Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Bill Mollison and his student (at the time) David Holmgren did a great thing when they developed philosophy of Permaculture in the 1970's. It's a topic that greatly interests me because it's as much about us, and how we treat each other and our planet, as it is about growing things. The more I learn about gardening, the more I realize how my garden is connected to everything (just like my self and my body), and how we/it all has to work together to succeed and survive.

But really, what IS Permaculture? For years I have heard that word, and read a smattering about it online here and there, but not enough to make any real sense to me until I read Toby Hemenway's Gaia's Garden last year. That book gave me a basis for understanding permaculture, at least in a general way, and I'm now firmly convinced that permaculture is the very best, and perhaps the only way to get us out of the mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve the significant problems we face at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

"Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single-product system."
~ Bill Mollison (from the website)

This definition of permaculture expresses a basic concept in permaculture - examining and following nature's patterns. Permaculture advocates designing human systems based on natural ecosystems. Permaculture draws from several other disciplines including organic farming, agroforestry, sustainable development, and applied ecology.  But, there are many other definitions of permaculture, just as there are many definitions of sustainable living.

The actual term permaculture is a contraction of the words "permanent," "agriculture,” and “culture.” Although the original focus of permaculture was geared towards sustainable food production, the philosophy of permaculture has expanded over time to encompass economic and social systems. It is a dynamic movement that is still evolving. For example, some practitioners are integrating spirituality and personal growth work into the framework of permaculture.

At the very core of premaculture are Ethics, sadly lacking in today's BigAg in my opinion.

The three philosophical ethics of permaculture (in simple form) are:
1. Care of the earth means that our number one priority is taking care of the earth, making sure we don't damage its natural systems so all life systems can continue and multiply.

2. Care of the people means meeting people's needs (having equal access to resources) so that people's lives can be sustained and have a good quality of life as well, but without damaging the earth.

3. Accepting (or setting) limits to population and consumption is realizing that as a human species we cannot continue to increase and also sustain the planet. By governing our own needs, we can set aside resources for the 2 principles above.

I think those are some really exacting standards... but as we begin to embrace them, some wonderful things happen even on a small scale.

"Care of the Earth" happens in both big and small ways, and not just in growing things. I like Hemenway's distinction of horticulture vs. agriculture. He points out that the etymology of  horticulture is the Latin hortus, meaning garden, while the etymology of agriculture is the Latin ager, meaning field. The big difference in planting huge fields and planting gardens could be considered as a part of permaculture.

I remember when I was reading The Celestine Prophecy back in the early 1990's, how one of the Insights was what happened to the plants when he talked to them. They flourished! That's just a tiny personal bit of "care of the earth" although permaculture goes much deeper. What happens when we give plants the real food they need, rather than a chemical soup which ends up harming our ecosystems like our soils and waterways? What happens when we put plants in nifty little plant communities with many diverse neighbors, and each plant contributes something to the success of the whole?

"Care of the Earth" is about what products we use and discard like trash. I fight daily to get my family here to consider the effects of all the cleaning chemicals they use, when hydrogen peroxide and baking soda would suffice. We live on a now almost-dead creek (from pollution); our creek waters flow down to the Holston River where they eventually join up with the French Broad River near Knoxville; there they become the beginning of the Tennessee River... and then they travel together along to the Ohio River and finally join and mingle with the Mighty Mississippi near Cairo, Illinois, and eventually end up in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico with the massive floating dead zones created by the polluted rivers. Every individual along the many miles of this creek, and all the rivers downstream, could change some of the dying creeks and rivers by simple "Care of the Earth".

Another biggie is what we allow commercial enterprises do to our Earth... fracking, strip mining, mountaintop removal, nuclear power plant waste products that are hazardous for 10,000+ years... and GMO's. (A bit of scientific research about GMO's show that they reduce sperm count from the get-go; lab tests in rats show GMO's render complete sterility in 3 generations... if you think about it, that's really population control, without consent.)

"Care of the Earth"  is also how we manage our finite resources (oil, natural gas, the metals we mine, water, and the topsoil we wash away) so that we can continue to exist, and still leave some resources for our children and grandchildren. (We should all work on becoming more realistic about what our basic "needs"  vs. "wants" really are.)

Then there is BigAg, with their/our dependence on the rapidly depleting supplies of fossil fuels. The majority of the food we eat world-wide is produced by BigAg, unless we somehow manage to supplement it with a fruit-nut-veggie patch in our yards or our neighborhoods. Having a garden, even if it's just potted tomatoes on a balcony, IS one way we can start to make changes, and assure some nutritionally good foods in our households as we do. (There are many other ways, but a garden is a good one.) Permaculture can be a pathway because it can teach us, among other things, how to increase yield while eliminating dependence on man-made chemical fertilizers. We just have to learn to do as Nature does!

 "Care of the People" is a vast challenge, and is more than just not making war on them, or even just feeding them. Most of us mentally divide "us" and "them", and we weep and gnash our teeth at problems that happen within our immediate family and those we know and care about, whether it's a health problem, an auto accident, or job loss. Of course, we also lament the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in a catastrophe half way around the world, but it is a detached kind of lament and doesn't really touch us, deep down on some emotional level, like those at home do.

So, when we move manufacturing (sweatshops?) to foreign countries out of our view, we can act detached from the abuses. We prohibit DDT here in the US but sell it overseas, and we can pretend we have eliminated that particular toxin, even though it comes back to us in/on imported foods.

