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2014 Gardening Goals, High Intensity Gardening

I think practically every gardener spends January (in the northern hemisphere at least) pouring over seed catalogs and planning their spring and summer gardens, and I am no exception.  As soon as the New Year’s celebrations are over, seed catalogs start pouring in the mail enticing us with their bright pictures and promises of high yields.

Over the years, though, modern growing methods have left most of us feeling disappointed.  On our farm, we have been trying new methods of organic techniques, incorporating permaculture, and avoiding quick solutions such as pesticides and herbicides.  So, I was thrilled to come across a new method of gardening called High Intensity Gardening which can literally help the plants to express their full genetic potential, while improving the condition of the soil and the nutritional content of food.  For example, a tomato plant has the genetic potential to produce 400-500 POUNDS of tomatoes, but due to our growing methods, toxins, nutritional deficiencies,etc., we fall short of its potential.

John Kempf is one of the greatest advocates and educators of High Intensity Agriculture.  He has formed an organization called Advancing Eco Agriculture.  You can listen to him here in an interview with Dr. Mercola offering a brief explanation of the methods and outcomes. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQDbkSn9rpo#t=1533

Last year, I demonstrated in an article called “Compost” the amazing results of using compost in the garden.  Mr. Kempf discusses the benefits of compost “tea,” a liquid made by fermenting compost in water, generating an enzyme and beneficial bacteria-rich liquid for the soil.  Kempf draws the similarity with Dr. Mercola, that just as humans’ digestion benefits from beneficial organisms, the soil is the plants digestion and benefits from pro-biotics as well.  Here are two videos showing Kempf’s Plant Health Pyramid.

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As I consider my seed choices, I will also be researching recipes for compost tea.  And with a few exceptions, I will not be ordering from most of the major seed catalogs, who provide overpriced packets with scarcely any seeds.  Ever since starting this blog, we have provided a link to Gourmetseed.com where we buy our seeds.  The majority of the seeds come from Europe where cross-pollination with GMO crops is not as great an issue.  The packets are reasonably priced and usually contain hundreds of seeds in each.  I am awed by the quality and quantity. 

It is increasingly necessary for small farmers to embrace these natural growing methods and seeds.   Top soils across this country are microbiogically dead, and can only produce if given chemicals, yielding nutrient deficient food.1  Since Big Ag has not responded to the call for better farming,  small farms are leading the way.  Please support your local farmers!

1. http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203cat/royal.lee.lets.live.articles.htm

 

 

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

In honor of the real Santa, happy Saint Nicholas Day!

Weckmann with Candies and Advent Wreath

Weckmann with Candies and Advent Wreath

We made Weckmann, or Nikolaus, for the occasion.  These are soft bread “men” made in the shape of ginger bread men.  I will share my own version below.

It has been tradition for the children to place their house shoes or slippers outside their bedroom doors for St. Nicholas to fill with Weckmann, oranges and candies.  Since we have a puppy in the house who could enjoy them before the children do, we decorate the table and place the Weckmann on plates.

Weckmann Dough

1 1/2 cups water or milk

2 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 cups King Arthur Bread Flour

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Combine all ingredients in bowl or in bread machine on dough cycle.  Let it rise until doubled.  Knead dough and divide into four equal parts.  Form each of these into “men” shapes by forming a ball head, and cutting arms and legs.  Place on greased baking sheets to rise.  When nearly doubled, brush on an egg wash and decorate. The egg wash will help to hold your decorations and will make the Weckmann shiny.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15  minutes or until golden brown.

 

Meals at Meduseld – Holiday Spice Cake

Meduseld's Holiday Spice Cake

Meduseld’s Holiday Spice Cake

This is a lovely spice cake for the holidays.  Unlike some fruit cakes, this one does not have the candied fruits that many people find objectionable.  It contains currants, raisins, and abundant spices.  This is not a cake that will sit around long.

