Stacking Functions Garden

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Sometime during my college years, the smell of cheap microwave popcorn started to make me feel sick.  It might have had something to do with reports about workers in the factories where that popcorn is processed getting cancer from the fumes.

At any rate, I switched to Newman’s Own organic popcorn, and was happy as a clam for years, even though I was paying some serious $$ for all that convenient yumminess.  And although it was good and definitely had no chemical smell factor, it wasn’t exactly movie theater quality popcorn.

Enter Ye Olde Recession, and one night I decided to try, just for fun, Mark Bittman’s stove-top popcorn recipe.  I kid you not: it only took one time to convert me.  It IS that delicious.

We are now certifiable popcorn maniacs, making it almost every night as soon as the kids are in bed.  And we can afford to: each batch costs less than 50 cents, contains no artificial anything, and all the ingredients can easily be found locally.  Perfect!  Here’s the recipe (adapted from Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, our cooking bible).  I’ve reduced the amount of butter to make it a bit more healthful.

2 T. oil (something that can handle some heat, like canola, sunflower or grapeseed. If you prefer olive oil, lower the heat.)
1/2 c. popcorn
1-2 T. butter, or to taste, melted
salt AND pepper (optional)

Put the oil and 3 kernels of corn in a kettle or large pot or something on the stove, over med. heat.  Cover.  When all 3 kernels have popped, you are ready to add the rest.  Put the cover just slightly ajar so that some steam can escape.  Occasionally lift up kettle and give it a shake.  When the popping stops, pour into a bowl, stir in the butter, and shake on some salt and pepper.  I really really like freshly ground black pepper on my popcorn, but that’s up to you.

This whole process takes about 10 minutes, so only about 6 minutes longer than microwave, and so, so worth it.  2-3 generous servings.

Update, July 6, 2011: Here’s how to make an updated version of cheese popcorn using this recipe.

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King Corn

I watched King Corn last night.  This 2005 documentary is about two urban east-coast boys who decided to move to Iowa and raise 1 acre of corn, and learn about the ways that corn has infiltrated pretty much every food that Americans eat.

They even had their hair tested in a laboratory and the lab tests confirmed that the guys were, indeed, pretty much made of corn.

This was entertaining and not at all preachy and included an appearance by Michael Pollan; his Omnivore’s Dilemma is required reading for the New Home Economics.

It’s just amazing to see how much Earl Butz‘s farm policy in the 1970s, which I’m sure he enacted with really good intentions, has changed family farms, our health, and our environment, and all for the worse.  Does that mean the old farm policy of the 50s and 60s would work now?  I don’t know.  But something has got to give, and the farmers in the documentary were in agreement that the ridiculous amounts of corn they produce are, well, ridiculous.

I wish I knew what the solution was.  Simply educating consumers to make informed choices is a start, but I just don’t think it’s enough, not when our government is pouring giant subsidies on a crop that no one can eat.

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New header

I finally got around to creating a new masthead that more accurately reflects what this blog is about.  Left to right:  our seed-starting system, a fresh loaf of bread, our sprouted brussels sprouts seeds, our very sophisticated plastic bag-drying system, and my trusty Schwinn.

I used to ride a $900 Rocky Mountain and was constantly filled with anxiety about it — will it get stolen?  Am I ruining the components with road salt?  (Answer: yes)  Finally last summer after much consideration and a little heartbreak I sold it and bought myself a $140 1980 road bike and haven’t looked back.  I love it!  It helps that Adam tricked it out with some nice new white handlebar tape.

seedsystem1Now about that seed-starting system.  I had to include a picture of it since it is so gloriously cheap.  We looked at Midwest Brew & Grow and some other places and were considering an expensive system, but Ye Olde Recession forced us to figure out the cheapest possible system we could do.  It consists of:

  • An old fluorescent lamp from our garage, fitted with two plant/aquarium bulbs.  We still had an old one from our old lizard aquarium, and the new one was $8.
  • A Burpee Ultimate Seed Starting Kit, $20.
  • A couple of clamps from the garage
  • An old piece from some old Ikea thing that was laying in the garage, to raise up the height of the lamp
  • The top of our refrigerator provides a nice warm environment and its handy location ensures I won’t forget to water

So there you have it, the entire system was $28, not including seeds.  They were around $2.75 a packet, and I got Seed Savers Exchange ones from our local CO-OP.

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Food Myths, debunked

The NY Times had a great blog post about Food Myths today.

