Monday, November 30, 2009

What do Social Media and Baking Crackers Have in Common?

I started on Facebook a few years ago because a couple of my friends did. We did the poking thing and played the games that went around. After a while as more of our friends joined it became a good way to communicate with others about subjects of mutual interest, like where and when the next party was going to be. Soon we were using it to spread the word about causes we supported or were against. It became a way to become engaged in building the community we aspire to. More friends came on board, then friends of friends, then people we met ( at the Earl mostly), then people we don't know but who have heard about the work we do.

I started this blog a little over 2 years ago to share our experiences as we went about developing our suburban permaculture model. Slowly, very slowly, the readership has increased as I have learned how to attract people to it by using other forms of social media.

Like Twitter. I joined twitter about a year ago but never did anything with it until I went to an LRBN workshop led by Lady Rogue of Rogue Apron fame (whom I first learned about on Facebook). She taught us how to utilize twitter to make useful connections. So I jumped back into the twitterverse with my newly learned skills. I began to make connections with people with whom I share common interests (but don't always agree with) and I began to learn things. Soon I was sharing my knowledge and experiences with them as well. Again it has become a tool for building community.

I found out about other online communities such as where people share ideas about food. Through Foodbuzz I connected with some really good food bloggers who write about nutrition, cooking, local food systems and share great recipes. All of these networks are interconnected so often I can't remember where I connected with some one first.

So what does this have to do with baking crackers? It goes something like this. I connected with a guy on twitter @theoliveoilblog. He is a self-described "4th generation olive oil producer from Sicily." He tweeted that he was getting started on Foodbuzz and he would send a bottle of olive oil to the 1st 3 people who buzzed him. I jumped over there and buzzed him up and last Monday I got a bottle of fine single estate extra virgin olive oil. I was excited to try it out. But what to make first?

Saturday I was ready to do something with the turkey left over from Thanksgiving so i made some chili and some stock. That put me in the mood to cook more stuff. It was a literal cooking frenzy the rest of the day. I made cheese straws (recipe on Foodbuzz). I decided to make some chicken liver pate´with the chicken livers I got from Natures Harmony Farms last summer. (they have been in the freezer :p). I figured I needed some crackers to the eat the pate´on so I made sesame olive crackers with the new olive oil. They turned out great (recipe below). I updated my facebook status
Duane Marcus making pickled radish, chickn liver pate´, cheese straws, turkey chili, turkey stock, racking blueberry hooch, rockin out to my fave tunes

I got a facebook notification that a friend had made a comment about my status.
Need your pate recipe - post on Funny Farm??? Or guest post on The Frugal Hostess?

She was referring to her blog The Frugal Hostess which is my most favorite blog of the many I read regularly. I jumped at the chance to do a guest post on her blog because I greatly respect what she does and I thought it would be really fun to emulate her totally whacked out style (it was) and because she has way more readers and followers than I do so it will be good exposure for me and my blog. This post links to her blog and my guest post will link to this post and the community gets bigger and stronger. I'm not sure from which social media channel i first discovered her because she's on all of them too. We are now personal FB friends and when she replied to my email after i sent her my guest post she said she heard through the grapevine that i frequented the Earl and that we had some friends in common. So we are planning to meet at the Earl soon for a beer or 3 and get to know each other in the physical world which is what really matters, right?
Oh, yea. If you want a really good chicken liver pate´recipe check out my guest post on The Frugal Hostess blog :)
How 'bout them crackers!

Sesame Seed Olive Oil Crackers
1 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together the flours and salt. Add the water and olive oil.

Mix together and then knead by hand on a floured board or counter-top until all ingredients are well blended and a good dough is formed. The dough should be just a bit tacky.

When you are done mixing, shape the dough into a large ball and coat with some olive oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest at room temperature for 30 - 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450F degrees.

After the rest period cut the dough into quarters. Roll a section out on a floured board or counter top about 1/8" thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into what ever shape you want. You can also use a biscuit cutter to cut round crackers or various cookie cutters to make other shapes.

Place the crackers on a lightly floured cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Store in an airtight container after they cool.Makes a 24-36 small crackers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Musings about weeds- Holmgren's Permaculture Principle #8 - Integrate Rather than Segregate

I have been thinking a lot about weeds over the past several years. The dictionary defines "weed" as the following:
weed |wēd|
a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.

