Signs of spring

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The pea seedlings are coming up in our community garden plot, and fruit trees and shrubs are in the middle of flowering, like these bright yellow barberry flowers. It might be a great barberry year, like 2014 was in Flagstaff, AZ. I’ll have to decide if I’m going to make barberry juice or jam.

We’ve started a new garden plot at the neighborhood community garden

LynnAnnRose and I have a plot at our neighborhood community garden. After removing the drip irrigation tubing and raking back last year’s straw mulch, we prepared the soil and planted some pre-sprouted sugar snap peas and radishes so far. The soil is sandy, in contrast to the compacted, silty soil in Flagstaff; it required very little loosening. We had to buy some compost to spread on top since we don’t have our own compost bin yet. Compost works to improve all types of soil. We added plenty of new straw mulch on top to prevent soil water evaporation. The tomato cages on top are preventing the mulch from blowing away.

We bought the pea and radish seeds and other heirloom seeds from Native Seed/SEARCH, including one of LynnAnnRose’s favorite foods, Chimayo chiles. Chimayo is a small village not far from Santa Fe. The chiles have been grown for centuries by Hispanic farmers in the region. We also have some purchased seedlings of vegetables and herbs that will be planted mostly in out back and front yards. We plan to save the seeds from the open-pollinated varieties.

Native Seed/SEARCH is a regional seed bank for Native American and Southwest Hispanic seed varieties. Limited quantities of these seeds are available for purchase.

A big cooking day at the urban homestead

Normally, my cooking and baking is spread out throughout the week. I bake two loaves of bread and one batch of cookies a week, and make two batches of soy milk and two dinners with leftovers each week. Sometimes, however, there is a confluence of events and I have a day spent largely cooking and baking. I had to bake a loaf of my 100% whole bread for myself, make milk, make cookies, and cook a pot of chili for dinner. I had spent an hour the day before grinding flour so I wouldn’t have to grind flour on baking day. I’ve been using a cup of whole wheat flour in my cookies lately, so I ground extra for that purpose.

I solar cooked pinto beans with dried whole red chiles I grew on my south facing balcony. Recently, I bought a copy of the new book The Homemade Vegan Pantry, which provides homemade alternatives to commercial staples like milk, cream, butter, bacon (really) and much, much more. I learned that the beany flavor of homemade soy milk can be removed by quick-soaking the beans by pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit for as little as an hour, rather than letting the soak in cool water for eight hours. I tried it; it does work as the author says but we are so used to our homemade soy milk that it didn’t really make a significant difference in taste to us. I will probably only use the quick-soaking method when we forget to soak the beans overnight or in the morning to make milk in the evening.

I made the milk, strained out the okara (Japanese word for soy pulp) and let it cool in the refrigerator, then baked my loaf of bread. I ran some errands on foot during the afternoon. In the evening, I baked my peppermint chocolate chip okara cookies and added the beans to a pot of vegan chili with diced tomatoes, corn, and fresh cilantro. The next day, Dan packaged some of the chili into individual serving portions and put the bags in the freezer.

Sourdough pizza with mock tomato sauce: Part I

Part I: Making the pizza sauce

Adapted from The Natural Canning Resource Book: A guide to home canning with locally-grown, sustainably-produced and fair-trade foods and Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens:

Tomatoes are a summer and early fall crop. It’s easy to home can tomato paste and tomato sauce, of course, but you can also try mock tomato sauce, a winter vegetable pizza sauce alternative to tomatoes. Beets and winter squash are excellent root cellar vegetables; choose good “keeping” varieties with tougher skins if you are growing your own for long term storage. Beets and squash can also be home canned safely in diced form only (thick low acid purees cannot be pressure canned safely at home).

Beets and deep orange winter squash are also more nutritious than tomato sauce. According to the Web site NutritionData.self.com, an ounce of ordinary pizza sauce has 1/3 as much fiber as either 1 oz beets or 1 oz squash. Pizza sauce typically has no vitamin A or C while an ounce of squash provides 29% of daily recommended Vitamin A and 4% of recommended vitamin C. Beets and deep orange winter squash (and pumpkin, which is winter squash) are high in nitrates. Nitrates (as opposed to unhealthy nitrites) boost nitric oxide in your blood, which dilates blood vessels, improving blood and oxygen flow to muscles and extremities. This also lowers blood pressure. (Dark leafy green vegetables are higher in nitrates than beets, a good reason to add beet greens, broccoli, kale, collards, etc. on top).

