghanistan, and someone asked where they could get a reflective surface like the aluminum foil Patricia had borrowed from the army commissary.One of the Afghani men whipped out his cigarettes and pulled of the foil wrapper inside. Talk about DIY!

There are many different models of solar oven, from large parabolic cookers to simple cardboard box models. The model I used is the simple windshield shade model.

I'm attempting to cook a loaf of french bread as we speak!

Sadly, I've kind of got a feeling it won't get hot enough. I forgot to cover the roasting pan with clear plastic to hold in the heat, and the angle of my foil reflector isn't quite right. Sigh.

This bootleg method might work for simple dehydration or making crackers or something, but I think I've got to do a lot more troubleshooting. We'll see!

The bread recipe I got from Solar Cookers International recommended that I cook the bread for 2-3 hours. I let the pan pre-heat in the bed of my truck from 9 to 11:30, then put in the dough. It's partly cloudy today so I'm leaving in the bread for the maximum amount of time.

I'll check it around 3 p.m. and let you all know how it turns out!

Here's the dough when I put it in:

4 p.m. update: total FAIL!

I had a feeling after I reviewed the Solar Cooker website that my oven wouldn't get hot enough. It didn't. The outer layer of the dough was dried out, and the whole thing was still completely gooey. Booo.

At least the chickens and ducks can eat the dough mess so it won't be a total waste. Oh well!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Whole Foods Urban Farm Video

One of my favorite homegrowing living bloggers, Esperanza of Pluck and Feather, has been featured on the new Whole Foods "Thrive" video series. I recommend it highly!

Esperanza speaks on the reasons why she was driven to start making and growing things, such as getting in touch with the cultural past of her grandparents, creating her own personal space, and feeling more in touch with nature and food.

The homegrown living movement seems to be growing and growing right now, and her words really express so many of the reasons why! It's exciting for these ideas to be spreading into popular culture.

Of course, not everyone has the time, resources, or energy to have a homegrown house. And some people might have something to say about shopping at Whole Foods. But nonetheless, I am still happy to have the word being spread.

Even just talking about growing and making things usually ignites a spark in most people, and they get excited about it in some way!

As Esperanza said, it may tap into something they remember seeing their grandmother doing, or it may be realizing that they've never thought about how peanuts grow, or learning that you can bake bread in the rays of the sun. Some of the kids who regularly visit the garden can't get over the fact that the sunflower seeds we planted are just like the ones you eat from a plastic bag.

Having conversations like the one in this video are such a positive way to frame how we look at what we consume. Congrats, Esperanza!

(p.s. if you're a fan of Wes Anderson films, there is a reason why her husband and father-in-law may look familiar... interesting fact!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Artscape 2011

The Artscape market was a success! Thanks to everyone who stopped by for a vegetarian banh mi sandwich, zucchini bread, pickles, or mint-basil tea.

The banh mi turned out really well, especially considering I had never seen a Vietnamese vegetarian pate before and kind of winged the recipe.

I really wanted to make rice vinegar and honey pickles with the eight pounds of cucumbers and pound of carrots we harvested from the garden a few weeks ago, and thought these Vietnamese sandwiches would be an interesting way to highlight the pickles, and a good portable food as well.

The veggies were pickled in a mixture of two parts rice vinegar to one part apple cider vinegar and one part honey, with some sea salt. Of course, I always recommend tasting your pickles and adjusting to see if you like it more sweet or sour.

One pickle tip: it helps to soak your veggies in a brine the night before you make your pickles.

The saltwater soak will remove excess water from watery vegetables like cucumbers and leave you with crunchier pickles. The next day, rinse off the saltwater and mix your pickles with the vinegar and honey. I actually left off this step by accident and the pickling liquid got really watery after the veggies had been sitting in it for a few days because all of the water was being taken out by the salt in the pickling liquid. 

