• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Squash tian (aka casserole)

One of my new favorite recipes — a squash/pumpkin casserole. I found the recipe at The Kitchn; Faith Durand adapted it from Rosa Jackson, a Canadian-born food writer and cooking teacher based in Nice and Paris. The original recipe, Tian de courge, is at Rosa’s old blog; don’t miss Rosa’s current blog, Edible Adventures. This is a lovely dish for a cozy, lazy autumn or winter meal. It can be doubled easily, you can use any sort of squash or pumpkin you can find, and is perfect for a potluck. It goes great with a ham, roast chicken or turkey, or beef or pork roast.

I’ve made some changes, which I’ve highlighted below. I made it last weekend, to accompany a ham at a Christmas potluck, with a smallish butternut squash and a large Kabocha squash. I’m making it again for our big family Christmas eve turkey dinner, with a butternut squash and two acorn squashes.

*  *  *

Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs

Recipe adapted by Faith Durand/The Kitchn from Rosa Jackson. Serves 4

2 to 2 1/2-pound whole butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/4 cup short-grain or arborio rice (I use short-grain)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Provencal breadcrumbs (recipe below)

Heat the oven to 375° F and lightly grease a 1-1/2 to 2-quart baking dish (such as a deep pie dish) with olive oil.

Peel and slice the butternut squash. You should have 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds prepared squash flesh. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the squash in the olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until it softens and starts to disintegrate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cover for most of the cooking time to speed the process. (I sauté the butternut, but bake the Kabocha/acorn squash)

While the squash is cooking, heat a small saucepan of salted water over high heat. When it is boiling, add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Place the cooked squash in a large bowl and combine with the rice, Parmesan, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and generous dashes of pepper and nutmeg. When it has cooled slightly, mix in the eggs quickly so that they don’t scramble. The mixture may seem on the liquid side, but this is fine.

Pour it into the prepared gratin dish, top with the herbed bread crumbs (recipe below) and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (If desired, you can prepare to this point, cover and refrigerate for up to two days. When ready to serve, bake as directed below.)

Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly toasted on top and set. Serve warm.

This recipe doubles very well; I (Faith Durand writing) use a 4-pound squash and bake the tian in a 9×13-inch casserole dish.

Herbed Bread Crumbs
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (I use what the supermarket had, which often is only the curly variety)
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary (I use a mixture of dried thyme and rosemary)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Add the olive oil and blend until the breadcrumbs are soft and green, adding a little more oil if necessary. Season well with salt and pepper. (I don’t use a food processor. I use a rasp for the garlic and cheese, my knife for the parsley, and I sauté the garlic in the oil, then toss in the breadcrumbs to coat, sauté for another few minutes, then stir in parsley to coat. I like the flavor of the sautéed garlic, and I like not having to take apart and clean the food processor.)

Sticky toffee pudding

This has become our favorite winter dessert this year. I bake it in a square metal pan, grease it well, and put home-canned pear halves on the bottom before I add the batter, and then serve it with unsweetened whipped cream and chopped candied ginger on top. We had a version with the pears, sort of like a pineapple upside down cake, when we were living in the West Indies about 10 years and it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Here’s another version with pears, though these are fresh and unpeeled. I would imagine apples (peeled) would be good, too.

The version below is from the Hunter’s Head Tavern, an “authentic English pub” in Upperville, Virginia via Bon Appétit magazine. Nigella Lawson has a very good version as well, but it calls for self-raising flour, which is hard to come by in this part of the world. It goes without saying that Farm School is Team Nigella.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Bon Appétit website)
Serves 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1-1/2 cups flour, plus more for flouring pan
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) chopped pitted dates (I cut off thin slices with a serrated bread knife)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (omit if you use salted butter)
3/4 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, we prefer it less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sauce
1-1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour pan. The online recipe calls for a Bundt pan, and the last time we used a Nordic Ware sunflower pan, which worked well.

Bring dates and 1-1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides (the tall sides are important because in the next step, the date mixture will foam UP). Cook the dates until they are sludgy, and use a potato masher if necessary (if you didn’t chop/grate them finely enough).

Remove pan from heat and whisk in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.

Whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 40 minutes or so (start checking at about 30 minutes). Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Sauce
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.

Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream, and garnish with chopped candied ginger if you like.

