Thursday, May 28, 2015

Cappuccino Brownies. They're Really All You Need!

Hi friends,

Oh, I have such good intentions. All day long, as I wander from my house to the Mercantile to the garden to the clothesline and back to the Mercantile, I write this blog in my head. And in my head it is positively brilliant! However, when I finally get time to set it down and post it, I'm just not that dependable. The posts stay in my head, where they eventually dissolve into dust and dreams...

In the meantime, May is almost over. It's been a surprising, delightful and busy month. We've had the great fortune to host some spectacularly lovely guests. The strawberries are bursting out of the garden - bright red and delicious. We've managed to keep the robin's eggs out of the hands of the children; three fat, awkward and beautifully clumsy babies fledged last week. Jody (the innkeeper) and Sandy (the massage therapist and Jody's assistant) are keeping the place spotless and running beautifully. Nik makes bread every Wednesday - the place smells like heaven.

Today, however, is Thursday, and there is very little time for prattling on about life on the prairie. Instead I'm sharing the recipe of today's Mercantile treat: Cappucino Brownies. Holy smokes, you're going to want to name your children after these brownies. 


Photograph by Romulo Yanes
Cappuccino Brownies
Makes about 24 brownies

From Gourmet Magazine, 1991

Three layers of deliciousness; they’re frosted with cream cheese and coated with an espresso-spiked glaze.

This recipe looks like a lot of ingredients and a lot of work - it is neither. And the results are TOTALLY worth it.

Butter and flour a 13 x 9-inch baking pan
Preheat over to 350°

For the brownie layer
8 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, chopped

For the cream cheese frosting
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, SIFTED
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the glaze
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water

Make the brownie layer:
  1. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate with the butter and the espresso mixture, stirring until the mixture is smooth. 
  2. Remove the bowl from the heat, let the mixture cool to lukewarm, and stir in the sugar and the vanilla. 
  3. Stir in the eggs, 1 at a time, stirring well after each addition.
  4. Stir in the flour and the salt, stirring until the mixture is just combined, and stir in the walnuts. 
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake the brownie layer in the middle of a preheated 350ºF. oven for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a tester comes out with crumbs adhering to it.
  6. Let the brownie layer cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Make the cream cheese frosting:
  1. In a bowl with an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  2. Add the SIFTED confectioners’ sugar, the vanilla, and the cinnamon, and beat the frosting until it is combined well.
  3. Spread the frosting evenly over the brownie layer and chill the brownies for 1 hour, or until the frosting is firm.

Make the glaze:
  1. In a metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water melt the chocolate with the butter, the cream, and the espresso mixture, stirring until the glaze is smooth, remove the bowl from the heat, and let the glaze cool to room temperature.
  2. Spread the glaze carefully over the frosted brownies and chill the brownies, covered, for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  3. Cut the brownies while they are cold with a sharp knife and serve them cold or at room temperature. The brownies keep, covered and chilled, for 3 days.
NOTES: I usually keep some Sharffen Berger chocolate on hand, but had run out (and where the hell are you gonna find that in Rutledge, Mo.?); I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead. I also used salted butter (instead of unsalted). And since Zimmerman's was fresh out of Espresso powder I used Mt. Hagen freeze-dried coffee in its place.  The results were divine.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Mighty Morel Hunter Recovers from Her Crabbypants Attitude

Hi friends,

Oh, it has been such a long time since I've written. I've been going through a rough patch lately. Thinking about how to describe it makes me feel a bit whiny and ridiculous, but I've been thinking that I'd like to share more reality about ecovillage life (and not just the happy, kumbya moments) so here we are.

This June will mark the 16th anniversary of our arrival at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage. What an absolutely amazing journey it has been. And what an emotional roller coaster! Living here, intentionally, with (at first) eight people and now almost 60, is quite possibly the most difficult thing I've ever done. Conversely, it is also one of the most rewarding and gratifying. Learning to (or at least attempting to) communicate in a clear, non-judgmental manner is hard work. I fail miserably, often. Another challenging aspect is the huge sense of loss that I feel. So many people have come and gone in the last 16 years. So many relationships forged over tears and laughter and songs and gardens and canning green beans. So many memories made, and so few left here with whom to share them.