I make these every year for All Saints Day and often mail them to friends and relatives.  In order to help preserve them for shipping, I will put rum in a small spray bottle and coat the surface lightly with rum before boxing them up.

Since today is the feast day of St. Raphael the Archangel, I am baking the cake in a fish mold.  In the book of Tobias in the Old Testament, St. Raphael the angel instructs Tobias how to catch a fish and use parts of it to cure various ailments (Tobias Chapter 6).

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Ingredients:

1 cup currants

1 cup raisins (you can also substitute dried cranberries)

2 cups water plus one cup cold water

½ cup butter

1 egg

1 2/3 cup organic sugar

1/3 cup organic molasses

spices – 1 teaspoon each of allspice, nutmeg, cloves and cardamom (I use whole spices and grind them fresh in order to get the best flavor)

1 tablespoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

4 cups AP or low gluten pastry flour blended with 2 teaspoons baking soda

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Preheat oven to 350.

Place currants and raisins in a small pot. Cover with two cups hot water and cook about ten minutes. Toward the end of ten minutes, add the butter, sugar, molasses and salt.

Pour contents of pot into stainless or enamel bowl. Add 1 cup cold water to cool.  Add spices and stir in one egg.  When everything is well blended, gradually stir in the flour/baking soda mix.

Pour batter into generously greased baking form.  Bake for approximately one hour or until cake springs back when pressed.

Hint: You may add nuts such as walnuts or pecans. To make the fish scales in the photo, I coated the fish lightly with honey so that the scales would stick.

This cake freezes well.

Meals at Meduseld – Escoffier

With the passing of the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic last year, we did a lot of research about that incredible ship, searching movies, documentaries, and buying books.  One of the best books I found about the Titanic’s only voyage led me to another personal discovery, Auguste Escoffier.

escoffier

The book is called Last Dinner on the Titanic, by Rick Archbold and Dane McCauley.  The book has copies of actual menus of the last meals on the Titanic and first-hand accounts of what was served and how the food was served.  It is an engaging account of that cruise, quite unlike any I have ever read, and since I enjoy cooking, it was that much more engrossing.

We dined last night in the Ritz restaurant.  It was the last word in luxury.  The tables were gay with pink roses and white daisies, the women in their beautiful shimmering gowns of satin and silk, the men immaculate and well-groomed, the stringed orchestra playing music from Puccini and Tchaikovsky.  The food was superb:  caviar, lobster, quail from Egypt, plover’s eggs, and hothouse grapes and fresh peaches.  The night was cold and clear, the sea like glass.”  First-class passenger Mrs. Walter Douglas

The authors describe the influences to the menus onboard and that is where Escoffier comes in. 

Escoffier was born in 1846 and started his culinary career working at his uncle’s restaurant in Nice, France.  During his life he was chef in the Savoy and Carlton restaurants in London, as well as in the Ritz in Paris.  He composed eight cook books including  the Guide Culinaire, which held a staggering 5000 recipes.  He streamlined recipes and laid rules for cooking and serving that persevered well into the 1900’s.  His Guide Culinaire is still in print and influences chefs all over the world.   He stood out for being kind to his staff, which seems to imply that was not very common then.   Escoffier improved sanitation in his restaurants.  He was often called the “king of chefs and the chef of kings” and is arguably the Father of “haute cuisine.”  His fame did not prevent him from having a generous heart – at the end of every day all left over food went to the poor, and he paid for its transport.

Escoffier perfected fine, rich, creamy sauces.  He could turn any vegetable into a refined soup and he emphasized the importance of pairing foods properly and using fresh ingredients.  While his recipes and rules may seem complicated, most are actually rather easy.  For example, his hors d’oeuvres Concombres a’ la Danoise has only four ingredients – cucumbers, smoked salmon, smoked herring, and hard-boiled eggs. 

