Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Worms and Potatoes

October 9, 2011

When I pulled back the worm bedding, this is what I found.

Two winters ago, J & I made a foray into vermiculture. We keep the worm bin in the basement, where we alternate layers of shredded newspaper with food waste. The worms plunder their way through this bin, leaving behind one of the richest manures on earth.

Throughout the winter, whenever I notice that something I’m storing in the basement has gone bad, I chuck it in the bin. (I store turnips, cabbages, squash, onions, potatoes, and other items in the basement over the winter.) In late winter this year, all the potatoes sprouted like crazy. Many of them were small and not worth saving, so into the worm bin they went.

Harvesting worm castings is a tedious job. The method is to make a bunch of little piles in the bright sunlight. The worms bury deep into the piles to avoid the light. You take the castings from the top and sides, then wait for them to bury still deeper and again scrape around the edges. But truthfully, you never avoid getting a bunch of the worms along with the castings—at least I don’t.  I tend to put the task off, but today I figured I better take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to get the job done.  When I dumped the box onto a tarp, I found the most amazing thing.

The potatoes I had tossed in months earlier, had thrived in the worm bin. With no leaves for photosynthesis, these potatoes had somehow multiplied like crazy. The worms didn’t seem to be eating them at all, but they did seem to eat all around them. Many of these potatoes came out of the bin shiny and clean (though not the ones in the photo here), except that they were covered in worms that were not eating them. None of the potatoes had gotten very big—most were smaller than my pinky, but some of them grew in sizable clusters.

How did the potatoes grow without photosynthesis? None of the potatoes still had the sprouts that had caused me to pitch them in the first place; they were not even trying to get to sunlight or set roots. And why did the worms leave them alone? Was the potato growth simply able to outpace the pace of the worms, or did the worms avoid eating them for a reason? And why didn’t these potatoes begin to decompose anyway, even without the worms? They were in a moist, sometimes wet, place for more than six months, I’ve seen potatoes rot under much better conditions, even in the ground.  I have to wonder if there is some sort of symbiotic relationship going on. If anyone has any knowledge about this, I would love to know more!


Sad Cake

April 5, 2011

My new year’s resolution was to make 15 recipes that I’ve had sitting around for awhile. This is my third effort, and my first failure. This cake was delicious when my friend Betty brought it in to work, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I didn’t write down the recipe correctly. It seems odd that there would be no baking powder or soda in it. This alone wouldn’t fully account for the fact that the object that emerged from the oven resembles fruit leather more than cake. Here’s what I tried, with my notes in parentheses.

This cake has the texture of fruit leather. The flavor is okay.

Molasses Spice Cake:

2.25 C Flour (I used 1.25 C whole wheat flour, and 1 C white)
1/2 t salt (I skipped this)
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t each: cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
1/2 t ginger
1/4 C molasses (I increased to 1/3 C)
1/2 C honey (I decreased to 1/4 C)
1 t vinegar
1/2 C applesauce
1 C milk

Mix dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients. Fold in the dry ingredients. Bake 25-30 minutes in a 9″ square pan (I used a round pan) at 350 degrees. Use cream cheese or lemon frosting (I omitted frosting)

Creme de la Maple

February 6, 2011

Last night I made the second dish out of fifteen that I resolved to try in 2011.  Maple Creme Caramel was the recipe and I thought it came out nicely. I thought it was a little too sweet for my taste, and did not have as much of a maple flavor as I would have liked, but it’s kind of hard to go wrong when eating cream and maple syrup. One thing I might try if I did it again is to use straight up maple syrup instead of caramel, and then reduce the volume of the maple syrup in the custard. If anyone has any idea if that would turn out well, please let me know. Below is the recipe, and I regret I can’t provide the source It was something I clipped out of something some long time ago. My comments are in parentheses.

Maple Creme Caramel –serves 4

The Caramel
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. water

The Custard
1/2 C. pure maple syrup
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1-1/2 C. whipping cream
1/2 C. whole milk (If you are splurging by making this dish, you may as well splurge a little more for the organic milk and eggs. Not only is it a good deal for our home planet, but these are two items that are distinctly more flavorful if they are produced organically.) (more…)


January 8, 2011

For my new year’s resolution, I decided to make 15 recipes that I have collected over the years, but never got around to trying. I let my readers pick which 15 I should try. Vegan sausage just barely made the cut, but not before being derided by a few folks on my facebook page. I had actually been wanting to try this recipe for awhile, so it launched my new year’s effort. I was quite happy with the results and I imagine I will add this to my somewhat regular repertoire.

The recipe (from Recipe Binder on facebook):
Prep time: 1 hour, cooking time 10 minutes.
1/2 C cooked pinto beans, rinsed and drained and mashed
1 C. cold vegetable broth
1 Tbl. olive oil
2 Tbl. soy sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
1.25 C wheat gluten
1/4 C nutritional yeast
1.5 tsp crushed fennel seed
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
Optional: sage, apple, or liquid smoke

Method (more…)

New Food for a New Year

January 1, 2011

I know it’s always a bad idea to publicly state your New Year’s resolutions, I mean unless you actually intend to keep them. But my goal should be pretty easy to obtain, so here goes. I have looked through the envelope containing various recipes that I have clipped or that have been given to me over the years and selected the ones I’ve never actually made. I will make at least fifteen of them in 2011. (more…)

Cranberry Flan

November 13, 2010

Last week I made an impulse buy of a pound or two of fresh cranberries. A couple days later I made some French toast and had a fair amount of batter leftover. I decided to combine the two in this unusual cranberry dessert. I am reconstructing the measurements here since I didn’t measure them at the time.