The challenge of how to preserve the history of Dancing Rabbit, what to keep, what to let go, and how to share that history without boring everyone to tears is something I think about a lot. There are so many touching, or funny, or frustrating stories about every single person who has lived here that I don't know where to start. Every person who has spent time here has contributed something to the evolution of the village, and has helped it become what it is today.

We continue to host hundreds of visitors each year, primarily from April through October. It can be exhausting. After five years of running the Milkweed Mercantile and answering the exact same questions every morning at breakfast to a new set of inquisitive, earnest guests has worn me out. I feel like I've lost my zest, my energy, my sense of "me." I feel like I've become one-dimensional, viewed only as 'Eco Woman.' What happened to all of my other passions, interests, quirks? They have all been subsumed by Dancing Rabbit and the Milkweed Mercantile.

Fortunately, just as I was beginning to truly hit the skids emotionally, the Universe glanced over and said "Hey there - you need some help!" I received an email from a woman named Jody who asked about our Innkeeper position. Her experience was exactly what we've been looking for for the last five years. I could not believe that she agreed to come and spend the entire season as our Innkeeper. She has been here for five weeks now, and I'm starting to feel the craziness ease. I may not have to start a new blog entitled "Mrs. Crabbypants Explains It All To You" after all.

A few weeks after Jody emailed, I received an email from Sandy. She is a massage therapist, a yoga teacher, has worked at a B&B and at a retreat center. She wanted to come work with us, too.

And now, I hardly know what to do with myself. Jody and Sandy have things handled. I'm going through my yards-long to-do list and actually getting things done and checked off. It is really, really great. I am starting to smile again, and am no where near as crabby as I used to be. I haven't made anyone cry in days.

  After an hour of searching in all the wrong places we finally we found this (above) - signs that there had been morels here, but that we were too late.

Yesterday Kurt and I took a few hours to take a walk in the sun and search for morel mushrooms. While we only found six, that is so much better than the last time I went. That time I only found one, which I then LOST on the walk home. Six is a veritable feast! I am very happy with six.

 And then, the mighty morel hunter triumphed - score!

While we were out on our walk I got to play around with my new camera. Look at this moss! In real life it is very, very tiny. So cool! (I was documenting the huge lack of morels in that particular area...)

On our way by the old pond we noticed this gang of tadpoles. I don't know if you can tell just how huge they are. They look kind of like zombie apocalypse tadpoles, but I'm guessing they are bullfrog tadpoles. Seriously, they are HUGE!

 The branch shown above with the Godzilla-like tadpoles is shown in the photo below right smack in the middle for size reference. See what I mean? Aren't you just a teeny bit worried about poodles and small  children living at Dancing Rabbit? If they get near that pond, there's no telling what will happen!

Our food cooperative hosted the visitor group (11 adults, 5 kids) in addition to our seven members for dinner last night and lunch today. OMG. It was like a horde of locusts swooped through and ate everything. This morning when Sandy, Ross and I were making lunch, we just went through the fridge and kept adding things to the peanut-sauce-and-veg-over-rice schmoo. Potatoes? Great. Carrots? Perfect - put 'em all in. Half a cabbage! We need it. Old green beans that might have a bit of mold here and there? Heck, cut out the bad parts - we're desperate here! Fortunately this visitor group is made of astonishing human beings who are incredibly good natured. They are a pleasure, and they are helping me remember why I'm here.

I hope to write more often, to add a more day-in-the-life stuff. There's so much to tell - life is NEVER dull here!


Sunday, January 11, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak!

Hi friends,

It's been almost a year since I last posted. It is amazing to me just how quickly time rushes by - each evening I think to myself "what the heck did I do today?"

I've taken such a long break unintentionally - I write this blog in my head all the time, but just don't take the most important step of actually typing. Thankfully, no one can read my thoughts, at least not yet.

I've been rather overwhelmed at trying to have a sustainable life. Which is a kind of crazy position to be in. Running a "sustainable" business, living in a "sustainable" community - whew! It is all exhausting! So I've been re-examining my boundaries, my perfectionism, my desire for guests to have just the "right" experience. I still don't have all of the answers I'm seeking, but at least am actively LOOKING!

