This country was founded on faith and amber waves of grain
This blog post started out as a response to someone else’s blog post (I don’t even remember whose now), and it got so long that I decided to post it here. A basic food storage supply is centered on grains. The essentials start with wheat, rice, beans, sugar, salt and powdered milk. But lately, gluten (the protein in grains like wheat) allergies seem to have popped up as an epidemic. It almost seems fashionable to be gluten free. But the truth is, people really are allergic, and as this knowledge becomes more mainstream, people who were suffering mystery symptoms are finally figuring out what has been making them so sick. They really do suffer serious allergic reactions to gluten, and removing gluten from their diets brings true relief. I have many friends who have gone gluten free and have seen tremendous benefits. I have one friend who ends up hospitalized from dehydration because she vomits so much if she gets the tiniest gluten contamination. I have another friend whose symptoms mirror the debilitating aches, pains and fatigue of fibromyalgia. But on the other hand, wheat and other grains have been a staple of human-kind for millennia.
So what changed so suddenly? We did. Or rather industrialization happened. Technology happened. Patenting nature happened. We don’t prepare breads and grains the way our ancestors did. We are mono-cropping (planting only one variety of wheat and other staples throughout much of the world) genetically modified strains, which causes numerous problems.
The wheat harvest in Russia was wiped out a few years ago by a virus because most farmers had that one variety planted, and that one variety did not have resistance to that particular virus, but other wheat varieties might have been resistant. If there had been more variety planted, the repercussions may not have been so severe. More of the wheat might have been unaffected. It impacted the entire world’s food supply and, therefore, the price of food worldwide. Mono-cropping also caused the potato famine in Ireland in the 1840s because they only grew one kind of potato in Ireland, the Irish Lumper. It’s estimated that 1.5 million people died. The lumper didn’t have any resistance to the strain of blight that destroyed the crop for seven years in a row. Once again variety could have meant the difference between a rough few years in the food market and millions of people dying, and another million Irish fleeing the country. Relying so heavily on one food to make up so much of the country’s diet is asking for disaster. The blight hit other countries as well, but because the Irish relied so heavily on potatoes, and just one variety of potato, for their nutritional needs, the crop failure meant famine.
If you read the ingredients list for most processed foods in grocery stores today, they almost all contain any combination of wheat, corn and soy as the primary ingredients. All of them are genetically modified, and all of them are mono crops (ok, let’s say 98%). Not only do food manufacturers put them in our food, they feed it to commercially raised meat animals like cows, chickens and pigs (which is actually not a part of their natural diet so it makes them sick and susceptible to e. coli, but that is another topic entirely). So a crop failure of one of those three would be a disaster for our country. Food prices across the board would sky-rocket. Not just cereal and crackers, but meat, dairy, eggs, everything. How would that affect your family if your food budget quadrupled? Mono-cropping also means we are all eating just one type of wheat. Aside from our dependence on it for EVERYTHING WE BUY, without variety the body can start to reject certain foods and develop an allergy.
Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs)
Genetically modified foods have been big news lately. States are trying to pass labeling laws that require food manufacturers to disclose and label GMOs. California nearly passed it a few months ago. Washington is trying right now. If you’re not eating organic, then you are most likely eating genetically modified foods, which pose even more health concerns. Seed companies are altering DNA in plants, and that has to alter how our bodies recognize and respond to it. GMOs are the dark, weird fourth cousin twice removed to the foods our cells recognize. It only makes sense that our bodies aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Friend or foe? Frenemy? More and more of our bodies are deciding foe, and that is when the allergy starts. Not to mention the seed companies are embedding the seeds with pesticides. Wash that corn all you want, honey, you can’t wash out the pesticides INSIDE it. The strains that are being developed for mass cropping are also chosen for all kinds of traits that benefit the mass farming industry, and not for their nutritional value. Transports well? Check. Easy to harvest by machinery? Check. Shorter seed to harvest time? Check. Tolerates drought, heat, cold, flood? Check. Check. Check. Kills insects on contact? Excellent. Excellent. Nourishes human bodies? Not so important. Those things all sound great until you realize what comes with it, and at what price. They are called Frankenfoods for a reason.
Next we take this genetically modified, mono-cropped wheat and bleach it, strip it of what goodness was left from the lab and artificially add back a small portion of the nutrients they took out, but just the bare minimum. Food companies use this stripped down, bleached “flour” and combine it with chemicals to make things like Oreos. Did you know the “cream filling” in Oreos doesn’t have any cream in it? Oreos are dairy-free. I’ll be honest. I <3 Oreos dunked in milk. I occasionally indulge bc they are yummy! But I am fully aware of what I'm doing, and I limit my intake. Really limit. I can't remember the last time I ate one, but I know there will be Oreos in my future. My point is, if it comes in a box, it is probably so modified, stripped and full of chemicals that our bodies don't even know what to do with it. "What is ________ ?" your body asks. What do I do with it?
