Goddess of Cake


Permaculture and a Last Reminder of Winter

Permaculture, in case you never heard the word before, is the art of designing sustainable habitats by imitating natural ecosystems. I was invited to one permaculturalist – gathering in one ecovillage, and then to another ecological community,  to teach permaculture on an Ecovillage Design Education – course. Permaculture is a design system that searches for solutions for ecovillages, organic gardening, sustainable agriculture and social change, or anything else that gears towards a more sustainable life. The first ecovillage I visited was young and punky, and the second one a bit older and more established, but anyway it was interesting for me to do this little road trip to my past.

I was picked up from the trainstation by the old Hiace full of backbacks and hippies, and we hit the dark snowy roads towards Central Finland. The three – year – old chattered away on the front seat, I got the see mobile phone  photos from a demonstration in England, and we stoppes and peed in a row on the roadside snow (yes, alternative people do that).  Late at night, we arrived at the ecovillage, and got greeted with a plate of broad bean soup and a house full of friendly people, children and dogs. It was the eve of Spring Equinox,  and everybody in the house was bursting with energy for outdoor life, after a winter spent indoors.

In the second ecovillage I get to teach on a Ecovillage Design Education –  course, so we talk about permaculture principles:  1. Follow nature’s patterns. 2. If you are not having fun, you are not doing it right! 3. Imagination is the only limit to the system’s yield 4. Start small, observe and interact! 5. Design from pattern to details, et cetera. We also think about closed loops and sustainability. What kind of system is sustainable, and why?

After permaculture we discuss local food and the eco – footprint of different foodstuffs. Which is better, ordinary tea or organic coffee? Which has a heavier footprint, organic local cheese or a canned coconut milk? Sometimes we teachers even don’t know the answers, but after the class we do a hands – on approach on local food, and cook seitan, hemp sauce, nettle pancakes with lingonberries and oven cooked whole oats for the group, and as dessert some whipped rye with berries. It’s chaotic, and fun, and the food is delicious.

In the evenings the communal kitchen is lit and the people clean away the leftovers of dinner. They laugh softly, talk  about small things: ” We should put more dish rags on the shopping list!”, somebody leans on the counter, sips a cup of herbal tea. Somehow, I’m a little jealous of that easy companionship, the fellowship of the kitchen counter, even if I once lived here and doomed it not to be for me.

The course is very interesting, and I’m becoming very fond of the morning heart sharing circles: I simple excercise in which we four randomly chosen, very different people talk about our lives and the expectations we have for it. It’s very powerful, and in the end there is no way but to like the people in my group very much. The last morning, we do the hippie classic, a group hug, and it feels like the most natural thing to do in the world.We have woven a surprising little web of connection, in this time and space.

Ecovillage Food

Most likely, if you are a Finnish person trying to eat locally grown food, you are at this time of the year pretty stuffed with root vegetables, delicious that they are, after eating them for months. Now the first green wild veggies are sprouting in the nature, but you can still use some imaginative recipes that don’t require too many fresh ingredients.

Hemp and Funnel Chanterelle Croquettes

These are delicious vegan croquettes, though they ask for a fair amount of mushrooms. But last autumn was really good for funnel chantarelles, so there is plenty to eat.  These patties stay together very well, thanks to the proteins of hemp.

This recipe I learned from my friend Aino, thank you!

2, 5 dl dried funnel chantarelles, soaked

1 onion

2 dl hemp meal

2 dl bread crumbs +  1/2 dl for breading

1 – 2 dl oat milk

1 tsp  salt

1 tsp dried paprika

1 tsp dried basil

oil for frying

Soak the funnel chantarelles in water for 10 minutes. Chop the onion finely, and the mushrooms too. Sauté both on a pan, in oil, for a few minutes, then mix together with the hemp meal, bread crumbs and spices. Add oat milk, enough to make a nice dense paste that can easily be made into patties. Let the paste sit for a few minutes, and then make small balls or patties. Roll them in bread crumbs, and fry both sides in oil.

Hemp meal can be easily ground using a food processor.

Serve with mashed potatoes, lingonberry mush and sauerkraut.

