Stacking Functions Garden

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Getting organized

This happens to me every year in January — I want to throw out everything and simplify my life.  This year, in addition to my Master Gardener classes, work, and baking bread like a maniac, I’m also reading a parenting book.  I haven’t read one since the kids were born, so it was about time.  The book is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way in, but one of his recommendations is to dramatically reduce the number of toys in your household.  We don’t have excessive numbers of toys, but I still did manage to get rid of one very large box.  Then I organized the remaining toys in fabric bins from Target — we’ve been using them for a long time because they fit so perfectly on our bookshelf.

The bins were a bit disorganized, so this weekend I dusted off the sewing machine and cut up some old jeans and made these simple labels for them:

I just sewed around the edges and will let the denim get a natural fringe over time.  Adam drew the little pictures with a Sharpie. (Hey, it’s minimalist crafting!) Then I safety-pinned the labels on the boxes — that way if we change things up later they will be easy to remove.  These labels aren’t perfect — the “cars” one has all their four-wheeled vehicles in it, and the Barbie one also has ponies in it, but we tried to keep it as simple as possible.  We did need two whole bins for dress-up clothes:

Wouldn’t Amanda Soule be proud of me right now?  I’d like to think so…  And I will definitely post a review of the book when I finish it.

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A few things

Well, the Master Gardener core course is keeping me insanely busy. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like to work on the blog, so I’m going to condense a few things into one post:

Solar Shingles
Here’s a product from Dow Chemical.  Interesting… shingles embedded with photovoltaic cells that can be installed the same way asphalt shingles are currently installed.  Of course they are insanely expensive, and one other problem that I’ve always had with solar panels is they are made with some pretty toxic materials and therefore hard to dispose of at the end of their lifecycle.  Still, I can’t help but fantasize about being able to afford these next time we have to roof our house.

Yards to Gardens
A friend sent me a link to this brand new project, currently only in Minneapolis (and it looks from the map like it’s centered in the Powderhorn Neighborhood).  Have a yard that you don’t really use and would like a garden?  Like to garden but don’t have a yard?  This service matches gardeners and potential garden spots.

Barrel Depot
I’m adding a third rain barrel to my collection this spring.  We’re getting one of these beautiful oak recycled wine barrels from Barrel Depot, a Minnesota company.  I think we’ll put this one in the front since it is so much prettier than our plastic ones.

I can’t remember where I heard about this new website, but it is really cool!  You type in your starting point and your destination point and it helps you find the best bike route.  It’s currently only available in the 7-county Twin Cities metro area.  I typed in my work address, and it gave me an option I hadn’t really considered before: taking 18th Ave. all the way up to the Greenway, then the Greenway across the new bike bridge over Hiawatha, then the Hiawatha trail into downtown.  It’s only 1/4 mile further than the route I take now, and it would be paved bike path for half the distance.  I’m going to try it.


Recipe: Easy, no-knead whole wheat bread

A couple weeks ago, I was reading the comments on a blog post about bread, and there was a link to an old NYT article by Mark Bittman, describing a baker in New York who had developed a really easy, no-knead method for baking bread.  The article describes his method, and includes his recipe.  There’s also a video tutorial on youTube.

I can’t help but wonder if this very article is what got the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day/Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” people thinking, since this article pre-dates those books.  Jim Lahey, the NY baker, has a very similar method to the one outlined in that book, with one key difference: he uses significantly less yeast, and lets the dough sit at room temperature for a very long time, until it starts to naturally ferment.  Bittman explains it all very nicely in the article.

The recipe included in the Times called for white flour, so I modified it, made it my own, and now present it to you: the very best bread that has ever come out of my oven (I know I said that last week too, but this one beats that one).  It’s almost all whole wheat, it’s soaked (therefore it is more Nourishing Traditions/Weston A Price-friendly than most breads), it requires little to no special equipment, and best of all it is EASY!

