The New Home Economics


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Recipe: chicken wild rice soup in a crock pot

Chicken Wild Rice Soup

This recipe makes a lot of soup. I use a 5 quart crock pot (a no-frills oval-shaped one we received for a wedding present 12 years ago). Adjust accordingly if your pot is smaller:

Crock pot chicken and wild rice soup
4 chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
6 carrots
1 1/2 c. wild rice
1 tsp each of dried oregano, basil, parsley
1 pint heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Early in the morning, place the chicken and onion in the bottom of the crock pot. Fill with filtered water, leaving an inch or two at the top. Add a splash of vinegar. Set the crock pot on low or “auto” and leave it for 8-10 hours.

When you get home from work, pull out the chicken and set it on a plate to cool for a bit. Add peeled, sliced carrots, wild rice, and spices. Remove the meat from the bones and return it to the pot. Cover it and let it cook another 60-90 minutes or until the wild rice is done. The wild rice could be parboiled or soaked ahead of time to shorten this second cook time substantially.

When the wild rice splits open, turn off the crock pot. Stir in salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the pint of cream. If you use a 5 quart crock pot, this recipe makes A LOT—a good 10-12 servings. I always make big soup recipes, freeze the leftovers in pint jars, and take them to work for lunch. I know you’re technically not supposed to freeze cream soups, but I thought this one was still great after being frozen.

This soup is very simple. But as one of my favorite cookbook authors says, 90% of good cooking is good shopping (or good gardening). I used meaty free-range chicken thighs, Minnesota wild rice, herbs from my own garden, and the best cream a person can buy in the Twin Cities. Quality makes a HUGE difference. You don’t have to choose recipes with 15 hard-to-find harder-to-pronounce ingredients to serve up a satisfying, nutritious, spectacular meal. This soup really brought that concept home for us.

My initial interest in grass-based dairy and meat grew from reading how much more nutritious they are (3.5MB PDF). Now I’m completely hooked on the taste as well. Homemade soup in a jar—your hipster co-workers will be impressed/jealous.


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Recipe: Evening in Minneapolis

A friend got me a variety of teas from Tea Source last Christmas, and I absolutely fell in love with Evening in Missoula. Since my favorite co-op also sells it, I’ve had it in the house ever since.

But I’ve also gotten much deeper into growing my own teas this year. Last year was the first time I had an herbal tea harvest, and I expanded my operations greatly in 2012:

quart jars of dried herbal tea

1 quart each of dried anise hyssop, sage, raspberry leaf, chocolate mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and german chamomile. I will pick more lemon balm and mint before the first frost.

Recipe: Evening in Minneapolis Tea
1 generous pinch each of: anise hyssop, mint, lemon balm, bee balm, and chamomile. Pour boiling water over leaves and steep for a good 5-10 minutes.

The flavor of this tea is more subtle than Evening in Missoula, but then again so is our landscape. I can taste each of the ingredients, but together they combine into a deeply satisfying evening tea.

The deeper I go into back yard foraging, the more exciting it becomes—and I’ve really only scratched the surface this year. The permaculture people are really onto something. The broader implications of growing your own perennial food plants are even more exciting than vegetable gardening, really. If we can get more people growing edible, native plants in their urban and suburban landscapes, well, think of the possibilities for ourselves and our planet.  (See how excited I am?!)

So, let’s START with a list of some great [mostly] native perennials that can be used for herbal tea. All titles below link to wikipedia.

Hops: Yes, hops for tea not just beer! Apparently it can relieve insomnia and indigestion. I was wondering if hops tea would taste like beer, but it doesn’t at all. It kinda tastes like snow peas, but not in an unpleasant way. It actually reminds me a bit of bee balm tea (see below).

Mints are probably the most popular herbal tea plant. They are considered invasive, so don’t plant them in full sun unless you want them to take over. But with 100s of varieties, each with a unique and interesting flavor, they’re a great place to start. Just look at the variety of mints available at my favorite plant sale.

Anise Hyssop, like mint, is a member of the Lamiaceae family. Native Americans used it to treat coughs, among other things. It’s my favorite of all the new plants I added this year; the flavor of the tea is like a mild, aromatic licorice.

