Home Economics: planting sunflowers is a good investment

Sunflower sprouts are delicious, nutty, and full of flavor - you can sauté them with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, put them fresh in salad, or put them in a sandwich. You can make butter out of the seeds, eat them roasted and salted, or turn them into bird food. According to the National Sunflower Association, the sunflower market was valued at $450 million dollars in 2009.

Borden - sunflower head

I just wish I didn’t have to wait 12 months to grow more after realizing the economic benefits of growing your own. I adore sunflower sprouts and I could have grown enough seeds to keep me in sprouts till next harvest, if I had only known.

It costs $3 for a serving of about 30 sprouts at the farmers market, or $.10 per sprout.

One sunflower head, if you are growing a large one like the Mammoth varietal, can provide 200-400 seeds - which can all be sprouted. A packet of 20 Mammoth sunflower seeds costs $3.95 (let us say $4). Each seed therefore costs $4/20 = $0.20.

That one seed can grow to a giant sunflower head which can yield you ~300 seeds when you harvest it. You can sprout those seeds yourself, ending up with 300 sprouts, which at the market would cost you $.10 per sprout, or $30.

Your $0.20 has become $30 worth of sprouts, with a little time, patience, and watering. Therefore, your profit from that one seed could be $29.80, which is a 14900% return.

That is an incredible return on your cost.

Living life with the seasons is a powerful antidote to the culture of immediate gratification, and for the most part I am content to wait - but sometimes, when I think of all of the sunflowers I could have grown this year, that it is going to take 12 months to get here again, had I only known about this in May, that I really love sunflower sprouts - I am not content to wait.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Borden - drying sunflower head with seeds

Kale chips are sublime

Last season, I was tired of kale. Tired of sauteing leaves, tired of putting green stalks in soup, tired of the dense chewiness, tired of hearing how good it is for me (high in flavonoids, blah blah). So, come late last October, I choked down the rest of the leaves, relieved to be finished with that duty for the season.

Borden - kale chips

A farmer friend of mine had told me that kale would survive the winter and come back hardy and healthy in the spring if I cut off the dense stalk right at ground level. He was right. We have several thriving kale plants from last year’s stalk. Unfortunately, the passing of months did not diminish my kale fatigue and I have not harvested much of any of this year's leaves.

Yet here we are again, a new October, and I knew I needed something new to try to help me take my kale medicine before the frost.

So I tried a variant on a kale chips recipe I found in the world of dehydrators/raw food. I can honestly say that it was the closest I have ever come to eating a plate of food like an 18-year-old-boy eating a pizza (there was no chewing involved). I inhaled these delicate green chips.

Kale chips are crunchy, intensely subtle, salty, warm and wonderful. There is not any of the bitter flavor associated with kale when prepared this way. As an even better bonus the chips are super fast and easy.

When I did a bit more research I learned that you can bake kale chips in your oven for those who don’t have a dehydrator. Instead of dehydrating for two to three hours at 95 degrees F, you can pop them on a baking sheet for 20 minutes at 300 degrees F (or until crisp).

Here is the recipe I used for my chips.

- Cut four leaves from plant.

- Remove stem and cut into large pieces.

- Toss in a bowl with 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon olive oil and sea salt.

- Let sit for 10 minutes to wilt a bit from the liquid (one recipe I found said to wait an hour)

- Place in the dehydrator/baking sheet.

- When they are crispy and warm, they are finished.

- Devour them as fast as you can before your friends learn how good they are.

(I will end with a thank you to the earlier maligned plant.)

Oh kale, of cruciferous and flavonoid fame, thank you for being such a delicious chip. You pulled me in with your sturdy frame and healthy fronds, and though I strayed from eating your flesh, I am once again pulled back into the fold of loving you – with your sea salt, oil warmth beguiling me in. All hail kale!

Here is the article on annarbor.com

(March 2015 update: Here is an updated page from the great folks at Health Ambition about the health benefits of kale - with recipes too!)

Storing harvest bounty: canning vs. dehydrating

Borden - jars of dried veggies

Last winter I received Mary Bell’s Food Drying with an Attitude: A Fun and Fabulous Guide to Creating Snacks, Meals, and Crafts - and I put it aside because I did not have a dehydrator. Like last year, I started this season with drying tomatoes in my oven, but the tomatoes take two full days to dry in the oven at 200 degrees. So I bit the bullet and bought an electric dehydrator - one built for the task.