Speaking of looking, we're on the hunt for an innkeeper this summer. It's a paid internship - while we'd love someone with experience what we're really wanting is someone the the desire to be here and do the job well. Look for a link on the Mercantile website soon. If you know anyone who you think might be a good fit, please have them contact me. We require a 3-month (minimum) commitment.

We've been so all-consumed with the Mercantile that our home has slowly turned into the Mercantile store room and the place where we sleep. We are endeavoring to change this, to make our house back into a home. Kurt is finishing the construction bits one by one - he just made a gorgeous window sill for our bedroom windows out of oak from the tree we had to cut down last summer. Now he's working on finishing all of the sheetrock that has been sitting here, mudded and waiting for paint all of these years. I've finished almost all of the thermal shades, which has come in handy during this bitterly cold winter.

Each Friday a group of us meet informally in the Mercantile in front of the fire for Tea and Conversation. Last Friday's topic was economic development at DR. It was a fascinating discussion; two fun things to come out of it are a Mercantile/Critters Goat & Chicken Bootcamp, and the beginnings of a food preservation collective. I am excited to see where these ideas will go!

Here is my favorite Facebook share of the week:

and a song I find beautifully haunting (a cover of a Bjork song, from the Jane Campion TV Series Top of the Lake, which also stars Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter):

That's all for now. More soon, I hope!


Currently 36°. Snow predicted for today. Tonight's low: 12°

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gratitude - a never ending list, or, further reasons that life at Dancing Rabbit does not suck

The other day I was feeling a bit discouraged. I knew my problem wasn't "real" but was instead a reflection of what I was thinking. Quite frankly, I was having a case of Bad Attitude, so I went online and did a search for "living abundantly." What I found was a blog post suggesting that I go onto my Facebook page and post the following:

Hi friends - I’m in the mood for gratitude. You tell me something that you’re grateful for today and I’ll match it with one of mine.

What happened was astounding. (You can read what my marvelous friends wrote at the bottom of this post). It inspired me out of my slump and got me thinking about my never-ending list of gratitude. Here is just the start!

The beginning of a long list of that for which I am grateful (in no particular order):

1. Being raised as a reader. I had my own library card by the time I was 7, and we went to the library regularly. By the time I got to high school and my dad had meetings every Wednesday evening we’d have “bring a book to dinner” night. Reading remains my  entertainment, my escape, my university, my solace. More about my book obsession here.

2. Glasses. Sometimes, usually when watching a period movie, I try to imagine what it would be like to not be able to see well. As much as I hate the smudges and general annoyance, I’m grateful.
3. Being comfortable outdoors. I had the opportunity to go to “sleep over” camp beginning when I was a Brownie. I loved it. The campfire songs, the clean air, the sheer fun. But the best of all was comfort gained sleeping outside instead of hiding in a tent. Oh, the stars!
4. Seasons. In the winter, when it snows and the flakes landing land on my sleeves look just like the ones I'd cut out of carefully folded paper as a child in snow-less San Francisco, I realize that I love winter. Just when I am quite certain that I can’t stand another moment of the freezing cold, spring appears – the robins arrive, and green is everywhere. The last few years I’ve been making jelly from violets. Before I know it, the tomatoes are starting to ripen and we spend our days sweating. When summer seems like it has been going on forever, and even the pond is no longer cool and refreshing (it is more like old bathwater) the air crisps up, the leaves change color, and the milkweeds explode into fluffliness.
5. BLTs. With excellent bacon, Hellman’s mayo, crispy iceberg lettuce, and dark-purple acidic tomatoes. Heaven on earth.

6. Dogs. Big. Small. Young. Old.
7. Kurt. A kinder, more easy-going, generous, most-excellent companion would be impossible to find. Here’s just one example: one day, when I was whining about cramps and not wanting to do anything he said “Hey. Sit down and read a magazine. Menstruation is a full-time job.”
8. Therapy. I’d be dead, or at least more of a mess, without it. Thank you Judy for all of your help and insights!
9. Harmony. I love songs with harmony, the way the music intertwines…
10. The base part in Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way.
11. Growing up in the SF Bay Area in the 70’s. The concerts we got to see were amazing. The politics were inspiring. The schools were brand new and had great teachers. It felt like the center of the universe.
12.  Great movies and the lines that come from them. “Fasten your seat belt; it’s going to be a bumpy night” from All About Eve tops the list.

