Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tradition. Show all posts

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Vulnerable traditions

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I haven't had a cup of tea or coffee in two weeks. We ran out of both at the same time and haven't been near a shop where you can buy fairtrade loose leaf tea or ground coffee. Last year we made the move away from tea bags and instant coffees, which helped us to cut our consumption quite dramatically. We have been weaning ourselves off of coffee for a while anyway as the price has risen over the last year, to just a cup a day. And now here I am, decidedly decaffeinated.

At the same time that I am tea-less, the UK is swathed in red, white and blue bunting and traditional tea party's are making a comeback thanks to the Diamond Jubilee, the football and the Olympics. Britain is the second biggest consumer of tea in the world. During world war two, tea imports were made a priority to keep morale high, for fear we might all flake out and give up the good fight without a morning cuppa. Tea  and coffee are not native to the UK (with the exception of this tea plantation in Yorkshire perhaps). It is an unfortunate vestige of our imperial past that one of our most cherished beverages and something so tied up with our national identity must be imported.

I am fully behind the local food movement, but make an exception for those delicious tropical imports - tea, coffee, chocolate and spices. Local food webs build food resilience in the face of fragile global food chains and I appreciate the security, but I am concerned that my local and national food webs would not be able to provide me with satisfying non-alcoholic beverages. I have never met a herbal or fruit tea, commercial or from the garden, that I truly savored. I like the astringent, rich bitterness of tea and coffee and my insipid herbal creations or grain coffees never quite make the cut.

In a last ditch effort to make teatime more resilient, I have sown some Monarda seeds, also known as Bergamot or Bee Balm. This apparently makes an excellent tea and was consumed in place of black tea in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party. Whether they will make a more satisfying brew remains to be seen and I hope that there are no catastrophic disruptions to my tea supply before then. I am missing the ritual of a stewing teapot and the comfort of sitting quietly sipping a hot drink as cold rain returns. I am thinking about all of those things that I would miss should the UK not be able to import them - black pepper, vanilla, allspice, sweet potatoes, and making plans to cultivate them or to replace them satisfactorily.

What non local foods would you miss? Have you weaned yourself off of imports completely?

Thursday, 22 December 2011


By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Here in the northern hemisphere the winter solstice is upon us. After today, the sun begins its return to our part of the world. Most of the religious traditions and festivals that are celebrated around this time celebrate a light returning in the midst of barren darkness. In the depths of winter, there is nothing so welcome; and for many people, this has been a winter (and a year) of extraordinary darkness.

This next bit might sound like a certain Monty Python sketch, bear with me, but I had a relatively impoverished childhood compared with most of my peers. I wore secondhand clothes, got secondhand Christmas presents, ate the same few frugal meal variations everyday. We always seemed to be one misstep away from disaster at any given moment. We lived in a house that was in urgent need of renovation, with no space heating and which regularly hosted an open house for any passing north sea gale. I was happy enough and it stood me in good stead - my bent towards simple living is probably a yearning to go back to the uncomplicated nature of this time.

We didn't have a TV for many years as the license fee was an expensive annual cost that couldn't be justified. I didn't particularly suffer in myself because of this - after all, we had an excellent library, a beautiful old record player and vinyl collection that I still miss dearly and a charity shop jigsaw  puzzle habit that bordered on addiction. It did mark me out as odd from my classmates however, as all they seemed to talk about was whatever had been on TV the night before. Soaps and cartoons were a conversational currency that I didn't have access to and it was isolating.

When a close family friend turned up on our doorstep one Christmas Eve bearing a Christmas card and a tin of biscuits, I was delighted. They were 'posh biscuits' from one of our more upmarket food retailers. A little luxury. My Christmas was made, what a lovely thought. Then we opened the card, and it was clear there was more to it than a tin of biscuits. A TV license stamp book full of stamps (not an inconsiderable amount of money) ready to be traded in for a TV license. Saved up over months, bit by bit, because someone thought that they could make our Christmas. The actual license was the least of it - the sentiments expressed by such a generous act to this day fill me with warmth and joy.

For all of our anti-consumption  rhetoric, money can buy happiness sometimes. It can take care of those most basic needs that are the foundation of everything that comes after. Sometimes it can be used to express our love and appreciation. But that link between the gift and the sentiment is too often broken or clouded. Our annual Christmas consumption fests are often driven by guilt - where gifts and money stand in for time together and caring, or to make up for our perceived social inadequacies. Often gifts are merely given because of social pressures and 'good manners' - you simply have to buy gifts for certain people, it is the done thing.