Escoffier designed the kitchens for trans-Atlantic cruise ships and was still alive during  the Titanic’s trip.  Chef Proctor, the Titanic’s head chef, created his recipes and menus based on Escoffier’s menus at the Ritz.  Proctor served the meals in courses, which is a method we take for granted these days but was an innovation made by Escoffier.  Proctor’s menu for the Titanic’s first-class eleven-course dinner is included in the Last Dinner book.   The first-class diners enjoyed items directly from Escoffier’s own cookbook such as Poached Salmon with Mousseline Sauce, Chicken Lyonnaise and roasted Squab. 

The book also provides copies of the  menus for second and third class.  The second class menu  features three courses which in modern-day would equal many first class restaurants.  The third class, or steerage, menu was called a “Bill of Fare” and was hardly anything to turn down either.  For example, Saturday’s dinner included soup, roast beef with gravy,  green beans, boiled potatoes, cabin biscuits, fresh bread, and for dessert, prunes and rice.  This is more than is served in many homes these days.

That they could serve so much food was an amazing achievement.  The team of 60 chefs served 6000 meals a day.  The kitchens were modern by 1912 standards, and included electrical appliances.

For years I have been studying French cuisine and collecting cookbooks and DVDs from Julia Child and Le Cordon Bleu; I considered these sources the beginning and end of French cooking.  I have the Cordon Bleu’s  book of French Classic Cuisine which includes stunning photographs of their creations that make your mouth water.  But in my Julia Child/Cordon Bleu centered culinary universe, I did not know that their work was based on a greater genius, one to whom they actually make no mention in their Classics book!

Modern chefs emmulate Escoffier, especially his zeal for excellent ingredients and working with the growers in much the same way as the modern farm-to-table movements. 

I have placed  the book The Last Dinner on the Titantic in my Amazon store, along with two other cookbooks with recipes by Escoffier.  One is The Illustrated Escoffier with an introduction by his grandson, and the other it Escoffier’s Guide.  I am also including a link to the BBC’s brief video on Escoffier at the London Ritz.  Bon Appetit!

BBC Video on Escoffier

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Grass Fed Lamb

  

 

Meduseld Grass-fed Lambs

Meduseld Grass-fed Lambs

  We are accepting reservations for six grass-fed lambs that will be available this fall.  The lambs were born in March or April of this year and will be ready for butchering late fall.   These sheep were just recently weaned.  They have never been grained.  They receive Thorvine Kelp as a nutritional supplement. 

Meduseld does not butcher or sell the processed meat.  We sell the sheep and will deliver it to Gore’s Custom Butcher in Stephen’s City, VA, which is conveniently located off Interstate 81.  Meduseld’s charge is $100.00 for the sheep, and Gores charges $75.00 to process it (pricing as of June 2013).  You will be able to pick up your lamb directly from Gores.

The lambs are crosses of the Romneys, Dorset Down, or Jacobs.  The weight of each lamb will be approximately 100 pounds.  Typically, approximately 50 percent of that is lost during butchering.  

If you google prices for grass-fed lamb, you will find that this is a bargain. 

The sheep are available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Please email meduseld@live.com to reserve your lamb!  We require a $25.00 deposit to hold the reservation.

Meals at Meduseld – Moor Park Apricot Tart

 

Moor Park Apricot

Moor Park Apricot

“It was only the spring twelvemonth before Mr. Norris’s death that we put in the apricot against the stable wall, which is now grown such a noble tree, and getting to such perfection, sir,” addressing herself then to Dr. Grant.

“The tree thrives well, beyond a doubt, madam,” replied Dr. Grant. “The soil is good and I never pass it without regretting that the fruit should be so little worth the trouble of gathering.”

“Sir, it is a Moor Park, we bought it as a Moor Park, and it cost us–that is, it was a present from Sir Thomas, but I saw the bill–and I know it cost seven shillings, and was charged as a Moor Park.”