13. Fabulous names. Monu Tuiasosopo. Atticus, Jem and Scout Finch. Chili Davis. Neda Ulaby. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. Huckleberry Finn.
14. Memorable words. Flurry, pickle relish, salubrious, archipelago, brouhaha, reconnoiter, discombobulate, plethora...
15. Dave Brubek's Take Five
16. Peter Gabriel. Jackson Browne. Bonnie Raitt. Graham Nash. Joni Mitchell. They stole my heart in the 70's. I've never wanted it back.
17. My nieces. Three of the most amazing young women on the planet. And no, I am not biased!
18.  Modern Pharma. Say what you will; when I have a migraine headache and can be rid of it in one hour instead of three torturous, nausea- and agony-filled days because of a little pill...well, that's something that goes on my gratitude list.
19.  Nick and Nora Charles, the characters in the Thin Man movies.

20. The Sierra Nevada Mountains. They will always be home, where I feel the most comfortable, and where I know the names of all the trees, birds and flowers.
21. Being born where, when and who I was/am. I am only beginning to understand the enormous privilege that I was born with. I am healthy, white, a native Californian born to parents who owned a house, had good jobs and health insurance, who sent me to college and supported most of what I wanted to do. It is humbling when looking at the rest of the world.

22. Learning to play basketball, and playing on my junior college team. I was never very good, and certainly not aggressive enough. But I loved learning to push my body to its limits, sweating like a dog, learning skills like using peripheral vision, and getting a glimpse into hoops strategy.

23.  The books of Beverly Cleary illustrated by Louis Darling. I suspect that this is where I first fell in love with dogs.
24. People who walk their talk, live what they believe, and make the world a better place.
25. Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and everyone who has ever visited or lived here. It is sometimes difficult to see the forest for the trees, but it is very clear to me that this is an amazing place. Everyone who comes through makes a ripple, which touches each and every one of us. And those who live here have made such an impression on me and how I live...can't imagine my life without my time at DR!

Below is the list posted by friends when I asked them what they were grateful for:
  • You.
  • Grateful is good
    So I am really grateful right now that the ground isn't a seeping mud pit. While I am not overly fond of cold weather, I don't like mud much either.
  • Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage!!!
  • I am more than grateful for our friends at the Milkweed Mercantile who let my sister and I come down and spend an entire evening eating, visiting, and catching up like we cannot do ANYWHERE else. Truly last thurs night was one of our best yet!! Thank you!!
  • Baby tomatoes!
  • laughter
  • Asbestos Gelos (NOTE from Alline: I didn't know what this was, and so looked it up. SO COOL. Check it out here with Laugh Lady.)
  • The support you gave me when I was so sick at DR. I still hear your words sometimes. Thank you, Alline. I am also grateful to have felt well for over 13 years!
  • People who push the boundry of what's acceptable and inspire us to challenge our own beliefs and opinions.
  • The Sun, which has been hiding for a few days, is out warming the world & my heart! I AM super happy & grateful!!!!
  • Greatful I was able to register my kinder and get my books and audiobooks to successfully download.
  • Melting snow banks and tiny patches of grass still alive and almost green underneath.
  • Grateful for happy healthy grandchildren.
  • I'm grateful for beautiful weather today.
  • Today i am grateful for sudafed and benydral lol. I give them full credit for my ability to breathe today.
  • Swimming in the sunshine
  • getting the tires fixed
  • Fuck yeah I want another mango! Also, thanks fruit for being fruit (let us note that this author is spending the winter months not in freezing Missouri but instead in tropical Ecuador and Costa Rica. Hence his giddy ode to tropical fruit.)
  • my amazing brother
  • Grateful for the growing circle of friends I have discovered since moving to this little rural community I call home!
  • My kids and wife!
  • Friendship
  • Taking the time to finish She Got Up off the Couch today. Loved it, Alline.
  • Working with my sister and my husband. Could not ask for two people I could trust and be happy to see everyday.
  •  my new job!
  • A new compost bin that Alexander and Grant built! (Also, all the boards they planed to finish our ceiling!!)
  • great friends, great adventures, exciting future!
  • my bikram yoga practice, family, friends, blue mountains, pink sunsets, my new chiro office, and a really cool dog
  • My health! and my friends, both 2 and 4 legged.
  • The Milkweed Mercantile and reading Alline's 48 grateful responses!!!
  • I'm grateful when both feet hit the ground and I stay upright. So many of my patients tell me how they didn't know they had a stroke until they stood up, and actually only one half stood, and they fell.
  • Grateful you are part of my family. love, Aunt Melba
  • i am grateful for that place that offers so many the space to create, in you - that would be the way you phrase things. it's right on ...
  • Cold but blue, sunny skies in Chicago.
  • I am so grateful for friends who appreciate gratefulness, really! Bringing this quality out in the forefront, exercising this practice is special. You're doing it! I'm grateful!
How is your day going? And what are you grateful for?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

