Friday, July 30, 2010

Zuchini Madness!

Though we're not growing any zucchini here at the ETC this year, we're getting tons of it from our local organic CSA, Mt. Lebanon Farm. This week's share included almost a full bushel of the great, green squash. So, as innkeeper and general kitchen goddess here, I've been trying to find ways to use all of this bounty. Here are some of the ways I've discovered:

  1. A simple stir fry. Zucchini tastes super yummy sliced then pan fried in a little olive oil and butter. It's doesn't need much help. I usually sprinkle on a little black pepper and a generous dose of Italian seasoning. If I'm feeling really fancy, I'll hit it with a couple of sprays from the soy sauce pump bottle. That's all it needs!
  2. Zapples. To my delight, the recipes that came with this week's share had a great way to make zucchini taste like apples! I'm serious. Simmer your peeled, seeded, sliced (or diced) zucchini or yellow squash in a pot with lemon juice, sweetener (sugar or honey), and cinnamon and nutmeg. Voila! Zapples! I've used mine in zapple muffins and zapple crisp. No one knew it was squash unless I told them. Even then, some people thought I mixed the two together.
  3. Pickles. Yes, you can pickled veggies other than cucumbers. I've got some beautiful yellow squash sweet pickles on the shelf right now, and even munched on some pickled okra with lunch today. Yum!
  4. Zucchini bread. Ah, the old standard. I like making zucchini bread specialer-than-normal by adding things like diced apple, raisins and pumpkin seeds. What do you like in your bread?

That's all I've done with them so far. Anyone else out there got some tips on what to do with the abundance of squash that summer brings?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ask the ETC 3: Greay Water Wetlands

Last Thursday, I blogged about our daily habits that help conserve water, such as taking navy showers and using native plants in our landscaping. Instituto de Inglés América left a comment asking:

What do you do with the water used in the shower or from rinsing the dishes? What about the laundry?

In this episode of Ask the ETC Jason Deptula, our site manager, talks about how we filter our gray water through our constructed wetlands.

Click here to listen to episode three of Ask The ETC. Like what you hear? You can subscribe to the podcast on itunes at!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Conserving Water at The ETC

We are experiencing a water shortage today on The Farm due to a temporarily misbehaving water tower pump. The water tower that holds and distributes the water from our on Farm aquifer is only one third full. And, apparently on an average day, the Farm goes through about three quarters of the tower. So, we've kicked our water conservation techniques into high gear. Here's what we do here at the ETC to conserve water on a daily basis.

  • Washing Dishes - We hand wash our dishes. Many statistics are coming out now that dish washers actually use less water than hand washing, but only if you don't pre-rinse them. I don't know about you, but I have never encountered a dish washing machine that didn't require pre-rinsing. So, we fill a large mixing bowl with warm, soapy water for washing. The next basin in our sink gets filled with clear, cold water to rinse the soap off. This helps cut down on gratuitous use of the faucet.
  • Showering - I love our solar showers! I could easily stand under a stream of the sun-warmed water for half an hour, especially after a day of bread baking or earthen plastering. But, I rarely give into the temptation. Instead, I take navy showers. Named after navy seamen's practice of conserving fresh wash water while on a ship, it is a super simple way to cut down the amount of water used while showering. Turn on your water to wet down, then turn it off while soaping up and/or shampooing your hair. Turn the water back on when you're ready to rinse off. Don't think that will save much water? Try showering with the plug in the tub. Note where the water level is at the end. Make your next shower a navy shower, and compare the water level. I guarantee you'll see a difference.
  • Landscaping - We incorporate native plants into our landscaping. These plants are adapted to our annual rainfall patterns, and don't require a lot of additional watering. Planting native plants also helps reduce the encroachment of invasive, sometimes harmful, imported plants.
  • Gardening - We incorporate the techniques of synergistc agriculture. Developed by Emilia Hazelip, and based on her work with Masanobu Fukuoka. Synergestic agriculture incorporates a heavy mulch. This mulch helps hold moisture in the soil, cutting down on the need to water.
Know of some other easy ways to conserve water? Leave them below in the comments.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ask the ETC 2: What to expect here at the ETC.

This week Paul, a current apprentice, talks about what to expect when coming in as either an apprentice or an EcoSoaker for our Permaculture Immersion Apprenticeship at the ETC. He lists off some items he has found useful, then riffs on the learning opportunities available here.

Click here to listen to Episode 2 of Ask The ETC.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Yogurt and Cheese Made From Scratch

It's quiet here at the ETC at the moment. We're down to just one apprentice, Paul, and one staff member, Merry (that's me.) Almost every one else is off visiting family, working off site, or attending festivals.

But, that's ok. The quiet and the slow pace has opened up a space for more homesteading kitchen skills to happen! Over the past couple of weeks I've pickled okra from the organic CSA we belong to, researched what to do with all the beautiful white cucumbers coming in form the garden (I think refrigerator pickles are the way to go at the moment), and had fun getting as many dairy products from a gallon of milk as I can.

Our first attempt at mozzarella produced something that tasted like the familiar cheese, but was crumbly instead of stretchy. It was still deliziosa on our home made pizza that night. We added the ricotta we made from the left over whey, some cheddar donated by a guest, and fresh tomatoes from the garden. Yum!