Here's a very simplistic "care of the people" test just in your own personal surroundings... If you work in a large office or plant, very likely there is a person you pass often, with just a cursory nod or "Hello". The next time you pass that person, stop and make a personal comment to them, something like "that color looks good on you"... or "hey, that's a great tie/tattoo/haircut"... just anything more personal than the previous impersonal nods. Watch the reaction... the whole energy pattern changes for the better.

"Accepting Limits to population and consumption"... Years ago, the Chinese limited the number and gender of live children a couple could have. It brought fierce turmoil to their people. But I think we all really KNOW in our hearts the world cannot continue to sustain the projected increase in world population. A big question for everyone is: are you willing to limit your number of children/grandchildren? Or is that just the responsibility of "others" in poorer nations?

But it's NOT just limiting population; it's about limiting resources so everyone has a fair share.

I personally believe that the principles of permaculture could cure the planet from the all the damage conventional chemical agriculture has wrought, and maybe save us from extinction.
The permaculture ideas I know about are wonderful, and I have adopted some of the food forest ideas, which are partially from the Permaculture crowd and partially from others... and they all pretty much follow the Wiki definition, "Permaculture is a theory of ecological design which seeks to develop sustainable human settlements and agricultural horticultural systems, by attempting to model them on natural ecosystems." 

I'd love to take a PDC but it is not likely; the charges for the PDC course vary considerably with location. Here in Virginia and nearby North Carolina, the going rate is well in excess of $1,000... while a friend in upstate New York can find the same PDC certificate course for under $300. I think the design concepts are important, especially the ecological ones, but I want lots of practical information applicable to my situation, too.

I must say, though, that if I had the opportunity (and the money) to take a PDC course from one of the established Permaculture giants like Geoff Lawton or Toby Hemenway, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

If money is an issue, as it is for me, there are some good alternatives to learning about permaculture other than taking a PDC. Unfortunatey for us in the US, much of the available information is for tropical climates, but that is beginning to change as the concepts are becoming more widely known across the US and Canada. There are some permaculture forums on the internet, and several blogs that focus on various aspects of permaculture.

If you learn easily from books, you can buy  Bill Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual; it sells for around $110. It is the definitive Permaculture design manual in print since 1988, and it is the text book and curriculum for the 72-hour Certificate course in Permaculture Design (PDC). Written for teachers, students and designers, it follows on and greatly enlarges on the initial introductory texts, Permaculture One (1978) and Permaculture Two (1979, currently OOP) both of which are still in demand over twenty years after publication. Very little of the material found in the Designer's Manual is reproduced from the former texts. It covers design methodologies and strategies for both urban and rural applications describing property design and natural farming techniques.

An excellent book if you are just starting out is Gaia's Garden (by Toby Hemenway) for around $20.

Another alternative is to investigate the work of Sepp Holzer, an Austrian man who has done some remarkable things in Natural Farming, much like the great natural farming pioneer, Masanobu Fukuoka. The Holzer Permaculture is a branch of permaculture developed by Sepp independently from the mainstream Permaculture. It is particularly noteworthy because it grew out of practical application and absolutely detached from the scientific community.

By the way, there has been lots of contention over who if anyone controls the legal rights to the word "Permaculture", meaning is it trademarked or copyrighted, and if so, who holds the legal rights to the use of the word. For a long time Bill Mollison claimed to have copyrighted the word permaculture, and his books reflected that on the copyright page, saying "The contents of this book and the word PERMACULTURE are copyright." These statements were largely accepted at face-value within the permaculture community. However, copyright law does not protect names, ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something; it only protects the expression or the description of an idea, not the idea itself. Eventually Mollison acknowledged that he was mistaken and that no copyright protection existed for the word "permaculture". Source

Monday, February 27, 2012

Making Preserved Lemons with Kumquats

Yes, you can find posts on this all over the internet, but it's new to me. I DID try some kind of preserved lemons years ago, but they were in olive oil if I remember correctly. They spoiled, and now I never even put herbs or garlic in olive oil... too risky.

I finally found Meyer Lemons in the grocery store in the next town. The price was right (and cheaper than regular lemons!) so I bought 2 bags of juicy Meyer lemons. They also had kumquats, which grew wild in the neighborhood where I visited my grandfather, and I haven't had any in years. They went in the basket, too.

I shy away from buying foods with a lot of miles to get to me, but sometimes I just can't help myself!

I started out with the method I see a lot, which is quartering each lemon almost all the way through, and packing a tablespoon of non-iodized salt inside before putting them in the jar. Then I remembered this blog post, where he cuts the lemons all the way through, and adds a variety of spices (like star anise and black pepper) as well as salt. The neat thing he does is make use of the salty residue when all the lemons are used up, by dehydrating the salty liquid and crushing it in a mortar/pestle to use to flavor other dishes.

I mashed down the lemons a couple of times, and the next day I quartered them, added spices (cinnamon, star anise and peppercorns) and more salt. More occasional mashing, and now they are releasing more juice. Last, I added kumquats cut in half, and more salt. 

After another day or two, I put them in a smaller jar (didn't do it earlier as my masher wouldn't fit in the opening of a smaller jar), put a lid on, and I'll store them in a cool place for a month before using.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

White Pines Useless? Nah...

Photo by H.C. Williams

Up in one corner of our property stands a short row of mature white pines, which I thought pretty much useless, except maybe as a wind break. I think they are on my neighbor's side of the fence anyway. (My attitude stems from miles and miles of white pines planted in south Georgia and Florida for the pulp industry.) Now I have discovered some wonderful uses, so I'm taking back everything bad I ever said about white pines! 

One of the uses has to do with the pollen as a superfood, and the other has to do with cesium and radiation poisoning. 

