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Friday, October 30th


New Zealand’s Green Pyramids

This is an image of One Tree Hill in Auckland, New Zealand. While I did notice the terracing, I did not give any thought to what its purpose was, or if there was a purpose. The terracing was for me like part of the landscape, one chiseled by wind and rain, or by the finger of God. I would later learn that the terraces were excavated by manual labor for planting kumara (sweet potato). New Zealand’s own green pyramids carved into the land each step paved with varying shades of gold.

Terrace building into the landscape is actually an age old system for utilizing water and was used in areas where it was mountainous or hilly. The idea of a terrace was two-fold: it leveled the area for planting; and it incorporated the idea of swales to help infiltrate rainwater. (I’ve been learning about swales for planting our own vegetable garden because our back yard is situated on a slope. When it rains, the water rushes down the slope and takes everything in its path with it.)

Terraces and Swales

Swales are designed to manage water runoff, filter pollutants (or hold nutrients) and increase rainwater infiltration; and can even be seen in areas where the land is flat. In this video, Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design, is utilizing terracing for hillside paddies in Vermont! Who would had thought to come up with the idea to grow a staple food like rice in a cold climate. Genius.

While I wonder if growing rice in New Zealand’s climate and marshland areas could had been feasible (even today), the Maori however were not rice growers. During pre-European times most of their calories came from growing kumara, a food said to have originated in South America. While the kumara flourished in the islands where the weather was more suited to cultivating it, the temperate climate of New Zealand limited the kumara’s growing season and how it could be stored.

Food Storage

Kumara was grown in summer (December-February), and the tubers harvested in March. They could not grow in cold temperatures, so the tubers had to be stored (or preserved) during the winter months. Maori stored kumara and other related crops in subterranean pits to be planted out later but storing tubers underground was beneficial in other ways as it gave the produce more taste and hence a tastier crop the following season. There is some evidence that different tribes preferred a particular type of storage, some of which took the form of elevated covered food platforms, and others that resembled cellars dug into hillsides with easy access as kumara was a staple that was eaten during winter. It’s most likely then that Maori utilized two types of winter storage at the same time: subterranean pits for long term preservation; and a cellar or platform for regular access.

New Foods

The discovery of New Zealand by European explorers in the 18th century introduced into the country new foods, such as potatoes and other forms of sweet potatoes some of which were hardier and therefore easier to grow and store. In time, these new foods replaced many of the delicate growing kumara varieties in the Maori diet, much of which is now lost to us. While the loss of these varieties is a loss to understanding more about the culture and what could had been valuable contributions to food science; for Maori, it meant less time spent laboring in the fields and in food preparation—something we can appreciate today with our reliance on technology and convenience.




Wednesday, October 14th


The Parable of the Loaves and Reviving Lost Skills

In which I can be accused of eisegesis but it’s worth a shot for the argument for reviving age old skills that have been lost to convenience. This blog post was recycled from a lesson given on the significance of self-reliance. It has gone through multiple edits and some expansion to help clarify some points.

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Something I like to do at the beginning of the year is make a list of skills I want to learn and during the year work on a few of them or if certain skills are out of my league, one of them. Some skills have been on my list for years, and some of them I should had started on years ago. As I have been documenting on this blog, I finally tackled one of them—making bread using a starter culture.

Depending on what part of the world one lives, a starter goes by various different names. In New Zealand it is called a bug, in France it is called levain or chef. In other parts of Europe and in the states it is called a sourdough starter. It is commonly referred to as leaven or natural leaven and is cultivated by souring or fermenting two basic ingredients—flour and water. The following information is from my own implementation and research. Hope you find it helpful.

Purpose—Science—Hidden Benefits

Purpose—the starter acts as a rising agent in baking, although it is more commonly used in making bread. A starter also adds flavor, and depending on the baker’s skill, the starter can be used in its sweet or sour stage to make bread and in turn achieve the corresponding flavors.

Having said this about starters (acting as a rising agent), in Ethiopia their staple crop is teff—which is of significant interest to those on gluten-free diets as it contains no gluten—where it is made into injera, a flatbread. What is revealing about this flatbread is that a sourdough starter plays an important role and ingredient in the recipe. If starters are commonly referred to as a rising agent, then what is the purpose of a starter in the making of a flatbread? This is where learning about fermentation comes in.