“You were imposed on, ma’am,” replied Dr. Grant: “these potatoes have as much the flavour of a Moor Park apricot as the fruit from that tree. It is an insipid fruit at the best, but a good apricot is eatable, which none from my garden are.”

As a great fan of Jane Austen, I have been determined to grow a Moor Park apricot tree.   The first tree was planted about thirteen years ago, but suffered a collision with a trailer, and is still struggling to get past that challenge.  I planted another pair of Moor Parks in front of our cottage/office and one succumbed to insect damage at its base.  But small victories do sometimes  occur and mine was to feast yesterday on my very own juicy Moor Park Apricot.

I have to disagree with Dr. Grant.  It is sweet and honeyish with just a hint of tartness.   And for this tree’s first crop it produced enough to make an apricot tart.  Here is how we did it.

Tart crust

2 packages of cream cheese

1 cup butter

2 1/2 cups pastry flour

1/4 confectioners sugar

Combine all ingredients into dough and roll or press into a large tart pan or two medium.  I made a large tart and had enough left for 8 little tart shells.

 

Glaze

10 oz jelly, preferably apricot or peach.  I used Crofters Blood orange jelly because it’s what I had and its tastes wonderful.

8 oz water.

Combine both in thick bottomed pan until a nice rolling boil.  Turn off heat and reserve.

 

Assembly

Wash apricots and cut each into quarters.  Arrange decoratively in your tart shell.  Spoon the glaze over the apricots pieces. 

 

Moor Park Apricot Tart Ready for the Oven

Moor Park Apricot Tart Ready for the Oven

Bake in a 375 over until apricots have softened and the crust has developed a golden brown color, approximately 55 minutes.  this time varies greatly depending on the size tart you are baking.  The little tartlets bake in approximately 30 minutes, for example.

 

Meduseld's Moor Park Apricot Tartlets

Meduseld’s Moor Park Apricot Tartlets

I suspect even Dr. Grant would eat this.

 

 

Meals at Meduseld – Carol’s Lasagna

My friend Carol has done the coolest, most generous  things all her life, including being the recipient of an award for her work at the White House.   She is also an incredible cook and her sugar cookies are worth writing about in your diary.  One of the other items she makes that stands out is lasagna, and I was recently able to extract her recipe from her.  She provided the sauce for the lasagna you see in these pictures. 

 A pasta machine is not necessary, but you’ll need a crock pot/slow cooker for the sauce.  Carol starts her sauce the night before and lets it cook twelve hours. 

TIPS:  Have all ingredients ready to go for assembling before you do the noodles, unless you are using store noodles.  Homemade noodles dry quickly and you’ll have to assemble the layers fast.

We made homemade lasagna noodles – somehow store-bought did not seem worthy, but you are welcome to use those.   We love our pasta machine and have placed it in our amazon store. 

Sauce

1 pound ground beef (try to find pasture raised)

3  hot italian sausages

mushrooms

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

onion

1 medium or two small zucchinis

I can tomato sauce

3 cans chopped tomatoes (Delmonte or Muir Glen)

half an eggplant, pealed and diced

Wine, often a sweet wine like Marsala

Brown onion and meats.  Put in crock pot.  Chop vegetables into chuncks.  Add these to crockpot.  Pour over canned chopped tomatoes.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and oregano.

Let this cook 10-12 hours  in your crockpot.

Noodles

4 cups flour

6 egg yolks

1/4 cup water

Combine flour and egg yolks.  Dribble in water until firm dough forms.  You don’t want your dough sticky or it won’t go through the pasta machine.  You can also roll the dough very thinly with a rolling-pin and them cut slices or noodles.

Knead dough until it’s a nice uniform golden color with no distinct bits of flour.  This is what ours looked like.  Our farm egg yolks give it this rich golden color.

Egg noodle dough

Egg noodle dough

Take small sections of the dough, and either put it through your pasta machine or roll it out on the surface.  Only roll out enough pieces for one layer of the lasagna at a time.