Warm apple dessert for a cold January Sunday

On the menu for today, along with pork roast — smitten kitchen’s Apple Sharlotka, via Deb Perelman’s Russian mother-in-law. The perfect way to use up the last of our case of Macintosh apples from BC, though I will probably go with 3/4 cup of sugar…

Apple Sharlotka

Adapted from Alex’s mother, who adapted it from her mother, and so on…

Butter or nonstick spray, for greasing pan
6 large, tart apples, such as Granny Smiths
3 large eggs
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
Ground cinnamon, to finish
Powdered sugar, also to finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Peel, halve and core your apples, then chop them into medium-sized chunks. (I cut each half into four “strips” then sliced them fairly thinly — about 1/4-inch — in the other direction.) Pile the cut apples directly in the prepared pan. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, using an electric mixer or whisk, beat eggs with sugar until thick and ribbons form on the surface of the beaten eggs. Beat in vanilla, then stir in flour with a spoon until just combined. The batter will be very thick.

Pour over apples in pan, using a spoon or spatula to spread the batter so that it covers all exposed apples. (Updated to clarify: Spread the batter and press it down into the apple pile. The top of the batter should end up level with the top of the apples.) Bake in preheated oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a tester comes out free of batter. Cool in pan for 10 minutes on rack, then flip out onto another rack, peel off the parchment paper, and flip it back onto a serving platter. Dust lightly with ground cinnamon.

Serve warm or cooled, dusted with powdered sugar. Alex’s family eats it plain, but imagine it would be delicious with a dollop of barely sweetened whipped or sour cream.

Am very much looking forward to the Smitten Kitchen cookbook coming in the autumn. I have countless SK recipes saved in my email, printed off on loose sheets of paper, scribbled on yellow lined pads.

Pickle emergency

One of the foods I’ve missed most since leaving NYC 17 years ago is kimchi, Korean spicy fermented cabbage.

I’ve never bothered trying to make it because I hadn’t found any simple recipes to accommodate what’s not available here on the prairie, including Napa cabbage, sweet rice flour (which is available all over Amazon.com but not Amazon.ca), daikon radish, and fresh squid or oysters. So I was very excited the other day to discover Maangchi’s recipe for “emergency kimchi”, which is made with regular cabbage and without the seafood, which is always a problem here in our land-locked province; I’m not the only family member pining for seafood since at a recent 4H meeting, in response to a roll call question about their favorite foods, one landlocked child of mine answered “lobster” and another “crab”.

But I just stumbled over Maangchi’s “emergency kimchi” recipe, which is not only made with easy to find ingredients (think midwest chain grocery store where the shelf with organic canned tomatoes is considered wild and exotic) but quick, so that I don’t have to store the clay pot under my front door.  Preparation time is just 30 minutes, and the recipe uses regular cabbage and avoids the traditional porridge made with sweet rice flour.  It does still call for Korean hot pepper flakes, but I plan to use the supermarket brand (sigh…). If I’d found the recipe sooner, I would have stocked up last month on Korean hot pepper at the Korean greengrocer near my parents’ apartment. I do see a couple of Korean groceries in Edmonton listed on this page.  Thank you, Maangchi, for making kimchi a possibility out here.

If you live somewhere more civilized, here’s Maangchi’s traditional recipe, and here is the easy time-saving recipe with traditional ingredients.  You can find all sorts of Korean recipes, cooking tips, and even YouTube cooking videos, at her website.

More on history and food

If you happen to find yourself in NYC next week, food historian Francine Segan is speaking at the 92nd Street Y on the history on the history of pie (hat tip to Allison Hemler at Serious Eats NY):

Pie! A Tasting and History, Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 7 pm – 8:30 pm

From the Y’s website:

Pies, both sweet and savory, have a fascinating history. find out the stories behind pie-eating contests and the three-foot-high pasta pies served to Italian royalty; pie recipes that won $25,000; why the expression “American as apple pie” is grossly untrue and much more. Includes tasting of mock apple, lemon meringue and banana cream pies, tarts and savory pies. Recipe handouts allow you to indulge your sweet tooth at home.

As a child I was always intrigued by the recipe for mock apple pie on the Ritz crackers box (and also by the tale of Ma Ingalls’ similar pie, made with green tomatoes), but never quite intrigued or brave enough to actually make it. 

If you can’t make it to New York but would like to include more food in your history — or music and movie appreciation –studies, Ms. Segan has a list of her lecture topics here (Feasting with Caesar: Lush Life in Ancient Rome and The King’s Table: Sea Serpent Stew & Dragon’s Brew, for delicious example) and has also written a number of cookbooks to spark your imagination:

Shakespeare’s Kitchen: Renaissance Recipes for the Contemporary Cook

The Philosopher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook

The Opera Lover’s Cookbook: Menus for Elegant Entertaining

Movie Menus: Recipes for Perfect Meals with Your Favorite Films  


Schnitzels and shells: Cooking behind the lines

This being what the Canadian government now calls Veterans’ Week, it seems a good time to note that the new documentary film “Cooking History” by Peter Kerekes just had its New York City premiere at the American Museum of Natural History.  From the website,