You Are Welcome Here (at the Milkweed Mercantile and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage). Period.

It is 2014. I hate that people (kids!) are still being ostracized for any number of things, but especially for their sexual/gender orientation. For who they are.

Sheesh. Come on!

Just for the record, you are welcome here. Queer, straight or anywhere on the very fluid spectrums we call gender and sexuality. You are loved. You are respected.

One of our beloved former work exchangers just posted this song on Facebook, and I thought it was worth sharing.

Click here to hear Same Love by Angel Haze (Macklemore's song with different lyrics).


Hi Mom, I’m really scared right now, but I have to
At age thirteen, my mom knew I wasn’t straight
She didn’t understand, but she had so much to say
She sat me on the couch, looked me straight in my face
And said you’ll burn in hell or probably die of AIDS
It’s funny now, but at thirteen it was pain
To be almost sure of who you are and have it ripped away
And I’m sorry if it’s too real for some of you to fathom

But hate for who you love is not exactly what you’d imagine
And I guess it was disastrous
Because everything that happened afterwards was just madness
Locked away for two years to keep me on the inside
Because she’d rather see a part of me die than me thrive
And it’s tougher when it’s something you can’t deny
And ignorance teaches us it’s something you decide
You’re driven by your choices, an optical illusion
Here’s to understanding it’s not always confusion

And I can’t change even if I tried, even if I wanted to
And I can’t change even if I tried, even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm
She keeps me warm, she keeps me warm

I’ve walked the halls of my school
And I’ve seen kids hide behind walls and footballs and things like pride
I’ve seen innocent children suffer beneath bruises
Suffer beneath every single hand that chooses
Ignorance, fuck your religion
Fuck constitutions, fuck superstitions
There are no lakes of fire; they’re here on earth
And the only thing to do is put love first
And so I stand for the boy who died by his hand
To the sound of his father screaming “woman loves man”
This is Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve

And I stand for the girl with the cuts up her sleeve
And the heart in her hand and a chip on her shoulder
And I stand for it all until ignorance is over
This is for you, for knowing who you are
For never letting your magic outside of your heart
Be you, be brave and understand that things do change
I accept you for you when I don’t understand
And I love you for you cause this is who I am
I accepted you for you when I didn’t understand
Now love me for me cause this is who I am

Here’s a message to the people who just don’t get it
Love is love, there is no difference
Not a medication to fix it
There is no prescription
No rehab to visit, it is not an addiction
It’s love and it’s selfless
It’s yours and everybody else’s
So don’t badger and abuse the solemnly defenseless
See us as yourself, there’s no equality in difference
Until we all get it, we’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love
We’ll be drowning in the same blood
Despite orientation, we all feel the same love

We are boxed in and labeled
Or who we dream we'll become
Like drum beats forever changing their rhythm
I am living today as someone I had not yet become yesterday
And tonight I'll only borrow pieces of who I am today
To carry with me to tomorrow
No, I'm not gay
No, I'm not straight
And I sure as hell am not bisexual
Damn it I am whoever I am when I am it
Loving whoever you are when the stars shine
And whoever you'll be when the sun rises
So here's to being able
Here's to love
Here's to loving just because
Here’s to acceptance
Here’s to never fearing the fear of rejection
Here’s to love and never neglecting who you feel you are
Here’s to bullies because beatings cannot last forever
Heres’ to the moment you realize things do get better
Here’s to the parents who will get it when its too late
Here’s to second chances
Here’s to new fate
Here’s to every single moment you’ve ever had to hide you
Here’s to the single star shining bright inside you, asking you to guide you
Here’s to who you’ll be when you figure it all out
Here’s to momentary doubt
Here’s to feeling, because we all feel it the same
Here’s to the moment that things will change
Because we all feel love, we all feel it the same
Here’s to love, here’s to change

Friday, February 21, 2014

What Everyone Thinks They Know: Assumptions about Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, part 1

Each of us approaches the world from our own unique angle. Regardless of how aware or open-minded we are, we each view life through our own set of filters, preferences, biases and assumptions.