When I first made pizza with mock tomato sauce years ago, I didn’t tell Dan the sauce was different. He thought he hated beets, like a lot of people. I figured I’d let him eat the pizza first, see how he reacted, or if he even noticed, and then tell him what he ate. He LOVED the pizza. He kept going back for more, for a total of three slices. He kept saying, “this pizza is really good, but why is the sauce so pink?” When he found out that he had been eating beets, he was pleasantly surprised.

Solar cooking in cold winter climates

Solar cooking is an option year-round in sunny climates, even here at 7,000 feet elevation. The daytime highs have been barely above freezing, but that doesn’t matter. Air temperature has almost nothing to do with the temperature inside a solar cooker. Solar cookers are insulated. But more importantly, cooking temperatures are related to the strength of the sunlight. Clear skies = higher cooker temperatures. Snow on the ground raises cooker temperatures because snow reflects additional sunlight into the cooker! It’s even possible to solar cook at 58° north latitude in southern Norway. Solar cooking is also practiced in such high latitude places as Minnesota in January and Ontario, Canada.

This past week on a cold sunny day, I opened the solar oven at 9:45. The temperature outside was barely 30ºF. I accidentally left the oven door latch stuck in the door, so the oven door was propped open 1/8-inch, yet the oven had still managed to reach 200ºF one hour later. I put the squash in the cooker fiver minutes later, closed the oven door properly, and set the kitchen timer for 45 minutes. When the timer went off, the oven was 250ºF. I added three whole beets to the black granite ware roaster pot.

Clouds had moved in, making the sky partly cloudy, so I figured the cooking time would be longer than the one additional hour I had anticipated. Even so, the highest oven temperature reached was 325ºF. pretty good for a day that barely rose above freezing. I took the roaster out of the oven at 1:45 p.m. The beets and squash were meltingly soft.

To make the sauce, I puréed one beet with all the squash in my 40-year-old blender with a little lemon juice for acidity, to make the sauce even more like tomato sauce, and to help the blender make the purée. I sautéed whole fennel seeds and minced garlic as usual, added the beet-squash sauce and my other usual pizza herbs and spices. I put the other two beets in the freezer (you can’t buy just one beet). The recipe is included in my The Sunny Side of Cooking solar cookbook.

It’s also possible to cook pizza sauce in a solar cooker.

See Part II here.

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Solar cookers can cook anything

Adapted from The Sunny Side of Cooking: Solar cooking and other ecologically friendly cooking methods for the 21st century:

It is possible to use a solar cooker for everything from simmering to blanching, poaching, steaming, sautéing, braising, baking, roasting, toasting, grilling, barbecuing and pan frying. Most of these methods can be done in a box cooker. A few require the extra high temperatures only achievable with a parabolic reflector.

The foods above include chocolate tofu pie with a gluten free almond crust, baked kabocha squash, barbecued tempeh made with home canned barbecue sauce, minestrone soup with beans precooked in the solar oven, steamed corn on the cob, home grown rhubarb crumble, and whole wheat sourdough raisin bread. Enter “raynersolar” into my “Search Lisa’s Blog“ search box to see all of my original solar cooking blog posts (not reblogs). Use my Google search box to look up specific foods and dishes.

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Nov. 18, 2015

Another day at the urban homestead

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We got a short break from monsoon weather and had a few sunny days in a row. I solar cooked a large pot of beans; I made some vegan chili with fresh roasted green chiles. I baked a loaf of sourdough bread. The fig tree has baby figs on it already; I have now moved the tree indoors at night. My warm season crops are done for the season (green beans, zucchini, tomatoes—I have green tomatoes are ripening indoors). Tree leaves are starting to turn yellow.

www.LisaRayner.com
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Fresh garden tomatoes—the best kind

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I picked three tomatoes. I ate the ripe one for lunch; it was incredibly sweet. The two slightly underripe tomatoes will ripen faster indoors because nights are so cool at this elevation (7,000 feet). The dish is Hungarian yellow ware I bought at Hortobágy National Park in Hungary.

Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains 4th Edition Book Cover Growing Food in the Southwest Mountains: A Guide to high-altitude, semi-arid home permaculture gardens

www.LisaRayner.com
www.amazon.com/author/lisarayner