chestnut applesauce cake (tree cake 2.0)

you may remember last year i made damian tree cake for his birthday. this year i discovered chestnut flour. have you ever had chestnut flour? it’s so yummy! so sweet and mild! it’s a gluten-free baker’s dream. i got super excited about chestnuts after reading mark shepherd’s book, restoration agriculture. chestnuts will save the world! don’t worry, mesquite will save the world too. think of mesquite as desert chestnut… i don’t hear paleo and gluten free folks raving about chestnuts, but i’m pretty sure it won’t be long until they do. we just need a celebrity chef to make a chestnut bacon doughnut or something and next thing you know it’ll be chestnut everything in all the health food stores. right now it’s still a bit hard to find. i found some chestnut flour at whole foods, and found super affordable bags of organic peeled chestnuts at the korean market. i also found acorn flour at the korean market, which was quite the thrill, let me tell you.

so, the cake. it was so good! so so good. it was very easy to assemble, it held together well, rose nicely, had a moist crumb and great flavor. and the whole double recipe was devoured in minutes. with such wholesome ingredients, i’m thinking of making another just for snacking. sorry i didn’t take any pictures. we ate outside and the sun went down so it was too dark for my crappy phone camera.

chestnut acorn applesauce cake

adapted from fanny farmer’s applesauce cake

1/4 cup melted butter of coconut oil

1/2 cup coconut or date sugar, or honey

1 cup apple sauce

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups chestnut flour

1/2 cup acorn flour (available at asian markets)

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

mix it all up, pour into a greased 9in pan and bake at 350 (in the sun oven, of course) for 40 min, or until a toothpick comes out clean. top with whipped cream if desired.

from conservation to obtaining a yield

yesterday i read my sister-in-law’s great article about desert homesteading and it reminded me that i have some desert homesteading projects i’ve been meaning to write about. i signed into wordpress and what do you know, it’s been three months since i wrote anything at all, and i haven’t written anything permaculture related since may! oops. it’s been a busy summer and fall… we’ve been digging swales, planting trees, starting a desert plants nursery, doing permaculture design work for neighbors, going on apple and acorn harvesting missions, experimenting with palo verde flour, fermenting stuff, and oh yeah, working at our jobs that pay money. (check out the instagram feed in the side bar for pics of the wicking bed, baby mesquite trees and new swales.)

thus far our permaculture endeavors have mostly cost money, but permaculture principles state “obtain a yield” and “share the surplus” so you could argue that we are not yet successfully doing permaculture. we are ready to change that. we’re brainstorming about value added crops, refreshing our chicken system (the hens we got 9 years ago have quit laying), and aquaponics.

focusing on systems that minimize the stupid use of water and fossil fuels is a good starting place, but now we want to move beyond conservation and see just how abundant we can get this piece of earth.

the very impressive system

just realized you haven’t seen this impressive cooler-washer-tree system that was so impressive to our neighbors. well, here it is, in all it’s glory:


the top barrel collects the water from the output lines of our 2 evaporative coolers. this water has cycled through the jute cooler pads and is slightly higher in minerals because of evaporation, but is otherwise basically clean. when i do a load of laundry i fill up the washer from this barrel for the wash cycle. i just put the hose straight in the washer. i tried hooking it up to the washer line, but there isn’t enough pressure to fill from there. for the rinse cycle i use fresh water that fills automatically from the washer line. both the wash and the rinse water dumps out into the lower blue barrel. from here we have a spigot and hose and can water pretty much anywhere on the property. one wash is about 45 gallons. i move the hose to a new tree every time i do laundry there are 7 trees that only get watered this way. i do laundry about 3 times a week and this is enough for the jujube trees, but the apricots always look bad before i move the hose back to them.


permaculture tour


permaculture tour

yesterday we had about 30 people show up to check out what we’ve done on the property so far. it was very satisfying to see people taking notes on everything damian said. i also liked it when they oohed and ahhed over our evaporative cooler to washer to trees grey water set up.


i think i mentioned that damian got his permaculture design certificate last year. since then he’s been working non stop (often by the light of his headlamp or the moon) on a permaculture design for our property. he’s put this design up on his new blog, and he’s  updating on the process of putting it all into place too. go on over and check it out! welcome to the world of blogging, honey!

chicken thoughts

WARNING: this post refers to the killing and eating of animals.
I’m hatching a plan for a regenerative chicken flock (chicken pun!). Twice a day when I put Ollie to sleep, I’m on my phone scouring chicken forums and permaculture texts* for info and advice.
We want eggs and meat and birds that will hatch and raise their own young. We want heat tolerance, winter laying, and friendly disposition. It’s a tall order, but from what I can tell, Buff Orphington fits the bill. Buffs have been part of our flock since the beginning and we’ve found them to be docile, most likely to go broody, good layers, and beautiful to boot. They aren’t very meaty compared to the jumbo cornish meat birds we are used to, but one bird will provide a nice meal for our family of three with a little left over.
The idea is we’ll get about 50 “straight run” (male & female) day-old chicks and start harvesting the roosters at 12 weeks. We’ll process one or two a week (putting some in the freezer) until they are about 20 weeks,  at which point we may decide to process all but one to prevent fighting and optimize meat texture. Then we’ll have a bunch of hens and one rooster. Hopefully a couple hens will go broody and hatch us some chicks. Once the chicks are growing we can harvest a few of the first generation hens to make room for the new birds. I don’t know if we can hatch 50 chicks a year, but if we can get close, then I won’t need to buy chicken or eggs ever again.

*I just finished Peter Bain’s Permaculture Handbook, it was excellent. I just started Mark Shepherd’s restoration agriculture, it’s revolutionary.

harvesting cholla with a two year old

the chollas are budding! cholla buds used to be a staple crop for desert people. oliver and i harvested & processed about 3 lbs in about an hour off just a few plants.


we used tongs and a bucket to gather the plump buds.


then we dumped them in the special box damian built for this purpose. it’s hardware cloth (wire mesh) on the bottom raised an inch off the ground. we raked the buds over the mesh vigorously for a few minutes. the barbs of the spines get caught in the mesh and dislodge. any spines left are safe to touch because the barbs have mostly rubbed off.


some sources say to boil first to ease the removal of the rest of the spines, but last year we decided it’s best to remove all remaining spines by hand before boiling because they get a bit slimy once you cook them.

imagei haven’t boiled them yet. last year we boiled them for 15 minutes to remove the tannin. they are delicious as is with some butter, salt & lemon. this year we are going to experiment with drying & fermenting too. apparently native peoples would dry them and use them all year.

reanna wrote a great post about harvesting cholla last year.

and here’s some great cholla info including recipes:

update 7/20/14 after much experimenting our favorite way to eat cholla buds (aside from freshly boiled as a side dish) is grinding dried buds into a powder and thickening soups and sauces with it. we discovered that if you are making a powder, it’s not necessary to hand pluck the last spines off (the most labor intensive step) just rake over hardware cloth, dehydrate, and grind.