Those social pressures are hard to overcome; and at this time of year, by all means do what you have to do to make your holidays run smoothly. But in the midst of it all, perhaps find one place where you can put a little time and money and make a huge difference. It will make you feel good (the least of reasons to do it) and you might genuinely make someone's Christmas. Be creative. If you can make a huge financial gesture, by all means do it if it is well placed. But if you can babysit someone's children for a few hours so that they can do their shop in peace, then throw your all into it; if you can volunteer at a homeless shelter for a few hours, if you can donate a few tins of 'posh biscuits' to your local food bank, if you can buy someone who would not expect it from you a food hamper, or something they really really need but cannot afford, put your money there. Help someone weatherize their house. Buy someone a patio garden kit. Reestablish that vital link between gift giving and filling genuine needs and inspiring warmth and good cheer.

Now is the darkest time of the year in these parts. Shine your light wherever you can. Happy holidays.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Portuguese onion braids

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

share braids

This week, Natércia from Portugal shared her photos of onion braids (see here for details).

Aren't they gorgeous? The photos were taken in the municipality of Vila de Rei - in the heart of Portugal - where Natércia is from. As you can see, these braids were made with regular-sized onions, not the small onions I chose to braid with, worrying that the larger ones would be too heavy to braid! Hence, you can braid all onions, up to an impressive 20 or so in length (from what I can see from the images), and store them conveniently out of the way by hanging them from wooden beams ... if you have them!

Thank you so much Natércia for sharing your photos with us, and for the Portuguese lesson in onion braiding.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Natural supports for climbing legumes

by Francesca, FuoriBorgo

A year ago, I wrote about using bamboo canes for staking tomatoes (here). In my corner of the world, in fact, all supports and trellises, including those for climbing and vining plants, are built with natural materials that come from the immediate area. Even the strings used to tie the grape vines to their chestnut trellis are made with fibers from broom and other shrubs.

natural supports

Some of the most clever natural supports, though, are the stakes used for climbing peas and pole beans. Over here, we sow peas and beans in winter at the beginning of the year, and the plants are big enough to need support by springtime, when the fruit trees have blossomed, and are pruned before they leaf.

natural supports

These fruit tree prunings are saved - especially from the peach and apricot trees - and people use them to stake the climbing varieties of beans and peas.

natural supports

This way there's no need to build or buy trellises at all!

natural supports

It's a simple way of life where nothing is wasted, and everything is re-used - even the prunings - in the cycling of seasons that determines the rhythm of the traditional agricultural cycle.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Eggs for 18,000, Please

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
With Easter coming up, you might be thinking about dying some eggs for your family. But what if you'd like to host an Easter egg hunt for the whole town? Here's a post from my blog how to go about it:

My fingers are orange. I've been dying Easter eggs. I've been dying a LOT of Easter eggs. Sixty-three cases, holding 24 dozen each, equals 18,144 eggs; plus the 2,000 plastic eggs we filled with candy, and a select few more with vouchers for bigger prizes.

Those whose egg dying exploits are limited to a household dozen or so might be curious about procedures for Easter egg production on such a scale. First, you send out a plea to the community for helpers on the Saturday before Easter. Find an egg source, and some sort of refrigerated space. Then, figure out how you're going to hard-boil all those eggs. In years past, the Nevada National Guard has helped by bringing out their emergency response cooking vats to boil our vast quantities of eggs, but their services and personnel have been stretched too thin to help the past few years.

So, you ask the community to lend their deep-fat turkey fryers. I didn't count, but we probably had at least 15 lined up and cooking. Get the water simmering, and add lots of salt to keep any broken eggs from sticking to the rest of the batch. Make egg baskets out of chicken wire, two per cooker. Set up an unpacking station - taking the raw eggs out of the cartons and filling the baskets. Each basket holds five dozen eggs.

Start boiling. Cook each basket of eggs about 30 minutes. Normal cooking time at our altitude would be around 20 minutes, but adding that many eggs to the water cooled it down some, and no one wanted to take a chance with an undercooked egg breaking in a child's basket. The cooks would test-crack an egg to check doneness, so there were plenty of eggs for snacking. In the meantime, get your hot dog crew to start setting up - these volunteers are gonna want some lunch soon. Having a beautiful spring day for an undertaking of this size is a definite plus.

Set up your dye vats with cool water and plenty of vinegar. We use food coloring dye by the pint and vinegar by the gallon. Do your primary-color dye batches - red, green, yellow, and blue - first. When you have enough of those colors start some mixed and diluted batches to get orange, purple, apricot, pink, and yellow-green.