Lemon Balm is another Lamiaceae member. Alas that it is not native to North America, though it has apparently become widespread. It’s not completely hardy to Minnesota, but will survive with some winter protection such as a nice pile of mulch or snow. It can be used in any application where you’d like some lemon scent or flavor.

Bee Balm is the common name for several different plants (also lamiaceae), but in particular wild bergamot (monarda fistulosa) and scarlet bee balm (monarda didyma) were used traditionally by Native Americans. Both plants are great for supporting pollinators and butterflies. I have wild bergamot in my yard and it makes a very bright, summery tea that is more stimulating than relaxing, in my experience.

Chamomile is two different non-native plants: German chamomile and Roman chamomile. These two are cousins in the Aster family (Asteraceae). I’ve grown both, and found German chamomile easier to grow, though it really does need full sun in order to get a large number of flowers. I’ve read that Roman chamomile has stronger medicinal qualities, and is a true perennial, while German chamomile is technically an annual, though it tends to re-seed itself and come back every year.

The sage commonly grown in herb gardens is Salvia officinalis. We only started making tea with it because we had such an overabundance—one plant really gives you quite a lot. It’s neither native nor hardy to Minnesota, so it must be re-planted every year. I love sage tea in the dead of winter. I’ve never tried to ward off evil with it, but it is delightful as a savory tea or mixed with butter and spread on pork chops.

I have been looking for a local foraging source for rose hips. They are one of the ingredients in Evening in Missoula tea and I believe they might be the magical one. They’re incredibly good for you, but sadly many modern hybrid rose bushes are sterile and don’t ever produce a fruit. Rose hips are easier to find on old rose bushes at your Grandma’s house. Maybe your great-Grandma’s house. They smell AMAZING, and add a nice tart flavor to teas.

I added MN native northern lungwort (mertensia paniculata, a member of the borage family) to my rain garden this year, and apparently the leaves of this pant can also be used in teas which support (surprise!) respiratory function. My plants aren’t big enough to harvest from yet, so I’ll have to report back on this one next year.

Feverfew is related to the chamomiles, and also is not native to North America, but apparently has even stronger medicinal qualities. I’ve never grown it, because it is another pesky full sun plant and I have such limited space for full sun plants. Perhaps next year, though!

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start. These are all on my radar. Can you think of any others? Another foraged (but not by me) tea that I’ve fallen in love with is Douglas Fir Tip from Juniper Ridge. We’ve made it a Christmastime tradition, due to the piney scent. Yes, it does taste a bit like drinking a pine tree, but in a really good way. Am I losing it?

Update: How could I forget Raspberry leaf tea? Apparently raspberry leaf tea was traditionally used to support menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. It has an earthy taste, but that depends on how strong you brew it. You may want to add honey.


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2012, my best garden year yet

Time to start on a wrap-up of 2012’s garden. It’s not over yet, but we’ve just passed the average first frost date for Minneapolis, so it’s nearly time. What a year it’s been!

tomatoes on trellis

Trellising my tomatoes rocked. I had a great tomato year. One reason could be the chicken manure/bedding mixture I spread on the garden last fall—by this spring it looked like black gold. Another reason certainly was our early spring. The soil was so well-warmed by early May that the tomatoes experienced almost no transplant shock. They were growing within a day or two. I also added an additional layer of compost on them in mid-July and they really took off again after that. I might try to move that up a bit next year.

large heirloom tomato

One of the biggest tomatoes I’ve ever gotten! A brandywine, picked just a bit early in fear of squirrels stealing it. It ripened nicely a day or two later on the counter.

stock tank gardens

My stock tank gardens did well too. After this year I now have a better idea of how much light each one gets. The one on the left is quite shady; next year I’ll dedicate it to nasturtiums and arugula, which both did well in there this summer. In the middle, some fall lettuce and radishes are coming along nicely. On the right, the same kale and chard plants I first started in mid-February! They just keep coming back.

My first lettuce harvest this year was on April 11. In the next week or so as temperatures start to drop we’re going to get the hoop house on the right stock tank and quickly whip out a new one for the middle stock tank. I’m hoping to continue to have fresh greens through the end of November; I don’t think I planned well enough to hope for anything beyond that.

As a master gardener, I can’t let any learning opportunities pass me by, so I felt compelled to research the aster yellows that affected my echinacea. Apparently this was quite common in the Twin Cities this year due to the mild winter and early spring.

