Sep 29, 2010

You Can Stop Asking Me if I've Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food LifeAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had started to read this book a couple of years ago but my attention flagged. This time around, I'm much more interested in the idea of homesteading and so my own piqued interest pushed me through it. You probably know that this is an account of Kingsolver and her family raising as much of their own food as possible and eating locally for one year.

The memoir market has been crammed with first-person accounts of a year doing (fill in the blank), a genre which Ben Yagoda calls "schtick lit." But in the case of gardening or farming, it makes all the sense in the world. Barbara Kingsolver is the perfect person to write this book, with her deep attachment to the natural world, rural upbringing, and years of experience vegetable gardening. A family that's completely on board doesn't hurt either. It is a very inspiring book, although you have to be half-inspired as you start, because the drama in farming is of the subtle sort.

As for the literary quality, it's uneven. Her husband and daughter Camille chime in, which adds to "we're all in this together" feeling, but the juxtapositions are awkward at times. Seasonal recipes are included. Sometimes Kingsolver gets all science-y and Michael Pollanesque. Much of her information on the poultry industry and genetically modified vegetables I already knew, plus the informational tone was a bit tiresome when you knew there were stories around the next bend.

The last chapter includes the actual size of the plot (a little over 3500 square feet) and the financial information. (According to her they saved a lot of money.) I wish this was presented earlier to give the readers a clear sense from the beginning of the scope of their project. Even a map of the garden would have been helpful.

But these are quibbles. It's really an immersion in an old/new way of thinking about food and our world. Maybe in three hundred years, if global warming hasn't starved us all, we will look back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as a Dark Age when corporatism reigned, parting us from our food sources, our health, our spiritual connection to the earth, and the wisdom of our traditions. I hope we will see it that way, because if we don't, then it means corporatism will have won.

The awkwardness of this mixed-genre book is also its gift. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the Psalms, Jeremiah, the Gospels, the Farmer's Almanac, and Joy of Cooking all in one, and maybe that's the best way to preach it, sister.

Please note that although the book does not have an index, the website includes one, as well as all the recipes from the book and inspiring pictures and stories from gardeners and homesteaders around the world:

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Sep 28, 2010

Flavor--Depth--Heat--Blast Off! A Hot Sauce Adventure

My brother Dan can make anything--soap, curtains, dog food, a basement. And culinary delights, too. My favorite Thanksgiving is when he brings a fully cooked and stuffed Heritage turkey. In a past life he was a bartender, and in another, a tofu maker. He also makes music. He played keyboard for the Original Sins and he still does a lot of musical stuff.

Dan's lovely wife Elaine brought me a bottle of his hot sauce last week and we tried it on Saturday night. Everyone in the Dream Kitchen family likes hot sauce, and we put Brother Dan's on some quesadillas I made using Amish pepper jack cheese, CSA tomatoes, and yellow peppers.

Right away you could taste that deep habanero pepper flavor and a vinegar tartness. A few bites later---"GET ME SOME BREAD!!! RIGHT NOW!!!!" from one of my sons. (He has this kind of taste adventure every week with hot sauce. Either there's no learning curve, or he likes drama. I'm going to go with the latter explanation.) So we learned to take it easy, but it's a great hot sauce with depth and flavor in addition to the heat.

Brother Dan is not a recipe kind of guy. So when I asked him how made the sauce, I knew I wouldn't get a precise list of ingredients and procedures. Here's how to make it, in the words of Brother Dan:

It's all home-grown peppers. I just threw in what was ripe - about six habanero peppers. Just cut them in half - carefully! You want to avoid touching anything but the skin. Some people choose to use gloves when working with the habaneros, but I just avoid touching the innards. It's the insides, the seeds and the whitish pulpy stuff, that's the hottest.

Threw them in with some Bragg's apple cider vinegar (which is REALLY good), a few bulbs of raw peeled garlic, a fair amount of salt (the stuff can be salty, since it's a condiment), and some carrots, and enough water to cover it all. The carrots give it some body and sweetness, and the vinegar adds flavor and helps preserve the sauce (as does the salt).

I cooked it in a pressure cooker for a while - at the very least, you want it simmering in a covered saucepan. The steam can be very irritating to the lungs and eyes. And, after it's all cooked, I use a hand-held blender to puree it well.There you go!! It's good stuff - easy to make, too.

We at The Dream Kitchen will have to peek into Brother Dan's larder more often, where there is always somethin' good.

Sep 5, 2010

Book Review: Urban Homestead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book opened my eyes to the possibilities inherent in my yard and my kitchen, the vegetables, fruits and nuts I could grow, the chickens I could have, the cheese I could make, you name it. It's all written in a non-self-righteous and quite good-humored way. There is much knowledge here, and it's inspiring and realistic at the same time. Erik and Kelly live in Los Angeles and farm a small yard, even the median strip. Like another reviewer said, after reading this book I look at all the lawns everywhere and I can only think of what could be growing there!

I always thought that self-sufficiency was for right-wing survivalists. But now I see this whole new bent, a sustainable and interdependent way of life that creates a different kind of economy. It's an economy where you make and grow things yourself, and shrink the role of money in your life. Hence you shrink its power over you and derive great pleasure from the making of things, not the buying of things. This resonates deeply with me. This isn't a how-to manual for every single thing you could do to create a homestead. It does list resources for where to turn with more specifics.

They're publishing another book called Radical Home Economics in the spring.