Among the Myths Debunked:
1. Fruit juice is not actually a health food (pick your jaw up from the floor, people)

2. The “Kosher” label on meat is not necessarily an indicator of higher quality

3. Everyone knows that vibrantly-colored vegetables tend to be the most healthy (i.e. spinach is better than iceberg lettuce), however, there are some notable exceptions. Some pale veggies that are still nutritional powerhouses: white cabbage, white beans, celery, and cauliflower. Not a real shocker to me, but I guess it makes sense.

4. This one was like an arrow straight into my foodie heart: apparently much of the grass-fed beef that we have come to love comes from South America, where pastureland is fast replacing rainforest. Happily there is an easy way around this: eat less beef altogether, and choose only locally-grown grass-fed when you do.

5. Arugula is not as fancy as you might think: it grows wild as a weed in Mediterranean countries

Read the entire article for yourself here.

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Is a Food Revolution now in season?

Asks the New York Times.  Great article, very optimistic.  One of the issues it highlights is that organic/local produce is out of the question for many people because it costs more.

This really hits at the heart of why I started this blog… to learn for myself how I can participate in organic/local/whole foods and still save money.  And there’s one huge way that immediately comes to mind: grow it yourself!

I started my brussels sprouts and some onions on Saturday in my new seed starting kit.  Pictures to come.

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Another post about the Splendid Table?!

Good grief, this is two posts in a row now where I reference something I heard on the Splendid Table. I was just listening to some old podcasts that I hadn’t gotten to yet when I came across her 1/17/09 show about NPR’s Locavore Nation project. This episode features an interview with Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that definitely helped inspire me on my urban farming craze.

But then she also interviewed documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf about his vision of an “ideal” US food system. It was a shame to me that the interview was so short because I really liked what he had to say… I just put his movie into my Netflix queue and will review it here as soon as I see it.

Anyway, listen for yourself to this excellent podcast here.

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In my initial write-up for the New Liberal Arts, I used bananas as an example.  I was partly inspired by an interview with Dan Koeppel on NPR, who wrote a book about the recent history of banana cultivation and marketing.  I just heard him again today on the radio, so I thought I’d post a link to his book:

Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World

Now I know where the term Banana Republic came from and what it means.  And now I’m really puzzled that someone named their store after it.  Adding this to my must-read list now, and will report back after I get to it.

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And now, for the practical.

I’m having a harder time than I thought I would with writing about each and every theoretical component of the new Home Economics, so let’s just skip to what’s actually occupying my mind right now, shall we?

I’m trying to maximize space here, so I am hoping that spending all this time in preparations is going to help me get more out of the garden this year. In case you’re wondering, the big rectangle on the upper right of the garden is a chimney. Here’s my planting plan as of right now:

Vegetable Start seed indoors Plant (or sew seed) outdoors Partners with… Position in garden
Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts March 15 4/15 (seed) or 6/1 (plant) nothing C
Black valentine bush beans N/A May 15 Kale A
Long Red Florence Onion March 15 April 15 ? ???
Oregon Giant Pea N/A April 10 Bunch o’ herbs B
French Breakfast radishes N/A April 10 Parsnips E
Hidatsa Shield Figure bean N/A May 15 N/A In pot, climbing trellis
Black Beauty Zucchini N/A May 15 N/A In pot, climbing trellis
Boothby Blonde Cucumbers April 15 May 15 N/A In pot, climbing trellis
Red Russian Kale N/A By July 15 green beans A
Mesclun lettuce N/A April 15 peppers D
Florence Fennel April 15 May 15 N/A In flower bed
(tolerates partial shade)
Triple Curled Parsley N/A April 15 N/A In flower bed
(tolerates partial shade)
Grandma Einck’s Dill N/A April 15 peas B
Cilantro N/A May 15 peas B

I am leaning towards just buying a few pepper and tomato plants since I am only planting 3-4 plants total of each. Also, this plan relies on the plan we had of building a trellis over our backyard deck (which was going to support the cukes, zucchini, and pole beans). I don’t know if we’re actually going to get around to that or not, so I may have to do a bit of re-thinking of Ye Olde Garden Planne.

I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota so this is a plan that is tailored to USDA Hardiness Zone 4a. And BARELY 4a. We regularly do hit -30 here (and we did, this winter), but fortunately I am also right in the inner city so I have a tiny heat island advantage over my suburban neighbors, even some to the south.

Because this is only my second year of having a vegetable garden, I have no idea whatsoever whether this plan will work or not. Stay tuned; I’ll report my findings as we go.

Oh, and in other exciting news we are also adding 3 blueberry bushes (mixed in with our front-yard flower garden), an asparagus patch, and a rhubarb patch this year. And by “patch” I mean a very small space indeed. Soon all grass will be BANISHED from my yard!