Whipped Rye with Berries

This is a surprising dessert! The rye flour will turn light and fluffy, if you have the patience to whip it for several minutes. You can make it with lingonberries, blackcurrants or any other slightly tangy berries

1,5 dl extra fine rye flour

2,5 dl boiling water

0,5 dl sugar

1 tsp vanilla

4 dl berries (if frozen, thawed)

Blend all the ingredients, and whisk with an electric whisk for a few minutes, until fluffy.



A Garden Memory and Odd Salads

This city is drowning in snow, but I can feel the spring edging closer. The days are longer and the little birds have started chirping, and the sunlight feels warm on my cheeks. It reminds me of the fact that the  summer will come.

Last summer we built a secret garden in one desolated spot in Helsinki, amidst old trains, rose bushes and general junk. It became a tiny paradise, with the biggest mangold leaves, abundant mint and sky – reaching branches of dill. And those rows of huge carrots and beetroot! It was a common effort by many  brave guerilla gardeners, who did learn about the miracle of growth in the process.  We were loved by the media, frequented by all kinds of visitors, from art students to radical activists and old ladies interested in gardening. Not to mention Helsinki’s recent dominant pest, the Urban Bunnies, a feral, red – eyed, formerly domesticated little nuisance.

I remember those early summer evenings, dry, light and warm,  lugging the heavy watering cans and letting the plants drink. What a delight is water for the dusty earth and for yourself, after a hot day. And I isn’t it strange, how the little grey, inconspicuous – looking seeds turn black soil, water and sunlight into edible green leaves and colourful tubers? If you never grew your own food, how could you possibly appreciate that? No one can control that magic! We can help and enhance it, but it happens by its own will. For new life to grow, there needs to be first death and decay, and what is living now, will finally be compost that feeds new growth.  A difficult lesson to learn.

Harvest party pictures courtesy of Päivi Raivio, thanks!

If I could stay in that moment, in the secret garden, with the heavy watering cans, I would. But time’s current is a force that only takes you forward. The green growth will take its own way, and is not stopped by blocks of concrete or urban sprawl.  When you open your fist, what you grabbed, a rock, a leaf, a piece of soil,  has  been pressed down to a diamond, a beautiful memory. That is for your keeping, for ever, even when a secret garden is too small a dream.

But they are sleeping there, under the blanket of snow, the little seeds. Soon, soon, it will be their time, to sprout and make a green revolution.  What revolutionary dreams do they dream? Stay tuned to the channel…

The Odd Salad

We recently had a meeting to plan some urban gardening visions. A member of our group suggested on our mailing list, in English, that we could share “an odd salad”. That caused a major confusion: Some people thought he meant “a strange salad”, some people thought the expression referred to a potluck dinner in general, and some people  even somehow got the idea he meant a mixed – gender sauna, because there was also talk about heating up the sauna at our meeting place. Finally, I think everyone understood what the expression means, but the “odd salad” was indeed delicious and the sauna very hot too.

Salad with Dried Apricots and Broccoli

A  head of broccoli

two handfuls of dried apricots

half a leek

50 g hazelnuts

Dressing:

3 tbsp walnut oil

1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp maple syrup

a pinch of black pepper

Soak the apricots overnight in water.  The following day, separate the flower heads of the broccoli, and steam them just a couple of minutes, until they are a little tender.  Cut the leek diagonally into strips and very quickly fry it in oil. Slice the apricots and toast the hazelnuts on dry pan. Chop the hazelnuts roughly.  Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing and toss the salad, decorate with chopped hazelnut.

Asian Beetroot Salad

This is a version of a dish a used make out of our guerilla – gardened beets last summer.

1 big beet

1 big orange

Dressing:

3 tbsp sesame oil

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp crushed garlic

1 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tbsp lemon juice

Slice the beetroot thinly, and steam for a few minutes until tender. Slice the orange. Mix the ingredients for the dressing and toss the salad.  This salad is much improved if you have time to marinate it for a while.

