Ramping Up

Every week we get a bag of food from Kam’s Kookery & Guilford Garden. It’s called a CSA, for “community-supported agriculture,” but it’s easier to refer to it as our “veggie bag.” CSA customers commit to the veggies in advance, and given the nature of farming, receive a fluctuating variety and amount of produce every week (or every other week, as the case may be).

I had a couple of things in mind to try with this week’s bounty. My friend Hailey shared her experience of making pastrami-cured beets, which I was excited to make as soon as I learned we’d receive beets. We got turnips too, so to make it worth the effort I combined them. They’re delicious! Here’s the recipe Hailey and I used. I didn’t have any powdered garlic, and they still turned out delicious. At last! I didn’t wait until the turnips were sad and wrinkly before finally putting them to use!

A head of cabbage also came in the bag, so I started a batch of sauerkraut, adding bits of leftover turnips and beets for color and crunch. If you’ve never made sauerkraut before, there’s ample guidance online and in books you can get at the library. I decided to check with one of my favorite bloggers, the Zero Waste Chef, to see how she does it. I took her advice to let the salted veggies sit for an hour or so after I mixed and massaged them with salt. This ensured the cabbage released enough water so that I could easily submerge the veggies in the resulting brine, something that has taken a lot of pounding and squeezing in the past. After I filled the large jar, I decided to add some minced serrano peppers that we had in the freezer, so a small batch will have a bit of heat.

The veggie bag also had onions, zucchini, crookneck squash, sungold tomatoes, new potatoes, cucumbers, and Swiss chard. I love this time of year! This morning I flipped through How to Cook Everything Fast (thanks, Anne!) to see what I could make with some chicken thighs and squash: Provencal chicken for supper!

Happy Berm Day

A year ago the city installed a sidewalk on our street (March 28, 2016, to be exact), and we asked them to not spread the dirt and lay sod after the work was done. We wanted to keep the “berm” created by the displaced soil. At first it was a lot of work to remove big rocks and create a somewhat uniform mound, so we wondered if we made the right decision. And it continues to take effort to (attempt to) fend off the bermuda and crab grasses. Would we do it again? Unequivocally, yes. If entertainment value alone were the only metric: yes, yes, yes. The berm has given us so much:

  • Food for humans and other animals: culinary and medicinal herbs, eggplant, okra, winter peas, sunflower seeds, nectar, and more to come.
  • Community: We are playing or working out there often, so we get to wave to drivers or chat with walkers. The berm is a conversation piece. Some people clearly are baffled and others are inspired. Either way, we eagerly share our experiences, challenges, and future plans. Also, we were flush with cowpeas and now winter peas, so we share with our neighbors.
  • Activity: The berm hums with life. The berm provides opportunities for wonderment and movement with purpose — both are a joy to share with our daughter.
  • Beauty: Flowers! See photos and plant varieties below. I sought out advice for seeds that might have a fighting chance against the invasive grasses. The best performer was cowpeas: They thrived all summer and fall and they’re pretty, edible nitrogen fixers.
  • Buffer: Our house is situated on a curve and the berm gives me a sense of security when we’re playing in the front yard and a car takes the bend too fast. I feel less exposed in general, but even more so when the mammoth sunflowers are up and we have a “living fence.”
What we planted in the spring:
“bee feed” mix*
borage*
Oriental scarlet poppy
assorted sunflowers
echinacea
brown cottonseeds
Heliopsis helianthoides
okra
anise hyssop
milkweed
dill
calendula mix*
red marietta marigold*
Michels cowpea*
butterfly weed
purple prairie clover
What we planted in the fall:
Austrian winterpeas*
golden sweetpeas
Windsor fava beans
crimson clover

*Most successful

To save money, we planted a lot of seeds and just a few transplants (eggplant, sage, rosemary, hibiscus). We’re hoping that many plants will readily re-seed this spring and we’ll plant seeds I saved at the end of the season.

Urban Agriculture

Urban chickens!I took Thursday afternoon off from work to join fellow urban agriculture advocates at a meeting of the OKC Planning Commission. We sat through nearly three hours of mind-numbing discussion before our agenda item — a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance — was up for consideration. But it was worth the wait to hear the commissioners earnestly discuss matters of compost storage and rainwater harvesting. Most eagerly anticipated were the provisions allowing for backyard chickens: six hens per city lot! Sara Braden, a dedicated champion of the cause, spoke eloquently before the commission and expressed the group’s appreciation for the planning department’s efforts. The measure passed unanimously; next it goes to the City Council, with a vote tentatively set for December 31.
OKC Planning CommissionSome of my friends were more prepared than I for the grueling city meeting: Christine brought a novel and Sara had her crochet project. I decided to try out haiku, inspired by the matters at hand:

nutrient-dense globe
backyard food for everyone
gather, eat, repeat

gentle clucking soothes
cast seed sparkles in the sun
and the quiche is served

clean food, full bellies
nourishment just steps away
empower us now

And as the hours progressed…
painful gathering
testing endurance eyes glaze
faithful get restless

shut blinds prevent lust
for two hours of sunlight gone
now where is my book?

hard seats in the church
the congregation fights sleep
SPUDs are not tubers

Plenty

Some friends went hiking in southwest Oklahoma Labor Day weekend and picked about two 5-gallon buckets of prickly pear fruit. I got to help make jelly, as well as a big mess!
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We had a jolly assembly line going: singe the spines off the fruit, quarter the fruit, puree, strain. And things got progressively sillier, due to Nancy‘s prickly pear juice cocktails.
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pb&j
PB & (prickly pear) J

Gleanings

It’s been so long since I’ve posted anything, it took me a while to remember my password. So, hello, there. It’s been a while. Here’s some of the stuff that’s been keeping me busy: making ginger soda, killing roosters at Hill Farm, harvesting arrowroot and Jerusalem artichokes at Rose Ranch, fermenting kimchi and sauerkraut, picking persimmons, scarfing down homemade turkey pastrami and corned beef, picking pecans, exploring Oklahoma’s fall color, enjoying many potlucks with my dear friends and family, and pondering the point of this site. I haven’t come up with any answers about the latter, but I will elaborate on some of the former in the coming days. How about I start with the persimmons?

