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

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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.

Losing My Noodle

It tastes way better than it looks.

Well, it sure isn't pretty, but it's delicious. Massaman curry with sweet potato, onion, and spaghetti squash. #oklavore
What I had for supper: massaman curry with sweet potatoes (from Urban Agrarian), spaghetti squash (from Guilford Gardens CSA), and onion.

The secrets: I used massaman curry paste that I picked from the huge selection at Super Cao Nguyen. The paste lasts forever in the refrigerator and its label provides guidance for making delicious curries.
To save on cooking time, I roasted the spaghetti squash last night. Spaghetti squash has a nutty flavor and loads of fiber. I stab it about 10 times and cook it at 400° for about an hour; cut in half, scrape out seeds and “noodles.”

I can’t eat massaman curry without thinking of Sukho Thai II in Denton, Texas. It is (was?) right off the north side of University of North Texas campus and you could get a mountain of massaman curry and rice for $3 or so. That was my first exposure to the deliciousness that is massaman curry, although tonight’s version was just as good and probably a lot healthier. I’m not sure if that tiny cafeteria-style Thai place is still on Hickory Avenue, but last I heard, they got all “fancy” and raised their prices.

Fermented Beets

fermented beets

I could not resist this lacto-fermenting project, since it contains the words “fermented,” “beets,” and “ginger.”*

As the article accompanying the recipe notes, fermentation is the original way to make pickles. It creates that sour taste that industrial pickle-packers have attempted to mimic with vinegar-based brines. In the process, they’ve lost the depth of flavor (so I’ve heard) and the nutritional benefits. So why did processors abandon fermentation? Apparently it doesn’t offer the uniformity necessary for a large-scale operation.

When I first heard “lacto-fermentation,” I found it off-putting; I imagined milk and fermented vegetables. But that’s not quite right: The “lacto” comes from “lactobacillus,” a ubiquitous and “good” bacteria. According to Nourishing Traditions, the proliferation of lactobacilli enhances vegetable digestibility. It also converts starch and sugar into lactic acid, which keeps  vegetables and fruits “in a state of perfect preservation” and “promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”

You might know that salt is a common ingredient in vegetable fermentation. In Nourishing Traditions, author Sally Fallon explains that salt inhibits putrefying bacteria while the naturally occurring lactobacilli produces enough lactic acid to preserve the vegetables. But you can reduce or eliminate the salt if you inoculate your pickling solution with whey. I happened to have some frozen whey, left over from making cheese from my friend Matt’s goat milk, and was happy to find a use for it. (That last sentence makes me sound more industrious than I am. Making soft cheese is really easy.) But if you don’t have whey or are vegan, don’t be discouraged. You can certainly ferment without it.

beautiful beets
Beautiful beets from Guilford Gardens
fermenting beets
fermenting beetsfermenting beets
left Packed jar right Evidence of fermentation after Day 1

So, perhaps you’re saying, Well, that’s lovely, Tricia. But how does it taste? Like a mellow version of my grandma’s pickled beets, which she makes with vinegar and sugar. That is to say: good. However, I didn’t cook the beets long enough, so they were firmer than I would have liked.

*Random side note about punctuation: For the past three years I’ve had turmoil about the serial comma. Perhaps you’ve noticed its sporadic appearance? Sometimes it slipped through, despite my attempts to stick to AP Style, which generally goes with a “less is more” approach to punctuation. As copy editor at the Oklahoma Gazette, I was obligated to omit serial commas, and I attempted to do the same with this blog as a matter of consistency. I was not properly assimilated into the AP fold, and the absent comma constantly vexed me. I have a somewhat sick affinity for it, and with a recent job change, I can embrace the comma, and hopefully leave behind my acute awareness of the issue. Whew.

Show and Tell

I’m repeating myself when I say foraging might be the perfect pastime, but that realization is one of those persistent happy thoughts. Wilderness, hiking, food — all things I love. Jackie Dill’s foraging walks have become an annual opportunity to meet interesting people and continue learning about Oklahoma’s wild edibles, as well as techniques for cooking and preserving them. And of course, there’s always delicious food at the post-walk potluck.
Here’s a show-and-tell from the June 2 outing that focused on medicinal uses of wild plants:

Jackie explaining uses for wild sage
Jackie shows the group prairie sage, which can be used to make smudge sticks, scent bath water, or to replace culinary sage. It’s a ubiquitous prairie plant that’s easy to identify, and it smells wonderful, as you might expect.
Jackie is a busy woman. I met her in 2008 when she hosted one foraging walk per year. This year there have been at least four at-capacity walks, and she is organizing next month’s wildcrafting festival.
Untitled
Beautiful Logan County
pleurisy root/butterfly bush
Pleurisy root/butterfly weed is the host plant for monarch larva and a nectar source for the butterfly. After the blossoms have wilted, you can pulverize the dry root, and use it as an expectorant tea.
buffalo gourd
Look closely: There’s a buffalo gourd in the center of the photo.
Vicki and Don foraging buffalo currant
Vicki and Don dug some buffalo currant to plant at Rose Ranch.
buffalo currant
Buffalo currants in June
Buffalo Currant
Buffalo currant blossoms in April
foraging caravan
The foraging caravan
Sarah picking sand plums
Sarah Warmker picks sand plums.
lead plant
Like a lot of things we identified on the foraging walk, lead plant can be used in tea form, but I don’t remember which part or for which ailment. Oh, well! I sure like the look of it.
bergamot/bee balm
Bee balm/wild bergamot. The dried petals and leaves are used as a tea, or blended with tea leaves. Jackie warned against using bergamot essential oil, or for that matter, any essential oils. I’m looking forward to learning more about this at the festival.

prickly lettuce
Young prickly lettuce leaves can be eaten in salads.

Foraging basics:
Before ingesting a positively identified plant, rub the plant on your cheek or inner forearm to check for sensitivity.
Leave no trace.
Leave enough for others and to ensure another growing season.

Blog entries from previous walks: 2008, 2009 and 2010.

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.

Curry Favor

massaman curry
Last night I made some massaman curry to eat for lunch this week.
Yeah, it looks gross. I use massaman curry paste that I get at Super Cao Nguyen. Mixed with coconut milk, it makes anything taste damn good.

My curry includes:
:: Sweet potatoes from Guilford Gardens.
:: Okra harvested from my garden and frozen on the autumnal equinox.
:: Cooked turnip greens and spinach frozen on October 27.
:: Snow peas harvested from my garden and frozen on December 4.
sweet peas
Pea patch in late October.
snow peas
Pretty pods in mid-November.
snow peassnow peas