Easy, no-knead whole wheat bread
2 3/4 c. whole wheat flour or whole wheat bread flour
1 c. white flour or white bread flour
Scant 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
Cornmeal for dusting
2 c. water, room-temperature

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 2 c. water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest 18 – 24 hours, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles (more white flour = more bubbles). Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.  Don’t worry about it if it seems gooey and weird. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise/spread for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6-quart heavy covered pot (I used our Lodge enameled cast-iron one) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove the now-hot pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.  Just look at this beauty:

Make sure you cool it completely so the crust can fully develop.  Wow, was this delicious.  I love that the only equipment you really need is the heavy pot — as much as I would love a le creuset one, our Lodge one works just fine, and we got it for around $50 at Fleet Farm.  (And we use it for lots of other things besides bread.)  Here’s the bread after cutting:

Oh my.  I think I will be adapting more “Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” recipes and baking them with this method.  Their way is good, but this way is even better.  Here is all the original information that inspired me:

The video of Mark Bittman and NYC baker Jim Lahey

Bittman’s 2006 NYT article describing the process

The original recipe (makes a white loaf)

My next bread-related post will be a 100% whole grain version of this.  Might take a couple weeks, but I promise I’ll get to it!

UPDATE, March 18, 2010: Here it is, a 100% whole wheat version of this recipe.

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Grass-fed beef

Wow, the mainstream media is talking about grass-fed beef!

One of the things the article fails to mention is precisely why it might be better if we have to pay a little more for beef: it’s a natural way to help us not over-consume it.  Eating less beef would be super easy, if beef was expensive.  Right now conventionally-raised meat is cheaper, especially if you think about it in terms of cost-per-calorie, than vegetables and legumes.  But we’re paying a hidden cost, as with so many other things in our modern American culture.  Anyway, if TIME magazine is talking about it, maybe grass-fed beef will start to get more mainstream.

Here in Minnesota, there are several sources for grass-fed beef near the Twin Cities, including:
Grass-Run Farm (they are actually in Decorah, IA)
Thousand Hills Cattle Company (Cannon Falls)
Cedar Summit Farm (New Prague) — they also have milk from grass-fed cows

I’ve had beef from all three of these places.  I found Grass-Run farm to be the cheapest, but they were all good.  I’m sure there are many other sources, too.  Minnesota is really a leader in the local foods movement.

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Whole milk, the whole foods milk

Cynthia Lair’s got another great post over at Cookus Interruptus, this time about the sacred cow of American so-called health food:

“…when you eat a food that is not whole, you will crave the missing parts.  In my 25 years of working with food, nutrition and people, I continually find this to be accurate.  When you drink skim milk, your body will likely go looking for the missing nutrients.  And that doesn’t just mean the fat.  Fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K have no way to shimmy into the system without the fat buddies.  But there’s more.”

Read the whole thing here.

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Master Gardener class started

My Master Gardener class started this week!  It’s so fun to be on campus.  One of the many things I learned about this week was the extent of public information on the University of Minnesota’s Extension website.  The website has a ton of information, but it is not super easy to use (they are redesigning it this year).  Here are my favorite parts:

Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series
This is an exhaustive resource of information about the best ways to maintain your urban landscape.  It has everything from dividing perennials to lawn care to a tool that helps you decide the best plant for each spot.  The goal here is education in order to help people take care of their yards and gardens, with an eye toward greater sustainability.  It might be easiest to start with the list of available topics on the site.

Diagnostic tools
These are really easy-to-use little microsites that lead you through a series of questions to determine, among other things:
Is this plant a weed?
What insect is this?
What’s wrong with my plant?

The Gardening Info website is full of good, research-based information.  I’ve added some links to the right side of the page so that, when gardening season rolls around, they’ll be right there for us both to use.

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GMO corn linked to organ failure

Join the fight against Monsanto:  three varieties of their genetically modified corn are now linked with organ failure in rats, when consumed longer than 90 days.

“our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity…”

More information here.

Update: A friend of mine pointed out that the toxicity in the rats could have been due to the pesticides, not the GMOs, a good point.  There are still many, many other things about GMOs to get nervous about.