The other huge change was in how we prepare the wheat we grow for consumption, like bread. Commercial yeast is actually a by-product of beer making. That is not how bread was leavened for 99.999999999% of the history that human beings have been eating leavened bread. They used what are basically sourdough starters that were cultured from the wild yeast in the air. Not only does it naturally self regenerate for an endless supply of leavening, but those natural yeast pre-digest the grains and chemically modify them and prepare them for our consumption. The bread we eat now is very different. I took a class last year from a local couple (he’s a chiropractor and she’s an RD) who have mastered making naturally leavened bread. I worked on it off and on over the last year, but then I got pregnant and SICK and rarely made bread, a few months ago I started again and really got into the groove of delicious, healthy bread. I can tell you that my body responds differently to the naturally leavened bread. I don’t get that carb coma. Diabetics can eat it, as can many who have Celiac’s. I use it to make everything from pancakes to tortillas to sandwich bread. I’ve also used it in my quick breads and crackers and overnight crockpot oatmeal. If you don’t have a class near you, I highly recommend the book “The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast”. The book has excellent recipes and explanations from the whys to the hows. You can also see her class presentation on Youtube. She has a blog called The Bread Geek.
This gluten allergy epidemic is leading to another future potential problem. The food industry has come to the rescue! “You can’t have gluten? No problem! We have refined and processed some other foods, added some artificial ingredients and made you a new kind of bread/pasta/cracker/cereal!” Don’t get me wrong, these are like manna from heaven to those who have been thrust into gluten-free purgatory. My son was allergic to wheat for a few years, and it turned my world upside down at first. I tried those miracle products initially, and I was grateful for them, but then I moved on and changed what we were eating instead of substituting the old processed garbage for new processed garbage. The future I see is allergies to rice flour, coconut flour, potato starch and xanthan gum popping up, because they don’t even closely resemble the original form of rice and coconuts and potatoes and … um … xanthan.
Anytime I hear about an eating plan that eliminates entire food groups I run it through my filter: “Would this have been sustainable 500 years ago?” Many times the answer is no. Vegetarianism/veganism cannot survive without the current grocery store system. What would they eat during the winter months without a grocery store and produce imported from Chile? Besides, it’s been my personal observation that most (I didn’t say all, so calm down) vegetarians don’t eat that many vegetables. They eat a lot of processed soy products and refined grains. Oh, and they don’t eat meat. I love meat, but in the summer months when there is so much fresh produce, I find myself unintentionally serving mostly vegetarian meals bc I’m too busy fantasizing about tomatoes to think about ribeye. But since my family eats seasonally and locally as much as possible, the only tomatoes on my table outside of the gardening season are in the jars I canned of salsa, tomato soup, chili, spaghetti sauce, etc. In the winter months I serve more meat, more grains, more winter squash, more potatoes, apples, things from my freezer, root cellar and larder (which all came from my garden or a local grower). When the greens come back in the spring, I’m all about entree salads again.
The same rules apply to our meat and dairy consumption: organic and local. We drink raw milk from a local dairy, from which I make yogurt and other things. The same allergy problem is happening with pasteurized dairy. The pasteurization process destroys nutrients and enzymes that help our bodies digest and utilize the nutrients (that are no longer there due to the high heat of the process). Even pasteurized orange juice is worthless. It does the same thing, destroying all the nutrients. What nutrients they list on the milk and orange juice cartons have been artificially replaced. In the OJ they even have to replace the flavor of the orange juice with something they call juice packets. This article explains more about it. I LOVE orange juice. It is so happy tasting, especially in the winter when it is dreary and freezing outside, and citrus is in season. So I make my own juice from, you won’t believe this, oranges. I’m completely serious. I have a juicer, which works great if you don’t like pulp. I happen to love pulp, so I often use my blender. My very favorite is Orange Julius, and I have an awesome recipe for you below. Citrus is on its way in for the season, so you have time to get hooked on this for a winter pick me up.
Can you tell I’ve got a soapbox to stand on? These are just my personal insights into this new gluten allergy epidemic. The good news is that for some people there are solutions to try. Instead of going gluten free (and I was gluten free for several years, even before I had kids because I felt so much better when I didn’t eat grains or starches), here is what has worked for our family:
- Only buy organic grains (I buy them whole and grind them myself with a Wondermill. It’s much cheaper that way with the amount of bread products I make). We also use a variety of grains. My 4 favorites are spelt (my favorite for sandwich bread and sweet quick breads like banana or zucchini bread), hard white wheat (for yeast breads), soft white wheat (for quick breads and pastries), and Kamut (makes some great blender waffles or pizza dough!). You can also combine them in recipes.
- I’ve incorporated natural leavening into my baking, and now that I found a new groove for it, it is very easy.
- Some substitutes I came up with when I was gluten free I actually prefer, like using almond meal to bread pork or chicken. It is really tasty, and I like the texture. I make a flour free cream sauce that is really good (most cream sauces start with a roux, which is butter and flour). Still thick and delicious, but no gluten and nothing you wouldn’t have in your kitchen anyway. I make a lot of my own seasoning mixes like cream soups, taco and chili seasonings, and I make my own dressings, because those things often have gluten and lots of chemicals. And to be honest, mine taste better than store-bought.