Science—the process of fermentation creates a culture of lactic acid bacteria and yeast (already present in the flour and activated when liquid is added); and between the two form a symbiotic relationship: the LAB converts the carbohydrates into starch, and the starch in sugar; which the yeast is then able to metabolize.

Hidden Benefits—this means that when we ingest foods that have been prepared this way, it gives health to the navel. The byproducts of fermentation are beneficial to our digestive tract by introducing beneficial bacteria to the gut. For the nutrients of a grain to be fully released, it must go through fermentation, much like a bean needs to be soaked. This process makes it easier for our digestive system to absorb and distribute nutrients.

As fascinating as the science is, of noteworthy mention is its application: it is made to be shared. Unlike commercial yeast that can only be used once, a starter can be used again, and again, and again. It is made to be shared because it can grow exponentially. I could give some of my starter to you to make your own bread and you could give some of your starter to someone else and so on and continue making bread using that starter without having to buy or use a new one. Having said that, a starter was not something you gave away without first knowing if the person you gave it to knew how to use it.

Parable of the Loaves and Fishes

While observing the various growth patterns of a starter, and how it is capable of growing exponentially, the parable of the loaves came to mind like I had hit on something quite phenomenal. This is not to say that this is how Christ multiplied the bread to feed the multitude but parables as we know have many layers and applications and this is another perspective that has application.

By way of information, the parables are stories that used objects or ideas that the people of that time were familiar with. Many of those ideas however are not as familiar to us as they were to those that lived during biblical times, one of them being leavened bread made from a starter. The noted NT scholar, Joel B Green in reference to the parable of the leaven explains, “Jesus asks people—male or female, privileged or peasant, it doesn’t matter—to enter the domain of a first-century woman and household cook in order to gain perspective on the domain of God.”

Which is why it is difficult to understand what all the fuss about a starter is. We are more familiar with commercial yeast, but the two are not the same; do not taste the same, do not behave the same, do not have the same properties, nor have the same health benefits. It’s not until you cultivate your own starter that you develop a guardian-like attitude like one carefully watching over a child because of its miraculous properties.

Feeding The Multitude

Parables, like many of the stories in the scriptures, are not explicit on details but I think one way many read into this particular story is to think that it happens within a matter of an hour and bang the miracle of feeding is done and everyone goes back to their homes with full bellies because we think that this is what makes it a miracle (that bread magically appears or falls from the sky) without giving thought to the people being referred to here as the multitude.

If the multitude of people are composed of homeless or displaced persons, one must think more critically about how the needs of hunger should be addressed which can only be done with a vision to organizing, teaching and learning that in reality takes time: days, months, even years. To think that Christ is concerned about feeding a crowd of people that simply forgot to make lunch that day is to read into this parable, and what He was about, on a cursory level.

What we learn from the narratives is that the Lord blessed and brake and gave the loaves to His disciples first, and the disciples to the multitude. With this succinct piece of information then, could the “blessing and breaking of the bread” be code for Christ teaching the disciples how to make bread so that they can go and teach the multitude, or before they themselves can be in a place where they can teach the multitude? Here’s another thought, isn’t it better to teach a man to fish so he can feed himself, rather than to always be fishing for him?

Ministry to Address Temporal Needs

The parable of the loaves is narrated in all four gospels each with slight variations. In Matthew we learn that Jesus has gone to be alone after learning about the death of John the Baptist. A multitude discovers Jesus nearby and flock to be near Him because they have learned that He can perform miracles. Rather than sending the multitude away, as His disciples would have Him do so that He can be alone in His thoughts, the Lord instead has compassion on the people and heals their sick. What we next come to learn is that He is about to perform another miracle, that of multiplying the loaves and fish to feed them. This is a ministry where the temporal needs of the people are being addressed.

To highlight this point I remember reading a conference talk by an LDS leader (I wish I could reference it here but have been unable to find it) where he shares an experience as a missionary handing out, if I can remember well, calling cards to passersby. A woman dressed in rags with unkempt hair took a card from him and asked if she could buy bread with it. This experience made a strong impression on the leader as a young missionary that he hones in on that if we care about saving souls, we must address their temporal needs first.