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Adam’s INDOOR bike shop

With highs in the single digits and an unheated garage, Adam has officially moved his little bike operation into the laundry room:

There on top of the washer (next to the beer) is his brand-new bike repair toolkit, which he purchased with his Christmas money.  He’s building out a single speed fixie for my friend Rand out of an old Raleigh frame that he bought on Craigslist.  Now if I can just get him to build me a cargo bike

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Running home from work (literally)

Since the roads became treacherous the second week of December, I’ve been taking the bus instead of biking.  I had a nice long biking season for 2009 — approximately April 1 through almost mid-December.  I was only a couple weeks shy of my yearly goal of biking for at least 9 months.  Well, there’s always 2010…

In the meantime, I am desperately trying to stave off winter weight gain.  I was bad over the holidays: I can’t seem to control myself when faced with peanut butter balls, almond bark, and peanut brittle.

I decided that I needed to try running more often — I had been barely maintaining a minimum running schedule of short, easy jogs about once per week.  Since I’m very busy, why not combine exercise and transportation and run home from work a couple nights a week?  It only takes about 20-25 minutes longer than taking the bus (sometimes less).  I run the same route that I bike, through the neighborhoods of south Minneapolis.  It’s a little over 4 miles, total.

I’ve run it a few times now, and it’s slowly growing on me. Here I am after arriving safely home tonight.  It was a balmy 21 degrees F when I left work, so I wore a headband instead of a winter hat.  Note the frost covering the headband (it was black when I left work).

The only bad part about running in Minnesota in the winter is the footing.  It is absolutely awful.  Name the crappy road/sidewalk condition, and I run on it: slush, glare ice, packed snow, rough ice, rough ice with packed snow on top, huge piles of snow blocking the sidewalk, you name it.

Last week I wiped out, and even though I was unhurt, decided that I needed to invest in a pair of these:

We bought Adam’s dad a pair of YakTrax a few years ago for ice fishing, and he liked them.  So, I bought myself a pair and put them on my running shoes.  It was a marked improvement.  I’m not going to say it was as good as running on dry pavement, but it was definitely less scary than my runs of the last few weeks.

And the weather finally warmed up!  My first few runs were in negative windchills, and that aspect was challenging.  I really had to bundle up.  Thank goodness my house is south of downtown, so the winter wind is at my back the whole way.

I’ve found that I really dislike carrying a backpack while running — maybe I’m just not in good enough shape.  Whatever the reason, I’ve usually just been leaving my stuff at work and running only with my cellphone and keys.  Then I take it all home on the bus the next day.

The best part: I save a $2.50 bus fare every time I run!  That could add up, over time…

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This weekend

Why does it seem like we had a super busy weekend, but really we didn’t do much of anything?  Oh well, with my Master Gardener class starting Tuesday maybe a little downtime was a good thing.  I had the opportunity to cook supper for the family tonight, and here’s what I made:

The bread: Vollkornbrot (German for “whole kernel bread”), recipe from Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  It was pretty good, but not quite as good as the “master recipe” bread we made last week from the book.  I tried soaking all the ingredients for a solid 6 hours before I added the yeast, in order to give it the Nourishing Traditions treatment.  Result: it was hard to work the yeast in, I ended up adding more liquid, and as a result the dough was very difficult to work with today.

The bread itself was quite heavy, and some of the wheat kernels were kind-of difficult to chew.  Has anyone ever had authentic German Vollkornbrot?  Is it supposed to be this heavy?  Maybe.  I liked it, but wouldn’t want it every day.  This might be a dough that gets better after it sits for a couple of days.  (Confused?  See my “Healthy Bread” synopsis.)

Then there’s the soup: Smoked Haddock Chowder (from a restaurant called The Spotted Pig in NYC).  Jason Kottke linked to it from his blog, and was so excited about the recipe becoming available that I couldn’t help it; I had to try it.  It took a long time to make — especially to dice all those vegetables, but boy howdy.  This is, hands-down, the most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.  The only thing I did different from the recipe was that I couldn’t find smoked haddock and used smoked whitefish instead.  Wow.  It wasn’t super difficult, but it took a kitchen novice like myself a long time.  So worth it.  Next time I need to impress someone, I will whip this recipe out.  Highly recommended.