- I really enjoy spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles instead of pasta. Actually what I prefer is to combine one of them with actual pasta. It’s even more satisfying that way. I often do 1/3 pasta to 2/3 squash noodles.
- We eat very few processed foods, which limits all of the problems listed above. During some of the year, I rarely go to the grocery store bc I’m growing my own vegetables and fruit, and buying the rest from local producers. I get my meat and milk from local producers. I make my own baked goods.
Another friend of mine accidentally cured her Celiac’s disease. She had very bad reactions to gluten, even trace amounts. She watched a documentary called “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.” It’s about a guy who heals his body of various ailments and loses a lot of weight (which probably contributed to those ailments) by doing a juice fast. I don’t mean he drank apple juice from the grocery store. He bought a juicer and juiced vegetables and a little fruit (think 80/20 ratio with a lot of greens) and drank that only for 60 days while he made this documentary. He was also closely followed by a physician during his fast. His experience was more extreme, which is why it’s a documentary, but I also watched it and did a juice fast myself bc I just felt rotten. I was tired and run down and bleh. I did mine for 6 days (it’s a lot mentally harder to do when you are preparing 3 meals a day for 5 munchkins and ANYTHING that you have to chew seems awesome). I felt rotten the first few days, which is typical, but by day 4 I felt like a million bucks! I was sleeping less, but feeling great! I was up at 6 and ready to go! I still occasionally do it for a few days when I start feeling bleh again. My friend did hers for 3 weeks, and suddenly she could eat gluten again. Of course she didn’t start bingeing on it, but she eats it now in moderation. Her theory is that she had leaky gut syndrome, which can cause gluten intolerance, and the juice fast allowed her gut to heal.
I’m not saying that any or all of these ideas are going to help every person out there. I just want to give you some things to think about. A lot of what ails us is directly attributable to what we eat, drink and breathe in. Twinkies were never meant to be part of our diets. Nor were chicken dinos (and the pink slime they are made from). Some things we can’t control directly, like the air quality, but other things we can control, like what we put in our mouths, and that is what I always try to focus on.
A glass of sunshine
4 whole oranges, peeled and halved
1 cup milk (or milk substitute of your choice. I often use coconut milk or raw milk)
1 cup ice
5 drops wild orange essential oil
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 drops liquid stevia (though I often leave it out)
If you are feeling crazy add 1-2 tbsp coconut oil (if you aren’t using coconut milk) and 1 raw egg. I also often add a gigantic handful of spinach. Blend and enjoy! This is extremely filling and serves at least two people for a complete breakfast or the whole family if you just want some sunshine with your breakfast.
Yesterday morning I had the privilege of going out to my garden and picking the first crops of the season from the perpetual food storage garden I worked on all last summer: spinach, asparagus and walking onions. None of which I planted this year. I only got to pick 3 spears of asparagus because it’s just starting to come up, but more and more is coming along behind it. I planted 50 asparagus bare roots last spring, although I’m starting to think I’ll need MORE.
Isn’t that a happy sight? Especially after the cold of winter.
Tradition states that you have to wait 3 YEARS to harvest for the first time so that you give the roots time to get strong enough. So why am I eating it this year? I have two reasons. The first is I bought older crowns at asparagusgardener.com (the website is super ghetto and confusing and the color scheme makes my eyes bleed, but I’m very happy with the roots I got). The roots are more mature and you can enjoy your produce sooner. The second is that according to Ohio State University Extension, “The year after planting, asparagus can be harvested several times throughout a three-week period, depending on air temperatures. Research shows there is no need to wait two years after planting before harvesting. In fact, harvesting the year after planting will stimulate more bud production on the crown and provide greater yields in future years, as compared with waiting two years before harvesting…The second year after planting, the length of harvest can increase to about 4 to 6 weeks. The third year after planting and thereafter, harvesting can continue for 6 to 8 weeks.” You can read more about planting and harvesting asparagus here. Waiting that whole year was hard, but super worth it. You may as well plant some this year because that time is going to pass anyway.
So now I’m on the 3-week asparagus plan starting today, and it is oh. so. good. I already really liked asparagus, but the asparagus I ate from my garden the last two mornings (today I got 6 spears!) was the tenderest, sweetest, most delicious asparagus I’ve ever had. If you think you don’t like asparagus, it’s because you’ve only had the imports that have traveled long distances. As soon as asparagus is cut, the sugars start to becomes starches, and the stalks get tougher, even on a refrigerated truck. If you think you like asparagus, you are going to LOVE the real thing.
When I came in the house with my three precious spears, my kids were all over me. I don’t even know if they’ve ever had asparagus. I only buy it in the spring when it’s in season, and it’s so expensive I don’t remember ever sharing with them. I knew I would be lucky if I got any of it today, so I told my kids they could have ONE BITE EACH (yah right) and the rest was all for me. First child gets one taste, snatches the rest of the spear and takes off to polish it off (I should have known he’d do that). The next spear I was smarter and snapped it in thirds for them to share. They begged for more, but I kept one whole spear for myself. I know, that is so selfish. I actually ate it raw, and it was heavenly. I had considered adding it to my omelet, but decided to enjoy it all on its own. I have recipes for asparagus goodness lined up for the next three weeks. In a quiche, roasted, wrapped in bacon, with eggs benedict, topped with hollandaise sauce, the options are endless, though we’ll see how much of it makes it past the raw state before going in my belly. Then all too soon it will be over, and I’ll wait another year until it’s back.
