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Generally Recognized As True: April 2008

Friday, April 25, 2008

I'm going to support a local farm this year: Community-Support Agriculture

This year, I'm going to try a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription with Whole Circle Farm in Acton.

The idea is that you pay them in advance for a share of produce from the farm for the upcoming season, and they give you a weekly basket of whatever vegetables are in season that week. You can either pick up your box from the farm, or they will bring it to the Georgetown Farmers Market. The farm is not so far away that it wouldn't be reachable by bike.

It will be somewhat of a mystery as to what I will get, although there are realities of the growing season involved -- certain vegetables come into season at certain times.

They have a "half share" for single people like me. It's supposed to be suitable for one person. $230-245 per season, depending on whether you pick it up from.

I am looking forward to the unpredictability of what I'll end up with. It will guarantee a diverse diet, at least for the summer months.

Also, I am now armed with the Victory Garden Cookbook, which I expect will assist in figuring out what to do with some of the more esoteric vegetables.

I am far too excited about this.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Buckwheat and whole-wheat pancakes

My latest thinking is that it's time to restore more variety into what I eat, rather than the usual things that are so easy to come by, but rob your diet of diversity.

Even within a relatively diverse fresh fruit and vegetable section at the supermarket, you're often limited to only one type of carrot, one type of broccoli, one type of banana, or just a couple of varieties of tomatoes when, once upon a time, many different species within each of those categories existed (carrots, for example, were originally purple). We got rid of the species that didn't lend themselves to the production of huge crop yields on large-scale farms, or which didn't survive transportation over long distances very well. Of the surviving species, we've modified them so that they are even more compatible with these goals. Taste and nutrition come last because the former is only relative to what else is available, and the latter is invisible.

So, for some diversity, I decided to try and squeeze buckwheat in -- something that isn't actually a grain like normal wheat is, but bears a resemblance in its name -- and the first thing that came to mind was buckwheat pancakes. I suspect I'm not alone in thinking of that first.

This recipe should serve one hungry person or two more civilized people :)

You need:
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat flour: I got mine from Organic Garage in Oakville
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour: you really don't need to use white flour if you follow my recipe!
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar: you could probably substitute honey for more diversity
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk: I'm using 3.8% whole milk

First, combine the dry ingredients together -- both flours, the salt, and baking powder -- and blend them well.

In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients, except for the melted butter. Add the melted butter last, and slowly trickle it into the mixture while stirring so that it integrates with the other ingredients before it cools and starts to solidify again. Butter chunks are no problem because they will melt again during cooking, and if you add it slowly then it'll be well blended and won't be in big chunks.

Next, combine the wet and dry ingredients and use a whisk to whip the mixture for about 30 seconds. The idea is to incorporate some air.

Cover the bowl and either let the mixture rest for 30 minutes at room temperature, or put it in the fridge overnight. This will ensure that the flours -- whole wheat, in particular -- are properly hydrated. Unrefined flours take longer to absorb moisture.

Then, it's ready to cook. I like using a cast iron griddle, but there's no reason why you couldn't use a frying pan. Pre-heat the griddle on medium heat until suitably hot and then start pouring batter onto the griddle in the desired size of pancake. This batter isn't too runny, so you would probably do well to spread the batter out a little bit in circular motions with a spatula.

The flavours of buckwheat and wheat flour complement each other very well, and the pancakes go best with something earthy-tasting, like real maple syrup.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Growing sprouts in a jar (not the Brussels kind)

Sprouts are essentially just the shoots of seeds -- many, many seeds. They're apparently very nutritious (probably with micronutrients -- the kinds of things we need most, having reduced our diets to a handful of industrially-farmed plants).

They're also very easy to grow. You don't need a garden, or even a spot outdoors to grow them. You don't even need soil! Further, you can grow them indoors all through the winter (some sprouts, like mung beans -- which produce beansprouts -- are negatively affected by exposure to light and you need to grow them in a cupboard).

So, I shall now outline the very simple procedure.

First, put a couple of tablespoons of seeds into a wide-mouth mason jar, cover them with water, and let them soak for a few hours.

