Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food

Wendell Berry is one of my favorite writers, as well as someone who I look up to. If I could sit down to dinner with any one person living today, it would either be the Dali Lama or Wendell Berry. I own several of Berry's books of poetry and essays, but this is one that I have overlooked until now. I was researching organic gardening at the library yesterday when I ran across Bringing It To The Table: On Farming and Food in the library collection. Again, Mr. Berry impresses me with his wisdom, this time about our modern food system and what is wrong with it.

Anyone interested in sustainable farming and the future of our food system (which should be everybody) needs to read this impressive book. In fact, I think it should be required reading in high school agriculture programs and agriculture colleges. While many of these issues are just now becoming widely discussed, Berry has been talking about these issues for years and sadly few were listening. His very profound essay, Agriculture Solutions for Agriculture Problems, talks about the problems with factory farming and industrial agriculture. He describes the system as a failure and outlines its weaknesses in a dependency on chemical fertilizers, an economic and industrial organization, and an absolute dependence of most of the population on this organization with no back up system. In other words, if the system fails the general population will have no knowledge or land to grow their own food. He originally published this article in 1978, yet our society is only now taking note of these problems.

Wendell Berry
The book is divided into three sections: farming, farmers, and food. He defends the traditional family farm and condemns factory farming. He tells the stories of old school farmers Lancie Clippinger and Elmer Lapp, as well as many others affected by the dominance of the factory farm. The book ends with the essay, The Pleasures of Eating. Here he talks about the disconnect between the consumer and the food he eats. He discusses the politics and ethics of food and eating and outlines seven things anyone can do to eat responsibly, including preparing your own food and buying locally. While many of us who are aware of the problems of our industrial agriculture system have heard these seven actions before, the general population still blindly consumes the food on their grocery shelves.All you have to do is visit your local grocery chain and glance into the carts of the people filing back and forth down the isles grabbing items simply because they want them, not because they are good for them. Carts filled with overly processed foods, foods grown in large mono crops fed diets of chemical fertilizers and dusted in harmful pesticides.

It is time, for our own health and the health of our food system, that we finally start listening to Wendell Berry.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lemon Verbena Scones with Lemon Cream

I am in love. On Monday I picked up a few pots of herbs that someone was giving away on one of those freecycle groups. One of them happened to be a big, healthy lemon verbena bush. If you have never smelled lemon verbena before, its aroma is like a sweet lemon with a floral note. Similar to lemongrass, but more intense. Within an hour of settling it into its new home on my patio, I had the scissors out trimming it back with the plans of using the leaves for...uh, something. I didn't really know, but a Google search set me straight on that. I never realized there were so many recipes that use lemon balm in them; baked goods, cheesecake, jelly, pesto, beverages. Plus, it has many healing properties including aiding in soothing digestive problems and for relieving depression. I am sure I will be posting about this wonderful multipurpose herb again in the near future.

The recipe that caught my eye was for scones. I love scones. They are so easy to make and are a great breakfast with a cup of coffee. I decided these needed dressed up a bit, so I whipped up some lemon cream to go with them. The more lemony goodness, the better. Next time I make these I think I am going to make one little change to the recipe by adding maybe a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice into the batter. They are chewy with the addition of the oats, so if you like light and fluffy better these might not be for you, but I found them to be scrumptious. I could almost imagine myself having afternoon tea with the queen.

Lemon Verbena Scones with Lemon Cream

2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter
1/4 cup finely chopped lemon verbena
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until mixture resembles course crumbs. Add in the lemon verbena and mix. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture and add wet ingredients, stirring well. Mix in well with the flour mixture to form a soft dough. Lightly grease a 12 inch cast iron skillet. Pat the dough into the skillet. Flour hands if dough is sticky. Cut into eight wedges using a serrated knife. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly brown. Serve warm with lemon cream (recipe below).

Lemon Cream:
1/2 cup softened cream cheese
juice from 1/2 of a fresh lemon
honey to taste

Whip honey and lemon juice together. Add honey until desired consistency and sweetness is reached. I used about 1 tablespoon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Preserving Your Bounty of Fresh Basil

I am just a little behind on blogging here at the Hippy Homemaker because I took some time off to focus on spending time with the boys before the oldest headed off for his summer visit with dad in good ole' Kentucky. It sure would be a lot simpler if we lived closer, but for now we live about 20 hours away. Because of this, my son has more flier miles than I will ever have. I am always putting him on a plane. I can't remember the last time I flew, but although Kentucky is beautiful country, I must confess I'd rather fly somewhere with mountains and/or ocean beaches.

Mr. Frequent Flier. Meanwhile, I am a little behind on my garden too. I have an abundance of fresh basil I don't feel like I am using fast enough, especially now that it is just me and the little one. I decided I needed to preserve some of this summer goodness for the bleak winter, which in San Antonio consists of one long dreary month where we complain about the cold and feel guilty doing so when we hear about the weather from our neighbors in the north.

I have always just tied bundles of basil together and hung them upside down to dry in the late summer heat. This year I am freezing it two ways; as a puree in oil and slightly changed up for pesto. For the strait basil and oil puree, wash and dry a big bunch of leaves. Fill up your food processor bowl and pulse until leaves are finely chopped. Add 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and continue pulsing until oil is evenly distributed. To freeze, either put in plastic freezer bags and lay flat in freezer or freeze by the tablespoon in ice cube trays and transfer to freezer containers.


Freezer Pesto

1/3 cup pine nuts
2 cups firmly packed basil leaves
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place nuts in a food processor and pulse 2 or 3 times. Add basil and pulse a few more times. Repeat step with lemon juice. While running the food processor, add olive oil a little at a time. Scrape down sides and process until pureed. Place mixture into a quart sized freezer bag and seal bag, pressing out excess air. Freeze lying flat. 
*note -  I didn't have any freezer bags and I am in the process of switching from plastic to glass, so I froze mine in a small glass jar. 

When ready to use add:
2 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
If desired, 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Puree into thawed basil mixture. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.