Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tax Time and a few Suggestions for Dispensing Your Refund

Here we are again – tax time is nigh. With that in mind, the only good thing about tax time for some of us is the refund that may be coming our way. Given that our government has already earmarked (no pun intended) our tax monies for such beneficial things as corporate subsidies, Wall Street bonuses, political salaries and all the luxurious benefits that come from them, the military-industrial war machine and the pointless and ultimately damning processes of extreme extraction of fossil fuels, we thought it might be helpful to make a few suggestions as to some good things you can do with the money that comes back to you.

First on our list is to send a nice support check to your favorite charitable organization or a donation to a local shelter or soup kitchen. These are (for the most part) worthy of our support in ways that go beyond money as well. Many organizations will accept and treasure your time as a volunteer - don’t be afraid to give a little time to your local animal shelter or homeless shelter. They are always in desperate need of help in many different guises. Chances are very good you can fill the bill somewhere or somehow.

If you cannot volunteer your time, your monetary donation is not exclusive to your ability to give of your time. Should you have a hard time finding a worthy organization in your area, check with your church. They will be of immense help.

In a much more personal manner, you could purchase gift card for a local grocery store and give it directly to a family in need. These days, families who need a little (or a lot) of help are not hard to find. That grocery card will go a long ways to a few happy days or weeks for those families.

It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to come up with ideas. For us, they are numerous and we don’t have to go far. We have a neighbor who is in constant need of our assistance. For every way that we help that neighbor, they help us in return – engine work on a tractor, fencing (a never-ending task best done with at least two people), rounding up stock on market day, etc., etc., etc. You will find the same thing when helping neighbors, trust us. We also have a Buddhist monastery up the road that always needs a little help with paying the bills and keeping the place open.

And there is always that local organization that works hard to keep things clean and safe where you live. In our case, that worthy group is Allamakee County Protectors. Their work in keeping sand mining at bay here at home is vitally important. They need the help of all of us to keep it up. They give tirelessly of their time – the least we can do is offer a little financial appreciation for all they do. Their Facebook page is here. Their website is here.

With all those suggestions at hand, we have one more for you. This one is local. It helps your family and it helps us. Why not pick up a share in this year’s (2015) CSA? We will be happy to deliver your weekly share from the farm from April through September for $25 per week. However, if you wish to jump on board early and pay for the whole year, we’ll offer a nice discount from now through February with a one-time payment of $500 for the entire season!

Give us a call at 563-568-3829 or send us a check payable to Kitchen Table CSA to 511 Bear Creek Drive – Dorchester, IA – 52140. Thanks!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wild American Ginseng

american_ginsengOne of the greatest benefits of living here in the Driftless Area is the availability of wild ginseng. Wild ginseng is a highly sought after root and can fetch as much as $1000 per pound when the market is high. The word Ginseng comes from the Chinese term rénshen, which translates literally into "man root". It is thought to have been given this name because the root sometimes looks like the body of a man, with the most desirable roots having all five of the appendages in the proper places common to the male of the species. The Chinese and Koreans have relied on dried ginseng root as a tonic for strength, stamina, clarity of thought and virility for thousands of years.

Over five thousand years ago, in the mountains of Manchuria, China, Panax ginseng was commonly used for its rejuvenating powers. The herb was considered to be a symbol of divine harmony and its human shape was highly desirable. The benefits of ginseng were first documented during China's Liang Dynasty (220 to 589 AD). Chinese legend has it that early emperors used to use it as a remedy for all illnesses and not only consumed it, but also used it in soaps, lotions and creams. In the third century, China's demand for Ginseng sparked huge international trade of the herb from other parts of the world - in exchange for silk etc.
IMG_20141220_110420_952In 1716, a Jesuit priest in Canada heard that Ginseng was extremely sought-after in China, so he searched for the herb in areas of French Canada - environmentally similar to Manchuria. After three months of searching he finally found a herb nearly identical to Asian ginseng near the city of Montreal - the herb he found became known as American Ginseng. Soon after the discovery of American Ginseng, botanists and herbalists found that it was common all over the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. The export of ginseng from North America to China began to explode. However, the herb was over-harvested in the mid-1970s and soon became considered an endangered species.

