To Sunchoke Or Not To Sunchoke

Lovely, prolific, hardy.

Lovely, prolific, hardy.

Life is full of big decisions.

Profess your love or play it cool? Over easy or sunny side up? Argue or let it go? Leave everything behind for what might be the big break? Speak your mind or pretend it doesn’t matter?

There’s another big decision you might be making. Grow sunchokes or avoid sunchokes?

It doesn’t seem like such a big decision, but it is.

I was drawn into the sunchoke question a few years ago. I’d been reading about health problems linked to inflammation. It’s a scary list that includes asthma, allergies, arthritis, auto-immune disorders, osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. If that’s not enough, inflammation is also a key factor in skin aging and other outward signs of aging. There are all sorts of things you can do to combat inflammation. Things like being physically active, eating a Mediterranean diet, flossing daily, and getting adequate sleep (not easy for insomniacs like me). It also helps to include sources of inulin (not insulin!) in your diet.

Inulin is a soluable dietary fiber. It brims with naturally occuring oligosaccharide (linked sugars) that belong to the class of carbohydrates known as fructans. Unlike most carbs, inulin isn’t digestible. It ferments (a sort of intestinal home brew), boosting healthy intestinal micro flora but not your blood sugar.

A great source of inulin happens to be the sunchoke. In the world of inflammation prevention it’s called a prebiotic, basically an eager cruise director of healthy gut flora.

So I grew some.

I didn’t know at the time that the sunchoke is a member of the sunflower family. It is.

sunchokes 1

A huge, prolific member of that family. These plants are nearly 8 feet tall.

sunchokes 2

The few tubers I planted turned into a veritable forest, tall stalks topped with cheery yellow blossoms waving in the slightest breeze.

Sunchoke-related advice 

First off, these are powerfully prolific plants. Don’t grow them where you don’t want them to keep growing. If you’re afraid you’ll be screaming with sci-fi horror, “just make it stop,” then don’t plant them anywhere you can’t mow. Because mowing, maybe a few years of mowing, is really all that will stop them. (Unless you’re a Round-up sort of person. I’m pretty frustrated with you people for all sorts of reasons.)

Second, I haven’t seen anything written about this but sunchokes seem to have a very positive effect on the soil. I planted them in a section of our back garden that was mostly clay. A few years back we’d amended the soil with some well-seasoned cow poo contributed by our cattle pals, but it was still hard with broad orange streaks of clay. After two years of growing sunchokes, that same patch is loose, friable, and teeming with worms.

Third, these babies last all winter. You can harvest them through the holidays, into the last days of winter, maybe even into early spring if you’ve had heavy snow cover without a thaw. Right now it’s April and I’m digging up sunchokes. Most of them at this point aren’t for us, they’re cattle fodder, but still useful.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, these tubers are commonly known as Jerusalem artichokes. They’re not artichokes nor are they from Jerusalem. They’re also called by another name you should know: “fartichoke.” That’s because the tuber’s health-promoting insoluble fiber gives some people gas. Prolific, propulsive gas.

Still harvesting sunchokes in April.

Still harvesting sunchokes in April.

Tips for easier sunchoke digestion

Don’t harvest sunchokes until after the first hard frost. And then, harvest only what you need and use them while they’re still firm.  Sunchokes happily stay fresh and firm under the snow all winter so you can dig out a few as needed. (Unless the ground is frozen solid. We dug up more in March and early April than we did December to February.)

The first few times you eat them don’t eat too much. They’re tempting little devils when sliced thin and fried into Sunchoke Chips (or Paleo Fries.) Take a few bites and stop. Think of them like beans. If you don’t eat them often your gut may not have enough We Handle This Particular Fiber bacteria. Give your microbiota time to handle the challenge with small regular sunchoke doses.

Avoid eating them raw. There are lots of recipes telling you to add them to salads (just like jicama!) but don’t. Just don’t.

Make them into sunchoke pickles or naturally fermented sunchoke pickles. Apparently fermentation eases the digestion problem too.

Roast em!

Roast em!

Some culinary thoughts on the wonderful versatile sunchoke

Remember, don’t harvest until after a frost or two because cold sweetens the tubers.

Only harvest what you can use in the next day or two. Stored too long they get discolored and lose their firm texture.

Sunchokes are fascinatingly convoluted. No need to peel. Snap or cut them apart so you can clean all the crevices, then scrub with a brush meant for potatoes.

Sunchokes hide nicely in all sorts of dishes and seem to be trendy the last few years.