Last year after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I wrote several posts about what we can do to mitigate radiation poisoning... if you put nuclear radiation in the search box on the right, you can find those posts. The news about radiation levels in the US from Fukushima are out there, but not readily available in the public media. The thing to remember is that no amount of radiation is good... and that it never goes away (well, maybe in 10,000 years).

Many of us know about pine needle tea as a rich source of Vitamin C, but now white pine pollen is being promoted as a highly nutritious superfood powder. But who needs to buy it when you can pick your own? The needle-like leaves of pine can be made into a nutritious tea. However, the inner bark is more nutrient- and phytochemical-dense in terms of chemicals that nourish and protect us. If you don't have access to trees where you can gather inner bark from them, gather the branchlets instead (leaves and short section of the branch together) so you can access the antioxidants in the pine bark.

Arthur Haines shows us how and when to harvest pine pollen with strategies for gathering sufficient pollen to make tinctures, or use as a superfood. He also goes into detail about the nutritional chemistry of pine pollen which is rich in non-enzymatic anti-oxidants like pro vitamin A, B Complex, C, D and E plus a host of minerals and amino acids. Apparently pine pollen is also a great defense against radioactive Cesium that is appearing in dairy and other foods in the US.

Pine pollen is high in potassium, and since Cesium replaces potassium in our bodies, having an abundance of potassium easily available is a good thing.

Links to the videos:

Here's a bit about how the US is storing nuclear waste:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Starting Babington Leeks

Last September, a friend gifted me with some bubets of rare Babington Leeks. This will be my first non-traditional perennial vegetable in my garden! (I have a few of the traditional ones like asparagus, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, etc.) I followed her planting instructions and planted about a third of them in the garden last Fall, but if they have ever grew, or at least I never saw them. The other 2/3rds I separated into very green, or fairly tan bublets... moistened them slightly and threw them in baggies in the crisper where they have been all winter, buried under other baggies of seeds being stratified. (I don't think they needed to be stratified, but I wasn't sure I wanted them to dry out, either. Information on growing them is scant.)

While I was digging around in that crisper drawer last week, I saw they had sprouted! So today (Sunday Feb. 12 as I'm writing this), my Biodynamic planting guide said it's the right time to plant them. I couldn't find any planting guides on the internet, but the woman who sent them to me said that in her garden they fall to the ground and sprout. (I don't recall what zone she's in.) Well, it is a chilly 15ºF outside, with a light snow cover on the ground so obviously putting them outside on the ground won't work.

I poked a few drain holes in a deep aluminum container, filled it with about 2-3" of potting soil (slightly dampened), and made depressions for the roots. This pan went inside another deep pan, with spacers between them to allow water to collect in the lower tray. I know I should have used a much deeper soil layer, but I only had a bit of potting soil warm inside the house... and I didn't think planting them in 15º potting soil brought in from outside would be a good idea!

I lightly sprinkled what potting soil I had left around the bublets. I don't know if that's the way to go or not, since I couldn't find directions. However, I only planted about 40% of the sprouted bublets so I have more if this fails. (I don't think the sprouted bublets will last much longer in the crisper, though!) 

If they grow, I will transplant them to individual 4" garden pots before all the roots grow together, and hold them for warmer weather when they can go in the ground.

Update: The photo above is 12 days after putting them in potting soil. Sorry about the glare off the windows... we have a lot of light reflecting off the snow cover. I ended up planting all of the bublets with roots... I was afraid I'd lose the rest. This tray (1 of 3) was the greenest of the bublets when I got them last September, and stayed greener in the crisper; they are significantly ahead of the others. I'm greatly encouraged with all of them, though!!

This is NOT a leek in the traditional sense. It is more of a Wild Leek, but not to be confused with the N. American Allium tricoccum of the same name, and more commonly known as Ramps. In tidewater Virginia, this plant is commonly known as the “Yorktown Onion.” 

The Babington leek has many uses... the greens can be harvested and cooked during winter, tasting a bit like shallots. The bublets taste more like leeks, and the bulbs and bubils (underground) taste more like garlic. Medicinally, Babington Leeks have about  same properties as garlic.

It might take 2-3 years to get these established to edible and renewal size in my garden but I'm really looking forward to them! (Assuming I don't kill them while I'm trying to sprout them.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

GMO updates: good, bad, and really ugly

My last GMO rant for at least a few weeks! *Besides, it's time to gear up for garden season...

The Good news:
 Boulder, Colorado bans GMO crops on county-owned land
India Suing Monsanto, seeds of discord

While this is a good start for India, it does not address over 17,500 of India's farmers who have committed suicide, apparently most largely due to GMO cotton. Source

Yeah, he sounds a little too rehearsed, but it's a start!

In-between news?
300,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto in Federal Court:
Judge's Decision due on March 31st as to whether to Go to Trial

Bad news:
Monsanto illegally plants GM corn in India

Monsanto at war with the USA & all other Nations?
Roundup herbicide found in air, rain, and streams

Yet Another FDA  Monsanto Food Scandal

"Part of me would like to tell you it will be ok, things are going to be ok, but I cannot do that. In Europe where the EU has banned GMO foods a documentary was made that we here in the US are being blocked from seeing by Monsanto. They do not want you to know the truth, but as the show "X-Files" used to say in the credits, The truth is out there."
Human trials of GM wheat


...and The Really Ugly News:
"The USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation, and deregulation with restrictions. Given the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. – 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban was not on the table." Source: Red Green & Blue ( )

ps... don't forget canola oil (Canadian Oil Low Acid) made from rapeseed is a GMO, and while it is said to have benefits, all of the GM rapeseed grown throughout the world is herbicide resistant which means more chemicals are used for weed control. The same is true of soybean oil, and soy products; most are GMO unless they specify "organic".