This is the classic agricultural and horticultural definition. The goal then is to remove all "weeds" because their presence will reduce yield as the weeds compete for nutrients. Crops are planted in rows to make it easier to use cultivation techniques to eliminate the weeds. On a large farm this was done with a tractor. On smaller farms and in gardens it is done by a person using a hoe and or by pulling them by hand.
In the natural world, Mother Nature wants there to be a multitude of different plants, animals and other organisms growing together. As gardeners and farmers we are constantly disturbing her plan to suit our need for food and fiber, beauty, dominion over Nature and many other reasons. She never gives up. The force of plant succession is powerful and never-ending. Therefore we are always fighting weeds.

As we open our hearts and minds to the complexities of the natural system we learn how we can harness that power for our benefit. Advancements in science and technology have allowed us to begin to understand the interrelationships among plants and the microorganisms in the soil that we call the soil food web. We now know that there is communication among these organisms. In the forest it has been shown that mature trees nurse their offspring by sharing water and nutrients through the vast network of the fungal mycelia. We know that the presence of bacteria and fungi in different ratios support the growth of one type of plant over another, herbaceous perennial plants versus shrubs or trees for example. Dr. Elaine Ingham is doing work to determine how we can use that knowledge to manipulate the soil food web to control weeds in the garden or on a farm.

In the the old days herbalists, shaman, medicine men knew how to use specific plants to promote health and healing. We turned our collective backs on that for a long time but interest is being revived. I gave a talk at a local Evolver spore recently. One of the other speakers was Rob Oliver who talked about foraging for wild edible plants. He would hold up a plant and say how highly nutritious and health-giving it was and I would say oh I have that weed in my garden. After it happened about 10 times I began to think about those plants in a different way. Some I already knew were edible and some were surprising to me. The next day I went out to the garden and starting sampling some of them. Chickweed -good, violet leaves - not bad, henbit -ok, dandelion -really really bitter. I don't plan on making salads out of these every day but now I make it a point of eating some most days. Yesterday as I was pulling chickweed out of a young leek bed ( yes it does compete with the leeks) i ate some and gave the rest to the hens who love it more than I do. A friend of mine has a brain tumor which she is controlling through her diet. She can feel the tumor grow or shrink, depending on what food she eats. She says dandelion greens are particularly good at making it shrink so I harvest them for her.

We have a plant growing in the garden called creeping charlie, Gelchoma hederacea. It spreads all over the place and up until recently I have considered it a frustrating pest. It is an "invasive exotic" having been brought here from Europe because of its curative properties and because it was used to enhance the flavor and clarity of beer ( probably the main reason). Many gallons of Roundup are used every year by people (not me) trying it get rid of it. It is actually an attractive ground cover with nice purple flowers in the spring. During it's bloom time I happened to go to Dr. Richard McDonald's beneficial insect web site to see what new information was on there. He lists plants that bloom at different times of year that attract beneficial insects. He updates the list regularly and this time I saw creeping charlie on the list. I (figuratively) jumped for joy when I saw that. Whoohoo, creeping charlie has moved from my pest column to my beneficial plant column. What a relief because that stuff is everywhere. And anyway, if i keep pulling it up Ma Nature is just going to replace it with something else that might be harder to deal with. So now I keep it out of the garden beds and let it do it's thing everywhere else. It grows in abundance at the bottom of the concrete drive. With all of the flooding rains we have had recently, erosion has been on the increase. I found that where the creeping charlie has grown over the concrete it acts as a trap for the soil which I can collect and put back in the garden. The chickens like it too.

During the summer it was hot and dry. I was out hoeing weeds in the path one morning and I noticed that even though it had not rained for a couple of weeks the soil under the spreading weeds was moist. I thought to myself that maybe I was making a mistake by removing them, exposing the soil to be dried out by the sun. From then on I only removed the really nasty weeds like bermuda grass from the paths. I have always allowed dandelions to grow because they have deep tap roots that reach deeply into the soil to acquire nutrients that more shallow-rooted plants cannot. My supposition is that through the workings of the soil food web these nutrients will become available to my crops. I also leave the violets because I like the flowers and they stay in nice neat clumps, attract bees and (as i just recently learned) are edible.