Then, cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth and secure it with an elastic band around the mouth of the jar. You can now put water in the jar and drain it very easily without losing your sprout seeds.

Once you've done that, drain the jar and prop it upside down at a slight angle into a dish or something that can catch the water that will gradually drain out.

Now, all you have to do is -- twice a day -- put some water in the jar, swirl it around so that it comes into contact with the seeds, drain it well, and prop it upside down again until the next time.

After day 1, you will not see much action:

After day 3, you should see some real progress (I forgot to take a photo on day 2!)

And by day 4 (today, in my case), they are pretty much ready to eat -- on sandwiches, in salads, or just by themselves. By day 4, they are probably OK to leave the ones that you don't eat growing for a couple more days. But, beyond that, just stick them in an airtight container and store them in the fridge.

You can also grow them on paper towels by dampening a paper towel, scattering some seeds over the towel, and misting twice a day.

I got my most recent sprout seeds from a Canadian company called Mumm's. There are a number of different varieties for different flavours (the ones in the pictures above are the "Broccoli Brassica Blend"), and you can get some that have a naturally spicy or hot bias.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Signs of garden herb life: chives, parsley, chervil

The first signs of herb life are now appearing in the garden, and winter weather only subsided a few weeks ago.

When the chives went to seed last year, I crunched some of the seed heads over this pot and covered it with old stalks to simulate the proper "regrowth" environment. It may be witchcraft, but there was a result. Chives aren't that good in the first year, so I expect these will be a lot better next year if anything becomes of them:

This is the main "crop" of chives in its third year:

Chervil and parsley look quite healthy and survived the winter:

And the other parsley is poking through the chicken wire (this particular spot was raided by a rabbit last year, before the plant was mature; the chicken wire helped with that):

This seems pretty good to me for mid-April.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old-fashioned apple & berry crumble

This is a rather traditional English dessert, and it's one of the easiest baked desserts to make that doesn't come from a can. By "old-fashioned", I mean that no effort has been made to compromise this recipe for health reasons. Meaning it tastes very good.

I'll start with a picture. I don't make much effort to tidy things up. I like real food that looks somewhat rustic. Here's the picture, taken after cooling and the berry juice had stopped bubbling through the surface:

So, I said it was simple. And here's how you make it. You need:

  • 175 g all-purpose white flour: or cake & pastry flour, since the "crumble" part is essentially an unhydrated pastry
  • 75 g butter: I'm not sure if you could substitute margarine. It stops being "old fashioned" if you do! And margarine usually doesn't do much good for pastry, so maybe it's not a good idea.
  • 60 g sugar: regular, granulated sugar. You may want to adjust up or down depending on what type of fruit you're using. I'm using berries and 1 apple, which are rather sweet, so I only used 60g.
  • 30g castor sugar (optional): castor sugar is a very fine granulated sugar
  • 1 lb. fruit: I used a defrosted frozen berry mixture (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries) and 1 fresh gala apple, roughly cut into 1" cubes

Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

Weigh out the flour into a bowl. Cut up the butter into little chunks and add it to the flour. Get your hands into the flour/butter mixture and massage it and squeeze it through your fingers until the whole mixture starts to resemble breadcrumbs (takes about 5 minutes or so). In lieu of using your hands, you could probably use a pastry blender.

Once done blending the flour and butter, if you're going to add castor sugar to the crumble, you can add it and stir it in. I've made crumble with and without adding any castor sugar before and it's been fine either way, but if you want a bit of extra sweetness in the topping then you can add it.

Put the fruit into a bowl suitable for baking (in the picture above, I used Pyrex) and evenly distribute the fruit in the bowl so that one type of fruit isn't concentrated in one particular area.

Evenly sprinkle the regular sugar over the fruit.

Scatter the flour/butter mixture on top of the fruit and smooth it over so that the top is roughly flat.

Bake at 375F for 45-50 minutes. When the top is a light shade of brown, it's done. As in the picture above, the juice from the fruit will probably start to bubble through the surface. This can only make it taste better!

That's all! Let it cool down a bit and then eat it. It goes very well with either English custard or vanilla ice cream.

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