Creating Noodles

Creating Noodles

For Assembly, you’ll need a few more ingredients.

Ricotta cheese

Grated cheese

To assemble

We spread sauce on the bottom of the pan.  I put slices of zucchini on the bottom, more sauce and a dollop of Ricotta on each one.  Cover with layer of noodles.  Add more sauce, more Ricotta, a generous bit of shredded cheese and another layer of noodles.  More sauce, generous layer of shredded cheese and another layer of noodles. 

Building the Lasagna Layers

Building the Lasagna Layers

This is now the top layer.  More sauce and generous shredded cheese.  I chopped some fresh basil from the garden and sprinkled it on top.  This is how the lasagna looked going into the oven.

Lasagna Ready for Baking

Lasagna Ready for Baking

Bake this at 350 for over an hour until it is bubbling  and the center is cooked.  You may have to cover the lasagna during the baking process so that the cheese on top does not get too brown.

Here is the finished result, and it tasted as good as it looks!  Thank you, Carol!

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Permaculture and Meals at Meduseld

Back in April, I wrote an article about how to use permaculture to provide nutritious food and minimize our work.  In my article I talked about the chickens that I would be getting to clean our hoop house.

Well, I am glad to show you the results of our endeavor. 

This weekend, we butchered the broilers at about seven weeks of age.  They weighed in at approximately 6 pounds each, having spent their time eating out the hoop house, cleaning it of insects, weed seeds, and supplemented with organic GMO free feed.  Here you can see the job they have done cleaning.

broiler job in hoop house

I’ll admit this is not one of the prettiest pictures I have posted on this blog, but it does speak volumes.    We can see the remains of a beet root.  The chickens have entirely cleared it of all of its greens, and it is the only one remaining from a row of them.  Clearly the chickens like beets.  They have also cleared all the chard and kale, and have left a few insignificant weeds.  Their pecking has brought stones to the surface, where they can be easily raked away.   While you can see an occasional feather, there is little evidence of manure, which shows that the chickens were not overcrowded.  All these signs are good.

In the next weeks I will post our changes to the hoop house.  We were going to sow summer crops in it, but have decided to relocate this hoop house to another location and plant this one with black plastic and irrigation tubing.  We are doing this on another section of the farm and the growth rate for the plants exceeds the rate for any other garden or hoop house on the property.

Back to the broilers, here is a photo of a freshly plucked bird.  It is well filled out and healthy looking.  Since these chickens had access to so much space, they did not have the weakened leg issues that can contribute to problems on the bottom of their feet or on their chests.

raw broiler

I completed butchering this chicken and tucked fresh herbs under its skin and in the cavity.  The herbs used were lemon thyme and rosemary.  The skin was sprinkled with sea salt and pepper.  Off to the smoker for 6 hours of slow smoking, periodically pouring red wine over it.   And here it is in it finished glory!  Yum!

smoked broiler

 The rest of the birds were vacuum packed and put into the deep freeze.   We will be able to enjoy smoked and barbecued chicken, broth and soups throughout the summer.

Plea to Farmers

I went to high school in the beautiful state of Iowa.  From the meandering Mississippi to the fields of wheat and corn that stretched beyond sight, it was also inhabited by some of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet.   I remember in the fall students returning to school  as brown as nuts.  These students had spent the summer detassling corn, a process where the tassle is removed to prevent pollination.  Thousands of Iowan acres were detassled by hand and the students were glad for the income. 

The detassling was done for hybridizing corn.  The tassles of most corn are removed while the pollinator rows are left intact.  This creates the hybridized, higher yielding corn.

Fast forward to present day.   Instead of relying solely on the genes present in the corn, corporations have inserted genes for certain traits into the plants and we call them genetically modified organism, or GMOs.

Over and over I read and hear proponents of GMO’s stating that with population growth GMO’s are necessary to feed the world.  While I disagree with the logic of a statement that says  “the undesirable should be accepted in lieu of something worse,” I am going to give the first statement the benefit of the doubt and test it, and see if it stands up to logic.