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Growing Fruit Trees in Drought Areas

Drawing by Kyle Chamberlain
Talus Garlands aka Stone Mulch could be a boon for gardeners in dry areas or a drought situation. I know Texas lost many trees last year, and although the first part (in red) of the information below was taken from a permaculture article (Rethinking Water: A Permaculture Tour of the Inland Northwest), the principles of how it works should apply in many other areas.

“Scabland” is a term used to describe the parts of Washington State which are too rocky to grow wheat on. These scablands are comprised of coulees, cliffs, and mesas, eroded into basalt bedrock. The walls of such formations often have piles of broken rock about their base. Being a berry enthusiast, I noticed that the best place in the steppe to find serviceberries was on the north side of such rock piles. In fact, the north sides of a rock piles are about the only places that stay green in the summer. 

Research revealed that botanists had already named this phenomenon, calling it a “talus garland community”.

Talus garlands can support pome and stone fruits (Amelanchier and Prunus), currants, elderberries, several hawthorns, roses, edible greens like nettle and goldenrod, as well as naturalized species like cherries, plums, apricots, grapes and apples.

It seemed obvious that mimicking a talus garland would be a great way to grow woody plants on dry land. But before trying to build such a mimic, we needed to understand how they work in nature. 

Why are talus garlands so green? There are several theories:
  • Shade from the southern sun minimizes evaporation and causes winter snow to melt later in the year
  • Drifting snow collects in the loose rock
  • Piled stones condense moisture from night air (thanks to the Designers Manual for the hint)
  • Stones protect soil moisture from sunlight and arid air
  • Stones minimize competition from grasses
  • Stones protect plants and debris from fire
  • Freshly eroded basalt provides ample mineral nutrients
  • Stone provides an ideal growing surface for lichens, which speed the breakdown of rock and fix nitrogen (lichens are the primary nitrogen fixers in some deserts)
  • Loose stone provides some protection from browsers, especially during early growth
  • Stone piles provide habitat for animal associates, like packrats, cottontail rabbits, marmots, chipmunks, snakes, lizards, ext. Animal associates distribute seeds, provide manure, control pests, etc. (Rabbits and marmots are very tasty themselves)

Research reveals: "the mulching of agricultural fields and gardens with stones, pebbles, cinder and similar lithic (stone) materials is a variant agricultural strategy that has been used to evade drought and increase crop yield for more than a thousand years in the Old and New Worlds. Lithic mulch agriculture (LMA) is uniquely suited to the constraints of dryland environments, yet its use has remained confined." (Source)

Wiki says: A stone mulch can significantly increase crop yields in arid areas. This is most notably the case in the Canary Islands: on the island of Lanzarote there is about 5.5 inches of rain each year, and there are no permanent rivers. Despite this, substantial crops can be grown by using a mulch of volcanic stones, a trick discovered after volcanic eruptions in 1730. Some credit the stone mulch with promoting dew; although the idea has inspired some thinkers, it seems unlikely that the effect is significant. Rather, plants are able to absorb dew directly from their leaves, and the main benefit of a stone mulch is to reduce water loss from the soil and to eliminate competition from weeds.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Making Duxelles, Essence of Mushrooms

Duxelles is a finely chopped (minced) mixture of mushrooms, sautéed in butter and reduced to a paste. A bit of duxelles can be used in almost any dish, from an omelette to Beef Wellington... any place a bit of concentrated earthy mushroom flavor will add punch to the recipe.

Some folks add onions, shallots, and/or herbs when making duxelles. Since mine are to be frozen in cubes to add a mushroom flavor to some future dishes, I opted for James Beards' recipe that is just mushrooms and butter. That gives me the option to always add shallots and various herbs to whatever recipe I am making.

Since fresh mushrooms are not commonly available in my local markets, I tend to buy mushrooms whenever I'm out of town... and usually with no recipe planned in mind. As a result, I often waste part of the fresh mushrooms because I didn't get around to using them all before they got slimy. Occasionally I have canned a few fresh mushrooms, which by the way make great mushroom soup, but that's a LOT of work if you have only a few mushrooms!

However, turning fresh mushrooms into duxelles that I can freeze in cubes will give me lots of that wonderful concentrated mushroom taste to add to recipes. Frankly, I'm told they lose a tad of their punch in freezing, but they will also last for 2-3 weeks just refrigerated. I'm choosing possibly less than perfect mushroom taste over NO mushroom taste!

Since all the prep (chopping to a mince) for duxelles is a LOT of work, I bought 4 pounds of baby bellas to make a big enough batch that may last me several months.

Here's the recipe I used, followed by some of my photos of making duxelles. I've had the recipe for years and unfortunately, I don't have the recipe source...

Chop Away for Lovely "DUXELLES" by James Beard

I'm often surprised to find how few of my students are familiar with duxelles. It is one of the simplest and most versatile mixtures that you can have on hand in the refrigerator.

Despite the exotic name, which is derived from that of the Marquis d'Uxelles, whose chef invented the special way of cooking mushrooms. It is idiotically easy to prepare, provided you don't mind expending a little energy in chopping. Duxelles is nothing more than finely chopped mushrooms cooked down slowly in butter until they become a dense, dark mass, almost a paste, marvelous for adding concentrated flavor to any- thing from soups to stews to sauces and stuffing.