Last fall I planted a small fall garden that included spinach, but then I got pregnant and my life as I know it ended for the next 9 months (less than two months to go!). I couldn’t even bring myself to go out to see if anything came up. I could barely bring myself to get off the couch. Then it got so cold, snowed, the usual arctic tundra weather they have here, and I figured my efforts and seeds were wasted. This spring when I hobbled out to check a few things, imagine my surprise to see bunches of beautiful Bloomsdale spinach ready to pick! This is my first spinach crop, and it’s gorgeous. Once my kids devoured my asparagus, they turned their attentions to the spinach. They ate theirs raw. I gave mine a quick saute for my omelet. It’s even better than the baby spinach I buy at Costco. I just need to plant more of it this spring and continue to stagger plant all season so I have MORE. I even plan to have it as part of my winter garden next year (it was on the docket for this winter, but… that idea went the way of the chickens). It can be had fresh from the garden year round in many places. I put two huge handfuls in my smoothie/juice each morning. And then there are the salads, and sauteing it, adding it to soups and pasta dishes, and so much more! We eat a lot of spinach in this house.
That looks like a salad bowl waiting to come to the table. I only harvest the largest leaves on each plant so they continue to grow more. Bloomsdale spinach is an heirloom variety that is much more heat tolerant than other varieties and slower to bolt (go to seed and get bitter when the temps get warmer). If you want to keep eating through the summer, stagger plant every 2 weeks or so, and for summer plantings, put it in a spot that gets some morning sun but shade during the warmest part of the day. You can also put up a shade cloth if you don’t have a spot like that. You can do the same for lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower. For those who don’t like the gritty texture of spinach that is often found in the store, this has a texture that is more like lettuce. Smooth with no grit.
The walking onions were shared with me by Amy (who guest posted for me about maximizing her small yard). They came to her from her dad’s yard in Las Vegas (only slightly different climate ). They are super easy to share, and grow well in most zones (find your USDA hardiness zone here). In fact, if any of you who are local want some, I’d be happy to share. In your own area you can ask on freecycle.org. Here is a website that describes exactly what walking onions are. I mostly cut off the tops and use them as green onions. The entire plant is edible, including the bulblets that grow at the top, and the bulbs in the ground, though they don’t get very big. Eating the whole plant is a great way to control the spreading as well if you end up with too many. Overrun with onions? Make a few meals from the entire plant and they are under control, or offer them to neighbors and friends for their gardens.
Look at how huge these are already! That is mostly one plant. It has grown so much in a year. The brown tops are where I cut the tops off all last summer. I just cut from a different plant each time. As they get taller the flavor in the greens gets more pronounced. We eat a lot of green onions, and these are much easier to grow than other varieties. They are great on tacos, chili, soups, stir fry, omelets, loaded potato soup, salads, chicken salad sandwiches, all kinds of things. You won’t have trouble using them up.
So this morning’s breakfast all came from my back yard: eggs (moment of honesty, I gave away our chickens because I could barely meet my kids’ needs while pregnant. I wasn’t being fair to the hens so I sent them to a better home. I’ll get more after baby girl is born and life is a little more normal. Maybe this fall. But these eggs did come from my neighbor and WOULD HAVE come from my yard normally), spinach, onions, sweet peppers (I grew these last year and sliced and froze them). I intended to put in the asparagus, but enjoyed it raw instead. I could have added some cilantro that I grew and froze last fall, but I don’t like it when I’m pregnant. My husband added the salsa I canned last fall to his omelet and wrapped it in a tortilla. How yummy was it? So. Delicious. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of my breakfast. I was hungry. Too hungry to get the camera. But I thought the pictures of the ingredients would be enticing enough.
I’ve got two trays of broccoli, cauliflower and lettuce seedlings growing in my basement that need to be planted outside. I need to plant more spinach from seed and some watermelon radishes. I’m just not allowed to do it so I have to wait for help. I’m also putting out three tomato plants in Walls O Water to see if I can’t get some June tomatoes. Tomorrow I’m going to start my other tomato plants, cucumbers, basil and peppers. In a few weeks I’ll start the squash and zucchini. This year’s garden is going to be a lot smaller because I seriously doubt I’ll be doing much canning with a 3-month old this fall. I’m planting just what we can eat. And maybe enough to share with some neighbors. So I won’t be buying produce at all this season. It will come from our garden/perpetual food storage. I can’t wait!
In my first perpetual food storage post I shared the ways I’ve been starting my perpetual food storage in my yard. My last perpetual food storage post was to share how my friend uses some perennials (plants that come back year after year without much help instead of having to be started from new seed like a tomato) as part of her landscaping in a smaller yard. This post is to give a few other ideas of how to incorporate food-producing plants into a smaller space.