What keeps the armies of the world going? Tanks, submarines, airplanes, bullets, bombs? Actually, bread. Bread and blinis and sausage and coq au vin, even “monkey meat” rations. As one cook puts it, without food, the army would be in a shambles. Taking a tour of 20th century battlefields, Peter Kerekes revisits its mess halls and field kitchens, asking the cooks to recreate the meals they served at the front. One Russian woman prepares blinis she once made for the soldiers fighting off the Germans outside Leningrad. Another hunts mushrooms in a Czechoslovakian forest. Hungarians slaughter a pig for kolbasz. A German sings a fight song while baking black bread for the soldiers who just took Poland. A French conscientious objector chases a cockerel for his dinner. Reliving the battles while they prepare the food, the cooks are proud of their roles in serving their countries yet remain haunted by the suffering.

You can watch the trailer at the AMNH website, too.

And from Variety‘s review,

Proving the maxim “An army marches on its belly,” playful docu “Cooking History” inventively uses the field kitchen as a prism through which to view 20th-century European history. Slovak multihyphenate Peter Kerekes (“66 Seasons”) provides fascinating sociological insights via powerfully staged interviews with a baker’s dozen of military cooks, plus Marshal Tito’s personal taster. Already released in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and winner of the international feature prize at Hot Docs, this tasty morsel (including 10 recipes) should be gobbled up by niche arthouse distribs and broadcasters around the world.Structured as separate episodes that consider conflicts such as WWII; the Russian invasions of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Chechnya; the Franco-Algerian war; and the Balkan bloodbaths, Kerekes lets his articulate (and mostly aged) subjects hold forth in monologues, prompted every now and then by his off-camera questions. Through their subjective recollections, food preparation becomes a metaphor for battle strategy.

Engrossing as the cooks’ personal histories are, the extraordinary nature of the docu lies in the theatrical way in which the monologues are staged. Never mere talking-head shots, they take place against clever and elaborate backgrounds; in some instances, the subjects play to the artifice of the helmer’s setup, deliciously adding to the stories they tell.

For instance, Peter Silbernagel, the only crew member to survive the sinking of the submarine Hai in 1963, talks about his experience while preparing schnitzel on a sandy beach in Sylt, Germany, as the tide slowly rolls in and floats his table away.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Blue Trout and Black Truffles: Peregrinations of an Epicure (1953) by the reporter Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote for The New Yorker (more here), Gourmet, and Esquire:

For a great many people 1929 was the end of Prosperity.  For me it was the end of Gastronomy. I was drafted for eighteen months’ service into the Czechoslovak Army.  

Military experts have called the old Czechoslovak Army a good army, but I’ve often wondered how far the army would have got if, following Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, it had had to march on its stomach.

At five in the morning — the hour when I’d gone to bed in my happier days of freedom — we had to queue up for something called, for lack of a more suitable word, “café.”  This “café” came in large squares, which had the size of tombstones, the color of dehydrated mud, and the smell of asphalt.  The squares were dumped into large containers of boiling water, where they dissolved instantaneously into a witches’ brew.  It was always lukewarm when the cooks poured it inot our tin cans, though it might have been piping hot only a moment ago.  “Café” and a piece of dry bread were the soldier’s breakfast.  Fifteen years later, when I was drafted into another army — the Army of the United States — there used to be much griping at breakfast-time because the eggs were not sunny-side up or the milk wasn’t cold enough.

There were no such gripes in the Czechoslovak Army.  There were no eggs.  There was no milk.  We hated the witches’ brew until the winter maneuvers started.  After lying outdoors all night long in snow and ice, we were overjoyed at the sight of the field kitchen arriving through the misty dawn.  Something miraculous had happened to the “café“: it was piping hot, had the color of fine Italian espresso, and tasted like an exquisite blend of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan coffees.

Easy homemade ice cream

Well, not technically ice cream. But a yummy summer frozen treat.

Via Instructables, here’s Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn recipe for one-ingredient ice cream.

Considering that when they were babies, my kids’ favorite dessert was “banana pudding” (a banana mashed with a fork), this should be a hit around here.

And after you make your ice cream, you can get started on Instructables’ chain mail from pop tabs. Very, very nifty looking.

The One-Straw Revolution

This month the New York Review of Books has published an anniversary edition of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), about natural farming and permaculture, originally published in 1978 by Rodale Press. The new edition has an introduction by Frances Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) and a preface by Wendell Berry. Michael Pollan calls the book “one of the founding documents of the alternative food movement, and indispensable to anyone hoping to understand the future of food and agriculture”.