Sunchokes oxidize when exposed to air, just like apples or eggplant. To prevent this, use right after cutting or toss with an acid like lemon juice or red wine before cooking. There are a bunch of other fascinating tips for preparing sunchokes here — one of my favorites is a pointer about preventing sunchokes from turning gray when pureed or made into soup (their high iron content causes this to happen): again they suggest that you add a pinch of cream of tartar or an acidic liquid (like lemon juice) to the sunchoke cooking water.

They qualify as paleo as well as low carb by most reckonings.

Make them into soup, crisp them in a pan with prosciutto and mint, toss them with fettuccine, crust them on fish, serve them roasted with chicken, hide them in garlic mashed potatoes.

Sunchokes are great roasted. I like to cut them up along with onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts or cauliflower. Drizzle with good oil and roast in a hot oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Halfway through, toss in a handful or two of whole garlic cloves–making sure the cloves are covered by oil so they don’t burn. Yum.

They’re great in soups. Add a sunchoke or two to nearly any soup recipe, cook thoroughly, and enjoy.

Parboil them, then add them to other recipes. They’re particularly good in potato dishes, plus all that fiber counterbalances a potato’s high glycemic index (if you worry about such things).

They’re also not easily detected (by taste) if you want to toss them into a recipe. Thoroughly boil a few sunchokes, whirl them in the blender, and you’ve got a puree you can add to everything from smoothies to pancakes.

Resist the urge to impose sunchoke-heavy dishes on unaware diners, although it’s tempting when you’ve required to bring something to that company potluck you dread. Well, unless you really wanted to change jobs.

Sunchokes fit in nearly every recipe.

Sunchokes fit in nearly every recipe.

Posted in eating, gardening, kitchen arts | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Early Spring Walk

The skies are a lovely mottled blue gray. It’s cold enough for a coat and scarf. But I’m glad to be out, breathing more deeply and gratefully than I do indoors. Everywhere I look I see something beautiful.

Tiny flowers emerging around last autumn’s leaves.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Bracket fungus (conk) on a tree, forming a perfect awning over woodpecker holes.

Convoluted paths in the dirt. We think these were routes tunneled by mice under the snow, now impressions left on the ground after spring’s thaw.

Buds everywhere.

A Cooper’s hawk coasting on air currents folds its wings and plummets groundward in a glorious swoop that spells doom for a tiny mouse. It reminds me how cosmologist Brian Swimme teaches that neither creature would be what they are without the other. The hawk’s sharp eyesight, speed, and precision are honed by it’s prey’s keen awareness, ability to freeze in place, skill at burrowing and dodging. The pressure of hunger and the urge to survive work together to create distinctive species.

Only a few days, and the bulbs that were barely emerging

are now forming blooms.

After our walk Winston eyes the porch. He’s missed barking at the delivery person but because it’s spring the door is open and that means he can growl quietly at the package left behind. Ah, the joy.

Posted in spring | 8 Comments

Global Village Construction Set

It’s possible to plant 50 trees in one afternoon.

To press 5,000 bricks from the dirt beneath your feet in one day.

To build an affordable tractor in six days.

It’s possible thanks to the members of Open Source Ecology (OSE). They aren’t armchair visionaries. These engineers, farmers, and developers are dedicated to making communities sustainable and self-reliant. They’re taking on scarcity and inequality with open source enthusiasm

OSE got its start when Marcin Jakubowski’s tractor broke.  Well, lets back up a little. After Jakubowski earned a PhD in the physics of fusion energy, he bought a farm in Missouri where he grew fruit trees and raised goats. One day his tractor broke. He didn’t have the hands-on experience to fix it himself. But he hauled out some can-do attitude along with his welder and torch. He realized a tractor is simply a box with wheels, each powered by hydraulic motors.  So he bolted together square steel tubing to make one from scratch. It worked.

This inspired him to look beyond pricey, commercially made machines. He began to come up with versions that were hardy, low cost, and constructed out of locally sourced or repurposed materials. His posted designs generated lots of enthusiasm and input. Participants began showing up to help build prototyles on project days, becoming OSE collaborators.

The idea evolved. They considered what it takes to build independent, sustainable communities that support farming, construction, small manufacturing,  and power generation. They came up with a list of the 50 machines most important for modern life including a hay baler, bakery oven, laser cutter, drill press, solar concentrator, and truck.  Low cost, industrial strength, DIY versions of these machines became known as the Global Village Construction Set.  The motors, parts, and other fittings of these machines are designed to be interchangeable. All the 3D designs, schematics, and instructional videos are posted on the OSE Wiki.

On average, constructing these machines costs about eight times less than comparable machines made by industrial manufacturers. As Jakubowski explained in his recent TED talk, “Our goal is a repository of published design so clear, so complete, that a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit. ..The implications are significant: a greater distribution of the means of production, environmentally sound supply chains, and a newly relevant DIY Maker culture can hope to transcend artificial scarcity.”