This experience has taught me to be more thoughtful about the role a plant might be playing in the complex system of the garden. My musings have encouraged me to do more integrating and less segregating which has resulted in increased biodiversity in the garden benefiting my crops and making less work for myself.
One of my twitter friends tweeted this definition of a weed by Ralph Waldo Emerson which I now totally embrace:
"What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Quiche-like Dish

I don't plan meals too far ahead. I go to the market about every other week and stock up. I'll get a whole chicken, some inexpensive pork cuts, some ground bison along with a little cheese, mushrooms, grains and beans. We grow all our own vegetables so I don't need to buy those. I'm the only one here for lunch so I either eat leftovers or make a simple dish of rice and vegetables. The night before, i usually think about what protein i want to fix the next day so I can get it out of the freezer in time for it to thaw. I freeze small portions that I will incorporate into a stew or combine with beans and vegetables and serve over rice, quinoa or occasionally pasta. We probably eat meat about 4 times a week on average.
After lunch I start really thinking about how to put together some ingredients for a meal. When Robin gets home from Monkville she expects something scrumpdiddliumptous for dinner. One of whats-her-name's 30 minute meals does not cut the mustard (she loves mustard greens though). Neither would one of the other what's-her-name's semi-homemade concoctions. She wants to eat like a judge on Iron Chef; every night. (obviously we watch way too much Food Network).
Here's what I served her the other night. I call it "Acorn Squash & Sweet Potato Quiche-like Dish". A traditional quiche has a wheat crust but we like our food to be both deeelllliiissshhhhuuussss and nutritious so I use brown rice as a crust instead.
We used to use plain old steamed rice but the flavor was bland tasting like, well, rice, so I steamed the rice in chicken stock (made from the carcass of the chicken we ate earlier in the week). We love sweet potato pie so i was thinking this would become like a savory sweet potato pie so I added some broken up cinnamon stick to the rice while is stemed to give it more flavor. I roasted the vegetables long enough to get them soft and caramelized. I blended the squash and sweet potato with the eggs, milk and cheese to make a custard then added the chopped carrots to give the dish some tooth. I read on twitter that sesame seeds were really good for you so I sprinkled them and flax seeds on top to provide some crunch and some added nutritiousness. While the dish baked the seeds toasted up nice and crispy. The nutmeg, cardamom and turmeric (i put turmeric in most dishes cause it's really good for you too) made it taste very much like pumpkin, or sweet potato, pie. Just not sweet.
Robin was happy that night.
1 acorn squash
1 lg. sweet potato
3 large carrots
1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup dry brown rice
1 cup chicken stock
1 2" cinnamon stick

1 cup whole milk
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons each - turmeric, nutmeg, sea salt, cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/8 lb. sharp cheddar cheese chopped fine

2 tablespoons each sesame seeds and flax seeds

Heat oven to 400º. Cut squash in half and clean out seeds. Peel sweet potato and cut into quarters lengthwise. Cut up carrots into large pieces. Place in a large casserole dish and coat with the olive oil. Place the top on the dish and roast the vegetables for 1 hour until squash and potato are soft.

Meanwhile, put the rice, stock and broken cinnamon stick in a rice steamer and steam until the rice is tender, about 45 minutes.

Put the milk, eggs, spices and cheese in a large bowl. (not the seeds)
Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven. Separate the flesh of the squash from the skin. Put the squash and sweet potato in the bowl with the milk, eggs and spices and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Cut up the carrots into small pieces and add to the mixture.

Pour the oil from the roasting dish into a glass pie dish and coat the bottom and sides of the dish. Place the rice into the dish and press down in the center and up the sides to make the "crust". Pour the vegetable mixture into the pie dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and flax seeds on top of the pie and bake for about 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10-12 minutes. Cut and serve warm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Our grandparents were simple country people. They grew much of there own food, harvested wild berries, bought milk from the farmer down the road. My grandmother only went to school through the 4th grade. It was a struggle for her to write me a letter when I went off to college. Her life revolved around cooking for the family. She was an awesome cook. Her recipes were simple. Well I guess you could say she had recipes but they were in her head, passed down from her mother to her, shared among aunts, cousins and friends. When Robin and I got married at the tender young age of 20 we were hippies and wanted to learn how to do what she did. She and Robin's grandmother taught us how to can, make jelly, make rolls and biscuits and cook some of our favorite dishes.
One of our favorites is cobbler. They either made it with seasonal fruit that they grew or picked wild: blackberries and peaches in summer, apples in the fall and winter, or they used fruit that they had canned for winter and spring use. The ingredients were always on hand and the quantities simple to remember. A cup of flour, sugar and milk; a stick of butter; a tablespoon of baking powder; 3 cups of fruit. They did use a non-stick pan. It's called an iron skillet. This recipe will not work without one. When we learned how to cook from them we got our own iron skillets. Yea we tried the teflon pan and various pans but they are long gone (good thing since they are toxic) but our iron skillets are still in use every day 35 years later.
So, below is the basic recipe our grandmothers used. Being the modern urban sophisticate, i have added some fancy dancy gourmet twists to my version of the apple cobbler. I melt 1/2 of the butter in a small pan and cook the apples for about 20 minutes with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 2" cinnamon stick, a 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and a 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. This gives the cobbler a depth of flavor that is not in the original recipe.