I used to think I was extraordinarily tolerant, until I realized that I had an appalling knee jerk reaction to anything Republican. Whoops. I am working on that.

Julie recently wrote a column for the local weekly paper, The Memphis Democrat (if you'd like to read the column it can be found on Dancing Rabbit's blog, The March Hare). In it she mentions eating chicken. Her attitude was respectful of both the chicken and the audience - she wrote about how grateful she felt to be able to eat meat that had been raised in a way that was healthy for the chicken and therefore, for her and the environment.

The Dancing Rabbit email account was instantly inundated by letters haranguing the entire populace of Dancing Rabbit. Why? Because some of us are eating meat, and because all of us are not vegan, or even vegetarian.

This is a trap members of Dancing Rabbit Ecoviilage are constantly tripping over and falling into: the assumptions of others about our lives.

People hear about Dancing Rabbit and often assume they know all about us and understand how we live our lives, why we make the decisions we do, and, most egregiously, that we are all the same and agree with one another.

This is in direct contradiction of one of the things I hold most dear about DR. Believe it or not, each person here has a distinct and separate personalitiy from others. We. Are. All. Different. Sustainability is not a given, nor is it a hard fast rule. Sustainablity is a moving target, a line in the sand, hundreds of miniscule decisions and compromises that make up a person's viewpoint, his or her way of being.

I knew we were in for a lot of misunderstandings when, while leading one of my first tours of Dancing Rabbit, someone asked "Since you are all vegetarian, what do you feed your dogs?" I was, momentarily, speechless (which, if you know me, doesn't happen very often). It reminded me of the joke that goes something like "so, Mr. Jones, when did you stop beating your wife?"

Assumptions are dangerous because they imply understanding where there is none. And that maxim about ignorance being bliss? Wrong.

In the next few posts I'll explore a few of the most common assumptions about Dancing Rabbit and the people who live here - at least the assumptions that we know about - and a brief explanation of what I believe the reality is.

Today: Food assumptions
Ah food. The land of dogma, trends and strident opinions.

Assumption #1- everyone at Dancing Rabbit is a vegan
Assumption #2 - everyone at Dancing Rabbit is a vegetarian

Let's start with the very first word: everyone. There is not a single issue on which I could be 100% certian of acheiving unanimous agreement. Everyone agreeing on one thing? Never gonna happen.

Veganism and vegetarianism - The founders of DR were vegan, and 17 years later they still are. They knew, however, that if ecovillage membership were restricted to vegans that Dancing Rabbit's growth would be slow. As part of DR's mission is to grow and to educate, people are "allowed" to eat whatever they want.

That said, all agriculture (including small home gardens) must be organic (see Ecological Covenant #3, here). We encourage one another to eat as locally as possible. "Local" is another term with broad interpretations, ranging from food co-ops with strict local produce guidelines to those who do the best that they can. We are always weighing the pros and cons of everything. For example, is it better to purchase organic food (from a grocery store) that has been flown in from California (or Mexico, or Central or South America) or to purchase produce that has not been grown according to organic standards but was grown in Scotland County?

The answer is: it all depends.

What is more important to you? Energy use to get organic food to where you are? Or the health benefits of organic food? Some folks eat exclusively organic while some pick and choose as some produce has a higher "toxic load" than others (read more about the "dirty dozen" here). Still others choose to eat locally for environmental reasons, to avoid adding to the food miles that food travels. 

In the growing season you'll find most kitchens at Dancing Rabbit buzzing and boiling, drying and processing ("canning") the fresh organic produce that we grow here ourselves, and that we purchase from our neighbors. By preserving this bounty we are able to feed ourselves all year 'round with food we know to be organic and healthy. SIDE NOTE: For those of you who are interested in learning to can, the Milkweed Mercantile is offering five hands-on sessions this summer & fall. Click here for more info on our 2014 canning classes.