Pink Salad with Fennel and Pear

200 g red cabbage

1 bulb of fennel

1 pear

Dressing:

2 tbsp raspberry vinegar

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tsp honey

a pinch of fleur de sel (or any other salt..)

Slice the cabbage and fennel very finely. I used a cheese – slicer, but you could use a mandolin as well. Cut the pear into thin slices. Whisk together the ingredients for the dressing, and mix the cabbage and fennel in a bowl.  Pound the cabbage and fennel a bit, or give them a squeeze with your fingers. Mix in the pear slices and the dressing.



Lucia’s Saffron Buns
December 22, 2009, 23:05
Filed under: Baking, winter seasonal food | Tags: , , , ,

Picture by Juha Pentikäinen

The 13th of December is the day of Saint Lucia, the only saint that is commonly recognised in Finland and Sweden. Our countries are very Lutheran, which is sparse, strict, no nonsense – path of reformist Christianity. So we don’t know anything of  dramatic saints with their terrifying life – stories, and our churches are quiet places with simple furnishings. But then, why did we take Lucia, an unknown Sicilian saint, to be so dear to us and be part of the Advent celebrations leading Christmas?

Lucia’s Day is widely celebrated in Sweden and in the Swedish speaking part of Finland. Usually a young maiden from the local community is chosen to represent her, looks are not important, but she should have a beautiful voice to sing with. Then she appears on streets and marketplaces, in schools, in old people’s homes, clad in white, wearing a crown of candles and singing the Lucia Song. Often she will bring some “glögi”, a Finnish Christmas drink and some gingerbread to people. Hardly anyone remembers her actual story (I recall she refused to marry because she wanted to lead a Christian life in chastity, and suffered a martyr death because of that) , she is simply the bringer of light in the darkest time of the year. Somehow I think she subconsciously reminds us of the ancient, powerful Nordic goddesses, when she stands there, brave, shining and solitary, crowned with living fire.

What is my personal relationship to Lucia then? When I was five years old and in the Kindergarten, I was not chosen to be Lucia, but instead got to be Virgin Mary in the Christmas play. But who would be comforted by a meek Mary that silently bends her head and accepts her faith, when there was a chance to be Lucia, who fights for her beliefs and leads the glorious procession? I was so bitter! As an adult I actually got to be the Lucia of my school, when I studied weaving in a swedish – speaking small town. I guess it is also slowly dawning to me that somebody who looks strong and solitary from the outside, might feel lonely and isolated inside.

These kind of saffron buns are in Sweden connected with Lucia, but in my childhood home they were simply baked before each Christmas, to be served with other Christmas delicacies. I must admit that I had to consult the internet in order to remember all the different forms they were baked in, but you can use your imagination! All kind of twirls and spirals is the idea. You should reserve about one and half hours to bake this.

Saffron Christmas Buns

About 25 pieces

2,5 water

25 g yeast

2 g saffron

1/2 tsp bourbon vanilla powder

1,25 dl sugar

7 – 8 dl wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

100 g vegetable margarine, vegan butter or oil

The water should  be about 36 °C warm so that it doesn’t feel cold or hot when you try with your finger. Dilute the yeast to the water, and add the saffron and sugar and mix. Add some of the flour and then the salt. Continue adding flour until the dough has a nice dense consistency, feels heavy to the hand and doesn’t stick to the edges of the bowl. Then add the margarine or oil. The dough should stay quite soft, so don’t knead too much!

Let the dough rise covered in a nice warm spot, until it’s doubled up in size. It takes half an hour or so. Then cut it up to small pieces, and roll it into several bars that are about the thickness of your finger. Then make all kinds of fun twirly shapes, and decorate  with raisins.

Put your buns on an oven plate and let them rise for an additional 15 – 20 minutes. Then bake them in the oven in 225ºC for 10 – 15 minutes, until they are nicely golden brown. Melt some margarine or use a bit of oil to spread on the buns to make them look pretty. And yes, the raisins tend to always pop out, so try to press them firmly into the bun.

Usually these kind of buns are made with eggs and butter, and for the vegan version to succeed, it is important to not use too much flour in the dough, and to be patient enough to allow it to rise properly.