An easy swap could be plant fruit trees where you would put shade trees. Fruit trees could also help block an undesirable view. They are usually attractive and flower in the spring. Instead of the non-bearing pear trees, why not get one that is pretty AND will feed you?
Plant garlic under your new fruit trees and among your asparagus. Supposedly they keep pests away as a natural pesticide. It is just about time to plant garlic for a harvest this summer so this is the perfect time to try it out. I plan to do it in a few weeks. I’ve also heard garlic chives produce the same results. Garlic is extremely easy to grow, and easy to store, so why not try it?
Strawberry plants are very pretty and can be ornamental as well as delicious. Grown in the crevices of a rock wall they help stabilize the dirt and prevent erosion. You can put them in your front beds along with your flowers as groundcover. They can be great as a pathway border or along your driveway. If you choose an everbearing variety and keep them well hydrated (water at least 2-3 times a week when it’s really hot), they will keep flowering and producing all summer long). I planted Albion and Diamante, but I recently ordered a variety called Seascape that I want to try as well.
I have seen strawberry towers that allow you to grow them up instead of out. They are such a visually interesting element to add to your yard, so even when the strawberries die back you still have something nice to look at. At Christmas time you could put lights on it. It is shaped kind of like a Christmas tree.
You can buy the instructions to build one yourself here. I’m sure there are other sources that may be free, but this is where I found the picture. I’ve seen others that are square and lower, made of PVC pipe, using old pallets, and other ideas. You can google strawberry tower or growing strawberries vertically for more ideas.
Raspberries, blackberries and blueberries can act as a natural fence on your property line. I would grow them just inside your property line so it stays in your yard and your neighbor doesn’t feel the need to cut them back in undesirable ways or share the harvest. You also don’t want to have to take them out if one of you decides to put an actual fence up.
I found this picture of a raspberry fence. It will die back in the winter and you will prune it back to varying degrees, but in the warm months it will be a nice, lush green fence.
Think about where else you put up a fence, like between the front and back yards where a fence would normally connect to the house. Leave a space between the trellised berry fence and create a trellis archway leading into the backyard and train grapes on it. Blueberry bushes turn a gorgeous red color in the fall and make a great addition to your landscaping and your tummy.
You could train grapes or hardy kiwi on a trellis or pergola over a patio for natural shade. If you have a chain link fence, you can grow them right on that, and it will give you more privacy and be much more attractive. You could also build a trellis awning along a wooden fence, over windows or over your garage like the picture below to train grapes along:
If you REALLY want to get fancy about a fence, you could train some fruit trees in an espaliered (es-paul-YAY-ed) form along a simple structure like a chainlink fence or a house or one you construct yourself. I’m considering growing one on my house. This is a way to plant tons of fruit trees that take up no space at all! I love this design for a fence:
And something like this for on the house, though there are so many designs:
This blog has lots of photos of espaliered trees, which is where I got both of these photos.
Those are just a few ideas. Look around online, use pinterest, ask friends for ideas. Have any of you done some creative landscaping to get some deliciousness in your yard?
Every year I can peaches, and they are oh, so good. I add a 2-inch piece of vanilla bean to each jar, and that just makes them even better. One of our favorite breakfasts is overnight crockpot oatmeal. Recently it occurred to me to put some of those delicious peaches on top of my oatmeal, along with a little cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. The peaches were so sweet and perfect that I didn’t add any maple syrup or brown sugar to my bowl. Neither did my kids. They LOVED the addition of the peaches. What’s not to love? Some toasted pecans would be fantastic with this.
So plant a peach tree for a shade tree. My peach tree was planted 18 months ago. I’m going to plant another one this spring bc I am going to need MORE. My kids would eat 2 jars of peaches a day if I’d let them. As you choose your peach variety, be sure to check for growing compatibility with your area, and what that variety is good for: fresh eating, freezing, canning or a combination. Last year I bought some white peaches at a local stand that tasted so good fresh that I decided to can some, but when I opened the first jar, they just don’t taste good. They are stringy, flavorless, mushy and look like they’ve been in those jars for 10 years instead of 4 months. Fortunately I didn’t do many. My other peaches (Lemon Elberta) are perfect. That particular white variety is obviously not a good one for canning, but were delicious fresh and froze just fine. So read up on your variety before you buy.
Last summer I wrote about my perpetual food storage, which is my fruit trees, berries and some of my vegetables – like asparagus – that come back every year to feed us. I promised you a post about incorporating some of these things into a smaller yard. Now I’m starting to get the gardening itch. Are you? This seemed like a good time to share some ideas since I’m hoping you are daydreaming of warmer and tastier days ahead. I’m going to start some of my spring seedlings next week (broccoli, lettuces, etc.). We are all sick of this cold and snow, and starting to plan what we are going to do in our yards and gardens when the weather shows even the vaguest improvement.