Since farmers began cultivating the sensitive herb in the 1970s, American Ginseng trade has been growing steadily. Currently, the state of Wisconsin, in particular Marathon County, produces nearly 95% of American Ginseng.
To this day, wild ginseng is so desirable, so coveted in the Orient, it has been hunted to near extinction. The case can be made for the same scenario here in this part of the world. While the dried roots serve as stimuli for body and brain, they also fuel greed and a gold-rush-like fever to harvest them for big bucks. Poaching is commonplace, improper harvest is also becoming the norm and tougher out-of-state regulations make this part of Iowa an attractive target for many out-of-state poachers.
I confess. I am an avid ginseng hunter. It is one of my most enjoyable seasonal pursuits. For us, the benefits of harvesting wild ‘sang’ go way beyond the financial. The exercise we both get while climbing the local hills in pursuit of the root is immeasurable. It’s good for our peace of mind as well. For every plant harvested, we sow at least six seeds in the location where we just harvested the root. We only harvest mature roots and keep a good count on the immature plants we leave on the hillsides. And, for the first time, this year we have taken advantage of the harvested plants in their entirety. The properly dried roots are sold to help us make a living here on the farm, the dried leaves and stems are broken up and mixed with dried nettles and lemon balm, also both from here on the farm. The resulting mixture makes a tea that is (wait for it…) both delicious and nutritious! I truly believe the leaves and stems when used as a tea ingredient are much more potent than the dried and ground roots.
Traditionally Ginseng has been used to treat a number of different ailments. It should be noted that Ginseng's therapeutic properties are often questioned by Western scientists and health professionals because of little "high-quality" research determining its true effectiveness in medicine. Mary and I strongly disagree with that statement because we absolutely know what it does for each of us.

People who take Ginseng, do so because it:
Provides energy and prevents fatigue - Ginseng stimulates physical and mental activity among people who are weak and tired. A Mayo Clinic study revealed that Ginseng showed good results in helping cancer patients with fatigue.
Improves cognitive function - Ginseng may improve thinking ability and cognition. Research published in the The Cochrane Library, conducted at the Medical School of Nantong University in China, examined whether this claim holds any truth.
Lead author, JinSong Geng, M.D., said that given the results of the study "ginseng appears to have some beneficial effects on cognition, behavior and quality of life."
Another study, published in the Journal of Dairy Science, explored whether it would be possible to incorporate American Ginseng into foods. The researchers developed ginseng fortified milk with sufficient levels of ginseng to improve cognitive function.
Has anti-inflammatory effects - Ginseng has seven constituents, ginsenosides, which have immune-suppressive effects, according to results of experiments which were published in the Journal of Translational Medicine
Allan Lau, who led the study, said that "the anti-inflammatory role of ginseng may be due to the combined effects of these ginsenosides, targeting different levels of immunological activity, and so contributing to the diverse actions of ginseng in humans".
Prevents cancer - There may be substances in Ginseng that have anticancer properties. A few population studies in Asia have linked the herb's consumption to a lower risk of cancer.
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center researchers found that Ginseng improved survival and quality of life after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society said that "clinical trials are still needed to determine whether it is effective in people."
May help men with erectile dysfunction - Men may take Ginseng to treat erectile dysfunction. A 2002 Korean study revealed that 60 percent of men who took ginseng noticed an improvement in their symptoms. In addition, research published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology provided "evidence for the effectiveness of red ginseng in the treatment of erectile dysfunction."