So often hope seems abstract.  This is tangible hope, made of steel. It puts independence and equality in reach for people in both the developed and developing world.  Welding never seemed so inspiring.

This post is originally from Laura’s author blog where you can find hundreds of posts about mindfulness, learning, creativity, sustainability, and more.  

Posted in community, DIY, global, great turning, optimism, real wealth, self-reliance, shift, simple living, sustainability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

DIY: Monstrous Jeans Patch

 Although my son wears heavyweight and durable pants, he still manages to stain, rip, and fray them to shreds. I used to amuse myself by cutting patches from old jeans in the shape of dinosaurs to sew over ripped knees, but he’s way too old for that. He still destroys pants and I still like to amuse myself with stitchery. So this time, rather than sew on a plain square patch or cut the pants into shorts, I made a quick repair—monster style.

I got the idea from Samantha at By Meikk (you’ll have to hit the “translate” button to read her blog, which appears to be written in Dutch). She uses fleece and felt backed with fusible webbing to cleverly patch a hole with a monster face.

I took a quicker (lazier) route.

add a monster face to jeans,

I positioned a contrasting color iron-on patch over the hole from the inside, making sure that the shiny fusible coating faced against the pants fabric. Before ironing in place, I cut jagged teeth from a white iron-on patch and positioned the fusible side in toward the other patch. I covered it all with a piece of parchment paper to keep it from sticking to the iron. Then I held the iron, turned up to the hottest setting, on the patch area and fused it for about 45 seconds.

Next I cut eyes from a left-over piece of contrast color iron-on patch and ironed them shiny side down on the outside of the fabric.

monster patch repair,

I know these patches tend to loosen after a few go-rounds in the washing machine, so I sewed around the edges with primitive Frankenstein-like stitches.

Hand sewing to ensure patches stay in place. (image: L. Weldon)

Then I colored a pupil in each eye with a fabric marker.

make a monster jeans patch,

The whole process took less than ten minutes. I folded the pants along with my son’s other clean laundry, anticipating that he’d be surprised when he put them on. That didn’t happen. His siblings found my repair job so silly that they informed him his pants were now monstrous. I wasn’t sure he’d approve but he looked, laughed, and came over to hug me. Apparently our kids can outgrow all sorts of things but retain a lingering affection for whimsical mothers.

Posted in craft, DIY, stitchery | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Best Appetizer Ever: Hidden Gems


Extra-crunch version made with almond meal. (image: L. Weldon)

Life is full of appetizer moments. Parties, potlucks, birthdays, holidays, and those events that have no name but yet persistently land on the calendar. I’m here to offer you a panacea—an appetizer you can customize for every event. It’s crusty, savory, and durable. Better yet, you can make it in advance. Even freeze it in advance. Best of all, you can fill it with all sorts of options. I’m pretty sure I’ll be making this for non-appetizer reasons as well, perhaps to accompany soup or a salad. Just imagine the culinary possibilities…


Hidden Gem Appetizers 


Appetizer Ingredients

35 stuffed olives (garlic-stuffed olives are particularly excellent) patted dry, OR other filling*

1 cup flour (white or gluten-free mix or almond flour**)

generous dash salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon paprika

dash cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups grated cheese, try sharp cheddar or gouda

2 Tablespoons butter

1 egg, beaten

dash Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce


Dip Ingredients

3/4 cups sour cream or veggie dip

2 Tablespoons chipotle in adobo sauce or hot sauce



Roll olives or other chosen filling on a dish towel or paper towel to dry.

In a food processor or with a pastry cutter, mix flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne. Add cheese and butter, cutting in till mixture resembles crumbs. Mix in egg and sauce. If you have time, chill this mixture.

Coat a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with non-stick spray. Taking about 2 teaspoons of dough, use your hands to roll it into a rough ball, flatten the ball, then form the dough around an olive or other filling of your choice.  Place each one on the prepared pan, cover, and chill for an hour or up to two days. At this point the pan can be wrapped tightly and frozen if desired.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake trays of appetizers until they’re golden brown and crusty, about 20 to 25 minutes. It’s best if you flip them over with a spatula halfway through the baking time.

Mix the dip ingredients. Serve appetizers hot, with dip in the middle of your serving tray. You might want to double the recipe. They warm up nicely the next day or two as well. Hidden gems really are amazing.