One of the book’s translators and editors, Larry Korn, a student of Masanobu Fukuoka, is beginning a book tour of Washington and Oregon to celebrate the new edition.

The Fukuoka Farming Website includes a number of sustainable farming resources.

An excerpt from The One-Straw Revolution:

Look at this grain! I believe that a revolution can begin from this one strand of straw. Then take a look at these fields of rye and barley. This ripening grain will yield about 22 bushels (1,300 pounds) per quarter acre. I believe this matches the top yields in Ehime Prefecture (where I live), and therefore, it could easily equal the top ‘harvest in the whole country…since this is one of the prime agricultural areas in Japan. And yet…these fields have not been plowed for 25 years! …

For 30 years I lived only for my farming and had little contact with people outside my own community. During those years I was heading in a straight line toward a “donothing” agricultural method.

The usual way to go about developing a method is to ask “flow about trying this?” or “How about trying that?”…bringing in a variety of techniques, one upon the other. This is modern agriculture and it only results in making the farmer busier.

My way was opposite. I was aiming at a pleasant, natural way of farming…which results in making the work easier instead of harder. “How about not doing this? How about not doing that?”—that was my way of thinking. By taking this approach, I ultimately reached the conclusion that there was no need to plow, no need to apply fertilizer, no need to make compost, no need to use insecticide! When you get right down to it, there are few agricultural practices that are really necessary.

The reason that man’s “improved” techniques seem to be necessary is that the natural balance has been so badly upset beforehand by those same techniques that the land has become dependent on them.

Make your way carefully through these fields. Dragonflies and moths fly up in a flurry. Honeybees buzz from blossom to blossom. Part the leaves and you will see Insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, and many other small animals bustling about in the cool shade. Moles and earthworms burrow beneath the surface.

This is a balanced ricefield ecosystem. Insect and plant communities maintain a stable relationship here. It is not uncommon for a plant disease to sweep through this region and leave the crops in my fields unaffected.

And now look over at the neighbor’s field for a moment. The weeds have all been wiped out by herbicides and cultivation. The soil animals and insects have been exterminated by poison. The earth has been burned clean of organic matter and micro-organisms by chemical fertilizers. In the summer you see farmers at work in the fields…wearing gas masks and long rubber gloves. These rice fields—which have been farmed continuously for over 1,500 years—have now been laid waste by the exploitive farming practices of a single generation.

For centuries, farmers have assumed that the plow is essential for growing crops. However, non-cultivation is fundamental to natural farming. The earth cultivates itself naturally by means of the penetration of plant roots and the activity of micro-organisms, small animals, and earthworms.


More for the “to read” pile

One of my favorite book bloggers* Colleen Mondor, at her blog Chasing Ray, wrote recently,

Scott Wiedensaul’s Of a Feather is more than a history of birding in America – it’s an excellent piece of American history, a gossipy (in tone but not in fact) look at ornithology and includes so many bits of society and culture that my head was spinning with glee as I read it. This will be front and center in the that feature on birding lit this summer at Bookslut.

I need to remember to check back at Bookslut for that, since I know Colleen will have some great choices.

In the same post, Colleen writes,

Lisa Hamilton writes about being a traveler and witness in her essay for Powells. I just finished her book on three original farmers, Deeply Rooted and will be submitting a review for it for July. Every book on farming I read just makes me shake my head over how distance we have gotten from food and real life. It’s so odd to me how we watch Jon and Kate (and please – everyone has at least once) and that seems real to us. A staged show about a family is reality tv for families to watch. Why real farming and real food and real questions about both of those subjects (plus life and general) matter is what Deeply Rooted is all about. It’s very good stuff.

Colleen, if it makes you feel any better, I’ve never seen Jon and Kate except on magazine covers at the checkout counter.  One of the benefits of having (and, until the antenna is fixed, having had) only two TV channels!

By the way, here’s a link for the farming book,

Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness by Lisa M. Hamilton (Counterpoint, May 2009)

* after doing some more catch-up reading, I see there is now a distinction between “book bloggers” and “lit bloggers”.  Heavens. Will need to give this some wine-soaked thought.

Organic options

From the recent Slate article, “Organic Panic: Michelle Obama’s garden and its discontents” by Christopher Beam:

“It’s a charming idea and everything, but it’s not practical,” says Xavier Equihua, who represents the Chilean Exporters Association as well as the Chilean Avocado Committee. The main problem, he says, is that local food is seasonal. For example, avocadoes grow in California during the summer months. Same with grapes. “What happens if you want some grapes during the month of December?” says Equihua. “What are you going to do? Not eat grapes?”