A year ago I took a class about naturally leavened bread and made a new friend in the teacher. Amy and I discovered many things in common, including a love of gardening, organic growing, delicious food, and being self sufficient. She is the one who gave me some raspberry and blackberry starts, along with some walking onions and daylilies. I loved going to see her yard. Her house is on .2 of an acre, and while she has put in an unbelievable amount of food-producing plants and trees, her yard is a very attractive, comfortable place to be. There is still room for the kids to run around and have fun, but so much food being produced! I was so impressed when I saw it because she has made such great use of the space. She has grapes on a trellis in between her fence and the side of her house (you can see it in a few of the pictures below). On the other side of the house she is trellising blackberries and raspberries. She has fruit trees for shade trees and is growing strawberries as ornamentals in front of a rock retaining wall. A few garden boxes house the annual vegetables. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I asked Amy to share what they’ve done in their yard to give you some inspiration. Some of what she did inspired what I did in my own yard, and if this snow ever melts before the baby comes, I’ll take some pictures to show you.
So here’s Amy to show you what they’ve accomplished and give you some amazing ideas on incorporating delicious edibles into a beautiful landscape:
Rock garden pathway under the grape vine arbor.
If I can build an edible garden on a 1/5 acre rock quarry, you can build a garden anywhere! It’s never too early to begin thinking about your garden. One fall day, I made the mistake of paying my five year-old a penny for every rock she removed from the garden area. She filled bucket loads. Three hours later, I figured out she could count pretty high and I owed her $35. That is 3500 rocks and we just skimmed the surface of one part of the garden.
BEFORE GARDEN PHOTOS:
BEFORE: The rock garden before our house was built. Can you see the dust in between the rocks? That is literally all the soil we had.
We like to be self-sufficient. We care for our own medical needs, grow our own food, make naturally leavened bread, and enjoy teaching others. When it came to the rock garden, the work belonged to us.
BEFORE: Learning to put the sprinkler system in ourselves.
We live in the 2nd driest state in the U.S., just below the foothills of a big mountain. We chose the area of our yard that receives the most sunshine to plant the garden.
BEFORE: The only living thing around was in the neighbor’s yard by the irrigation canal. Approximately 75 feet of garden just did not seem to be enough for everything edible. So we secured the periphery of the yard as garden beds. By periphery, I mean all the edges of the house, fence, and rock wall.
WORK IN PROGRESS PHOTO:
DURING: The first year, we literally hauled out tons of rocks and hauled in tons of soil before we laid grass and planted the garden beds. We built garden boxes to help terrace the grade.
WHAT WE LIKE BEST IN THE ROCK GARDEN NOW:
AFTER: Green summer rock garden. We love it! The kids love the pathways and play places up by the garden boxes. We love the high yield of garden fruits, vegetables, and seeds. We made curves in the grass line for visual appeal and filled these border beds with soil. We planted thornless blackberry bushes, grape vines, and fruit trees. We received lots of fruit in just two years from the bushes and vines. All of our fruit trees produce now, too.
AFTER: Usable space for all seasons. The bed to the right, always shaded, grows lettuces and peas with border flowers. The bed further back on the right and more sunny, grows herbs and flowers. To the left, we sometimes intersperse kale amongst the trees and raspberry bushes. Further back on the left, notice the beehives by the swing set. In the far back, beans and squash climb vertically along the fence line. Cucumbers and tomatoes grow vertically in the garden amongst other veggies. I have easy access to these lower beds year round. This is helpful in harvesting cold weather crops like onions, garlic, sage, chard, and kale. Minerals added to your fertilizer makes all vegetables and fruit sweeter and more disease resistant.
AFTER: Three years later. Rock garden fruit salad includes blackberries, apples, strawberries, grapes, and peaches. Yum!
I have gardened every summer that I have been married. I have had easy gardens–one worked for generations and another in lush Southern California. I have had pot gardens. I have had hot gardens. And now another garden that was literally built on a rock quarry. My favorite garden? The rock garden. Why? It is my own, well my family’s and mine. It is where we are now. We have put a lot of work into our little Eden. Our goal for our yard? Beauty and function. Our kids will tell you, “Our garden rocks!”
ROCK GARDEN TIPS:
-Front yard edibles: sweet potato vines, cabbage, parsley, basil, and medicinal flowers can be planted in front yard gardens. You have probably seen them all in professional gardens.
AFTER: Edible, beautiful archway for the little space between your house and your neighbor’s fence.
-Border gardens. Don’t put grass right up to the house or fence. It doesn’t look as good as a border garden and it is not as functional. Take out some of the grass, put in something useful and beautiful!
AFTER: Pear and cherry trees. Lettuce, potato, and kale “ground cover” in the perimeter.
-Planting edibles. Foods such as berry bushes, strawberry plants, herbs, and greens (like kale and lettuce) make beautiful ground cover around your fruit trees. Eat what you grow!
AFTER: Five years later. Peach trees and strawberry ground cover to the left. Thornless blackberry climbers on the back right. The front right grows hollyhocks and herbs. The rock garden includes 7 producing fruit trees, 7 grape vines, 7 raspberry bushes, and about that many blackberry bushes–all in the backyard.