To make a reasonable amount worth the effort of all that chopping, buy two to three pounds of mushrooms. They don't have to be large, perfect, spanking white caps. They can be small, varied in size and a bit discolored. The taste is what matters, not the appearance, so you can buy those slightly overage mushrooms that are often reduced for quick sale in supermarkets.

Pick the mushrooms over, wiping off any dirt or bits of straw with a damp paper towel, then put them on a board and slice them, stems and all. (The slices need not be even; this is just so they are easier to chop.) I like to use a large heavy-bladed French chopping knife or a Chinese clever, because the chopping goes faster with a big blade. I don't recommend chopping them in a food processor -- they get too mushy.

Chop the slices by hand until the pieces are fairly fine, then put them in a sturdy dish towel, a piece of muslin or several thicknesses of cheesecloth, pull up the corners and twist the fabric into a bag so the mushrooms are pushed into a tight ball.  Then twist and squeeze as hard as you can with your hands to make them yield up a goodly amount of their liquid. It takes a good deal of force to extract as much liquid as possible, but keep on squeezing over a bowl until they seem comparatively dry.

Save the liquid for vegetable soup, a brown sauce or a stew that would be enhanced by a slight mushroom flavor. The point of this squeezing is that the mushrooms will cook down faster if there isn't a lot of excess liquid to evaporate.

Now melt one stick (a quarter-pound) of unsalted butter in a heavy 7- or 9-inch iron or stainless steel skillet over medium-low heat, open the cloth and tip in the mushrooms. Stir the mass with a wooden spoon to break it down and distribute it over the pan.

As they cook down, the remaining liquid will evaporate and the color will become very dark, almost black. This may take 30 minutes or more, and it is a process that you can't hurry.  When you have a thick, reduced mass that holds together, season to taste. Usually I don't add salt, only about eight to ten grinds of pepper, because it is my feeling that duxelles should be salted only as needed when it is added to a dish.

Transfer the duxelles to a crock or bowl and cool -- take a taste and you'll marvel at the intensity of that rich, buttery mushroom flavor -- and then cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Duxelles will keep for 10 days to two weeks under refrigeration.  It can be frozen, of course, but to my mind it loses something in the process.  However, better to freeze than leave to spoil, so use your judgment as to how quickly you'll use it up.

This glorious mixture has infinite uses. You can add it to soups, sauces, scrambled eggs; use it as a filling for omelettes and crepes; mix it in stuffings; swirl it into mashed rutabagas, turnips, celery root , potatoes or winter squash; combine it with peas; or spread it on toast, heat and serve as an hors d'oeuvre. The taste is so fantastic, the very essence of mushroom, that you'll find yourself dreaming up more and more possibilities.

There are different flavor variations for duxelles. You can add six or seven finely chopped shallots to the butter just before putting in the mushrooms, mix the two well and let them cook down. Or put six or eight peeled whole shallots or three or four unpeeled garlic cloves in with the mushrooms after they have started to cook, stir them around and remove them after the duxelles is cooked, which gives a slightly less assertive, but pleasant flavor.

One of my favorite ways to use duxelles is as the base for a quick, rich sauce for eggs, vegetables, poached fish filets or poached chicken. Combine one-half to one cup duxelles and one-half cup or more heavy cream in a saucepan and heat, stirring until it just reaches the boiling point. If you like, add about two tablespoons Madeira or a tablespoon of Cognac and heat until the spirit evaporates, leaving only the flavor.

So don't be put off by the name. Once you've made duxelles and discovered how great a flavoring it can be, you'll wonder how you ever cooked without it

Okay, here are my photos...

Slicing mushrooms

I discovered I could only mince a small portion at a time... I'm a messy chopper!

Mr. Beard says to squeeze out excess mushroom liquid. I failed with the first pound.

First pound cooked to almost nothing!

For the second batch (3 pounds), I chose to mince the mushrooms in my mini-chopper even though Mr. Beard says it produces a less than perfect texture. First, mincing a pile of mushrooms is a LOT of work, and secondly... when they are cooked into almost a paste, who can tell??
Second Batch (2 pounds) from the mini-chopper
I did a bit better on squeezing the second batch... probably got almost 3/4 cup of liquid, but they still gave off a lot more once in the heated pan. It takes a tremendous of upper arm/hand strength to squeeze the moisture out... I should have invited a weight-lifter! (Not getting the mushrooms dry enough just means more time cooking to release all the moisture before it cooks down into a paste.)

Cooking Down Duxelles

Here's the most amazing thing about this process... the first batch cooked and cooked and cooked (because they were so wet)... and finally all of a sudden the room was filled with the most amazing, potent mushroom smell... minutes before they were ready!! The second batch (and larger, 3 pounds) is cooking now as I'm writing this, but I expect I will know just by the smell when they are almost ready.

Mushroom Juice, and Duxelles from 4 pounds of mushrooms

I filled ice cube trays with the cooled duxelles (and also some of the squeezed-out mushroom juice, lower left) and froze them. I'll bag and vacuum seal 2-3 cubes together for the freezer. 11 cubes doesn't look like much for 4 pounds of mushrooms, but it's concentrated goodness, ready for some future meals! YUM!!

Note: For best mushroom results, please purchase only mushrooms with tightly-closed gills (the underside of the cap) which show freshness; if the gills are open, they are well past their prime. Store them in a brown paper bag in the crisper for best keeping.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria “Nuggets”

I certainly agree that kids should have a balanced lunch, and not just the pre-schoolers, but all kids. But for some inspector to decide that cafeteria chicken(?) nuggets breaded and fried in a GMO oil are better than a homemade turkey and cheese sandwich just doesn't cut it. 