Pickin' persimmonsI’m enamored with the persimmon:
its brittle leaves like clover, its skin a wintery sunset

My generous neighbor, Anthony, shares his persimmons with me. After I noticed the trees in his yard last year, I included his house was on my walking route until I finally caught him outside. It’s a tricky thing, asking for permission to glean. It might be perceived as invasive and aggressive, but when well received, it can be an opportunity to create community. Anthony is the only person I’ve approached and luckily it went well. He has no interest in his persimmons, and was slightly amused by my enthusiasm.

Persimmons are still novel to me: I’m not sure I was aware of their existence before I moved to Oklahoma. Or maybe I was, but thought they were from some exotic land. (That land turned out to be Oklahoma and one of my goals from 2009 was to see a persimmon tree in person. Check!) Also, limited accessibility contributes to the persimmon’s novelty. They don’t ripen very well on the counter; ideally they are harvested at their peak, which means they are so soft they completely give under slight pressure, and they are so heavy and tender, they are barely hanging on to the tree.

The skin is edible and has a crystalline texture on the tongue. You can use it as a bowl to scoop out the creamy meat, which is best described as pudding. I made an actual pudding with persimmon purée, but I think the unadulterated form is better. If you have a good recipe, please share.

Icebox Insight, Round 2

Round 1 (2009)

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Burned-out hobby farmer in Georgia | Household: 1, while husband was deployed | Item of note: The top shelf holds a 2-liter bottle of oil for frying fish.
fridge
Stay-at-home mom in Del Valle, Texas | Household: 4 |”The veggie drawer is full of spinach that I promise to eat. My fridge looks healthier than from the first time.” | Item of note: Since there’s no nearby grocery store, they freeze milk in 2-liter bottles. A full freezer is more efficient, and there’s always milk on hand.
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Outdoors enthusiast in Oklahoma City | Household: 1 human, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 1 rat | Item of note: More roasted pumpkin?!
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New York City locavores | Poet/professor and communications associate | Household: 2 | Before Christmas vacation
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Same as above, after Christmas vacation | Item of note: “The bowl [in the freezer] is a sad story. I made stock on Thanksgiving and poured it into a mason jar. … I put it in the freezer thinking it wouldn’t break without a lid, but I was wrong. I never got around to dealing with it, so when we went to Oklahoma for Christmas I sat the whole frozen/broken thing in the bowl in case the freezer quit. The good news: I saved the stock in the end since the glass broke in big pieces!”
food exhibitionist
Copy editor in Oklahoma City | 1-person household | Item of note: That’s a basket of fava beans from Peak Oil Hausfrau.

If this has merely whetted your appetite, check out this Fridge Fetish group on Flickr.
And here’s an artistic alternative to refrigerators, based on the designer’s oral history research in traditional food storage.

Some thoughts I had while compiling this post:

Why do I care about refrigerator contents? Do I care about refrigerator contents? Still pondering this.

A potentially interesting photographic commentary could be created by juxtaposing contents of refrigerators and medicine cabinets. It might illustrate what Michael Pollan stated in his 2008 letter to the presidential candidates: “Spending on health care has risen from 5 percent of national income in 1960 to 16 percent today … Spending on food has fallen by a comparable amount — from 18 percent of household income to less than 10 percent.”

Oh! What about a refrigerator component in online dating? You pick the most appealing refrigerator contents and see who is behind the refrigerator door. That sounds very fun. I think a clean refrigerator with diverse foodstuffs would definitely garner points. I’ve never given this much thought until just now, but I might be on to something.

Sausage Fest

Jim making links
Could somebody dim the lights?
Who knew that making sausage could be so overtly sexual? Jim suggested we get some mood lighting as he twisted the long rope of meat into links.

A couple of weeks ago, I got together with a group of friends for a day of re-skilling, or learning skills that were ubiquitous a couple of generations ago. I cut down a tree! And then I got addicted to chopping firewood using a splitting wedge and sledgehammer. It felt so good to use all my might. And the cracking wood was deeply satisfying. Of course, as Doug reminded me, these activities are much more fun when they aren’t routine chores. Still, I haven’t had my fill.

After the tree-felling and firewood-gathering at Rose Ranch, we went to Hill Farm to make sausage from Doug’s 575-pound momma pig, Irma.

Doug picked up casings at Kamp’s meat market. They were silky with bits of grit that might have been salt. I triple-rinsed them and then Doug and Marcy loaded a piece on the sausage stuffer funnel.
sausage casings (pig intestines) Doug bought at Kamp's Meat Market
Marcy, Doug and Brody
Father and daughter Jim and Callie working together to get the seasoning just right
Jim and Callie seasoned the ground meat. We made bratwurst and Italian sausage.
It's all about the teamwork
I’m sure the novelty of making sausage eventually might fade, but by the end of that evening my cheeks ached from giggling at all the sexual innuendos.

More photos here.