Desert Place

The gospels give contradictory accounts on where the story takes place. In one gospel the story takes place in the desert. In another gospel the story takes place in an urban setting but when the Lord tells His disciples to find food, the disciples respond that they are in a desert place. Whether the later story highlights the interesting phenomenon of Fatigue in the Synoptics,1 the overriding idea is based on the very word that confuses textural scholars. It is the word desert.

The word desert makes a very compelling argument for how we must think about this parable. When we think of a desert, the first thing that comes to mind is arid, dry, parched, barren. Once you place the parable in its historical context and environment you can see how this might apply to one living today. Not everyone today lives in the desert, but the idea of placement can also be a metaphor for need: hunger, poverty, famine, shortage of food—even unemployment, illness, loneliness, addictions, etc. Also, one can be living in the middle of the city but still experience a food desert, not just access to food, but access to healthy food.

Self-Reliance Builds Community

Now back to the Lord blessing and breaking and giving the loaves to the disciples first, and the disciples to the multitude. It is an easy thing to go to the store and buy food for someone, or to give someone money so they can go to the store to buy food. But what can we learn from the Lord’s example when He tells His disciples to not send the multitude away, that they are to give them something to eat? What does the Lord want us to learn from this parable? From Marion G. Romney:

“Without self-reliance one cannot exercise [the innate desire] to serve. How can we give if there is nothing there? Food for the hungry cannot come from empty shelves. Money to assist the needy cannot come from an empty purse. Support and understanding cannot come from the emotionally starved. Teaching cannot come from the unlearned. And most important of all, spiritual guidance cannot come from the spiritually weak.”

If the disciples of Christ were not in a position to give, or had little knowledge or skills in which to help those in need, then someone had to teach them before they could be of service to others. If we think this parable is about food magically appearing from nothing, we have the wrong idea of what is being articulated by miracle. A miracle also means something wonderful and marvelous and if you put it in the context of providing opportunities for people to provide for themselves, that in itself is a wonderful and marvelous thing.

La Minga: Episode 101 of The Perennial Plate from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

To illustrate, in this video we learn the concept of La Minga, which means community work for community good. Not to be confused with communism, La Minga is an age old tradition practiced by indigenous cultures in South America. A concept that is notably subtle but one that makes a huge impact on the livelihood and sustainability of families and communities. I have written elsewhere about self-reliance and community and how learning to be self-reliant requires learning many skills, but how it makes more sense to learn a few skills and to do them well.

In this video, individuals are starting out by growing 2-3 vegetables each (rather than individuals doing the same thing growing the same vegetables) and sharing their produce. This sharing should not be thought of as giving away for free or working for free, but is an opportunity for individuals to work and provide nourishment for their families with further opportunities for bartering with each other and the possibility of making an income by selling what they grow to the public—as can be seen in co-operatives or co-ops.

Application and Benefits of Fermentation Today

While learning about fermentation methods I came across a number of research papers and published journals from around the world. This is significant because it involves research to help developing countries and, to my astonishment, countries that already have access to modern biotechnology methods. What these papers reveal is the importance of traditional methods of food preparation.

While developing countries lack hygiene and water sanitation to properly implement their skills; developed countries suffer from chronic diseases that could be resolved by implementing traditional skills that have been lost to convenience. The research reminds us how cultures and countries throughout the ages have traditional dishes that involve fermentation—although many that lived during antiquity would not have known the science behind why fermentation was central to their survival—and why traditional methods of food access, storage and preparation may have been seen as miraculous.

What this research does is that it brings this miraculous concept, of indigenous fermented foods (and beverages), to our attention and request that it be given the scientific research and consideration it deserves. In the case of developing countries one paper outlines the significance of fermented foods to national economy in that “locally fermented foods are significant in provision of employment opportunities, market improvement, availability of food supplement and poverty alleviation.”

If there was ever a standard bearer for helping its people help themselves and a perspective for the biblical parable of the multiplicity of the loaves and fishes that has real life application, I think these examples make very compelling arguments to how we have lost touch with where our food comes from and the disconnection to self-reliance and community and why we must turn our focus to the old ways of learning and to reviving skills that have been lost to many.

