Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Digging Our Heels Into Hardened Soil

 Ya know how when Trump first garnered attention as a wild card in the various races to become President and everyone thought he might tone it down once at the top? And then once he was president, with each passing day, we continued to be surprised, and then slowly not at all surprised that he continued to act a bit unhinged and certainly unlike any politician seen or heard before? And next thing we knew, nothing could surprise us and we hardly lifted our heads at the latest headlines, hardly gave his antics much attention at all?

I'm worried I may have arrived at that point with genetic science in agricultural crops. I'm almost not even surprised when even the craziest research has been funded and the latest 'solution' developed, suddenly staring at me from my computer screen, from a CBC Quirks & Quarks article no less. 


Go on. It's not a terribly long article, you've got time to give it a quick perusal. (If you REALLY don't, the Cole's Notes is that plants do not do well in compacted soil -surprise!- and scientists have identified one reason this might be; ethylene, which does not diffuse through compacted soil. Fear not young reader, genetic modification is here and will create plants who ignore the ethylene and literally punch through the hard soil.)

I almost, for a second, thought it was a joke. Perhaps there's now The Manatee or The Beaverton for farming?  No, the linked scientific journal would suggest otherwise. 

I'm finding it difficult to form my thoughts coherently around this topic and yet I've been sitting with it for several days now. Rather than bore you with a long article outlining my dismay, here's some bullet points instead.
  • Isn't the most important thing we know about soil at the moment, that we know so very little about soil? Is it possible that this one, singular conclusion about ethylene is missing some other important pieces about how compaction affects the soil biology AROUND the plant and not just the plant alone?
  • Are we now accepting that soil compaction is simply a necessity of our food production system? That rather than researching better technologies to reduce compaction, we're throwing money at genetically modified crops to better muscle their way through rock?
  • Is it conspiracy theory to suppose that the same companies that sell the chemicals and fertilizers needed to grow these crops that require heavy, compacting equipment, might also hold the patents for the specialized crops that can grow in those conditions? 
  • Has every consideration been made for how stopping the plant from detecting ethylene might affect the rest of its life, or the life of the soil biology around it, or the animals/humans who might consume it? Are there other roles that the ethylene plays in the soil and in the air that might be altered by mucking about with the plants' detection of it?
I've mentioned before that many years ago I had seriously considered creating a blog entirely about the silliness of various "solutions" created in agriculture that are in fact just treatments for the symptom. This could be the textbook example to beat all examples. Rather than treating the problem of compaction (huge equipment, short rotations, lack of cover crops, lack of organic matter, erosion, a focus on building soil and encouraging soil biology, etc. etc.), let's turn our attention to how we can fix the symptom (plants struggling to emerge in compacted soil). 

Can you hear that?

 It's my head banging against the wall.  

Please agriculture. Read the room. We need to move in another direction, not dig in our heels. 


Sunday, January 10, 2021

The Chicken That Keeps on Giving

 On my Instagram this week, I shared how I get the most out of a chicken, starting with using the breasts for fajita night, simmering the rest for stock and stripping the meat from the bones for other dishes. I ended up making noodle soup and chicken pot pie with the rest of it. It ended up feeding 22 people!!!  I had a bunch of requests for the recipe for the pot pie so I thought I'd put the recipe here. 

 I should include a note that I don't really follow exact amounts very often. I'm a bit of a 'feel it out as you go' kinda gal. So forgive my wishy washy instructions. You Culinary A-Types won't enjoy the following.

It would be helpful to watch this video of me cutting up a chicken to start with. This is how you get the most out of a whole bird, 100%.  Once I had it pieced up, I separated the breasts and tenders, and then put the rest on to simmer in the dutch oven for a few hours with a whole onion and celery. Once it was cooled, I pulled all the meat off the bones and strained the stock. I stored them both in the fridge until I was ready to use it. 

Chicken Pot Pie

Peel and dice carrots and potatoes. Put em on to boil until tender-crisp. 
Meanwhile, fry diced onions and celery in lots of butter, in a heavy pot. Probably like a 1/4 cup-ish. You deserve it.
Fry until softened and smelling irresistible. Add some seasoning of your choice. A generic "poultry seasoning" will do the trick, or summer savory, or thyme and sage, etc. 
 If it seems like it needs more butter now, go for it. There should be some butter that hasn't been absorbed by the veggies.
Add the equivalent amount of flour. You'll know it's the right amount if its fully absorbed by the butter but not looking too dry. Whisk around while it cooks through and starts to smell a bit nutty. 
Whisk in some of the stock until thickened, adding more until you've got lots of thick, flavourful stock. 
Stir in your chicken. I had about 1.5 - 2cups of chicken, but any reasonable amount will do. 
Gauge how much stock you've got. You don't want it too wet, or you'll end up with chowder, but you want everything coated. Adjust accordingly. If you need more stock, this time add milk/cream.
Now add the potatoes and carrots that you boiled. Stir as little as needed, to get everything incorporated. 
Last thing to add is frozen peas. I add them right at the end, so they cool things off and stop everything from getting too mushy. They'll cook once they get to the oven, and hopefully stay a nice bright green. 
So now, if the ratios of food to cream seem ok, I set aside and get busy on my crust. 

Ya'Basic Pie Crust

If this is for a sweet pie, add a tablespoon of sugar. Otherwise, omit.
This is not some super flaky superhero pie crust. It ain't gonna win ya no blue ribbon at the county fair, but it'll do in a pinch and is perfect for simple pot pies, quiches, etc. 
1 1/3 cup flour (don't kill yourself trying to use too much whole wheat in this. You'll just be annoyed.)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cold butter (cubed, or frozen and shredded)
3-4 tbsp ice water (I find with our flour it takes a bit more water, but don't get too excited about it. Just add a bit at a time until your dough forms a nice ball.)

It says to chill in the fridge, but I almost never leave myself enough time for that, so I just get rolling. This recipe gives me enough for a this bottom and top crust in my large dutch oven brasier pan. 
My mom always makes her pie crust in her food processor, and she makes the nicest pie crusts known to humankind (and her recipe is from the Tenderflake box), but I do mine in a bowl, by hand and it turns out fine. Getting that butter mixed in nicely is the ticket.

Anyway, toss a bottom crust in your dish, add the chicken mixture and throw the top crust on. I was making apple crisp at the same time, so I had the oven at 350 and kept it in there until golden brown (probably 30-40mins?), but otherwise, might have turned it up to 400 for less time. *shrugs*, who knows?

Thanks for coming to my terrible-at-recipes TedTalk. Follow me for more difficult to follow culinary instructions. *eye roll*.