-All season edibles. We’re in zone five. That means the ground freezes here. Yet, it’s suggested that January is a great month to begin pruning. We even get to start planting onions and garlic in February in this valley. There is a whole host of cold weather plants to start in March: beets, broccoli, cabbage, chard, carrots, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, parsley, parsnips, peas, radish, and turnips. In April, you still might have to move the snow away, but you can plant eggplant and summer squash seeds. In late summer, plant a second crop of broccoli, turnips, kale, onions, and garlic for a fall/winter harvest. Many garden vegetables will keep in cold storage throughout the wintertime. Who knew?
Dr. Matt and his wife, Amy McClean, R.D., both graduated with bachelor of science degrees from Brigham Young University. Amy practiced as a registered dietitian teaching sick patients about proper nutrition. Matthew earned his doctorate in chiropractic from Southern California University of Health Sciences and is in his 12th year as a physician. The McCleans have made thousands of loaves of naturally leavened bread since their beginnings in 2006. They are the makers of Dr. Dough Frozen Naturally Leavened Bread. They have been teaching the community natural leavening since 2008! Now, they share the secrets of natural leavening and restoring health with you.
It’s me again.
Now that you are feeling so inspired to tuck some lettuce in with your flower beds, I’m going to give you another dressing recipe. I love ranch dressing. It is my condiment of choice. It’s great for dipping fries, chicken, veggies, anything. I also just love a good wedge salad with some creamy tangy ranch. I do NOT love MSG and all the chemicals that come in commercially prepared ranch dressing, which is why I make my own. My first preference on all foods is fresh ingredients, but that is not always an option since we try to eat as seasonally and locally as possible. So while there is an abundance of great FRESH ranch dressing recipes, I wanted one I could make anytime from my dried herbs in my food storage. I tried just about every recipe I could find until I found the one that made me happy, and then I fiddled with it and made it my own. Everyone likes things just a little differently, and I like my ranch stronger, so I add a little more of the dry mix when I mix up a batch. You may prefer a milder version. So add some, and then keep adding to taste.
Basic Ranch Dressing Mix Recipe
1/2 C Parsley Flakes
1 tbsp + 1 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
2 1/2 tbsp Garlic Salt
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 C Onion Powder
2 tsp Dill Weed
Combine everything and store in an airtight container. Makes a little more than 1 cup of dry mix.
To make dressing, whisk together 1 T of mix (I actually use more, but this is a good starting place) with 1 cup of mayonnaise and 3/4 cup sour cream, & 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Then slowly add milk or buttermilk until it reaches your preferred consistency. I like mine thicker. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let the vinegar mellow. It will thicken in the fridge and you may want to add a little more milk at that point.
Now, if you want to get super delicious, I have some additional things I add. Sometimes I add in a little sugar for a sweet tangy kick. If you’ve ever had the amazing ranch dressing at Ted’s Montana Grill, you know what I’m talking about. My. Favorite. Ever. It is sweet, tangy and garlicky. So sometimes I add some extra garlic to my made up dressing. I mean fresh minced garlic. Nothing that comes out of a can or jar. I don’t add a lot. Maybe just half of a small clove. Remember that raw garlic will just get stronger the longer it sits, so ere on the side of not enough. Then I add about a tsp of sugar and keep tasting until I like it. Sometimes I just do the sugar and no garlic. It really just depends on how much dressing I made, so I can’t give you an exact amount.
If you want to go more Outback Steakhouse with your dressing, add 1/4 tsp fresh cracked pepper, 1/8 tsp paprika, a couple shakes of cayenne pepper, and 1/8 tsp garlic salt to about 1 1/2 c prepared dressing.
And now my super secret ingredient that you need to add to any of the above recipes is…anchovy paste. Wait! Come back! I’m completely serious. Why? Because it provides the dressing with umami (pronounced oooo-mommy), which is a Japanese word that means “pleasant savory taste” or “delicious taste”. It is the fifth taste sense along with sweet, salty, bitter and sour. It isn’t really a definable or identifiable flavor the way the others are. It is that deep down satisfying earthy craveability factor some foods have. Mushrooms naturally have it. And so do a lot of packaged foods, thanks to MSG, which is the laboratory created version of it. Manufacturers add it for an addictability factor. It’s why you keep eating and eating those Doritos and then licking your fingers to get every last particle of autolyzed yeast protein (MSG) off your fingers.
MSG goes by about 50 different names on food labeling, including “natural flavors” – don’t ask me how they get away with that one. But MSG has side effects that natural umami does not, like some serious allergic reactions, headaches, and one that is afflicting MANY people who don’t know it: weight gain. Interesting fact: when scientists need fat mice to study something related to obesity, they feed them MSG to get them fat before their experiments. That is standard protocol for fattening up mice. It works on us too, and avoiding MSG is a major reason I make my own homemade version of a lot of things. Start reading labels and you will be surprised at how many things it’s in. Here are some of the names MSG goes by:
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Soy protein, soy protein concentrate
Soy protein isolate
Whey protein, whey protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
The lack of MSG is why some homemade copycat recipes lack that…something, that je ne sais quoi. Well, the missing quoi is MSG or umami, and you can have it back, naturally. A squirt of anchovy paste will do the trick. It won’t change the flavor, and you would never know it’s there, but it will change that satisfaction factor. It will go from “good” to “mmmmm” or from “aaaaalmost” to “dead on”. In a pint sized jar of dressing I might add a one inch squirt. In a pan of homemade spaghetti sauce, I add 3-4 inches. You can find it in little tubes in the canned tuna aisle, usually the top row. Once it’s open it needs to be refrigerated, and I keep it in the butter spot in my fridge so it doesn’t get lost.