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  1. Online: podacre.blogspot.com/2010/07/nt-pod-39-fatigue-in-synoptics.html



Monday, September 28th


Menstrual Cups

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What Is that!

No they’re not nipple shields or fingernail extensions, nor is it the pink-eyed monster. They’re menstrual cups and they’re a clean, safe, hygienic and reusable alternative to using disposable tampons and pads. Studies show that they are healthier for you, eco-friendly and economical. Great for women who like to store supplies, especially if you’re limited by space because there is practically nothing to store. For more information on how to use, see Menstrual Cup.co.

Measuring Mense Loss

For women who suffer from menorrhagia, or heavy blood loss during menses, there is another benefit to using one of these—and I wish all doctors knew about menstrual cups before prescribing procedures. Unlike tampons and pads that absorb menstrual fluid, menstrual cups collect it, and if you’re curious about how much you lose each month, or want to keep track of how much you lose, using a cup can help you measure that.

Measuring Quality of Mense

Another reason to use a menstrual cup is to measure the quality of mense. This blog post sheds light on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and how it views the release of menstrual fluid as a way of telling you what is going on in your body. By looking at the chart you can measure the color and quality of mense and what you can do to correct any imbalances. For those treating heavy mense due to uterine fibroids this post at the Weston Price Foundation may prove helpful too.

This post is a reprint from a post I published in January this year.




Wednesday, September 23rd


Advice for Building Sustainable Living Spaces

Great advice from Whole Systems Design‘s Facebook page for those looking at building sustainable living spaces. Image is of their permaculture farm in Vermont.

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Some repetitious patterns that have emerged on recent site consults… Sharing in the hopes that others can learn from it. I’ve been seeing these patterns for years but they’ve been especially acute in almost all of the past couple dozen consults:

  • Start small: find the area with the most solar access near your house (south of house usually) and build raised beds there. Then move on to bigger things. Utilize your Zone 1 first. What values are you getting from the sunniest outdoor space closest to your kitchen door? It should be the most useful space in your landscape.
  • Don’t take on too much: do what you do well, then expand as things are managed well. At the same time, try stuff—don’t be paralyzed by analysis.
  • Don’t get spread out!: Most folks tend to place elements too far apart to be most useful: barns need to be very close to homes, gardens close to homes. Cluster. Take a huge cue from vernacular design in both site planning and building systems. Walking around on site will add up to years of time if you’re not careful.
  • Nuts to the north—berries to the south: from north to south is tallest to lowest growing plants for maximum energy capture. Apply this pattern universally (reverse south of the equator or if you WANT shade).
  • Honor thy zones: From your kitchen door working outward: intensive veggies/greenhouse space, most intensive perennials, less intensive perennials, grazing, forestry. Greenhouses are super intensive—should be within 20 steps of the kitchen and against a building, but not up against an insulated building in cold humid climates ideally, shed and barn are ideal.
  • Ensure that maintenance can keep up with implementation. Implementation often means mulching/deer protection, watering, etc. And that is dependent highly upon ACCESS and your TIME. Planning, establishing and maintaining your access is primary, if you can’t access it you can’t maintain it. Even perennial plantings require maintenance, except for the unusual plant like black locust and willow, most plants in most places are a 3-6 year commitment minimum to get above deer browse and working for you. The designer may be “the one in the recliner” but only after a decade or five. For most people in most places for most of the time the designer is the one with dirt jammed under their fingernails.
  • Manage your water early and often: map its flows and THEN place buildings, roads, gardens, etc.
  • Seed early and often: find your bare soil, seed it, keep it covered. Look for moving water in storms, check dam it, seed it, slow it. Divert to low angle slopes.
  • Use what you have: it’s common for infrastructure and space to be underutilized, rarer that it’s maxed out. Do you really need a new building? Chances are your existing space is not used fully. Consider that before building more. Zone 1 is never full.
  • Building issues: are lower areas of the structure getting wet from splash back, snow drifting or surface flow? In cold humid climates buildings rot from the ground up most often. And the structure earth connections are rife with mistakes, take extreme care in these areas.
  • Do site planning before you build!
  • Do goals planning and understand site processes and features before you choose a site. More than one third of the visits I do are on sites not well suited to client goals. You can’t fix that later on.