Our tea is a mixture of nettles, lemon balm and ginseng. The combined benefits are extraordinary! In addition to the benefits from the ginseng listed above, the nettles are a valuable addition for treating the following ailments:
  • Nettle stimulates the lymph system to boost immunity
  • Nettle relieves arthritis symptoms
  • Nettle promotes a release from uric acid from joints
  • Helps to support the adrenals
  • It helps with diabetes mellitus
  • Strengthens the fetus in pregnant women
  • Promotes milk production in lactating women
  • Relieves menopausal symptoms
  • Helps with menstrual cramps and bloating
  • Helps break down kidney stones
  • Reduces hypertension
  • Helps with respiratory tract disease
  • Supports the kidneys
  • Helps asthma sufferers
  • Stops bleeding
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Reduces incident of prostate cancer
  • Minimizes skin problems
  • Eliminates allergic rhinitis
  • Lessens nausea
  • Cures the common cold
  • Helps with osteoarthritis
  • Alleviates diarrhea
  • Helps with gastrointestinal disease, IBS, and constipation
  • Reduces gingivitis and prevents plaque when used as a mouth wash.
  • Has been shown to be helpful to in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Relieves neurological disorders like MS, ALS and sciatica
  • Destroys intestinal worms or parasites
  • Supports the endocrine health by helping the thyroid, spleen and pancreas
You can brew stinging nettle leaves in almost boiling water and drink daily as a curative to all these ailments. Just be sure to check with your doctor since nettle can interfere with certain pharmaceuticals. Enjoy nettle tea benefits today!
We do have a very limited amount of our mixed tea for sale if you’d like to try some. Our supply of straight nettle tea is a lot better and we’d be delighted to sell you a sample jar of either one today! Give us a call at 563-568-3829. Either tea (or both!) make a delightful Christmas present for someone special in your life.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mana Mia Bars

It almost feels pointless to say this, but a big part of sustainability is making your own food. For one thing, by making your own meals and dishes, you remove the corporate influence from your kitchen. You know where your food comes from, you know it’s healthy and you give a great big raspberry to Monsanto at the same time!

I love to cook. I love taking traditional farm and family recipes and adding my own touches. A lot of my inspiration comes from old church and club cookbooks and have dozens and dozens of them! They are chock full of great old recipes, unintentional humor and family tradition. They are, if you will, right from someone else’s kitchen table!

The first one I’d like to share is from the “Favorite Recipes” cookbook of the Queen Esther Circle, 1st Christian Reformed Church of Wellsburg, Iowa - ca. 1960's. Notice the title, Mana Mia Bars. I suspect that is a misprint. It was probably supposed to be Mama Mia Bars. But after all, that’s the charm of these old cookbooks isn’t it? They shall be forever known as Mana Mia Bars!


Mana Mia Bars

1st layer:
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbsp cocoa
1 tsp vanilla

2nd layer:
1/4 cup butter (softened)
2 cups powdered sugar
3 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp instant vanilla pudding

Mix together ingredients for the first layer and place over hot water in a double boiler and cook until it reaches a custard-like consistency (6-8 minutes). Remove from heat and add 1 cup shredded coconut and (optionally) 1/2 cup nuts. Mix well and pack it into the bottom of a 9x9x2 pan that has been lightly buttered.

Mix the second layer ingredients together and spread evenly over the second layer. Refrigerate for an hour or two.

For the final layer, in your double boiler melt 6 oz chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp. butter and 2 Tbsp. water and spread it over the top of the refrigerated bars. Place back in refrigerator and let the top layer harden before cutting.

These are very rich, very simple and one of those recipes that makes it look like you went to a lot more trouble than you really did!

After making these for the first time a couple of days ago, I can say that toasting the coconut before adding it to the first layer improves the flavor and texture of the bottom layer immensely!

If you make these, please come back and let us know how you adapted them for your tastes, how your family enjoyed them or anything else you’d like to add.

Welcome to our Table

Mary and I are committed to living a sustainable life…period. With a sustainable lifestyle come many benefits - health, peace of mind and  purpose, to name a few. When sustainability becomes the primary focus of your life, the end result (taken as a single entity) becomes the key factor in the process of creating community. That end result is social justice, a practice which is just as important within your circle of friends as it is globally.

The simplest, most instinctive place to begin these processes is your kitchen table, the heart of your home.

This marks the beginning of our global kitchen table. Pull up a chair and join us.