The batter:

Vaccinium oxycoccus (Cranberries)

Image via Wikipedia

Whisk together:
3 eggs, beaten well
4 Tbl melted butter
2 Cups milk
4 Tbl vanilla
4 Tbl sugar
2/3 Cup flour
Dash salt

The fruit:
3 Cups fresh cranberries
2-3 large apples, cored and sliced
1-1/4 Cups honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
Pinch nutmeg

You will also need some more butter, some maple syrup and (if you like) some powdered sugar.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9×12 baking dish. Spread the fruit mixture into the pan. Put a few pats of butter here and there on top of the fruit. Pour the batter evenly over the fruit. Bake for 45 minutes or until done. When it is out of the oven, drizzle about 1/3 cup maple syrup on top. Taste a cranberry, if it’s a little tart, that’s okay because the syrup honey and syrup will sink into the batter and make the dessert as a whole sweet enough. However, if it’s really quite tart, add more maple syrup until you are satisfied. Sprinkle the whole thing lightly with powdered sugar. Good warm or cold.

Better than Coffee Cake

October 14, 2010

It started with a cup of coffee. I don’t usually drink the stuff, and especially not in the afternoon, but I got a little crazy today around 1:00 and decided to brew a cup. I tend to take my coffee with a small shot of cream, no sugar, but for some reason I wanted just the tiniest amount of sweetness in my coffee today. I pulled out a jar of sucanat, which is dried cane juice that I keep around for lightweight sugar when I go backpacking. I decided I didn’t want to dirty up a spoon and that I would tap the jar ever so lightly above my cup to let just a few grain down. Oops! Guess I tapped too hard! The sucanat rushed out.

I took a sip and was instantly transported to my childhood. My dad used to take his coffee with lots of sugar and sometimes after he left for work my mom would let me have some of what he left behind. It was a happy memory, but not so happy that it could actually induce me to choke down a full cup of the stuff. I set the mug aside and decided to make up some kind of spice cake with it this evening.  I have just taken my experimental cake out of the oven, and I must say it ranks pretty high up on my list of baking successes. Here’s roughly what I did. (more…)

Jammin’ Out

August 9, 2010

Thanks to kind neighbors with surplus rhubarb, I’ve now made three batches of this simple rhubarb jam.  The recipe comes once again from Simply in Season, an excellent cookbook put out by the good folks at the Mennonite Central Committee (thanks Pam for giving me the book!).  The recipe says it yields 7-8 half-pints, but I get 3 pints a batch.

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

6 Cups diced rhubarb
2 Cups lightly mashed strawberries
3-4 Cups sugar

Put the rhubarb and strawberries in a large saucepan with a heavy bottom. Bring to boil. Add the sugar and boil uncovered 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Pour into hot sterile jars to within 1/2 inch of top. Seal with sterile lids and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Emissions

July 15, 2010

Many of us in the bread belt are unaware that the agricultural sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The World Resources Institute has released a graph that charts the emissions from 1990 to 2007 (below). To see an interactive version, check it out on Google labs.

Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT), World Resources Institute. 2010. Accessed via EarthTrends Delivered - Created with Google's Public Data Explorer -

Haitian Farmers Raise Cane over Monsato

June 11, 2010

Chavanne Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay

Organic food.  Does the phrase conjure images of high-priced specialty items being served to privileged suburbanites?  For some reason, this is the image purveyed in the media.  The idea is that you would have to be both rich and out of touch to dream of the luxury of food grown without toxic chemicals.  Except this is how most of the world has always done it, and many are now fighting like mad to keep doing it that way. recently ran an article about Haitian farmers planning to burn “aid” in the form of Monsato seeds. Some of these seeds carry chemical coatings so toxic that in this country, the EPA requires workers who handle them to wear special protective clothing.   Sam Smith, a 74-year-old farmer from Massachusetts visited Haiti, observed the seed-burning, and shared his thoughts on a blog devoted to Haitian issues.  Since Monsanto has been pushing for market share in Haiti for years, and since seed supply was not impacted by the earthquake, Smith says farmers are asking:

“What was the purpose and meaning the gift at this time? Did not Monsanto know that we had a sufficient supply of our own seed for the coming planting season, seed that is our cherished inheritance as well as appropriate – unlike Monsanto’s foreign, hybrid cultivars –to our diverse soil habitats and subsistence, agricultural infrastructure? And, if indeed, we were to plant the hybrid seeds, what would we do with our own indigenous seeds – the seeds that we saved from the previous harvest – other than sell them for food or let them rot?”

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, of the Peasant Movement of Papay, (more…)