Well, yes. We don’t buy strawberries or tomatoes (unless the supermarket has the ones from the local Hutterite colony greenhouse) in the winter.  The  main problem isn’t that local food is seasonal.  The main problem is that we demand instant gratification in all aspects of our lives, including food.  Eating seasonally is sensible, not problematic.

Beam concludes,

And that’s the real subversive appeal of the Obamas’ organic garden. If it succeeds in shifting public perceptions about organic food, then the market for it may grow. And as with all market shifts, the most successful companies will embrace the organic movement rather than resist it. “For too long, the ag guys have said, If we raise it you’re gonna eat it. You don’t have options,” says Mitchell. “Well, now we have options.”

Sunshine gardens

I was happy to see a new article, “Extreme Makeover:  White House Edition” in Friday’s Wall Street Journal by former House & Garden magazine editor Dominique Browning, whose books I discovered by accident and loved last summer.  The first part of the article is devoted to redecorating the family quarters, frugally and comfortably, but the last part is about the grounds and garden.  Ms. Browning suggests,

A few green acres carved out of that gloriously sunny lawn (irrigated with a “gray water system” that uses water from the showers and sinks for the lawn and gardens) will supply enough organically grown fruits and vegetables to feed the first family and friends — send the surplus to food banks or schools for their lunch programs. Let’s hope the Obamas become “locavores,” getting their meat and poultry* from the area’s small farms. And is there a beekeeper handy?** The Obamas can kick off another Victory Garden movement in America’s suburbs, but it needs a new name, as the original one grew out of war shortages and implies a vanquished enemy. To kick off the discussion, try Sunshine Gardens, symbolizing a return to sustainable farm practices using a plentiful energy supply.

Read the entire article here.

And just for fun, here’s the YouTube link, for MGM’s 1942 Barney Bear Victory Garden cartoon.

* Whether you live in Washington, DC, or Washington State, try the Local Harvest website (if you fill the two search windows with “meat” and “20500”, the White House zip code, you get four pages of listings)

**  Yes indeedy, via the 101-year-old Maryland State Beekeepers Association and the slightly younger Virginia State Beekeepers Association

Links:

Eat the View: The White House Organic Garden Campaign co-ordinated by Kitchen Gardeners International

Michael Pollan’s “Farmer In Chief” article in the October 9, 2008 New York Times Sunday Magazine

Victory Gardens 2.0 at Change.org

There’ll always be an England

The latest campaign from across the pond:

Save Our Squirrels, with the rallying motto “Save a red, eat a gray!”

If you live in the UK and would like to help the cause, you can order your squirrel pâté now. No word on whether red or white wine goes best.

As Cluny Brown would say, nuts to the squirrels!

A harvest dessert

Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, and with part of the big box of BC apples remaining, I found a lovely, simple, and tasty recipe in the current issue of Harrowsmith Country LIfe Magazine (October 2008). I made it last night to rave reviews, and will probably double it to take to Thanksgiving dinner at my inlaws tomorrow.

Apple Cream Cheese Squares
recipe by Darlene King, Food Editor at Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine; I’ve added my notes in parentheses

Pastry base:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
1/3 cup sugar (I used slightly less, and if you have vanilla sugar in a jar, so much the better, even with the addition of the vanilla below)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup (6 oz.) butter

Filling:
8 oz. cream cheese (1 package, softened at room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Topping:
1/3 cups sugar (again, I used just a bit list)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (this worked out about four large apples, and I used Macintosh)
1/4 cup sliced almonds (I used more for good nutty coverage…)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Lightly butter the sides of a 9″ by 9″ baking pan and line the bottom with parchment (I buttered the entire pan and omitted the parchment, because I forgot to buy another roll last week, and it worked fine).

Place the flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter inthe bowl of a food processor and whirl until crumbly (I don’t like using my food processor for this sort of stuff so I just whisked the dry ingredients together and worked the butter, and then vanilla, in by hand; fast and easy and nothing extra to wash). Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan and, using your hands, press the mixture into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and set. Remove fro th oven and cool briefly on a rack.

Place the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth (again, I left the food processor on the shelf; instead, I cut up the softened cream cheese into small bits, put it in a medium bowl with the sugar and vanilla and mixed it with my handheld mixer, then added the egg and beat more until the mixture was smooth). Spoon/pour the mixture over the cooled pastry base.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, sprinkle over the sliced apples, and toss lightly with a fork. Arrange the apples over the filling (it doesn’t matter how you arrange them because the nuts will cover them). Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the apples (this is where I found that 1/4 cup of nuts wasn’t enough and added more so that you couldn’t see the apples underneath). Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before serving. (Though you might like to taste it while it’s still a bit warm from the oven…).