Here is what Tricia wrote about Lucia and Saffron Buns, and a non – vegan recipe for it.



Mushroom Hunting

Two weeks or so ago I went to the countryside in search of some local food with a couple of friends. In the woods we did find lots and lots of funnel chanterelles (Cantharellus tubaeformis) and lingonberries. Picking these mushrooms is very rewarding: first you don’t see them, but then you spot one and suddenly realise they are simply everywhere… Picking lingonberries can be meditative, or boring in other words, but anyway it’s nice to stumble on branches and get your gumboots sucked inside wet moss in the wet forest, in  slowly drizzling rain. We also dug up the last root vegetables from the garden and used them and the results of our foraging for a gorgeous meal.

carrots

mushrooms

In the woods we encountered a guy carrying a gun, who was in a moose hunting party. It did occur to me that eating a wild moose might be so much more locavorean*  than buying some vegan soy products that might have destroyed half a rainforest. I’m generally not against killing, since in my opinion dying is part of the natural world, and an essential part of how the ecosystem works. At least the animals in the wild have had an opportunity to a dignified life, which can of course not be said about those poor creatures who only exist to serve our needs for animal products.

country tripping

On our way home we also met a woman from a neighboring house, who had a few cows, a horse and a herd of sixty sheep. She told us that when she shears all those sheep and sends the wool to a spinnery, she will either get 120 euros for it, or 4 kg of ready-made wool yarn, which really is nothing at all. So keeping all those animals is just a hobby for her. She was a really shining person, you could see the happiness those animals were giving her, and they way she treated them was loving and respectful. But it is still sad that in order to make any other kind of profit than just happiness she’d have to do her farming in a much more unsustainable way. What could be the solution to this? My dream is that our food could be provided in the ways we experienced on our weekend trip:  with foraging, hunting and  small-scale farming. What I don’t know is whether this would be effective enough to feed us all on this planet. Probably not, but I still wish it could be possible.

At home we made the all time favourite: oven roasted veggies and funnel chanterelle sauce, with lingonberry mush. I know everyone knows how to make roasted veggies, but it’s such a nice winter time dish that I’ll write about it, just in case you had forgotten the whole idea in this raw food craze that seems to prevail these days. I originally learned the concept of oven roasted vegetables from a cook book by Saara Törmä, called Keittokomero ja huone, which is a great source of simple, affordable, yet delicious recipes. It’s totally out of print these days, sadly, and of course only available in Finnish.

Oven Roasted Vegetables

3 carrots

1 parsnip

2 beetroots

2 onions

2 potatoes

a piece of root celery

a piece of swede

6 garlic cloves

The Dressing

3 tbsp oil

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp honey

black pepper

1 tbsp dried herbs: thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, choose your favourite ones

Chop the veggies roughly. There is no need to peel the potatoes, just clean them well. Peel the garlic cloves, and pour everything onto an oven plate. Mix the ingredients for the dressing, and drizzle over the veggies. Roast in the oven for about 40 minutes in 200 ºC.

mushroom sauce and oven grated veggies

There was also a cake for Vappu’s birthday the following day. The cake was a vegan chocolate cake, filled with grated apple, lingonberries and frosted with soy cream. It was decorated with lingonberries found in the forest and ancient liquorice found in the cupboard. Very simple, suitable for a country trip.

cake

Basic Vegan Chocolate Cake

4 dl wheat flour

1 dl cocoa powder

2  dl sugar

2 tsp baking powder

0,5 tsp baking soda

2 tsp egg replacer

1 tsp chocolate flavouring

3 dl oat milk or other non – dairy

1 tsp vinegar

2 dl canola oil

Vegan cakes are easy to make: mix the dry ingredients and the sugar. It is a good idea to use a sieve with the cocoa powder.  Then mix the vinegar with the milk and add to the batter. As the last ingredient add the oil. Avoid mixing too much! Then pour the batter to a springform pan, 24 cm in diameter, and bake in the oven in 180 °C about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool thoroughly before cutting the layers and filling it.  And remember: a cake should always be filled the day before  serving!

* a locavore is a person who tries to eat as much local food as possible