Dip and dunk and swirl and tip the baskets of hot eggs in the dye until the dye chiefs are satisfied with the color. Take the eggs over to the packing station and dump them (carefully!) into that color's tub. If you're working this station, an old shirt and latex gloves are a necessity - those folks are very colorful, to say the least. Repack the eggs into single-color cartons and pass them over to the people packing the cartons back into the cases, also labeled by color.

The cases are then wheeled over and packed back into a refrigerated truck, for delivery to the Sunday egg hunt the next day. Get more volunteers to scatter the eggs, line the kids up, and turn 'em loose!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Autumnal Chores

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
As the nights get longer and cooler, my indolent summer grasshopper ways give way to a spate of ant-like autumnal activity. Of course, like any good ant, there's the annual season's end garden harvesting and putting by. Thankfully, a kitchen full of steam from vast pots of boiling water is now much easier to withstand in the cooler daytime temperatures. But the kitchen isn't the only place seeing activity.

By the end of August, the cellar stores are at their lowest point - only a few apples and the last bit of sauerkraut remain. Those move up to the refrigerator. The storage racks easily come apart and are taken outside. Next, the floor gets a good sweeping, then the walls washed down with a long-handled brush and a bucket of water with a bit of bleach added. Storage bins and the racks get scrubbed down too, and left to dry out in the sunlight. This annual cleaning keeps pests or bacteria from ruining the food we'll be eating throughout the winter.

Once the cellar is clean and put back together, it's time to start getting the inside temperature down. I open up the cellar door nightly, on my way back from closing up the chicken coop. A screened frame made to fit over the stairwell keeps critters and falling leaves out, while still allowing the colder night air to sink down inside and the warmer air rises through the vent in the back corner. Each morning, on his way back from opening up the coop for the day, Aries closes everything back up, trapping the cooler air down there in the dark. By the time the apples and root crops are ready, the cellar should be ready too.

The house has stayed warm enough that we haven't had to light a fire yet, but we know that time isn't too far off. The wood stove pulled out, the chimney gets cleaned and inspected. Soon, the wood and kindling boxes will need to be filled.

My nesting instinct really kicks in now too. I want a warm and cozy nest to curl up in when the snow starts falling. The lighter summer bedding and table linens are washed, line-dried, and stored, as heavier autumnal textiles take their place. The equinoxes are my reminders to turn our mattress - "equalizing the wear" so to speak. While I enjoy the newness of each of my seasonal changes in decor in their turn, the fall colors are my favorite. I love the golds of autumn, both inside and out.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Pass It On

I have been thinking a lot here lately about education and passing on knowledge. I submitted the forms necessary for our area to be "official" homeschoolers this year, as my daughter is of the mandatory reporting age. Our reasons for keeping our children home are numerous and varied. From personal experience, there is so much learning that should happen at home, anyway, that it made a lot of sense for us. Much of that knowledge is of the homemaking variety. My daughter and son can be whatever they choose when they are older, but I expect them to be able to make dinner for themselves, sew clothes if needed, plant a garden and various other homesteading tasks that get easily left behind in modern schooling.

Recently I was given the opportunity to teach some classes at a local farm/store, and I have loved it. I love that the classes exist, period, really, though, as the fact that people will pay to learn something like making jams, making soaps, sewing aprons and cooking from scratch, tells us that priorities are changing, and for the better. There are so many crafts and skills that are getting lost-lost in a fast paced society and also due to changes in priorities. There was a time when schools (and grandmothers) taught girls how to do simple homemaking tasks-basics at the very least-so they could maintain a home when they were older. It didn't matter what path they were going to take-working full-time, having children or not-they needed basic skills. Young men were required to learn how to change the oil in a car and simple woodworking. Currently many of these programs are being cut from schools due to lack of funding and families no longer pass that sort of knowledge on, if they even possess it. I think the priorities of our society have shifted. What is even more troubling is that the older generations have even been removed from these skills in many cases. I know many families where the matriarchs or patriarchs are just as clueless about how to perform tasks many of us in the simple/frugal/green movement do everyday as their younger counterparts are.