If you're curious about how to make the vegetarian pate for the sandwich spread, here's how I made the recipe:

Remember the pho I cooked in January 2010? Well, I basically used a similar method to make a broth for lentils by toasting onion, coriander, cinnamon, star anise, and black pepper in a dry frying pan, then simmering the spices in water. Strain out the spices, and cook one cup of dry lentils per two cups of the spicy broth.

The cooked lentils were then blended in a cuisinart (Thanks Rachel!) with some fish sauce and sesame oil. Don't worry, I warned people there was fish sauce in the recipe so it wasn't totally veggie.

Spread good french bread with mayo and pate, then top with cilantro, pickles, sliced onion, and sriracha. Yum!

And extra special double thanks to everyone who helped us out (check out that awesome sign lettering by my brother! And homemade mayo from my friend Kara!)

All of the proceeds are going back into the garden for seeds, tools, and other needed equipment so we don't have to be totally reliant on grant money in the future.

It definitely takes more time to make a value-added produce with your food (like selling pickles instead of cucumbers), but it makes your produce more available to people who might not necessarily want to buy whole, raw veggies to eat, and it's fun to turn something you grew into an exciting new food!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"What About Here?" | @ Artscape 2011

Yup, this year the garage across from the Charles Theater (1714 N. Charles Street)is the place to be again for Artscape 2011!

Posted above is Nick Biddle's video of the 2010 BaltimoreDIY table. Here is a link to the post about last year if you missed it!

I have some other engagements so I won't be able to do the table again this year, but I will be there THIS FRIDAY (7/15) selling food made with Boone Street garden produce.

What types of food will Cheryl and I be selling?

Our cucumbers and carrots pickled in rice vinegar and honey will be topping vegetarian banh mi sandwiches. Zucchini and squash are going into lemon-scented zucchini bread. And we'll have some kale as well, perhaps cooked with sesame seeds and soy. For drinks we'll have some herbal tea made from our own mint, basil, chamomile, and lavender syrup. Come stop by and say hi!

Of course, there will be tons of other amazing demos at the show. Special thanks to Marian Glebes for being a fabulous curator!

Here's the announcement from the event Facebook page:

In its third year of Artscape, the parking garage exhibition across the street from the charles theatre continues to invite the viewer, browser, citizen, nomad, consumer, activist, visitor, wanderer, creator to ask the question, "What about here?"

A parking garage is a specific arena constructed for temporary occupation by objects or persons, and a ground for chance-encounters, brief inter-personal interactions, and the execution of routines. Its ordinariness makes it invisible, but it is a linkage in the system of travel and place, and connects users to their final destinations, coming and going, as it is a fleeting container for both vehicle and trajectory.

for three days during artscape, this garage wants you to park.

participating artists include:

baltimore free school
open city (MICA with Carey Chiaia and collaborators)
the baltimore free store
gary kachadourian
at_capers, or, and also, the food cart (dane nester)
boone street community farm
marian & fred
rachel valsing & c. ryan patterson
beau finley
baltimore free farm
joanna kopcxyk
grant whipple
vincent carney
...with image engineering's pyrotechnics

curated by marian april glebes


Friday, July 15th: Baltimore Free School 2nd Anniversary Party at Artscape! And BFS Lecture Series all weekend!

It's the Baltimore Free School's birthday party! We've made it TWO YEARS, and to celebrate, we'll be getting down in proper DIY style at Artscape. Come join us after the festival hours on Friday, 10 - 11:30 pm in the garage across from the Charles Theater (1714 North Charles St.)

Dance to the Veveritse Brass Band, a brilliant 10-pc brass-and-drums orchestra coming from Brooklyn to play Balkan dance music for us! Or just hang loose and enjoy the post-festival glow with friends. Pay-what-you-can donations appreciated.

Having kicked off the weekend the right way, come back to the garage Saturday and Sunday for the Free School Lecture Series and to check out all the other great grassroots projects showcased there, including the Baltimore Free Store and the Baltimore Free Farm! Hope to see you there!