So try making some ranch for your homegrown salad!
Hi. It’s me. You may vaguely recall I used to write blog posts. It has been a wild several months. I worked like a dog in our yard, building our garden, planting trees, flowers, berries, all kinds of things. Then it was canning/freezing season and I canned and froze a ton, lots of new recipes. School started. I was still canning. And then…I got pregnant, and I pretty much haven’t done anything since I hit the wall (which mercifully was a few days after we finished canning). I’ve been scraping by on less than the bare minimum of activity. My poor kids have been lacking clean clothes for… a while.
But I have a Christmas present for you to make up for my very long absence (and no promises of when my next post will be, because I still feel rotten). Have you ever had those creme brulee almonds from the company with a peanut as a mascot? They are delish. Adam put them in my stocking last year. But I felt so conflicted for eating them and wanting more. They epitomize everything I’m against in the food world. Processed, mystery ingredients that play dirty tricks on your body. They took something as wonderful as almonds and coated them in chemicals, and made them delicious, those evil scientists. I’ve thought about those tasty almonds ever since. I scoured the internet on more than one occasion looking for a recipe, but all I found was the cinnamon almonds recipe that everyone has. So I had to make up my own. And they are very good. I haven’t had the ones from the blue can in about a year, so I won’t swear they are identical, but they have to be very close. Anyway, they are good. It took me three tries to get them just right, and each batch was 4 cups, and they never made it off the pan. My kids devoured them. These are perfect for neighbor/teacher/co-worker/boss/everyone gifts (um, if any of you are my neighbors. etc., act surprised). Mine are going in cute quilted canning jars. These are supremely easy, thank goodness, because I just can’t do much these days (come on second wind! You are overdue!). Did I mention I love them? They are perfect as a snack, or on a salad, or in yogurt, or anything. You can have these mixed up in 5 minutes.
Fresh out of the oven. You can see the coating hasn’t solidified. DON’T TOUCH THEM. You can see there is very little of the sugar coating on the pan. It’s on the almonds.
This is how they look after the candy coating has hardened and dried. You need to make these. Put them in someone’s stocking or mailbox or your mouth.
Creme Brulee Almonds
1 egg white
1 teaspoon cold water
3.5-4 cups whole almonds
1 tbsp melted butter
3 tsp vanilla
6 T raw sugar cane sugar**
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 250 degrees. Beat the egg white and water until frothy with a fork in a medium bowl. Add the vanilla and whisk for just a second. Add the almonds, and stir until well coated. Add the melted butter and stir again (make sure the butter is not blistering hot or you will cook your egg white, and that is gross. That is why I don’t just add it to the egg white mixture before the almonds. I melted mine 15 seconds in the microwave). Mix the sugar and salt, and sprinkle over the nuts. Stir the nuts until they are well coated. Spread the almonds evenly on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper (I tried a Silpat first, but mine is not quite as big as the jelly roll pans I have, so I still had to wash the perimeter of the pan because of the stirring).
Roast the almonds for 1 hour, stirring after 30 minutes.
Allow to cool***, then beat off anyone in the vicinity.
Send me a jar out of sheer gratitude.
*As you mix the almonds there shouldn’t be a bunch of the coating pooled in the bottom of your bowl. If there is, all you are doing is wasting that syrup. It will make the parchment paper taste good, but it won’t increase the flavor in the almonds. Only so much of the syrup will stick to the almonds. Many of the recipes I looked at called for 3 cups of sugar and recommended eating the crystalized goodness off the pan. Unnecessarily wasteful. So the almonds should be well coated, but not a bunch in your bowl.
**Raw sugar cane sugar has more flavor than white refined sugar. Smell it. It smells great! Don’t get all smarty pants on me and think you are going to just dig into that bag of brown sugar and double the flavor quotient/save a trip to the store, because you won’t. Don’t you think I tried that already? Because I did. And while they were good with brown sugar, they look and taste COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. So use brown sugar if that sounds good to you, but it won’t taste anything like these. Even my 7 taste testers (my kids, my dad and my husband) were adamant that they prefer these over the brown sugar ones, and they weren’t even comparing them to the originals I was trying to replicate. In fact they liked the brown sugar ones a lot before I made these, but now they don’t want them. Brown sugar is good, but these are BETTER.
***When these come out and you see they have cooled off enough to pop one in your mouth you will grumble under your breath and pop them back in the oven. That would be a mistake. You will overcook them. They are not crunchy right out of the oven. They are not crunchy 20 minutes out of the oven. You have to wait for them to cool completely before they will be crunchy. Give them an hour (I didn’t really time it, I just came back periodically and tried some to see if they were crunchy yet).
So this will save you money, give you an easy/delicious/fast holiday gift, and none of those nasty chemicals in your body.
Am I forgiven?