on feeding a family

When it comes to feeding myself and my family, I have high ambitions. I want us to eat super nutrient-dense meals based on fresh vegetables. I want starches to mostly come from perennials (tree food). I want high quality meat & fat, bone broth, and ferments. And I want all this to have variety, taste really good (so my 5-year-old will eat it*), be simple & quick to prepare, and not cost 90% of my household income. Do you have similar ambitions? But it’s hard! It got to the point where deciding what to make for meals each day was a significant source of stress. Stressing about the abundant, high-quality food we get to eat is embarrassing. Talk about first-world problems. But if you are the primary cook in your family, I’m sure you can relate.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to crack this code and design a system (it’s always about designing a system in this house of permaculture fanatics). I’ve been watching my new neighbor/old friend Sarabeth feed her hungry family of six, one-pot, gut healing, meals three times a day (outside on her camp stove, no less! My hat goes off to you, Sara!). One day Sarabeth casually mentioned that they eat eggs for lunch everyday. That was an ah-ha moment for me, having lunch be the same thing everyday. Back in the fall, Damian & I started having a big green smoothie every morning, and it made a huge difference in my day -because it has a ridiculous amount of fiber and micronutrients, so feels great in my body, and also because I no longer had to decide what was for breakfast (a teacher once told me that “trying to decide” is basically the worst mental state you can be in). If we have our smoothie for breakfast, and eggs for lunch, we can eat some meat with dinner and all I have to decide is how to flavor my meal! I don’t know if I’m accurately conveying what a revelation this is for me.

In case you are curious, here’s how it plays out:

Breakfast for me and Damian: Giant green smoothie. Oliver is not yet a fan of this smoothie, so he gets some combination of fruit, nuts, yogurt & sometimes grain.

Lunch: best eggs in town (from our permaculture chickens)! I usually serve them fried or poached on a bed of arugula salad (from the garden). Oliver will eat arugula if there’s a balsamic dressing, so that’s nice. In theory a dried fig and a sprinkle of nuts in the salad are enough carbs, but in practice we usually want a little more and will have a chunk of acorn bread or a little rice. My other go-to egg meal right now is what I call “picnic” I boil the eggs and pack containers (or small plates) of olives, cheese cubes, carrot sticks, toasted nuts, mesquite crackers, sometimes hummus, sometimes nori… you get the idea. It tastes better outside. (apologies to my readers who are currently buried in snow). I like the idea that I can do quiche or okinamyaki or any number of other egg dishes, if I get sick of eggs as themselves.

Dinner: I like to make a potroast or roast a whole chicken and then eat it over the course of several days. Sometimes we’ll do ground beef patties or a can of sardines or a fish curry (in which case we eat rice). With some cooked sweet potato or winter squash and a big pile of sauteed greens (from the garden), some kraut, and a cup of broth with miso, it doesn’t take much meat to feel satisfied. If I’m feeling creative I’ll take the meat from the chicken or potroast and saute it with some aromatics or make a sauce so it tastes Mexican or Indian or whatever. These meals feel easy to put together and taste really good.

I’ve always tried to meal-plan, but the world of recipes is overwhelming. I really like this structure and how it goes along with the permaculture** principle of “limitations create abundance” this framework with a few fill-in-the-blanks to allow creativity (or stay super simple if I’m busy or tired) feels like I’ve finally cracked the code. Eating only a modest portion of meat at one meal a day helps our budget a lot. Having a huge garden and laying chickens makes a huge difference too.

*A note on kid eating: Oliver won’t eat a big pile of sauteed greens, but he’ll sometimes eat a few bites. He eats the seaweed in his miso. He’ll eat carrots, and piles of sauerkraut and sometimes broccoli… generally I just serve up nutrient dense food that tastes good to me and don’t sweat it if he doesn’t eat parts of it.

**sorry I keep preaching permaculture, I can’t help it.

 

 

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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:

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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

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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.

Link

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.