It is exciting to note that as more people move to Dancing Rabbit (and the surrounding community) and get settled that we are producing more and more delicious, organic produce. A few years ago Dan put in a hoop house and now grows salad greens year 'round. Many folks keep chickens and are just about at the point of having an excess of both meat and eggs to sell.

What about all that Junk Food?
When visitors come in to the Milkweed Mercantile, they come face to face with a wall of what they perceive to be junk food. In reality, the "junk food" in Mercantile not very junky. The cookies are organic Newman-o's, the coffee is Fair Trade and Organic Peace Coffee, and the chips, while not organic ARE non-GMO and owned by a small company instead of a large conglomerate. All of the candy is sweetened with cane juice instead of high-fructose corn syrup. None of our sodas use high-fructose corn syrup, either.

More importantly, though, is that this "junk food" is viewed as a treat by most Rabbits. Our diets consist mainly of whole foods (i.e.: grains, beans, vegetables and fruits all prepared from scratch). The only prepared food (in a box) that the Mercantile sells is Annie's Mac & Cheese and Organic Ramen (who knew?). This is also my opportunity to support companies that I believe in and know to be doing a great job, like Clif Bar.

But we do our best. We try lots of things; some work beautifully, some fail spectacularly. We appreciate the open hearts and enthusiasm of our guests, and hope that they, in turn, will be patient and leave their assumptions at the door.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more misconceptions and assumptions about our lives here on the prairie!


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Amazing Salted Caramel Cake

There was a recipe for caramel cake that I ripped out of Saveur magazine about five years ago. It looked more than delicious. It looked spectacular. It looked divine. It looked like something that Julia Child would have made for Paul when he had been very, very good. Last week I decided that it was finally time to make it. My mouth was watering for caramel.

And then I read the recipe. When I got to the frosting directions I read this: "Cook, stirring occasionally, until icing registers 240°, about 1 1/2  hours...Remove from heat; beat with a wood spoon until thick, glossy and spreadable, 20-25 minutes."

Let's just revisit those last two lines...beat for two hours? TWO HOURS? Wow. I love baking, and I love my friends, but there really isn't anyone I'd beat caramel for two hours for. Not Kurt. Not Lyle Lovett. Not David Straithairn, not Paul Bettany, Mary Oliver, the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Woody Guthrie, Susan B. Anthony, Helen Keller, Jane Austin, Florence Nightengale and George Carlin combined.

So I looked around a little, and found this recipe. It requires 3 short minutes of cooking the caramel, and just a little stir here and there (take that, two freaking hours of stirring!). Even better? It tastes GREAT! The Fleur de sel (flaky sea salt) sprinkled on top is, as they say, the icing on the cake.


Caramel Sauce
12 Tb (1 1/2 sticks)
2 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup whole milk

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
12 Tb (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granualted sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup milk

Caramel Buttercream
3/4 cup reserved caramel sauce
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
4 Tb (half a stick) butter
2 Tb milk
Sea Salt (flaky fleur de sel) for topping

Preheat oven to 350°

Make the Caramel Sauce
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and brown sugar and milk together, Bring to a boil.
2. Let mixture boil for 3 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and let cool.

Make Cake
1. Grease and flour two 9" round cake pans. Alternately, fit with parchment paper rounds.
2. In medium size bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together.
3. In mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar at medium speed for 3 minutes.
4. Add eggs and vanilla and continue beatuing until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl when necessary.
5. Add the flour and the milk, beating on low speed until ingredients are just combined.
6. Pour into prepared pans.
7.  Bake approximately 30 minutes, or until done.
8. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.

Make Caramel Buttercream
1. In a mixing bowl, combine butter and SIFTED powdered sugar on low speed, scraping sides as needed. 2. Pour in prepared 3/4 cup of caramel. Beat on medium about 2 minutes until creamy.

Putting it all together
1. Set aside 3/4 cup of caramel.
2. After the cakes have cooled for about ten minutes, pierce the tops with a fork. Pour remaining caramel sauce over cakes, allowing it to absorb into the holes.
3. Let the cakes finish cooling.
4. When the cakes are cool, remove them from cake pans and frost.
5. Sprinkle with fleur de sel.