Today's bread-and-cheese adventure was fresh bagels and cream cheese. Well, not strictly cream cheese, rather Lebnah, the middle eastern cheese created when you let the liquid drip out of yogurt. Did I mention that we made the yogurt ourselves? And the bagels? (I love cooking in community.) I've done this process of turning milk into yogurt, then yogurt into a spreadable cheese several times and I always love the results. Sometimes the yogurt turns out more liquidy than other times, but I'm ok with that.

Merry's Milk to Yogurt to Cheese Process:

Materials & Ingredients:
  • Two quart glass jars & their lids
  • A pot large enough to house the jars
  • A food thermometer
  • A small cooler designed to hold a six pack of cans & a quiet place for it to rest over night
  • Dish clothes or tea towels
  • A spoon
  • Oven mitts
  • Cheese cloth & a place to hang it when it is full of yogurt
  • A small to medium non reactive bowl (stainless steel or ceramic is fine)
  • Half gallon of milk (pasteurized is ok, but not ultrapasteurized)
  • Some yogurt that contains live cultures
The Process:
Note: I start the process about 7:30 to 8pm. It's just the right time for me to make the yogurt, wash up the dishes, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. In the morning the yogurt is ready for my breakfast!

Step One. Yogurt:
  1. Fill both quart jars with milk.
  2. Place them in the pot and fill the pot with water until it reaches 3/4 of the way up sides of the jars.
  3. Place over high heat on your stove and heat the jars in this water bath until the milk reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This kills bacteria in the milk that may make you sick or give your yogurt a bad flavor. Stir occasionally to distribute the heat evenly throughout the milk and to prevent a skin from forming on top.
  4. Using the oven mitts, as the glass jars will be hot, remove them from the water bath and let cool until the milk is 110 degrees. This is the right temperature to make your desired bacteria cultures nice and happy.
  5. Add a few spoonfulls of your already-made yogurt to both jars. I'm sure there is a recommended amount, but I never can remember what it is. I just add two or three spoonfuls. Put the lids on the jars.
  6. Line your little cooler with a dish cloth or tea towel and put the jars in it. Gently stuff more cloth around the jars and on top of them to help insulate. You want the temperature to stay as constant as possible for as long as possible. This allows the good bacteria cultures to grow and multiply all night long.
  7. Place your cooler in its over night spot, then leave it alone. Yogurt doesn't like to be disturbed while it's doing it thing. Be sure that it is away from curious pets, and that everyone in the house knows not to move the cooler in the night.
  8. Go to sleep. Or go out partying. Or stay up all night playing WoW. Whatever makes you happy. In the morning, you'll have two quart jars of yummy yogurt to enjoy with your breakfast.
Step Two. The Lebnah:
  1. Fill some cheese cloth with one jar's worth of yogurt. I usually have a few strips of the cloth that I lay down inside of a bowl, criss-crossing the layers of fabric. I then pour in the yogurt and fold over the inner layers, tying them up so that they hold in the yogurt. The outer layer gets tied towards the tips of the strip, making it an easy to hang sling for the cheese-in-potential. Be sure to double knot it so that it doesn't slide undone as it hangs.
  2. Hang this sling over the bowl for twenty four hours, letting the whey (the yellow-ish, cloudy liquid) drip out of the yogurt and into the bowl. No need to hang it in the refrigerator, usually. I've had success leaving it out at room temperature. However, we don't have air conditioning here. So, when it's hot outside I get to worrying about spoilage. I take the middle rack out of the fridge, place the bowl on the bottom shelf, and tie the cheese cloth to the top rack. I get a good night's rest knowing that it won't spoil.
  3. A day later you've got two, count 'em two, usable dairy products. The first is the cheese. The cheese cloth will still be a little moist, so unwrap it on a plate or in a bowl. It should have the consistency similar to ricotta or really smooth cream cheese. It will also have a bit of tang that makes is ultra yummy to spread on toast or bagels. The second product is the whey. I've used it to make biscuits, and I hear you can do all sorts of other nifty stuff with it like cook grains or add it to smoothies. Store them both in separate sit tight container in the fridge, and use them with abandon!
So, there you have it. Making yogurt and spreadable cheese is so simple and so empowering. Whenever I make them, I feel this wonderful connection to thousands of years of ancestors that have done the exact same process. So, why not give it a try? You might be surprised by the results. And I'm not just talking about the yogurt.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ask the ETC 1: How to root and prepare bamboo for food.

We've started a brand new segment here on Terra Firma: Ask the ETC. We've been getting some questions through our various online homes, such as ETC Voices and youtube, and have decided to answer some of them right here!

Our very first episode is about one of our favorite plants here at the ETC: bamboo. Queen Goddess Uokes asked us on our facebook fan page:
How to root bamboo? Where to cut it? Eye was just looking at some large pieces eye just gathered and noticed the small shoots on the side. Is this a good place to take a clipping. HELP PLEASE.
I sat down with Cliff and he explained about the different types of bamboo, how best to root it, and how to enjoy the young shoots as food. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to Episode One of Ask The ETC.

Like what you hear? You can subscribe to Ask The ETC on iTunes through podomatic!