(The fallback camera, a little Olympus FE-210 we won in a raffle, appears to be working, though anything taking with the Kodak is still stuck in there)

In the literary kitchen

Via Nicole at Baking Bites, one of my favorite food blogs: The Romeo & Julienne cutting board, from Perpetual Kid.

I’ve also been looking for an excuse to mention these, too, from the Art Meets Matter website: “With kind permission of Penguin Books Ltd Art Meets Matter designer Tony Davis has created a unique collection of Penguin porcelain mugs and espresso cups. Based on the classic book series designed by Edward Young in 1935 each design takes one title as its theme. Each design features variants on the evolving Penguin logo and the colours of the book jackets.” Art Meets Matter also has a charming Swallows & Amazon range. And just luckily blue and yellow happen to go with my kitchen. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any North American stockists so will have to amuse myself with a virtual cup of coffee until I can talk Tom into a trip. From which it would probably be best if we could return by ship.

Brother, can you spare some thyme?

I was reading the new October issue of the prairie edition of Gardens West magazine last night and noticed just inside the front cover a publisher’s ad for a new book, Food Security for the Faint of Heart: Keeping Your Larder Full in Lean Times by Robin Wheeler (New Society Publishers, September 2008; the book is listed as $16.95 in both Canada and the US). Certainly beats selling apples on street corners — grow your own instead! — and tucking your savings in the mattress, doesn’t it?

According to the New Society website, Ms. Wheeler is “a permaculture activist, author, teacher and founder of the Sustainable Living Arts School. She teaches traditional skills, sustenance gardening and medicinals at Edible Landscapes, a nursery and teaching garden in Roberts Creek, British Columbia.”

And from New Society’s blog post about the book, written long, long ago (alright, August) before billion-dollar bailouts, trillion-dollar debts, and Great Depression threats were common conversation (notice reason #3 — the big tippy bag has indeed fallen over) though in the midst of the Canadian listeria crisis,

Robin’s Top 10 reasons to get food secure:

1. Stuff happens. Earthquakes, trucker strikes, who knows; in an instant, our world could change. We should be better prepared.

2. It can be difficult for low-income families to afford high quality food. Fortunately, it costs little to grow nutritious food so having a safe food source nearby (like your own back yard) is a great equalizer.

3. The World Economy. What’s that all about? Beats them, too! But it’s a big, tippy bag of wrestling cats and we hope it doesn’t fall over.

4. Fossil Fuels. Getting darned expensive, eh? That would explain the high cost of lettuce in January, and of imported olives.

5. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and pesticide use. Although some say the jury is still out, my vote is in and that is for wholesome food grown without mucking about with anything made in a lab — something we can reproduce in our own back yards, for instance.

6. Your money stays local. If your community is strong, you are better off and much safer. Support your local farmers so that they can keep you fed and healthy.

7. You get enmeshed in your community. Meet local gardeners and farmers, visit the local organic co-op, go to a canning or earthquake preparedness workshop. Enlarge your circle of connected people.

8. You do not have to be a drain in times of stress. In an emergency, the elderly and injured will need all the help they can get. If you can look after yourself, you will not needlessly drain a system that may not have much left to give.

9. Personal resilience. Well-prepared people have an edge when handling and recovering from emergencies and trauma. That can’t hurt.

10. Being a new community asset. In times of stress, we will need many well-informed, experienced people to spread throughout the community. You may be one of them!

The only review I’ve been able to find is this one, “Farmer-Hunter-Gatherer”, from Sharon Astyk, author of Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front (also published by New Society, also out September 2008). Here’s a snippet from her review,

…this is a terrific book, warmly written, funny and smart. Not only do I now want to read her gardening book, but I immediately found myself fantasizing about hanging out with the author and trading recipes and graden [sic] tricks. That doesn’t happen so terribly often — I’m impressed. I really recommend the book, and I’ll put it in the food storage section of my store once it is out.

I see that Food Security for the Faint of Heart is listed in our library system, but only for one library, it’s “on order” with no date available, and one clever patron is already ahead of me with a holds request. And Depletion and Abundance not even listed. Drat.

* * *

In a similar vein, several Farm School blog posts about some favorite recent titles, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression (this one is worth reading or re-reading if the politics of fear is getting to you right about now, and it occurs to me to wonder if anyone has bothered to ask Mrs. Kalish her opinion about current events):

All roads lead to home and hard work (August 18, 2007)

Little Heathens and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in The Christian Science Monitor (July 11, 2007)

More from Millie Kalish (July 9, 2007)

Food, Family, Fellowship: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (July 5, 2007)

Gosh all hemlock! (July 2, 2007)

More food for thought: connections and disconnections (June 29, 2007)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to can some pears…

My idea of a vacation

I just finished reading Corby Kummer’s account of “Dining with Dionysus” from the September 2008 issue of The Atlantic, about his visit to the Greek island of Kea for cooking courses offered by Aglaia Kremezi* and her husband Costas Moraitis.