*Try 1″ pieces of andouille sausage, smoked tofu, cooked mushrooms, chorizo sausage, artichoke hearts, shrimp, or anything you’re inspired to roll in a pastry crust. (Cheese doesn’t seem to be a satisfactory choice, sorry to say, because it likes to ooze out of the dough. I haven’t given up on it, next I”ll try small bits of a hard cheese like Emmental, Blue, or Gruyere)

**Almond flour is a great choice, especially for low-carb folks. The dough tends to slump a little rather than hold its shape in this recipe, but it tastes even better than the flour versions. Both pictures here show appetizers made with almond flour.

Hidden Gems, ready for the oven (image: L. Weldon)

Posted in appetizer recipe, kitchen arts | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Outdoor Photos

Outdoor Photos

Find a quiet rain. Then a green spruce tree. You will notice that nearly every needle has been decorated with a tiny raindrop ornament. Look closely inside the drop and there you are. In color. Upside down. The raindrop has no instructions to flip us right-side up. People, dogs, muskrats, woods, and hill, whatever fits, heads down like quail from a hunter’s belt. Raindrops have been collecting snapshots since objects and people were placed, to their surprise, here and there on earth.

Raindrops are fickle, of course, willing to substitute one image for another without a thought as we pass by them. Our spot taken by a flash of lightening or a wet duck. Still, even if we are only on display for a moment in a water drop as it clings to a pine needle, it is expected that we be on our best behavior, hair combed, jacket buttoned, no vulgar language. Smiling is not necessary, but a pleasant attitude is helpful, and would be, I think, appreciated.

by Tom Hennen

From his extraordinarily beautiful, too-little known book, Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems (NYT review here)

Posted in awe, nature, poem | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Anti-Pipeline Resolution Passes!

resolution against Nexus Pipeline

Our little township is taking a stand against a giant.

Construction of the massive Nexus pipeline is planned for 2015. This high pressure pipeline will ship fracked Utica and Marcellus shale gas out of the country. Its route goes through Ohio and Michigan, then into Ontario, Canada. The major corporate player in this venture is Spectra Energy, a company with an appalling safety record. Why should you care? Here are just a few reasons.

Our little community passed Resolution 27-14, opposing construction of this and any other high pressure gas transmission pipelines. This may seem like a largely symbolic act, but New York’s highest court recently upheld the right of towns to ban fracking within their borders. We hope the rights to local rule are also returned to us in Ohio, restoring the ability of local citizens to apply private property rights and zoning laws to oil and gas industry usage. (A right we still don’t have in 38 states.)

Here’s more information you need to know:

~Maps of northeast Ohio areas where construction of the Nexus pipeline is planned for 2015, here

~Lots of information about fracking here: Will Fracking Affect My Family?

~Full text of anti-pipeline resolution below. 

Litchfield township, Ohio

Resolution 27-14

Resolution Opposing Construction of the Proposed Nexus and other International High Pressure Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines

WHEREAS, Spectra Energy Corporation, Enbridge Inc., and DTE Energy propose to construct a new 42″ High Pressure Natural Gas Transmission Pipeline, known as the “Nexus” Pipeline, running through Litchfield Township, Medina County, Ohio to transmit natural gas from the Ohio Utica and Marcellus shale gas formations to service customers primarily in Canada.

WHEREAS, other similar High Pressure Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines (Pipelines) proposed to transmit Ohio natural gas through Ohio may be constructed to pass through Litchfield Township, Ohio in the future.

WHEREAS, such Pipelines pose a serious threat to the general welfare of the Township residents because of the inherent risks of leaks and ruptures which can result in explosion, fire, environmental contamination, property damage, personal injury, and death.

WHEREAS, such Pipelines require additional property tax revenue to pay for emergency medical and fire training, equipment and personnel required for evacuations and for emergency response in the event of explosion, fires, or other accidents.

WHEREAS, such Pipelines will not benefit Township residents with much needed natural gas supplies and will merely transfer natural gas through the Township without providing any utilitarian public benefit.

WHEREAS, such Pipelines diminish the desire to reside near the vicinity of the Pipeline route which results in the inability to sell real property or in lower property values and subsequent loss of fees and property tax revenue.

NOW THEREFOR BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Litchfield Township Trustees, Ohio, deems that the location of High Pressure Natural Gas Transmission Pipelines within Litchfield Township are against the interests of the public health, safety, morals, comfort, and general welfare of said Township and its residents and stands against the construction of the proposed “Nexus” pipeline or any other such Pipelines proposed in the future.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this Resolution be filed as comment before the appropriate officials of Medina County, Ohio House of REpresentatives, United States Congress, the Federal Energy REgulatory Commission, DTE Energy, Enbridge, Inc., and Spectra Energy Corporation.

(date adopted, 11/24/14)

Posted in community, fracking, hope | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments