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Archive for the ‘Good food’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Shaking Off a DIY Fail

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI’m a self-conscious chef. In an effort to minimize disasters, I seek out recipes with clear, step-by-step instructions that leave little room for interpretation. And anytime I try something new in the kitchen, I make sure my roommate is on standby as my frontline taste tester. She’s usually happy to oblige, but every so often, she gets stuck with a burnt or undercooked creation.

This was one of those times.

Over the holidays, with so many other things going on, I thought I’d stick to a baking project I couldn’t mess up. Cupcakes. In a past life (OK, a not-so-distant two summers ago), I worked in a bakery and became something of a cupcake connoisseur. No style, design, or flavor fazed me. If I had a recipe, I could make it happen.

Just to mix things up a little bit, I thought I’d try making my own food coloring. I loved the idea of knowing exactly what I was smearing on my cupcakes—no weird chemicals or fake stuff, just ingredients I had selected myself. As I trolled the Internet for tips, with visions of festive red and green icing dancing in my head, I figured this would be a low-stress challenge.

Before long, I came across a blog detailing the necessary ingredients for mixing both red and green dye, but the lists were long and full of powders I wasn’t sure I could pronounce, much less afford or locate in a store. I sifted through other recipes until I found one that made natural dyes seem even easier than I’d thought: spinach juice for green and pomegranate or beet juice for red. Sounds simple, right?

Pomegranate juice is easy to find fairly cheap. I grabbed a bottle for $1.50—on sale that week, too, so it had to be fate. Spinach juice proved a bit trickier. I saw some online, but the price tag was steep, and I didn’t think waiting a week or so for it to arrive seemed practical.

Without a juicer or any knowledge of juicing, I decided I would try to liquefy spinach. I turned to my little food processor, my trustiest friend in the kitchen, thinking it could get the job done. After repeated dicing, chopping, and grinding, I was left with a murky green liquid that resembled algae or moss—in other words, not something you would willingly eat, let alone consider a treat.

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Next I tried mixing some of the sludge into my buttercream. The result: soggy white syrup flecked with green chunks. Needless to say, I couldn’t get my roommate to try it.

Zero for one, I held onto the hope that red icing would be easier. Who needs green, after all, when red is the color of Santa hats and candy canes? The pomegranate juice I had was already in liquid form, so turning it into icing should be as easy as stirring.

I added a few drops of juice to my buttercream and starting mixing. Nothing.

After dumping in a whole tablespoon of juice, the icing began to take on the palest pink tinge. My faith renewed, I dumped in another tablespoon of juice.

Hm. Still pink.

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Yet another tablespoon in, the icing was slightly darker—though not quite red—but also extremely runny. I tried to spread it onto a cupcake, but it was too soupy to apply with a knife. I thought moving the icing to the fridge for a while might thicken up the consistency, but that was a lost cause, as well. The cupcakes looked like they had spent a 90-degree day in the trunk of a car. My roommate took a tentative taste and gave the flavor a thumbs-up, but she advised me not to take the cupcakes out into the world, where they would be subjected to ridicule.

I had to agree.

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They say food is all about presentation, and in that respect, these cupcakes definitely failed. They’re the kind of thing I would usually hide in the back of my fridge rather than show off, but here they are now, in all their glory, on the Internet. To me, it’s a reminder that not everything you make will look or taste like the pristine examples you see in glossy magazines or on tastefully photographed blogs.

Sometimes we fail, whether through a flawed recipe or our own lack of skill. And you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit. You tried. You gave a shot. Maybe you made something edible, even if it’s not pretty. Hey, a laugh can be as much of a bonding experience—probably more—as sharing a fussed-over snack with a friend. The point is the experiment itself, in rolling with the punches and trying again.

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Or not. Red food coloring is one project I’m happy to leave to the pros. Valentine’s is coming up before long, and what says, “I love you,” like homemade pink icing?

amandaNortheastern University student Amanda Hoover spent her fall semester interning for HOMEGROWN and Farm Aid. She is an amazing baker (don’t miss her 101s on homemade Nutella, biscotti, and peanut butter cups), in addition to being an awfully good sport. Thanks for sharing your hits and your misses, Amanda!

ALL PHOTOS: AMANDA HOOVER

 

HOMEGROWN Life: Deciding Which Vegetable Varieties to Grow

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENAnother year has come to an end. The seed catalogs are rolling in, and as I sit here drooling over them, I keep coming across new, exciting vegetable varieties that I just have to try.

There’s a part of my brain that’s screaming at the rest of it: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken!” Year after year, I post about what I’ve learned, and one of the recurring themes is to stick with the things I know work for our area—not to risk losing productivity because I’m feeling adventurous. But really, what fun is that?

Vegetable VarietiesThere are some things I’m set on keeping the same. The Orangeglo watermelon and Bidwell Casaba have been very kind to me, unlike most other watermelon and melon varieties, so those are here to stay for the long haul. Catskill Brussels Sprouts will also probably stick around. There seem to be so few varieties of heirloom sprouts, and these do the best.

I always say not to mess around with our corn selection. We grow Bloody Butcher corn, which has served us well. It gets HUGE and gives us multiple relatively long ears on each stalk. The corn can be used fresh, or you can let it mature into a dent corn. After a failed attempt at saving seed from it and coming to the realization that we just don’t have enough space to save corn seed and avoid inbreeding depression, I’ve decided to expand my corn-growing horizons to include a flour corn, a sweet corn, and a popcorn.

Unfortunately, there’s no fast way to determine which varieties you should grow for all vegetables. Your best bet is to find varieties that were developed in areas that have a similar climate to where you live. For instance, Italian varieties will probably do best in coastal California, where we have the same basic climate. Russian varieties might serve you well if you live in colder areas. If you have a short season, choose varieties that mature quickly. This, of course, can take some research to figure out. For cool season crops, you’ll want to make sure they have enough time to develop before warm weather hits. For warm season crops, you want to give them time before the frosts come. Seed packets and catalogs include a number, usually next to the name or after the description, denoting that variety’s average number of days to maturity.

When it comes to latitude, rather than season length, onions are much more specific than most other vegetables about where they can grow. Varieties will either be long day, short day, or intermediate. If you live north of 35 degrees latitude (draw a line from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. to approximate), you’ll want to grow long-day onions. South of that, grow short-day onions. If you’re just on either side of that latitude, you can grow intermediate onions. I’ve also had good luck with long-day onions here on the 35th parallel.

Besides climate, you’ll also want to look at the size, yield, and disease resistance. If late blight is a problem in your area, choose vegetable varieties that have some resistance. If you have a small garden, choose compact or high-yielding varieties to make the most of your space.

Or you can do what I like to do and just pick a bunch of varieties to try and see which ones do best. Good luck!

MORE HOMEGROWN SEED ASSISTANCE

Rachel on Vegetable VarietiesRachel’s friends in college used to call her a Renaissance woman. She was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. She still is. Instead of crafts, her focus these days has been farming as much of her urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with her husband, she runs Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. They’re always keeping busy. If Rachel isn’t out in the yard, she’s in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

PHOTOS: RACHEL

ICYMI: The Top HOMEGROWN Posts of 2014 (AKA Inspiration for 2015!)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

 

Don’t worry. We understand if you didn’t spend every waking minute of 2014 hunched over the computer, drumming your fingers and waiting for the next HOMEGROWN 101 to post. You’re busy! You’ve got actual stuff to do, from tending the garden (not to mention the kids, pets, and livestock) to making breakfast to fashioning bird feeders from Mason jars. We get it. Your get-it-doneness is why we love you!

But just in case you were wondering what your fellow DIYers were reading while you were off crafting, baking, and planting, we’ve rounded up the top five HOMEGROWN posts from 2014 in a few different categories—plus some fun stuff to look forward to. Here’s to finding inspiration for a whole new year of doing in 2015!

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Top 5 shiny new 101s of 2014:

  1. Sue’s Pallet Wood Chicken Coop 101
  2. Andrea’s Wine Bottle Wind Chimes 101
  3. Joe’s Fermented Chili Paste 101
  4. Cynthia’s Homemade Bone Broth 101
  5. Jessie’s Common Garden Pests 101—and how to fight ‘em!

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Oldies but goodies! Top 5 archived 101s in 2014:

  1. Jennifer’s Drying Chili Peppers 101
  2. Camas’s Buying a Whole Pig 101
  3. Back to basics: Hoop Houses 101
  4. Lauren’s Duck House 101 (Don’t miss her Raising Ducks 101!)
  5. Lucy’s Growing Lettuce 101

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Top 5 HOMEGROWN blog posts of 2014:

  1. Rachel’s pros and cons of tiny house living
  2. The Skills Tent Schedule at Farm Aid 2014—now with photos!
  3. The United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style, with apologies to The New York Times
  4. Rachel’s big-batch granola recipe (This woman is a HOMEGROWN machine!)
  5. Dyan’s ode to fall cooking—and eating

Coming up next: a few inspiring—and totally doable—food resolutions for 2015. Stay tuned to HOMEGROWN.org! And happy HOMEGROWN New Year, you guys!