Heavenly, from the description of the relaxed and relaxing course —

Many courses are intensive and technique-heavy. This one isn’t. Instead, it is designed as a week that will give you a very enjoyable view of a culture, and demonstrate the equation every cook should know: simplicity + necessity = great cuisine.

and

More than long kitchen sessions, convivial meals on the stone terrace under a grape arbor and long afternoon hikes and boating excursions are the order of the week.

to the description of the meals —

like the lamb chops from a neighbor’s animal, rubbed with a Middle Eastern spice mixture and grilled over a wood fire (always a good way to grill lamb; single-cut chops are the best to grill, for easy lifting and plentiful burnt bits).

(But then I had my sweet sixteen party at a Greek restaurant.)

Best of all, as usual, there is a recipe. This one is for risotto with orzo, grated zucchini, lemon, and feta:

It’s foolproof, and can be adapted to any number of vegetables you find at the farmer’s market or (overgrown) in your garden. It shows how crumbled feta becomes a thick, creamy sauce that absorbs and amplifies other flavors—and what a difference the two cornerstones of Greek cooking, olive oil and lemons, can make to a seemingly familiar dish.

To serve six as a main course or eight as a side dish, heat seven to eight cups of chicken or vegetable broth or, if you don’t have broth, water. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil and add four or five cloves of peeled and thinly sliced garlic and four cups of diced or grated zucchini or yellow squash. Sauté, stirring, for 10 minutes over medium-high heat; the squash will exude a good deal of liquid. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, a pound of orzo, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir to coat the pasta with oil. Pour in three cups of broth and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently and adding more liquid as needed. The pasta can be al dente, for the risotto effect, or cooked completely through, as you like.

Remove the cooked orzo from the heat and add 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, three tablespoons of grated or shredded lemon zest, and 1 1/2 cups of feta cheese, mashed with a fork (and now: magic sauce). Buy the least salty feta you can find (if you get the feta fetish, as you should, order several of the barrel-aged fetas from http://www.zingermans.com), and save some of the crumbs for garnish. Snip over the risotto whatever combination you like of fennel fronds, fresh dill, and mint. That is, let the garden tell you how to season an irresistibly Greek, and simple, dish.

You can read the entire article here.

* Corby Kummer on Ms. Kremezi’s cookbook here.

Faster, stronger, higher

(That’s citius, altius, fortius for classical home educating types.)

From yesterday’s New York Times, “This Land: Where the Competition Is Stiff but Sweet”, wherein Dan Barry tags along with the judges of the Marquette County Fair:

County fairs are about more than whirligig amusement rides designed to make you pay for the cheesecake on a stick you’ve just consumed. They are about tradition, and community, and pride, and something rarely acknowledged: competition. Whether it’s swimming the fastest 100-meter butterfly or growing the handsomest rutabagas, many of us strive to be the best in our heat, however lukewarm.

Read the rest here.  As the mother of yet another child who won the special prize for most points in the youth agricultural products category, all I can say is, I’ll drink to that.

Summer links

Some summery links in honor of the Solstice:

To Eat:

Homemade Ice Cream Drumsticks, from Nicole at Baking Bites. And don’t miss Nicole’s Summer Fruit Recipe Index.

Yesterday Tom found strawberries at the store almost as tasty as the ones from the garden, so he stocked up. It will be a strawberry weekend. I’ve also been thinking about the tall iced coffees my mother, sister, and I used to enjoy at the outdoor café at Lincoln Center, and if we’re making fresh homemade strawberry milkshakes, I just might make myself a coffee milkshake.

To Read:

Two of my favorite mystery writers have new books out for summer: Ruth Rendell’s latest Inspector Wexford mystery, Not in the Flesh. And Lawrence Block’s latest John Keller thriller, Hit and Run (out next week). Both reviewed in The New York Times tomorrow by crime doyenne Marilyn Stasio.

I heard Gretta Vosper on a CBC radio call-in show the other week, plugging her new book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe. Sounds especially intriguing for those intrigued by the ideas of John Shelby Spong. Rev. Vosper is a pastor at Westhill United Church in Toronto, and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. Not for everyone, certainly provocative for some, but eye-opening and thought-provoking.