Luckily, those of us who have learned, either from the internet, friends, grandparents who have been there, books or other classes are seeing the need to pass on that knowledge. I love showing others how to do things-whether it is mending a garment, recycling a sheet into something new and fun, baking bread or canning the season's bounty. I love to do it whether I am getting paid (which is just a nice bonus for a one income household) or not. I think education is vital for the survival of communities. Many people hear me talk about something and their response is "I didn't know you could do that!". It is important to keep up with our public display of the things we do to open up opportunities to teach others. It isn't that there isn't something for us to learn from folks who live faster, more modern "normal" lives, but much of what we do is getting lost and the only way to preserve these skills, which may be necessary someday-we cannot know-is to teach them, both to the next generation and to current ones.

I end in saying how very tickled I was about the attendance of the sewing class I co-taught over the weekend. A very close friend and I taught an intro to sewing class, and helped the ladies there to sew simple aprons. They were giddy that there was an easily accessible outlet to learn something of the sort, and we were happy to pass the knowledge on. The thing that got me was the ages of the people there; from a teenager (who turned red every time we mentioned tagging her in a picture of her in her apron on facebook for all her friends to see-which we had no intention of doing, but she was so darn cute) to ladies in their thirties and forties. The bread baking class last month had ladies in their fifties. It is awesome to see people willing to learn, no matter their age, and being able to make that happen. If those who have the knowledge do not pass it on, whether to their children or others, it will be lost. Knowledge is one of our most valuable resources, and one that is both easily wasted and easily given. I hope more people take opportunities to give it. It is so terribly fulfilling to see someone use their new skills, and in knowing that they now have the chance to pass it along.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Work Weekends

by Kate
Living the Frugal Life

My mother and her four siblings have regular get-togethers that really work for them.  Each of the five siblings, who are spread over four states in the northeastern part of the US, hosts all the others and their spouses once per year for what they call a work weekend.  This tradition was instituted about twelve years ago, and began as a "sisters' cleaning weekend."  That was just my mom and her sisters, pitching in together to tackle some of the biggest and most tedious house cleaning chores.  But then one of my uncles caught wind of this and wanted to know why he hadn't been included.  Thus the work weekends were launched.

The way it works is that all the siblings and spouses show up at one sibling's home on Friday night.  The host sibling puts everyone up, feeds them for the weekend, and creates a list of projects to be accomplished.  It's very much to the host's benefit to be organized in terms of having on hand whatever tools or materials will be needed for the work weekend, otherwise a run to the hardware store might interrupt work.  Everyone pitches in for a full day on Saturday, and a half day on Sunday, so that everyone can get home at a reasonable hour.  (Some of them have very long drives.)

The thing that's so neat about this family tradition is that it has really brought them all together, five times per year, and the visits are now enjoyable for everyone.  Previous family get-togethers had tended to be contentious if not acrimonious.  Having productive work to do together has really changed the family dynamic in profound ways.  My mother's family are all hard workers too.  So although it is a lot of work for the hosting sibling in terms of organization and accommodation, an amazing amount can be accomplished in a very short time.

The projects that my parents, aunts and uncles have worked on over the years are remarkably diverse: bathroom renovation, staining a deck, window cleaning, kitchen cabinet cleaning, breaking turf for a new garden, planting fruit trees, stripping and painting furniture, building raised beds in a garden, installing a fence, repointing a brick chimney, building a deck or shed, clearing brush, chopping firewood - you name it, they've done it.  After a hard day's work, there's always dinner and dessert, which are usually excellent because most of my mom's family are very good cooks.  Nickel-dime-quarter poker always follows dinner, and there's usually six or seven of us around the table.  Yes, I turn up for the poker whenever I can, even if I miss the work!

Because you see, although my cousins and I turn up at some weekends and pitch in, the generational divide has been made very clear to us. We're on our own for work weekends.  Our parents have their yearly schedule, and they're not going to commit to travel and work for my generation.  Which is fair enough.

Though I've tried a few times to interest my cousins in organizing a work weekend exchange, it just doesn't seem to be the right time.  Most of my cousins now have small children, and traveling the distances that separate us would be burdensome for them.  It's not the same time of life that our parents started their work weekends; they waited until their kids were out of the house.  So instead, I've arranged a work weekend exchange this year with three local friends who are interested.  We've modified my family's arrangement somewhat, because we're all local.  No need to put anyone up for the night, and we've agreed that the host is only responsible for lunch, not breakfast or dinner.  We're also only working for one full day out of each weekend.  While the plan is to work on Saturdays, we decided that everyone would reserve the entire weekend, just in case of rain.  The host can decide to take the rain date, and have everyone work on Sunday, or just organize a list of things that can be done indoors if it rains all weekend.