Moreover, what kind of message are they giving a 4 year old by the state officers inspecting their lunch bags? A message that the state is all-knowing and in control, and the mother is just dumb and too incompetent to pack a good lunch? This is really outrageous!!

I also notice there's nothing about a child's food allergies included in the mandates. Will kids have to have their allergies tattooed on their arms so every new inspector can read it? 

Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria “Nuggets”
State agent inspects sack lunches, forces preschoolers to purchase cafeteria food instead 

RAEFORD — A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because the school told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich [on white whole wheat bread, ~editor], banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the person who was inspecting all lunch boxes in the More at Four classroom that day.

The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs - including in-home day care centers - to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

Some USDA school and general nutrition links:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Pork, and Health

I, love bacon, ham, pork chops...  and for many years I have wondered why some cultures and religions do not allow pork in their diets. I suppose I assumed (maybe like many others?) that in the early days of civilization it was probably due to trichinosis, and the absence of any kind of refrigeration. However, I've never seen any reasons given for the dietary restrictions, just to avoid them, and I always want to know why restrictions exist for anything.

The late Dr. Carey Reams (RBTI) even forbade pork in his protocol for good health, merely saying it was bad to consume. (Reams was a dedicated Christian, and nothing I have read in the Christian New Testament forbids pork. Most of the major restrictions about pork are found more in Jewish and Muslim dietary laws, and the Christian Seventh-Day Adventists.) There are a number of sites about RBTI, and Dr. Carey's book, Choose Life or Death, The Reams Theory of Ionization is considered "the ultimate text", quite popular (and scarce) even now. 

I have been interested in Reams' work for several years because he developed a test for determining the quality of the soil, which in turn determines our health... and you know I'm big on soil health and thus our own health. I really don't know a lot about RBTI, but I did become curious about why he forbade pork.

I do muscle testing, sometimes known as AK, or Applied Kinesiology, to test whether any food or supplement is good for my body. Up until just a few weeks ago, pork has tested okay for my body... then it changed to being a no-no, and I have no clue why. My opinion is that as my body gets healthier, the nutritional requirements change (meaning I tolerate crappy food less and less, although my pork is pastured pork and I do not consider it crappy), but I have no basis in fact for that idea.

Then several weeks ago I read a paper about how various preparation methods for pork affect red blood cell clumping, and some things started to make sense. (You'll have to read it... too lengthy to explain here). The paper showed that some pre-treatments like marinades and curing make a difference, and showed some slides of red blood cells before and after for documentation. Since my background includes a long stint in cardiovascular research at Johns Hopkins, it made sense to me!

I had a bag of meaty pork bones in the freezer to make stock, so I did my muscle-testing with them raw. They tested NOT GOOD for me. Having nothing to lose but a bag of bones,  I soaked the bones in about a cup or two of Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar for 24 hours in the refrigerator, turning every few hours. A second muscle test after 24 hours said they were GOOD FOR ME, so I rinsed them and roasted at 425ºF until they were crisp. There was a goodly amount of meat on some of the ribs, which I immediately ate.

To my surprise, there was absolutely NO taste of vinegar in the roasted pork despite a 24 hour vinegar soak, and the meat was delicious! The bones were then cooked in my usual stock recipe, and I think the cooked pork stock from those bones (with aromatics) will be equally good. 

I always add some ACV or lemon juice to any bones in a pot of water for stock since it helps extract the good minerals like calcium from the bones, but I've never soaked the meat alone before in a larger amount of ACV. I'll always do that from now on with pork.

I make a lot of sausage patties, generally without any curing salts since I just freeze them and use them up quickly. Even my venison sausage has fatty pork added because venison is so lean. I haven't tested my body yet on the sausages I made several weeks ago, but if they test not good for me, I may try an overnight marinade or ACV soak to see if that changes it. I'd hate to throw away a few pounds of otherwise good sausage!

ps, found this post, Feb. 13 about pork consumption may cause cirrhosis.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Train them young with good food

If I remember correctly, it says in Proverbs something like "Train up a child in the way he must go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." 

I want to link that idea to real food, but I'm also wondering if behavior, just like health, isn't somehow food related?

I'm thinking about today's kids who are now in, or approaching, their semi-adult years... and whether they are really so much like (or unlike) we might have been (or were?) at their age, or is there something else/more going on?

The youngsters I see around here seem to concentrate entirely on using their opposable thumbs. I really have no problem with that (form of communication) although it's not my preference; it's their other behavior that interests me. So, I am wondering about whether there's actually a common cause like food for much of the behavior I see. (Don't misunderstand, please. I have many friends with great kids.)

I don't care what outlandish things kids wear, or the ghastly make-up and choice of attire, or their time enmeshed in texting... those are merely trappings, and I think some rebellion is a normal part of growing up. What I do care about is whether they have respect for anything, a real education, a sense of wanting to contribute to the community or the world, and some idea of what their families have provided for them.

I shall use my half-sister's daughter who lives here as an example. She's 24 and thinks the world owes her the lifestyle she covets. She was a late-in-life only child, born when my sis was 40, and who is still a single mother. The Kid lives on Ramen noodles, sugars, and other packaged starchy carbs, with an occasional chili or meatloaf thrown in every couple of months. (My sis can afford better food but the kid chooses what's quick and easy... and addictive.)