3 cups fruit - blackberries, blueberries, peaches, apples all work well
1 stick butter - not smart choice spread or margarine
1 cup flour - we use organic whole wheat pastry
1 cup sugar - we use organic unrefined sugar, sucanat or agave nectar
1 tablespoon baking power
1 cup milk - we use whole milk
Heat the oven to 350º
Clean, peel and chop up the fruit into medium sized chunks. Put the whole stick of butter in the iron skillet and melt on medium low heat. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Add the milk to the dry ingredients and stir together to make a batter. Pour the batter into the iron skillet and spread out evenly. Put the fruit into the middle of the iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is brown.

Quick and easy!! Make some today!!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Observe and Interact- Holmgren's permaculture principle #1 & Obtain a Yield- Holmgren's principle #3

Back in March of 2008 a friend of ours gave us a large bunch of leeks she collected from an abandoned lot in her neighborhood where they had perennialized. I divided the bunches into individual plants and set them out next to the asparagus beds. Never having heard of perennial leeks, I was eager to observe their behavior so that i could establish them as perennials here at The Funny Farm. They grew for a few months then, at the beginning of the summer, the tops died down. I pretty much forgot about them until the fall when they sprouted back up :) They continued to grow though the fall and by early spring they were ready to harvest. I suspected that if i left some in the ground they would produce offset bulbs that could be divided and planted out so i harvested about half of them and left the rest. Later on they began to bloom. We harvested some of the flower buds and cooked with them as you would with garlic scapes. As the remaining flowers opened up i harvested some, cut off the florets and cooked them too. So we were able to get a yield from 3 different growth stages.
As i expected the leaves yellowed and the plants went dormant during the summer. A couple of weeks ago we cleaned up the asparagus beds and saw that the leeks were starting to emerge again. This time there were not 1 but 3 - 5 shoots coming up. The bulbs had multiplied just like i had hoped they would. Today Laurel and i dug them up and divided them. We replanted 1 bulb back in the original place, filled in the places where the leeks were harvested in the spring and had enough to plant a new row and for Laurel to plant in her garden to start her own perennial leek bed. Yet another yield was produced.
Through observation and interaction we have been able to produce a yield this year and insure an even larger yield in years to come.
That's Permaculture.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Use Edges and Value the Marginal - Holmgren's Permaculture Principle #11

Many people who have taken my classes have asked me what permaculture is. This is the definition used on David Holmgren's web site. Holmgren, along with Bill Mollison were the co-originators of the concept and they coined the term "permaculture".
A more current definition of permaculture, which reflects the expansion of focus implicit in Permaculture One, is 'Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs. People, their buildings and the ways in which they organise themselves are central to permaculture. Thus the permaculture vision of permanent or sustainable agriculture has evolved to one of permanent or sustainable culture.

The application of permaculture is based on a set of principles. Holmgren lists 12. The best way to get an understanding of permaculture is to study applied examples of these principles. The website has lots of photos and descriptions. It is very important to understand that these are principles that can be applied in any climate or location. They were originally developed in the dry environment of Australia. How they are applied there is very different from how many of the principles are applied here in the humid rainy southeastern U.S. You must understand the intent of the principle so you can apply it properly to get the maximum benefit.
I have decided to start a series of posts that illustrate the principles in action. These posts will be in no particular order. As I do something here at The Funny Farm that illustrates one of them I will post it. While I have never taken any permaculture training courses my 35 years of practice as a landscape architect has ingrained them into my soul and influenced all my work. Everything we do follows one or more of them.

So, today I added a Fuji and a Gala apple tree to our orchard. We now have 4 varieties of apples. I planted them along the edge of the drainage swale that carries storm water from the street down into the woods below us allowing it to return to the watertable being cleaned up by the soil food web along the way. Behind the swale is a wild area that serves has habitat for birds and insects that will help to control pests in our little orchard. beyond that are beds of perennial vegetables. Sunchokes, asparagus, leeks and herbs. Further up the hill are the remaining apple trees. The new trees are close enough to the older trees to serve as additional pollinators for each other.
The edge between the wild and cultivated spaces will now be more productive with the addition of the trees.