So far we've had one of the four work weekends, and it mostly involved window cleaning.  My turn is this weekend though.  On my agenda is adding a lot of compost to the garden beds, some weeding, and some lasagna mulching.  The plan for lunch is to set out roast chicken, beans, brown rice, avocados, shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, and warm tortillas so that everyone can roll their own burritos.  A cheap, healthy meal that should keep my workers fueled.  And yes, I know how much it pays to treat your work weekend participants right, so chocolate chip cookies will be on offer too.  There will be beer for the end of the day as well. 

I wanted to mention this tradition that I'm attempting to borrow from my own family, because I know what it's like to have great ambitions for projects and yet feel like it's impossible to find the time to get it all done.  Work weekends require a commitment of organization, as well as the obligation to work as hard for others as we do for ourselves.  But I've seen first hand how much of a difference working together can make - not only how much gets accomplished in very little time, but also how working together knits relationships more densely together as well.  The old saying is that many hands make light work.  I've also seen that many hands working together over years and years have made my family much stronger, closer, more trusting, and more available for each other in bad times.  We still crack jokes at each other's expense.  There's still drama and hurt feelings from time to time.  But we know deep down - for certain - that we're there for each other as an extended family.  And I'm not sure that would be true if not for the work weekends.

So I'm hopeful, going into my own first time hosting a work weekend.  The participants in this case are friends and not family, not even close friends yet if I'm honest.  I'd certainly love it if I could someday have a work weekend arrangement with my cousins.  But I'd rather get started with friends who may someday become as close as family than wait for my cousins' kids to all grow up.  I might end up with chosen family out of the shared work.

Does your family have any similar tradition?  Could you commit to working hard several weekends out of the year if it meant a willing crew of workers were available to you once per year?  What project would you most like to tackle on a work weekend?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Happy Birthday Time!

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

It's birthday time at our place!

Heath's first birthday - a water party on Boxing Day (summer in Australia)

We have some birthday traditions such as the birthday child choosing their own cake, and the evening meal for their birthday. On the morning of their birthday we gather around the dining table or on Mum & Dad's bed whilst they unwrap their gifts and open the cards which have come in the mail. There are often a number of little handmade, wrapped gifts from siblings which are given with pride and accepted with grace. Brithday cards are secretly handmade by a sibling, and given with the gifts from the whole family.

During the day we will often have friends over for morning or afternoon tea under the trees in our garden (weather permitting) with a cake and some yummy fruit and other foods to share. The table is often decorated with a colourful cloth and fresh flowers collected by the other children.

Friends visiting for afternoon tea near the waterfall

We enjoy the traditional candles and "Happy Birthday" song as well as clapping for their age and three cheers. We always have a cake at night, even if we've had one in the daytime, just so we can turn down the lights and enjoy the magic of a cake lit by candlelight. Sometimes for this cake we use different crockery or glasses for the birthday meal, and there is always a beautiful tablecloth and centre candle, and quite often more flowers.

Birthday cards are displayed on a magnetic framed board which hangs above the season table. Photos of the birthday child are also displayed their during the weeks preceding and following their special day. Often some baby photos and recent photos will be side by side. A photograph is taken of the birthday child with their cake each year, marking milestones in their childhood photo albums. Sometimes the birthday child will wear a special item of clothing, or a cape and crown from our dress-up basket.

We don't always have parties. We have had a fairy party, a musical party, a teddy bear's picnic, trip to special places followed by cake in the park... But even when there is no big event we always have a special time with family, and perhaps some nearby friends, to share cake and other food, sing and celebrate the birthday child's life.

Bel enjoying cake!

On their birthday, our children don't have to do their chores if they don't wish to, and they can have the choice of a story read or movie watched, as well as what food we eat. It is a day of lavishing extra love and attention on the birthday child.

We all know this song...
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday, dear Lily
Happy birthday to you!

Well, here's an alternative, or second verse (same melody)...
May the angels bless you,
In all that you do,
May the stars up in heaven
Shine down upon you!

There are a lot of birthday verses and stories online which we have often told our younger children, especially. I find that they also like to hear about the day they were born, and the wonderful, cute and funny things about them as a baby.

This one is our version of a favourite...

As I yawn and go to bed,
Laying down my sleepy head,
Mama switches off the light,
I'll still be seven years old tonight.

But, from the very break of day,
Before the children rise and play,
Before the greenness turns to gold,
Tomorrow, I'll be eight years old!

Eight kisses when I wake.
Eight candles on my cake!

During the day, grandparents phone from far away and ask the birthday child about their day, their gifts, and how big they've grown. Receiving their very own phone calls and mail is a special part of having a birthday at our place.