Monday, August 31st


homemade soap mold, and alchemy

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Artwork: The Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

My husband is a genius. I showed him a pic of a soap mold made from wood and asked him if he could make one like it. This is what he cranked out for me (below). Cost us a couple dollars to make—awesome. Next step is making the soap, and I haven’t said anything about my soap making adventures in this space, I don’t think but I burned a couple stumps to the ground this summer (back when they lifted the burn ban) and with the wood ash will practice some alchemy—turn the wood ash into potassium hydroxide, or lye. I also rendered beef fat into tallow (far below) which I will use for both soap making and cooking. I’ll post more about my newly acquired magical skills later.

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Homemade wood soap mold

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Tallow made from rendering beef fat



Friday, May 29th


Grainmaker

I’ve been trying to upload videos onto my blog without having to upload them onto youtube first but obviously I couldn’t figure it out. Not to worry, youtube it is. But here she is, the little (red) lady at work. She sounds very noisy in the video but in real life the noise isn’t too awful.




Wednesday, April 1st


High Extraction Flour

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Yes, I’ve been busy grinding wheat and experimenting with the different levels on the grainmill as well as experimenting with my culture and dough which the change in season and temperatures has been affecting. These are images from this morning of the results of extraction.




Thursday, February 26th


Lady in Red

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She has finally arrived. I’ve named her lady in red and she’s beautiful. A grainmaker grain mill and I can’t wait to put the little lady to work.

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Thursday, January 29th


Community

I’ve been thinking about this word for some time. How everyone needs to feel part of a community. There have been moments where I have thought that I don’t need others, and how it would be ideal to live in the countryside with no one around us for miles. But the truth is, we do need others. In all the years O and I have been married, it is interesting that the people who have become a part of our lives, are the friends we have in common, our community.

But there are many types of communities. In this video, community is seen in an agricultural setting. What makes this setting work, is that working together is important for the welfare of individuals and sustainability of communities. There is little value in working as separate families but when a cooperative is formed, and the workload and skill sets are shared, livelihoods improve because everyone has access to employment opportunities which in turns alleviates poverty. I’m sure there are other benefits too.

Which brings me to self-reliance. I can see the wisdom in being self-reliant, but to be fully self-reliant, you need to learn many skills. Like a truck load of them. But let’s say there are 20 families in a community doing the same thing in their homes. Wouldn’t it be more productive and beneficial if each family focused on a single skill set each and if needed, sell or barter with each other instead?

When O and I first got married I introduced him to the idea of food storage. The concept was foreign to him. O grew up in a community where families specialized in a specific vocation. If you didn’t grow your own vegetables or raise your own chickens, families still had access to fresh food as well as tradespeople. Each family had a specific skill set and each benefited from each other’s services, making the community a sustainable one. And because families focused on a specific skill set, they became experts at what they did and in turn had excellent products.

So that’s where I’m coming from. Do I become a jack of all trades and produce work that is mediocre in all those areas, or become a master of one and produce the one thing that I can call excellent.




Wednesday, October 1st


Basic cooking skills

One of our daughters is a sophomore in college this year and has decided to live off campus which means that she’ll be cooking her own food. I thought I had prepared her well by teaching some basic cooking skills before she left home but as I see her buy groceries I’m beginning to wonder if I could have taught her more. As such I’ve been thinking of skills I hope to teach her during school break—or if that doesn’t work out, skills to teach our 16 year old in readiness for college and mission. Here are some that came to mind though not in any order of importance (some of the skills our children already know). I’m sure you could think of some for your own children.

  • How to make the perfect fluffy rice (in a pot, not rice cooker)
  • How to use a crockpot
  • How to cook beans including soaking them overnight
  • How to make a great omelette
  • How to separate egg yolks from the whites
  • How to peel a potato
  • How to chop an onion
  • Buying meat bulk, then separating into ziplock meal-size bags for the freezer
  • How to cook pasta al dente
  • How to clean up after themselves, including washing dishes by hand
  • How to make cookies from scratch
  • How to flip a crepe (and pancake)
  • How to boil the perfect egg

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