I realize I’m probably the last one to stumble onto the news, but I just discovered the other week that James Mustich, of the late great Common Reader book catalogue, is the editor-in-chief of the Barnes & Noble Review, the big bookseller’s online publication. I’ve been having fun going through the lists and reading the reviews.

Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations by Susan Sessions Rugh. My idea of a summer vacation has always been enjoying the comforts of home while everyone else clears out, whether home was the Upper West Side or rural western Canada, where for some reason even the farmers decamp for the lake on the weekends. And growing up in NYC, we didn’t have a car and my parents didn’t drive. But there’s something oddly appealing about this nostalgic look about seeing the USA in your Chevrolet back when gas was cheap and families stayed together for the summer. I enjoyed The Washington Post review by Sue Kovach Shuman, who includes the tidbit that “the Ford Motor Company even promoted its sedans as ‘America’s schoolhouse on wheels’ “, but fear the title might be “too American” for our library system.

To Watch:

Mediterraneo” on DVD, sent to us by my parents. Thank you very much! Tom has heard me babble on and on about the movie and will finally get to see it this weekend

To Listen to (otherwise known as music to garden to):

Make Someone Happy” by Sophie Milman

Half the Perfect World by Madeleine Peyroux

Barenaked Ladies’ “Snacktime“, and not just for kids either.

Chocolate truffle cake with chocolate caraque

Laura’s cake for her 4H baking project,

Chocolate cake recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham (13th edition, p. 565, Family Favorite “Chocolate Cake”).  Decorator’s chocolate buttercream recipe and chocolate caraque (chocolate curls) recipe from Great Cakes by Carole Walter.  Chocolate truffle recipe from Su Good Sweets

It sold at the silent auction for $50, which is earmarked for spending at the dollhouse store (highly recommended, especially for Canadians), so she’s a pretty happy little girl.  She was also commissioned to bake another cake just like it.  Laura tied with a couple of other kids for highest score on the displays and highest price for cake sale, and 4H is done till Fall (hurray!), so we celebrated last night roasting hot dogs at the fire pit and going to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Tom and I thought it was fairly weak — I especially didn’t like all the computerized effects — but the kids certainly enjoyed their first crack at Indy, especially on the big screen.

Links

The February Carnival of Children’s Literature is up, and Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day is hosting.

I missed last week’s Poetry Friday, which was hosted by Kelly Fineman at Writing and Ruminating.

The February edition of the online children’s literature monthly, The Edge of the Forest, is up, and includes reviews as well as such goodies as an article on Graphic Novels: A Gateway to a New World by Kelly Fineman (including some of the Beowulf titles I mentioned here the other month); a profile of illustrator Sylvia Long (An Egg Is Quiet, A Seed Is Sleepy) by Kris Bordessa; a new column by children’s author Candice Ransom (whose Time Spies series is very popular around here).

Learn to speak a foreign language like a native speaker, without leaving home; article from The New York Times.

Via Papercraft World, Papercraft DNA at this Japanese site. Which goes well with what Cami and the kids are learning over at Full Circle.

Old favorites from the blogroll at nifty new homes:
JoVE at Tricotomania and more
Doc’s Sunrise Rants
Yellow House Homeschool

Via Melissa Wiley at Here in the Bonny Glen, from her Saturday links: A CBS News article on learning to see with a Harvard professor,

It’s all part of [Professor John] Stilgoe’s scheme to instill in his students the power of discovery and deduction – to notice unseen things that tell them what’s really going on.

All you have to do is go outside, move deliberately, and relax. Do not jog. Forget about weight reduction and blood pressure, and look around.

Chris Barton at Bartography, children’s author and homeschool father, has news about a new picture book biography about Vivaldi — I, Vivaldi by Janice Shefelman, illustrated by Tom Shefelman.

Classical School Blog‘s post on Latin Mnemonics, Flashcards, and the National Latin Exam. Thanks to the Eide family for what look like some very useful resources.

Writer and home schooling mother Kris Bordessa (who’s mentioned above for The Edge of the Forest) at Paradise Found mentions some nifty links in a recent post, especially the free historical paper dolls.

Geekdad links:
*Updated planet mnemonics, thanks to a 10-year-old girl
*Chickensaurus skeleton, when you’re ready to move on after the mummified chicken; I remember at the beginning of our home school adventure reading about Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones by Canadian paleontogist Chris McGowan (a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto); Dr. McGowan has a different version of the book, called T-Rex to Go: Build Your Own from Chicken Bones (ignore the goofy Amazon price and try abebooks instead).

A tasty, handy idea for a busy, still-wintery week: Baking Bite‘s Slow Cook French Dip Sandwich

I’m nowhere near caught up, but at least it’s a start!