Monday, April 30, 2012

The Earthiest of Earth Days...

     Way back when, post-marriage, pre-children, young me decided I should plant a huge garden and produce enough food for us to live on.  We lived in a high-rise apartment with no balcony.  I grew houseplants.  Then we moved to an apartment with a balcony and I grew cherry tomatoes then the outside of the building had to be painted, we moved everything inside and the cats ate/peed in everything.  Then we moved to a condo with no sun so I grew a couple of onions, a lot of geraniums, and weeds.  Then we moved to a house with lots of land located in the Pit of Darkness.  The first year my garden plot got shaded out.  The next year, all I got out of my plot was a little spinach and lettuce, still not enough sun.  So last year I decided to rip out half the lawn.  But first, I tested the sun by planting everything in pots.

  And the sun never shined.  Like, all Summer.  But I still managed to get beets, lettuce, chard, a couple of scrawny tomatoes,

 (I took this picture on 9/10/11, hah!)

bunches of bolita and purple podded pole beans, and a fair number of peas and potatoes.  Squash, cucumbers, and kale all failed miserably.

Admittedly, there may have been more than lack of sunlight involved in the demise of the cucumbers...

     All this to say, clearly, I had better luck and the lawn must go.

     Back in October, my buddy Danika hauled over a load of straw bales so we could have a storytime spot for our Halloween party.  Those suckers were a little heavy.  Because they were a little heavy and also because I was a lot lazy, they sat there, slowly killing the grass underneath it.  Unfortunately, it was the wrong grass. I finally got sick of looking at it back in March and chopped it into layers and moved it over to the part of the lawn that will become my garden.  Guess what I learned?  1) wet straw is even more heavy than dry straw 2) wet straw gets moldy 3) wet straw mold gives me a cough so bad hubby fears I may actually have mold growing in my lungs 4) when you go to the doctor because you are allergic to mold and have a cough so bad your husband thinks you may have mold growing inside your body you win an inhaler!  But wait!  There's more!  Also, nasal spray!  Sweeeet...  Also, slugs reeeeeeeally like wet, moldy straw.  Ew.

But it was moved and it sat in the right spot killing the right grass.  

     Spring sort of sneaked up on me this year.  It was Winter, it was Winter, it was Wiiiiiinteeeeerrrr, SPRING!  I planned to start some seeds last weekend (waaaay late) and I opened my storage spot and a mouse had eaten all my leftover seeds and half a baseball.  You know, I'm a little afraid to mess around with a mouse that eats baseballs.  So rather than shaking him down for my seeds, I placed a new order.  I did get a few new seeds like salsify and miner's lettuce, so I'm counting it a win. 

     Saturday, I spent an hour or so forking the area I want to plant spinach and lettuce in because I learned on Victory Garden that that's the best thing to do (also because "forking" sounds kinda dirty).  Got a rockin' callus.  I was apparently in the bathroom during the part on Victory Garden when they said to wear gloves when forking... duh.

     And so on Earth Day, I moved the straw again.  Took a dose of allergy meds beforehand.  And you know what?  It's still heavy!  But it did a great job taking care of the weeds and grass.  Moss, not so much, but fortunately, moss is pretty easy to fork.

     Another project we've been working on is sheet mulch.  Hubby's been saving cardboard in the garage for us to put down over the weeds we want to mulch over.  Last year we tried mulching over weeds and they just grew up right through it.  I think we didn't have quite enough coverage.  This time, buddy we're going to have enough coverage!  So I spent quite a few hours stripping plastic tape and metal staples out of cardboard boxes and laying them in my flower garden so I would have somewhere to move the straw to.


 I've managed to pretty well get everything covered, but I still had half a garden full of straw!

I made a compost pile next to my composter...

And so, in the spirit of do-it-yourselfedness, I decided to make almond flour this week.  Almond flour is the the very best gluten free flour flavor-wise, but it's really darn expensive.  I had seen a video clip by Greenbacks Gal about making almond flour in a coffee grinder.  She also uses an old-fashioned sifter in her process and blanched almonds.  Since I didn't have most of that stuff, I decided to give it a whirl with my regular almonds, in a food chopper, and a strainer.  Here's what I did:

I found some raw almonds at a discount grocery store for about $4 a bag and I knew I had to try to make almond flour.  To start, open your bag.  I know, thorough, right?  Then, put a handful or two into a food chopper.

Run the chopper for about 30-40 seconds.  This part is really loud.  You might want to wear ear plugs...

When the mixture is pretty fine, stop and pour the almonds into a fine mesh strainer.

Sift out the finest pieces just like you would sift confectioner's sugar onto a cake.  (Tap the strainer against the heel of your hand until the fine stuff falls out...)

This will be the result.  Big chunks in the strainer, fine stuff in the bowl.  Rocket science.

Put the big stuff back into the chopper and process another 20-30 seconds.  Filter through the strainer (there will be considerably less flour this time) then repeat once more.

You can see how moist the big chunks are by the end of the third processing.  I wasn't able to get much more usable flour at this point.

 So I set it aside.

Repeat the process, chopping the almonds, sifting them, returning them to the chopper until you've finished your bag of almonds.  My $4 one pound bag yielded 2 Cups of almond flour the first time I did it and 2 1/2 Cups the second time.  I wrote the amount and the date processed on the bag and stuck it in the freezer.

 Homemade almond flour with skin in the foreground, store-bought blanched almond flour in the background.  If you want to blanch your almonds first, pour boiling water over a bowl of raw almonds.  Let sit for about 30 seconds, drain, and pop the almonds out of their skins!  Let them dry completely on a cooling rack before beginning the flour making process.  Blanched almond flour in the store can cost as much $14 for a bag of  around 3 cups (I like Bob's Red Mill).  So though, I yielded less than 3 cups with my 1 pound, I can get about 6 cups for the price of 3 cups of the name brand.

Now, you could save all your little too-wet pieces of almonds for mixing into pancakes or muffins or even use them as breading for chicken, but I decided to try my hand at almond butter.

 One at a time, pour 1 Tbs of water into the "wet" almond pieces and pulse.  It will take a while for the mixture to fall off the sides.  I eventually added 6 Tbs of water to this batch.

This is about the right consistency.  It has fallen off the sides, and begun that fun whirlpool motion around the blade.  Process until it's as smooth as you like it.  I like mine a little crunchier.

 I got about a cup of butter.  Here you can see the difference between homemade raw almond butter and roasted store-bought "grind it yourself" almond butter.  It's considerably lighter, but also so much sweeter!  You could mix a little salt in if you want during the blending process, but I like mine plain on whole wheat with a little honey...  I also used some as filling in a cinnamon roll.  Pretty good, but it needed something... Haven't quite worked it out yet.

I just made chocolate chip cookies with the flour.  Aw.  Mah.  Gah, Ya'll.  It's a beautiful thing, friends.  You can use this in any of your gluten-free recipes or as a supplement to your regular flour recipes.  Lots of pancake and waffle recipes floating around on the web right now.  I sense they will be floating around my belly pretty soon...  Be careful though, there are a LOT more calories in almond flour!  160 calories in 1/4 C almond flour to white flour's 114.  It does have twice the protein, though so there's that...


  1. Such a great post. I like how your posts have so much happening every time. I have never baked with almond flour before (because i can't buy it here in India and too lazy to make my own) but I can imagine how wonderful it'll taste :)

    1. Oh, Honey! It is soooo good! If you can get your hands on some almonds, it is absolutely worth the effort, especially with all the gluten-free baking you've been doing lately!

  2. You've been tagged for a "Get to Know Me" post! I hope you'll join in on the fun :]


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