A casual glance at the research shows that forty percent (MSN Statistics)  of U.S. corn is used to make ethanol.   So 40 % of each years’ crop isn’t feeding anyone.  People are dying of starvation all over this planet, and here we literally burn food to fuel our cars.   When almost half of the corn produced is literally burnt, the feeding the world argument falls apart.

BTW, Ethanol is very hard on automobile engines that were not created to handle it.  It burns at a higher temperature, decreases fuel efficiency, and destroys the plastic fuel intakes on fuel pumps – very expensive indeed.  And even the EPA admits that it is worse for the environment than its gasoline counterpart.   Despite this, evidently the EPA has signed off on increasing the blend allowed from 10% to 15%.  Google what this will do to your engines.   It’s especially frightening when you consider examples from mechanics that gas companies are already sneaking in higher levels of ethanol.  Here’s what Consumer Reports says about the matter.

So, the single biggest argument for using GM crops falls short.  Here are the ones against its use, and they are substantial. I ask readers, especially those who farm with GM crops to please consider:

  • GM corn has been proven to cause cancer in rats and mice at levels that are allowed in drinking water. 

 

  • GM crops treated with glyphosphate cause disease, from diabetes to obesity to heart conditions.  This may sound like a stretch, until you see the explanation of Dr. Stephanie Seneff, MIT researcher.  Monsanto claims glyphosphate, the active ingredient in Roundup (c)  is harmless to humans since it affects the Shikimate pathway of plants.  Since human cells do not have this pathway, they claim it is harmless.  As Dr. Seneff points out, however, the human gut bacteria outnumber our human cells in our bodies 10 to 1.  It is estimated that each human carries 10 billion bacteria cells, each of which DOES have the Shikimate pathway.  When our intestinal balance is destroyed, Seneff shows that other health problems emerge. 

 

  • GM crops creates monopolies.  Imagine all the worlds major crop seeds in the hands of a few corporations.  Nuf said.

 

  • GM crops are weakening U.S. exports.  Recently, India announced that it would be buying GM free soy beans from Brazil.  Personally, I love Brazil, but I am sad that crops that used to be the strength of this nation are being lost.  I was born in Decatur, IL while it was crowned “the Soybean Capital of the World,” and it is about to lose that crown, if it hasn’t already.   I remember as a little girl driving over a large bridge that went through Decatur past the Staley’s plant.  We called it Staley’s bridge, because the smell of the soy processing was so overpowering we had to warn each other to plug our noses.   Well, many countries don’t want our GM products, including Japan who just cancelled a large wheat order when the story emerged last week of rouge GM wheat found in an Oregon field, as described here by The Wall Street Journal.  Korea and Taiwan and considering their U.S. imports as well.

wake up gm

 

 This is a nation built of hard workers.  People who took great risks, leaving foreign lands and families to build a better place.  Farmers in this country are the embodiment of the virtues that built this nation – hard-working and self-sacrificing.  It is such a shame to watch their international markets shrivel.  Now more than ever it is important to look at why other countries have banned GM products and to turn the tide before all confidence is lost internationally in our ability to produce safe, delicious and nutritious food.  This country was the bread basket of the world.   Please think about it!

 

Stowell's Evergreen Open Pollinated Growing in Meduseld Garden

Stowell’s Evergreen Open Pollinated Growing in Meduseld Garden

 

 

 

Disappearing Bees

Dr. Mercola covers the problem of colony collaspe disorder (CCD) and its impact on the almond industry in California this spring.  In his thought-provoking article, he reminds people about the necessity of bees in the world’s food supply and draws attention to the dire consequences if we do not find ways to protect the bees.  Please take a moment to read Dr. Mercola’s article.

Honey bee on Hady Almond at Meduseld

Honey bee on Hardy Almond at Meduseld