I purchased the dehydrator week ago, reread all of Bell's engaging and intriguing book, and I have not turned the machine off since. I pack slivers of color, once hefty tomatoes and gleaming eggplants, into airtight jars and debate the pros and cons of dehydrating vegetables vs. canning vegetables. Here are my thoughts so far - I look forward to hearing yours.

Dehydrating pros

- Food is considered raw when dehydrated below 105 degrees (because it maintains enzymes and nutrients that are leached by higher temperatures).

- The labor involved is minimal. I cut the vegetables at night and pack them into jars in the morning.

- The equivalent ingredients take up less room when dehydrated than when canned.

Dehydrating cons

- Dried fruit and vegetables do not last as long as canned items.

Canning pros

- The recipe is finished when you open the jar, as opposed to drying the basic ingredients, and then making a recipe in the winter. (This could also be considered a con.)

Canning cons

- The labor involved is focused, hot, and continuous. From cooking the sauce, to the hot water bath, to preparing the jars - unlike dehydrating, it does not happen while you sleep.

This last point for me is the crux of the matter. A food preservation technique that is self-contained, creating results while I sleep, is incredible. To me, that is a winning food preservation technique.

Here is the article on annarbor.com

Sprouts: A whole new world

If you google “sprouts enzymes” you receive nearly 2.5 million hits that talk about the rich world of the sprout. If you visit or live in the raw food, juicing, cleansing, detoxifying world of nutrition you will quickly be told about the benefits of sprouts. For example, “a sprouted Mung Bean has a carbohydrate content of a melon, vitamin A of a lemon, thiamin of an avocado, riboflavin of a dry apple, niacin of a banana, and ascorbic acid of a loganberry.” (The mung bean will now be known as a melemacappanaberry.) As consumers learn about the world of superfoods, companies jump on the opportunity to put denatured Omega 3 into our yogurt. I agree with a nutritionist from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (despite the fact that her organization sounds Orwellian) when she says the whole thing is “very confusing.”

I am all about making my life less confusing, which is why I love to sprout.

Last year three things happened for me simultaneously: I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, the economy nosedived, and gas prices were very high. I started ranting about food miles, carbon footprints, and our budget. My husband, hoping to placate my rants, gave me a sprouter for my birthday. I was so enamored that I quickly bought two more.

The reason I bought two more is because I wanted to be able to eat sprouts for my veggie bowl everyday. In order to have a constant supply I quickly learned the importance of staggering the growing of the seeds. Certain seeds take a long time (for example, I’ve found wheatgrass, sunflower, and broccoli take about 6-8 days to really be something). Certain seeds don’t (red clover, alfalfa, and radish take about 4-6). I am constantly washing out and starting new seeds to make sure my supply is fairly regular.

My system of sprouting is extremely easy. I soak the seeds overnight in water. Dump them onto the sprouting tray and then rinse them morning and night. In a few days I eat them and start over. Some seeds my be duds and turn into mush instead of sprouting, in which case I dump the healthy ones out, clean out the duds, and put the healthy ones back in. That’s it. Easy as pie.

It is possible to purchase lids to go on top of mason jars in order to sprout inside the jar. That option is the most economical, especially if you have wide-mouth jars around from canning. You can purchase sprouting seeds at the People’s co-op, online, at Whole Foods, and at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market! If you want to augment your “in case the world ends” shelves in the basement, you can purchase POUNDS of seeds and store them next to your water drums and hand-crank radio.

Last but not least, what do you do with sprouts and how do they taste? I love the nutty flavor of sunflower sprouts stir-fried, in a salad, or eaten plain as a snack. Radish sprouts have a peppery bite that kicks you and is nice to put on a grilled cheese to cut through the fat. Alfalfa and red clover are very delicate and I only eat them raw. I find wheatgrass too stringy to eat in a salad, so that one goes directly into the juicer.

All I heard yesterday on the radio was commentary from the Copenhagen environmental summit. While debate rages in the netherworld of potentialities, maybes, and “one day,” it is nice to know I can do something simple, nutritious, and delicious now.

Borden - trays of Sprouts

Here is the link for the article in annarbor.com!