Most of our birthday celebrations and traditions cost nothing, or very little. The focus of birthdays therefore is not on spending, gifts and elaborate parties, but on the child.

I wonder, in what ways do you celebrate birthdays in your home?

A cake for a relative - adults enjoy special treatment too!

Monday, 1 March 2010

Chronicles of a New Garden: a timeless tool

by Francesca

My single greatest gardening discovery is the sickle, which in fact folks around here have used since prehistoric times. I bought my sickle about 10 years ago, after noticing that all the village women carried one when they headed out to their fields and gardens. My elderly neighbor taught me how to use it and keep it sharp, and it's been my faithful gardening companion ever since: it's the one tool I always have with me when I'm out in the garden (I already posted about this ancient tool here).


The sickle is one-handed tool with a wooden handle and a long curved blade that is primarily used to cut grass, but can be used in weeding and to cut other vegetation, even brambles and small branches. The curved blade is handy for gathering up whatever you've cut and carrying it away in bundles, while its point is useful for digging out tough roots.

The most efficient way to use a sickle is simply to slice through the vegetation with a one-handed stroke, but I've never quite mastered that, so I typically hold the vegetation at the top with my left hand (shielded for safety by a leather work glove), while swinging the sickle with my right hand.


This weekend, I used it to clear the back wall of our new garden plot, which had been overgrown by ivy that was also invading the terrace. The sickle goes hand in hand with a sharpening stone: the sharper the blade, the easier the cutting. To cut ivy, which is relatively woody, I needed to sharpen my sickle quite frequently as I worked.


ivy cut back

It took me about 20 minutes to cut the ivy back to an acceptable level. I don't plan to remove it completely, though: my aim isn't to destroy the natural landscape with my gardening. Using a sickle instead of a power tool allows me to cut selectively, preserving a healthy relationship between garden and nature.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Recipe - Pork and Shrimp Pot Stickers with Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce

Posted by Thomas from A Growing Tradition Blog

making potstickers 8
If I were to write a cookbook one of these days, this would probably be one of the first recipes to make it into the manuscript. I have to admit that I am very proud of this one. I have been making these pork and shrimp potstickers for many years, but only recently decided to jot down proper measurements. Hopefully, some of you will decide to give this recipe a try.

Pork and Shrimp Potstickers Recipe

1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb diced shrimp
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
2/3 cup chopped scallions
2 cups cabbage, sliced thin
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped wood ear mushrooms (reconstituted in warm water) or fresh Shitake
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

70 Chinese white dumpling wrappers (purchase the round ones, which can be found in the refrigerated section of the Asian market)

making potstrickers
1. Combine all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

making potstickers 2
2. Fill a small bowl with water and set aside. Working with one wrapper at a time, place about a tablespoon of filling into the center. Brush the exposed edges of the wrapper with some of the water.

making potstickers 3
3. Begin folding the dumpling in half by pinching the top of the wrapper to form a crease.

making potstickers 4
4. Lay the dumpling flat on your palm. Using your thumb and index finger, pinch a bit of the wrapper below the crease and drag it to within 1/2 inch of the top. Pinch again and drag this bit to within 1/2 inch of the last one. Repeat this several times until you've created 4 or 5 pleats on one side of the dumpling.

making potstickers 5
5. Turn you dumpling until the loose seams point upward. Take your wet pastry brush and lightly drag it across the seams.

making potstickers 6
6. Again, using your thumb and index finger, press the moistened seams together until the dumpling is completely sealed.

making potstickers 7
What you end up with is a dumpling that is crescent-shaped and scalloped on one side.

making potstickers 10
As you can see, this recipe makes quite a bit - anywhere between 65 and 70 potstickers. To freeze them, I put the whole tray into the freezer. Only after they are frozen solid do I place them into freezer bags. This prevents the dumplings from becoming one solid mass.

The perfect potsticker is one that is crispy on the bottom and slightly chewy on top. To achieve this perfection, the dumpling must first be fried and then steamed, a process that is easier than it sounds.

7. In a non-stick frying pan, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of canola oil on medium heat. One at a time, add the dumplings until they fill the pan. (If you're unsure about which size pan to use, count the number of dumplings you plan to serve and then choose a non-stick pan into which they will all fit snugly, touching one other, and in a single layer. Also, you do not have to defrost the dumplings first. They can go straight into the pan from the freezer.)