My first time growing shallots yielded a pretty nice-looking braid. I LOVE having these so handy in the kitchen.

My first-ever grape harvest made for some delicious jelly.

Our first substantial hops harvest, drying in the sun. Homebrew, ahoy!

If you’ve never grown Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, well, I am going to insist that you do so next year. They’re like candy. And one plant yields a LOT of fruit. I usually go heirloom, but this is one hybrid that I probably will include every year.

The garden still has harvests ahead, including the now-drying Christmas lima beans.

Rosemary and sage on the left, parsnips and turnips on the top/right. I filled in the empty spaces between the disappointing few parsnips that sprouted with some turnips on July 15, but I think they will not get very substantial. I was foiled again by the peak of my neighbor’s house, which likes to get in the way of the sunlight in all but the highest summer weeks for my main vegetable garden.

Let’s review some of the things that made 2012 a great garden year:

1. I amended the soil with chicken manure/bedding last fall. It composted over the winter and really enriched the soil. Never put on manure right when you’re planting, as it could burn the plants with its high nitrogen levels.

2. We had an early spring and the soil temperature was nice and toasty when I planted everything out in late April and early May.

3. Hoop houses on my stock tank gardens helped me get a jump start in March and hopefully will help me extend into November or so.

4. Quite simply, I got out there. I made sure to walk through my garden at least 2-3 times per week. This helped me keep up with pinching back my basil (resulting in multiple harvests), pruning my tomatoes as they climbed up their trellis, and general weeding and upkeep. My kids are 5 now, and I’m really starting to notice a change in how hurried I have to be in the garden. It’s nice to be able to get out there.

It’s far from over, really. We still have fall lettuce, radishes, and parsnips ahead of us! We’ll also be doing some initial planning for 2013 when we plant garlic in a few weeks.

Really, gardening is turning into more than a 3-months-out-of-the-year hobby. Having started seeds in mid-February 2012, I’m heading towards more of a 10-11 month cycle. Love it!

 


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All plastic is oil: the movie Collapse

Collapse

The book that the documentary was based on.

I added the documentary Collapse to my Netflix queue at least two years ago, after a friend earnestly implored me to see it. It’s a profile of a guy named Michael Ruppert, whose blog/self-published newsletter predicted—with scary accuracy—the economic collapse of 2009. Back when the movie came out, I added his website to my RSS reader, but I had to stop reading after a while because I felt like I was going to have a panic attack if I read one more article about peak oil.

I was filled with dread at the prospect of watching the movie, but this weekend I finally got up the nerve. Honestly, it wasn’t that scary. As a matter of fact, as soon as the movie was over, Adam joked, “Wait, wait, don’t tell me, THIS is why you want to get chickens, right?”

If you’ve read about climate change, and if you’ve ever heard of the giant pool of money, most of the information that Ruppert presents is now old news. We’re probably past peak oil. Capitalism itself is unsustainable because infinite growth is not achievable on a planet with finite resources.

Honestly, this stuff doesn’t scare me that much anymore. I guess I’ve moved into the acceptance phase—I’m much more focused on what I can do about it.

Yet, I’ve also found myself slipping into old habits lately as our personal economic situation has improved. The kids are in school now; we’re not as desperately broke as we were when I first started writing this blog. For the past month or two, I’ve been noticing that our small “plastics” recycling bin has actually been full every time the recycling goes out. This is a clue that I’m not doing all I can to reduce plastic in my life. My goal is generally to only have to take the plastics bin out once or twice a year.

So I’m glad I watched this; if nothing else it was a good reminder that, indeed, all plastic is oil. Learning to live without plastic now will make it easier to adjust later when it’s no longer cheap and plentiful. Besides, given the facts that it’s nearly impossible to recycle AND possibly leaches chemicals into your food, it’s really not a great choice anyway.

I liked what Mr. Ruppert had to say. Yes, he’s a bit of a Lone Gunman, but he also advocates community building and local food networks and truly believes that we can confront this crisis if we change our paradigms. The revolution is at our doorstep—but it doesn’t need to be a violent one. We all need to quit wasting our time yelling about trivial political issues (related: turn off our TVs), and pull together to figure out how we survive the coming challenges. Planting a garden is a great place to start. I am IN. Are you?

(We’ll return to our regular posts about gardening and recipes later in the week, I promise!)