When she was about 4, the kid and my sis moved in with my Mother for a few years, and I spent a few months living there while building an addition on Mother's house for them. As with all my time ever spent living at home, Mother prepared a balanced meal for supper every night, much of it from her garden: salad, meat, green vegetable(s), usually a small side carb, and then a token light dessert. My sis never came to the table, but her kid did. She'd play with her food, end up restricted to the table until she "finished"... which she never did... and finally Mother would give in out of pure exasperation and let her go upstairs to Mommie. Around 8-9:00 my sis would come downstairs with the kid and give her pie/cake and ice cream or some other sweets she bought just for the kid. (It didn't help that the kid got almost any toy she wanted from the get-go either.)

I have no reason to think her eating habits ever changed; certainly her sense of entitlement never did. In all the years I visited, I never saw anything different, nor do I see it now that we technically live together, even though this house is divided into separate living quarters for me. The kid was diagnosed as ADHD when she was in elementary school, and has been on various meds ever since… that is, when she will take them. Frankly, if she wants to focus on something, she’s extremely able to focus, meds or not.

The Kid has had no job for over 2½ years, won't even consider temp work, and is looking for a sugar daddy. She won't even wash their dishes except maybe once a week under duress, and she has a mouth that would make a seasoned sailor blush. (If I had ever talked to MY mother that way, I'd have been toothless long before I was grown!)

I have to wonder how different her life might be (or might have been) if she had been encouraged by her mother to eat balanced "real food"  dinners when our Mother was still alive and cooking for them... and later on, fed real foods while she was growing up. Could it actually be that simple? What kind of future generations could we raise IF we fed them healthy, nourishing foods?

If it turns out her ADHD problems could be somewhat mitigated by healthy food, what might that mean for other kids today? Is there even much research being done on the emotional or psychological states of our kids and foods? I do see research on obesity in kids today, and those skirt as much of the industrial food issue as possible.

There is no way I can see to change this kid's eating habits; I've tried, and the habits are too ingrained. (Plus, it’s not my kid nor my responsibility either, except as a concerned person.) 

My own eating habits haven’t changed much in the 50+ years I have been providing for myself either, except to exercise some discernment in real food choices as industrial food has become bleck. 

My mother trained me right…

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Soldier Rows in the Garden, Poly- versus Mono-

Monticello Garden Photo by Southern Foodways Alliance 

Maybe the only place where "mono" should be preferred over "poly" probably is in marriage and committed relationships. "Mono" certainly has no place on my dinner table because it isn't a balanced meal... and it should not have a place in agriculture, because rampant monocultures have done our ecology so much harm.  

"The United States has a topsoil problem. About 75 percent of it is gone, primarily because the large, single-crop farms that dominate American agriculture rely on chemicals and synthetic fertilizers to produce their harvests, depleting natural soil systems in the process." Source)

Even my little experiment last summer of mixing vegetables in among the flowers and shrubs produced better than my previous soldier-rows of each kind of vegetable. But why do we carry that monoculture concept over into our home vegetable gardens, and plant our veggies, all of a kind in neat, tidy little rows??

I find myself guilty of picturing "vegetable gardens" as neat, tidy and weed-free rectangular-shaped gardens, all laid out in nice little rows. It's really hard to ignore our mental pictures of how we have believed things should be... Mental imprints from childhood to adulthood are hard to eradicate because we simply don't think about them anymore... they just pop up, fully-formed. Say "vegetable garden" and our automatic mental picture is usually tidy little soldier rows.

One of the things I like about Edible Food Forest Gardening is that there are no soldier-rows. You may have squash or bean plants interspersed with comfrey, under the umbrella of a fruit or nut tree and all of it surrounded by a circle of garlic or leeks. It works because each plant contributes something to the whole... that is, each plant gives something to the benefit of all the other plants. They depend on each other to not just survive, but to thrive!

The comfrey (dynamic accumulator) brings up deep minerals that the roots of the squash never reach deeply enough to tap into... and the comfrey also provides almost perpetual mulch if you cut and drop the leaves several times over a growing season. The bean plants are nitrogen fixers, and the squash leaves provide some shade for some close-by strawberry plants or salad greens... and the salad greens or strawberry plants act as a ground cover for the tree roots, keeping most weeds out. The encircling ring of garlic, chives, leeks or even jonquils, are protectors and keep voles from tunneling into the food supply, and can help deter rabbits from chomping on the goodies inside the ring. The ring of alliums also tend to keep grass from encroaching.

My first trial "circle" (aka Guild) of planting in this fashion was last year around a young apple tree... although not a circle, just an area around the tree. I had green beans, tomatoes, artichokes, strawberries, comfrey, several flowering herbs and nasturiums (pollinator attractors) interplanted around the 6 foot tall apple seedling, an area much larger than the current apple canopy. By this spring, the strawberries should have multiplied, the comfrey and herbs will come back, and the tree may have grown another foot or so. I didn't have a surrounding ring of alliums because I got started on it so late, but hope to remedy that this year.

I have much to learn about perennial polyculture, and growing my garden in this fashion... things like what each plant brings to the party... but eventually I should have a garden that mostly takes care of itself... weed-free, self-fertilizing, a beneficial wildlife and pollinator haven... and pest-resistant.  

Seems a lot more sensible than all the work of planting, fertilizing, and weeding lots of soldier-rows!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Coming soon to a Wal-Mart near you: Monsanto Corn

Monsanto has released their first direct-to-consumer product, a genetically-modified (GMO) sweet corn containing Bt toxin, designed to protect the plant by rupturing the stomach of any insect that feeds on it. Monsanto claims the toxin will break down before the corn makes it to your dinner table, but rats fed with the GM corn showed organ failure, and the toxin has been detected in the bodies of pregnant women.

Want to avoid this toxic product?  Too bad – it will arrive on shelves unlabeled and untested on humans, starting with this years’ corn crop.