8. Fry on medium heat until the bottoms are golden brown. Once they've reached this point, add enough water to almost cover the dumplings. (I would say that the dumplings should be covered by 3/4's of the way up, leaving the pinched tops exposed. Adding too much water will cause the wrappers to become overcooked.)

9. Cover the pan and raise the heat to medium high until the water boils rapidly. Then lower the heat to medium and cook until most of the water has evaporated (about 10-12 minutes). At this point, pay very close attention as you want to cook the potstickers until all of the water is gone and the bottoms are crispy again (another 5 to 7 minutes). They can burn very quickly once all of the water has evaporated so don't leave them unattended. When they are done, uncover and shake the pan a bit to loosen the potstickers. You can remove them individually or invert the pan onto a serving dish.

Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce Recipe

1 teaspoon of canola oil
1 tablespoon of ginger, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 cups of orange juice (if you are using fresh oj, add 1 teaspoon of grated orange zest as well)
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon of ground chili paste (optional)
pepper to taste
garnish with chopped scallions (optional)

In a small sauce pan, heat the canola oil on medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for about 10 to 15 seconds until the flavors are released. Then add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes. Let the sauce cool for another 10 minutes before serving.

making potstickers 9
I can't say that this recipe is quick or fool proof, but once you get it right, it's definitely worth the time and effort. Enjoy!

Monday, 25 January 2010

Savoring the winter roots

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

Almost weekly during the winter, I dig roots for the kitchen and the barn. Posts about the process are here and here. This post will deal with the kitchen aspect of our weekly winter harvest.

In recent history roots have been considered peasant fare, since root crops keep well and are usually root cellared or preserved allowing a measure of self-reliance from stores. It was thought that purchasing food from the store was the sought after ideal. However, the pendulum has swung back to favor independence from the store these days. Food borne illness, concerns about food miles and just a general yearning for simpler times are bringing these delicious foods back to the kitchen. And most roots require medium fertility for growth making them a great choice for self-reliant gardeners.

This week my harvest included carrots, beets, parsnips, black spanish radish, rutabagas and celeriac.

I could eat rutabagas almost every day, but my family kicks a little at that, so I have to fix them in different ways to keep meals from being boring.

Sauerruben, or lacto-fermented rutabagas are a welcome change from kraut made from cabbage. My husband inherited his grandfather's 12 gallon Red Wing kraut crock and boards, but I don't fill that crock too often with kraut. It is too much at one time.

No one in his family was interested in that "old thing" so he gladly brought it home along with the weight boards and kraut cutter. The kraut cutter met a fate common to many good usable antiques though... :( One time his family was visiting and we had a function to go to. Well, long story, short, while we were gone they cooked up the idea to refinish and varnish the cutter so it would look "pretty" on the wall! Sighhh - Homer Formby strikes again. It looks good...but is not safe for food preparation any longer.

When we decided to replace it, we first checked Lehman's and they have a great kraut cutter, but it seemed expensive with shipping, and then luck would have it, we found the perfect cutter in an antique store for a little less.

Like new, I have used this for many slicing jobs.

However, I did pay a little more than the original penciled price of $2.75! The antique store where we made our purchase had bought the stock from an old hardware store. Our cutter had never been sold, we were the first ones to put cabbage to the blades!

Today, I made sauerruben with some of the rutabagas from this weeks dig. Basically just sauerkraut made with turnips or rutabagas.

Using the kraut cutter is actually easier than grating the rutabagas. But it is a two part proposition. First, I slice the rutabaga very thin.

Then I coarsely chop the rounds into rustic slices. The slices are incredibly tender, and slice easily. The whole operation to prepare enough for a half-gallon jar took about 5 minutes. Peeling and cutting of the root ends took about 5 minutes as well.

Just like sauerkraut, use a non-reactive container since you will be adding salt.

I use Celtic sea salt, and the recipe is the same as for kraut: 3 Tablespoons per 5 pounds of vegetable.

The salt will bring out the juice in the vegetable for the brine.

Pack tightly in a wide mouth jar, crock or ?? Make sure brine is covering the vegetable. Cover tightly. Some people use a plastic bag filled with water, or a small canning jar filled with water to keep the vegetable below the brine. Fermentation time depends on temperature - 70 degrees F or lower is better for fermentation.

Now on to dinner, rutabagas lend themselves well to gratin dishes. More pungent when fresh, cooking seems to moderate the flavor a bit.

Two rutabagas, and 1 celeriac bulb parboiled and layered with grated cheese, and one large onion sliced in a shallow baking dish, plus a quick Bechamel sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Pop in the oven for about an hour and you have a great vegetable side dish. If you have a favorite au gratin or scalloped potato recipe, just substitute different roots for a change of pace. And if you can bear it, cool it and reheat the next day, it is even better.