And here is the schedule for the Free School Lecture Series:


12pm: The Democratization of Open Source and DIY with Matthew Forr
What the Arduino and Intructables.com are doing for us.

1pm: What You Already Know About Harm Reduction with Jacqueline Robarge, Carmen Shorter, and Abby Maloney
A participatory workshop to discuss the philosophy and practice of harm reduction

3pm: Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-hop and Politics with Lester Spence
What does hip-hop have to do with politics? How the four elements of hip-hop are used politically.

4pm: Why Independent Media Matters with the Baltimore Indypendent Reader
A panel of Indyreader editors discuss independent media today.

5pm: The Illusion of Credit and Wealth with Matt Weaver
Matt Weaver discusses credit and the modern economy

6pm: Emancipatory Research and Prison Reform with Lawrence Grandpre
An Analysis of Youth Criminal Justice Policy Within the African American Research Paradigm

7pm: Charm City Boys Drag King Show


12pm: Intro to Herbal Medicine Making with Mark Gunnery
Introduction to making herbal preparations with local plants.

1pm: Yoga Class with Heather Hax
Yoga class, bring your own mats, all levels welcome

2pm: Street Harassment with Shawna Potter from Hollaback!
Workshop on combatting street harassment

3pm: Movement Against the Drug War Model in Mexico and Why We Should Care with Clayton Conn
This lecture will be an overall view of current affairs in Mexico, the dynamics and hopes of the growing movement and resistance, and why it all matters to us in the United States.

4pm: Bike Maintenance 101 with Josh Keogh
Learn basic bicycle maintenance

5pm: Dicks in Poetry with Cass Adair
Phallic references in literature have gotten a bad rap ever
since folks remembered that Freud was a misogynist. But
don't worry, this talk will be awesome and full of jokes.

6pm: Spoken Word Performance by Ron Williams

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chickens in the City: On the News!

City chickens are still in vogue!

Last night our local news station WBAL posted a segment about chickens in the city ("More Chickens Calling Baltimore Home.") One of the two chicken owners featured was fellow urban farmer, Denzel Mitchell!

As quoted in the WBAL story: Kevin Usilton, director of Baltimore City Animal Control, counts the chickens, so to speak."It's kind of becoming a new phase for people to become very organic and to have chickens," he said.

Yes, it seems like the phase of owning chickens in the city is still holding strong. I hope bees and worms get the same rap. Maybe we can even start getting goats in a few special cases!

If you're interested in learning more about Baltimore's urban livestock regulations, the WBAL site also has a link for the city's exotic pet regulations (which includes chickens, pigeons, pot-bellied pigs, and bees).

It seemed fitting to me that this news story appeared just as a discussion about chickens was popping up on the Baltimore Foodmaker's google group discussion board. There are many different types of foodie, and sometimes the views of vegetarians and locavores run counter to each other!

The core of the discussion touched on how we as humans interact with animals as pets and as food. Perhaps I should have called this blog post, "Chicken: Pet or Food Product?" !

The discussion appeared after someone asked about which type of chicken coop to build. One member replied with the view of chickens as pets:

RAISING CHICKENS: this is a plea to everyone considering a backyard flock. It has become very fashionable and popular for backyard flocks for fresh eggs and meat. Have you done your research? Chickens are NOT carefree animals and given veterinary care (which by the way is required in Baltimore City) can run into the thousands of dollars. Even finding a vet that treats chickens is next to impossible as there are only three I know of in the state!

When you purchase chickens you are contributing to an awfully cruel industry as well (to horrible to mention so if interested, it is easy to research) and that goes for even purchasing from a neighbor. Remember 50% of all eggs hatched are roosters and most people don't want to kill them so they usually abandon them after they find that not many Humane Societies will even take them.


PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, if you must have chickens (and they are a great addition to the family), do the research and then adopt! .... Chickens have all the feelings and emotions of dogs and cats. They form attachments to their humans and with one another. They grieve and they have pleasure. Treat them like one of the family ;-)

And another member as a chicken owner who raises domestic animals for food purposes:

I don't feel like it is irresponsible to slaughter a hen that is unproductive. In fact, I find it a lot more responsible than buying chicken from the grocery store.If you want to treat your chickens as pets, great. It is not a requisite to owning chickens however.

As for vet bills, I would hesitate about spending thousands of dollars on my own health, much less that of a chicken. In fact, when so many people go hungry everyday, it would go against my own morals to do so. I don't think it is appropriate to insist that people treat chickens like members of their family. I have a small flock of happy, healthy free range hens that decidedly work for their keep in providing me eggs. When they fail to do so, I have no problem with slaughtering them for meat.

In my eyes, one of the benefits of owning chickens is that it forces us to confront the idea of meat as a living being. I'm curious to hear from all of you... where you do fall on the idea of chickens or other livestock?

How do you decide the balance between pet or food?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Want to Host a Workshop for DIY Fest 2011?

Brewers, seamstresses, zine-makers, fermenters, primitive skill makers, artists, musicians, gardeners, activists.... it's time for DIY Fest 2011 and we need YOU!

If you're interested in hosting a workshop, email the organizers at diyfest@gmail.com. For more information, visit http://diyfest.org/.

For a peek back at last year's fest, go here!

Ah, memories of the primitive skills workshop...

The awesome map of events...

The panel about alternative economic models with Red Emma's, Baltimore Bicycle Works, and Fusion Partnerships....

Can't wait for this year!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Montana Vacation Update: Part II

It's been a little slow coming since I've been busy catching up at my day job and the Boone Street Garden, but here's a photo update of the rest of the Montana vacation. I hope you enjoy!

(I'll leave the remaining pictures in the smaller size so as not to clog of some your computers in case they run slow, but if you'd like to see the photos enlarged you should be able to click on them and they will open in a new tab.)

Avalanche Lake

We camped among the RVs at a KOA "kampground" - it was the closest campsite to the wedding location and we didn't feel quite prepared for backcountry camping. It was a little rowdier than regular camping, but nice to have hot water available at the continental breakfast spread each morning for free tea and oatmeal!

Tent time!

This license plate pretty much sums it up:


On the way up to Avalanche Lake, you walk through an old-growth cedar and hemlock grove. So lovely!

(I thought a lot about my fellow fairie friend Katie Red walking through all those mossy rocks and giant trees)

It's busy season at the parks right now (especially 4th of July weekend) so the trails had a lot of traffic, but everyone was so friendly and just happy to enjoy the view

So many lovely cabins in the area! This was one of the cabins around the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Beautiful lanterns in the lobby of the lodge:

We took a break from hiking and took a boat ride on the lake:

And even saw some wildlife  (I don't have photos of the dung beetles though!). We saw this deer on one of our hikes from the KOA to the wedding lodging area:

Bighorn sheep in the Two Medicine area of the park:

A very cheeky little chipmunk at Avalanche Lake who clearly has become accustomed to people and their trail mix:

On our third day we decided to brave the three hour drive around the park to East Glacier. As soon as we arrived we saw two black bears so it was worth it! Park rangers, don't worry we didn't stop our car and cause a "bear jam!"

The park borders the Blackfeet Reservation:

During our Two Medicine hike we were excited to touch snow in July.

Montana, you are beautiful!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Back from Montana! Part I: The Farm

Back from our ten day trip to Montana!

It's been so long since I was out West, and I forgot how it felt to be near that much sky and earth. It was wonderful disconnecting from the phone, internet, and t.v. to spend time with friends and nature.

The main purpose of the trip was to attend the wedding of two great friends from here in Baltimore. (Some of you readers have already met the groom from the February post about homemade wooden bows and arrows.)

For the first few days we had the opportunity to stay with the bride's family on their wheat farm on the prairie. That's their welcome sign above, with a deer antler decoration and some of the mountains in the distance. Quite a view!