Thanks to consumer pressure, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and General Mills have all agreed to not use Monsanto’s GM sweet corn in any of their products.  But Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest organic retailer, is holding out.

Express your opinion here.

"Specialty Crops" and the Farm Bill

In trying to understand how and why our government has allowed so much adulteration of my food supply, I finally had to start following the money. A lot of the money comes from Farm Bill subsidies...and the Farm Bill must be the recipient of the most expensive lobbying in our history, outside of maybe the presidential campaigns!

I bet you have never read any portion of the Farm Bill. It's not an easy task, reading through the Farm Bill. The last one, passed in 2008 (good for 5 years) weighed in at 1,770 pages. I wonder if even those that write it have a clear, full picture of all of it... too many fingers in the pie. I certainly don't understand much of it, yet it affects us all, daily. 

There are, however, some glaring facts and omissions, plus at least one or two really good programs. 

First, the good
Programs like SNAP (formerly called food stamps) are fully funded by the Farm Bill, and the National School Lunch Program and other school-based child nutrition programs get some funding from it,as I understand the inter-agency convolutions. Another small Farm Bill program gives farmer's market vouchers to low-income senior citizens like me. Although the vouchers are cumbersome to use (each voucher is for $5 and no vendor is allowed to give change), I made some use of the $40 I got in vouchers in 2011, probably getting around $20 total in produce for my vouchers. But it wasn't really very fair economically, because our tax dollars paid $40 for my $20 of produce. The vendors should be able to give change, even if if it's just another smaller-amount voucher to use later.

Did you know that the fruit and vegetable products that hit our grocery stores are only considered as "specialty crops" by the USDA, and that is how they are handled by the Farm Bill? Handled only as "bit players" on the sidelines in the Farm Bill.  Only 1% of the Farm Bill goes towards specialty crops.

I don't know about you, but I'd choose to use some of our tax dollars to support local, ethical family farmers who grow my apples, carrots, beans and broccoli. And more specifically, the organic farmers who do not infuse my fruits and vegetables with pesticides and herbicides.

The not-so-good
The products the Farm Bill mainly subsidizes are the five big commodity crops: corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and cotton. The dollar value of the commodity crops the US exported in 2010 was $108,662,000,000, and we subsidized them to grow it. The payments go out regardless of need. In fact, since 1995, a mere 10 percent of all subsidized farms – only the largest and wealthiest operations – have raked in 74 percent of all subsidy payments. The money kept on coming right through the five highest earnings years ever for farm income. (Source)

Commercial corn farmers made a killing in 2011, mainly because they were subsidized to provide corn for the failing ethanol program, feed corn for CAFO's, and of course, for the high fructose corn syrup used in far too many packaged items on the grocery shelves. 

Then there's soy...
Soy is a known obesogen (which leads to weight gain) as well as a known goitrogen (substances that suppress the function of the thyroid gland which also leads to weight gain; think: goiter) and in spite of the rising obesity levels and consequential health care costs in the US, the 2007-2012 Farm Bill allocated $42 billion of our tax money for industrial farmed GMO soy beans. Data from the USDA indicates 94% of all soybean crops in the US are GMO, and the FDA even pushes soy... “Diets that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.” 

Did I miss somewhere that being overweight (thanks in part to chemicals in soy) reduces the risk of heart disease?

There are three problematic monocultures in industrial agriculture: corn, soy, and sugar. U.S. Farm Bill subsidies for these (as well as for other commodity crops) encourage cheap and unhealthy foods and food fillers, sick GMO-fed animals whose meat enters our food system, extreme pesticide use, and damage to soil and water sources. The Commodity Cropism project seeks to expose veiled information about these crops, and provide the public with data left out or obscured by loosely monitored food production and labeling systems.

Monsanto’s GMO Beet sugar seed is now used by 95% of beet farmers (usually under multi-year binding seed contracts they can't get out of), who supplied around 50% of the nation’s sugar in 2011... 64 pounds per person per year, up 28%.

I have read that US foreign aid policies are very often include a clause that requires the receiving nation to accept and use Monsanto GMO seed as a requisite for getting our aid. What's with that??

When was the first food and farm bill signed into law and why?
The first one was signed into law as a temporary measure in 1933 as a way to aid farmers suffering in the Great Depression. Since then it has come before Congress roughly every five years. Nutrition programs were added to the farm bill in the late 1970s to win the support of lawmakers from urban districts. The 2008 Farm Bill had a price tag of nearly $300 billion. It expires in 2012.

Since a lot of the money does go to nutrition programs like SNAP, it’s time to start calling it a "food and farm bill" and to increase investments in healthy food programs. A top priority is to protect food assistance programs for the neediest, especially in the lingering aftermath of the 2008 recession. ... work to improve and expand programs that increase access to healthy foods, strengthen local and regional food systems and provide new markets for diversified, local, sustainable and organic growers and ranchers. (Source)

I'd like to see subsidies (IF THEY ARE REALLY NECESARY) used properly, and not just be "gimmies" for BigAg... and I agree with the Environmental Working Group... I, too would like to see a chunk of the farm subsidy dollars shifted to conservation programs. This would help fund programs that protect soil, water and air quality, preserve wildlife habitat, and conserve energy and water. In my opinion, if we don't conserve what's left (pitiful as it may be) there won't be many future crops.

Update: I wrote this about mid-January 2012, and on Feb. 1 read an interesting article on this general subject by Sharon Astyk that you may wish to read. She does a great job of explaining the cost of a gallon of milk, although there's much more to the article. Click here.