Rutabaga? If lovin' you is wrong, I don't want to be right!

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Some Re- Words for the Season

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Even in the earliest days of civilization, people realized that something happened this time of year. There was a change, a literal hesitation and then a swinging back in the natural world. As religions developed, each put their own stamp on this time, their own observation and celebration of the solstice - perhaps with a different name and focus, but recognition nonetheless. With the adoption of our modern calendar, the somewhat arbitrary beginning of the year was added. This hesitation time, between solstice and the start of a new year, is a natural time for what I'm calling some re- words.

Some memories are as fleeting as the time it takes to address and sign a holiday card. Others are more long-lasting. Traditions from childhood, even if no longer observed, are still there somewhere inside. This time of year is naturally full of memories of family, friends, and seasons past. It's an emotional time, and some of the memories brought back can be very powerful - some even painful. In a season everyone around you is calling joyful and wondrous, it can hurt to admit, even to yourself, that you might be feeling a bit down instead.

For some, the absence or loss of loved ones can be especially pronounced. I lost a parent not too long ago, and sadly, am old enough that I'm now starting to lose friends and peers. It's a consequence of growing older that you will outlive others - some now gone due to age, but others under more tragic circumstances. Especially poignant to me are those lost by their own hand. It's so hard to understand the depths of despair that can lead someone to undertake such a permanent solution to what might have been a temporary problem.

There are progressive stages one goes through in processing loss, whether bereavement or other significant life events, such as divorce, drug addiction, infertility, or unemployment - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. But the process is not of smooth transitions, nor accomplished in an orderly succession. The memories and emotions brought up during this time of year especially can bounce one back to an earlier stage, and this is completely normal. Humans developed as social animals, and there's nothing noble about suffering in silence. Please, find someone to talk to - a trusted friend, maybe someone qualified to give counsel, your pet, or even your version of a higher power - if the memories brought up by this time of year become painful.

As the year comes to a close, it's a natural time to look back. Years like this one, ending in 9, can also call up recollections of the past decade. A lot has happened in the world, and in your own lives in this time, so it's a good time to think about how you and your life have changed. Maybe it's time to reassess your goals, and certainly a time to celebrate your successes.

But there are bound to be some failures too, and possibly even regret. Figure out what went wrong, and maybe even come up with ideas to fix it. Feelings of regret mean there's a lesson there to be learned. Think about why you're feeling regret, and figure out what that lesson is. If it's something that you can remedy, take action now - apologize, make amends, change your actions - and then move on. Regretting something done in the past is wasted time and emotion; continuing to do something you regret is just plain stupid. Learn the lesson, and strive for a life without regrets.

'Tis the season. This year, I'm gonna get every bit of clutter out of my house, lose 50 pounds, grow all our own food, cook every meal from scratch, make all our clothing, run a marathon, never eat fast food again, go to the gym every day, never yell at the kids, save the redwoods, save the polar bears, save the planet . . . this year, I resolve to be PERFECT!!

Ok, whoa! Anything sound familiar? To save yourself lots of frustration and disappointment come the end of January, go ahead and write out your entire list. Then, pick just one, maybe two at the very most, items that are the most important to you right now. That is your ultimate goal(s), and it might take all year, maybe even more. Now, stash that list away for now (at least until the equinox - you can reassess your progress then, and maybe decide on something new to address). For now, figure out just one little tiny baby-step action to take. Bad habits are hard to change - the best way is to consistently substitute some other action every time. Commit, really commit, to just that one little thing for at least three weeks. Maybe then, but maybe longer, you can figure out the next tiny little baby-step to take.

Take a really deep breath - really, right now, do it. Hold it a sec. Now, slowly, gently, breathe out. It's an emotional time of year - looking back, planning for the future. Every once in a while, take a minute to just savor what's happening right now. Indulge all your senses, devoting complete attention to each one in turn - stop and notice what's happening in your world, right now, and just breathe. It's nature's little hesitation time - that perfect equilibrium before the earth starts tilting back, swinging back around the sun. It's the perfect time to find your own equilibrium too.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Whether you formally celebrate Thanksgiving at your home or not, I hope you will spend a moment to yourself today. Let yourself be happy for all that you have, and also for all that you give.

Each of us is in our own way positive influence on this world.
As always, thank you for reading - and for doing all that you do!

With Much Love~
Melinda, One Green Generation