Here's Chicken-Man taking his own photo of the sign:

The farm was a conventional wheat farm. I won't talk too much about it here since I know that I don't know anything when it comes to "real" farming. It was interesting learning that they grow a special dry-land wheat crop (along with some barley and flax) since so much of the precipitation in Montana gets dumped out over the mountains, it's all gone by the time the clouds reach the prairie.

This year was actually pretty wet so much of the crop has been covered by "rust," or fungus. Sometimes the crops get destroyed by hail storms. This year the farmers would actually benefit from a hail storm since then they would be able to collect insurance instead of having to sell the rust-infected crop. Farming is definitely risky business! Many farmers have family members with jobs off the farm to help keep things stable.

The wheat fields:

Another bit of farming information I picked up is a term called "chem-fallow."

Letting the land lay fallow is part of a crop rotation system necessary for farming. It is even mentioned in the Bible as a method for feeding the poor!

A main problem with letting the land lay fallow is that is gets totally covered by weeds. Since it requires so much time and labor to pull thousands of acres of weeds, the farmers now spray a chemical to prevent any weeds from growing on the fallow fields. There is also something in the chem-fallow that prevents all of the dust from the empty fields from blowing away.

It can be easy for us consumers to talk about chemicals and farming, but I guess if my family's livelihood was at stake the choice would be difficult. I have read accounts of farmers switching from conventional to organic farming and how it's cheaper because they don't have to pay for pesticides and fertilizer, but I do know it's a lot more work. Visiting a farm was a great opportunity at getting perspective on where food really comes from and the choices our farmers have to make, and we as consumers have to make.

I read a fair amount of the "Last Best Place" anthology to get a sense of Montana's history. Part of that history is the struggle of the homesteaders to survive in such a dry place. During the trip I heard a family story about one of their great-grandmothers who came with the wave of homesteaders from Minnesota lured by cheap land. When she arrived at their plot of ground, she grabbed a shovel and stuck it in the ground to see how rich it was. The shovel barely made a dent. She then grabbed a knife and tried to stab it into the ground. When the knife was resisted too, she laid down and wept.

Don't worry though, I didn't spend the whole time obsessing about food and where it comes from!

We spent a lot of time looking out at the land and sky. I rode around a lot in the back of a pickup, and it was a good thing the groom was riding in the back of the truck with us as he has an expert eye and kept pointing out deer, antelope, and coyotes for us to see.

We hiked up a butte and saw the remains of an ancient seabed. There are even small shark teeth to be found among the many seashells. This is a large seashell that I picked up, with a shot of the butte in the distance:

There were many wildflowers and sagebrush, with even a few prickly pear cactus thrown in (shown here in bloom):

We drank homebrew and potluck food, chatted with new friends and family, and got a taste of real Montana life. Sometimes literally, like when we got to eat elk kabobs made from an elk bagged by the bride's uncle!

We also toured the barn where the bride's father stores his handmade wooden canoes. Check out the lovely compass rose design he created out of inlaid wood:

A not very good shot of more of the canoe, with Chicken Man taking a photo of the compass rose:

You can see a main attraction of Montana's entertainment by the looks of their barn, with the canoes and a pile of antlers built up over the years from the family's various hunting trips:

Also, I got to shoot a gun for the first time, a .22 rifle! I felt safe using it because there were many experienced gun users around who coached us on safety. Also, the bride had used the rifle at age 12 so I was confident that I could easily manage. It was exciting!

I was more scared about the kick-back than anything else, but I was coached how to hold the gun so the experience was much more mild than I was expecting. Like so many other things out on the farm, the experience of shooting a gun made you realize that you better have your head on straight and pay attention and stay in control or someone could get hurt.

Enough about guns, here's another photo of wildflowers!

For the second half of the trip we left the prairie and headed for the mountains. Stay tuned for photos of the visit to Glacier National Park!

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