Saturday, December 24, 2011

Last Hurrah - Three Great Dessert Recipes

Before the holiday season is over, before you despair over the weight gained over the past month, before all excuses for cookies have disappeared, I wanted to share these with you. As you may know I have devoted my life to a search for the best of the best recipes, with a laser-beam like focus on dessert. Perhaps next year I'll be inspired by chard, but for now it's all butter, all the time.

Below is the most amazing recipe for Apple Crisp I have ever had. The boiled cider, Pomona's Ambrosia we use is from our friends at Blue Heron Orchard in Canton, Mo.

Additionally I'm including two cookie recipes which have been known to make grown men cry. We're serving them with mulled cider tonight at the Milkweed Mercantile. 

Have a lovely, peaceful, guilt-free holiday. 



 photo credit: Tecfan on Flickr

Apple Crumble
Adapted from King Arthur’s Flour Baker’s Companion

5 pounds apples
1/4 cup cider
2 Tb butter, melted
2 Tb boiled cider (Pomona's Ambrosia)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3 Tb tapioca flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Streusel Topping
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup thick old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. baking powder
8 Tb butter (1 stick, 4 ounces)

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9” x 9” cake pan or a ceramic pan of similar capacity and surface area.

To Make the Filling
Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/4" thick pieces. Place them in a bowl with the remainder of the filling ingredients and stir vigorously to combine. In the process of apple pieces will break into smaller bits. This is fine. Spoon the apple mixture into the pan.

To Make the Topping
In a medium size mixing bowl stir together flour, oats, salt, brown sugar and baking powder. Add the butter, cutting it in with a mixer, your fingers or a pastry blender as you would when making pie crust. Mix until crumbly. If you work it too much the mixture will clump together so use a light touch but be thorough. Sprinkle the topping over the filling.

Bake the crumble for 1 hour or until it is bubbly and a deep golden brown. Remove it from the oven; let it cool half an hour before serving.  

Dream Bars
About 2 dozen 2 ¼” bars
King Arthur Baker’s Companion

These bars are absolutely ugly - they will never win a prize for pretty. However, take these words of wisdom from the cook book:  “...but just take that first bite and you’ll for get the visual impression. Coconut, nuts, and sugar combine to form a gooey, rich topping on a buttery cookie base. Sprinkle these with a shower of snowy confectioner’s sugar and you’ve got bars whose looks begin to live up to their taste.”

Cookie Layer
1 stick (8 Tb) butter
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt

2 cups dark brown sugar
1 Tb unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 tsp. baking powder
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 cup shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 cup diced nuts: walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 300. Lightly grease a 9”x13” pan

To make the cookie layer:
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the flour and salt; the mixture will be crumbly. Pat the crumbs into a. Bake the cookie layer for 10 minutes, while you prepare the topping. Turn the oven up to 325.

To make the topping:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour, and baking powder. Stir in the eggs, mixing until smooth, then add the coconut and nuts, again mixing until well combined. Dollop the topping onto the crust in the pan, spreading it out; wet your fingers  and spread it around as evenly as possible.

Bake the bars for 25 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven and let them cool. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired, and cut them when they’re completely cool.

Yuletide Toffee Squares
96 small pieces
King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

...meltingly buttery yet crisp base, slathered with a just-thick-enough layer of chocolate and dusted with finely chopped nuts…

4 ½ c. rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 ½ sticks (12 Tb.) butter, melted
¾ cut light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

2 cups (12 oz) semi sweet chocolate chips
2 Tb. Vegetable shortening
2/3 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly grease a 15x10-inch pan

Combine the oats, sugar, butter, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt and mix well. Press the mixture into the pan, using lightly greased hands to help the process along.

Bake the squares for 12-15 minutes, or until they’re a light golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack. (NOTE: they will still look a little mushy in the middle – this is ok.)

In a medium saucepan set over very low heat, melt the chocolate and shortening together, stirring constantly until smooth. Spread the mixture evenly over the oat base and sprinkle on the chopped nuts. (I did this while the crust was still warm and everything worked out…)

Cover very loosely and chill the squares in the pan until the chocolate is firm. Remove from the fridge and cut into squares. The easiest way to do this is to use a chef’s knife to cut the bars into long strips while they’re still in the pan, and then transfer each long strip to a cutting board to cut into bite-sized pieces. They will be hard to cut, but easy to eat.

Party on, dude!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A World of Abundance - Sharing the Good Stuff

Photo Credit: imashleyhello on Flickr

 So there I was, wandering around the house and the Mercantile, trying to work up some good juice for a blog post about the holidays, and giving, and how none of us needs any more stuff…I was getting nowhere, fast. Partly because I kept tripping over piles of stuff in my house, and partly because I was feeling short on inspiration.

Then, I opened my email . There I found an email from Kurt’s semi-nephew X (who wishes to remain anonymous). X and his brother are nephews of the second Mrs. Kessner, but Kurt received shared family visits in the divorce, for which we are truly grateful, and so as the fourth – and last – Mrs. Kessner, I benefit, too.  X is not only funny, he is very, very thoughtful, and kind. It said:
Dear All,

Merry Christmas!!!!  

Because I'm only working part time this year and hate spending (my wife's) money, I was going to buy a single goat or a llama or a water buffalo from Heifer International and let you all know that your gift was a fractional share of same which, as we all know, goes to help out a worthy impoverished family somewhere on the other side of the globe.

However a lot of people here in the USA are also food insecure, especially lately, and I remembered reading a couple years back about this guy who had created sustainable urban farms right here in the good old Midwest.  Naturally, when I thought of giving something on behalf of you all I thought, "Why buy the cow when you can buy the whole farm!" 

So anyway that's what I did and I thought since you aren't getting a pretty card like you get from Heifer, that the least I could do was provide interesting details about what your gift is supporting, so here are a few links you can follow about this organization (see below):  

Best Wishes for a safe, wonderful, and happy holiday.  Let us all take a minute and thank our lucky stars that we have enough to eat as apparently, according to info on Heifer's website, 1 in 5 children in this country do not.  


p.s.  Thank you in advance for any and all gifts you sent this year (which we will open Jan 7).  You are wonderful, thoughtful, loving, family and if no power on earth will stop you from buying us stuff then I gratefully accept your generosity.  That said, we do have a lot of stuff already and a lot of people the world over don't.  Just sayin if you donate to something that matters to you on our behalf next year, that would equally wonderful....
 Christmas Trees Before Being Cut Down
Photo Credit: xdex on Flickr

The beneficiary of my part of a cow is Will Allen’s GrowingPower, Inc.

Read more about Will Allen in this article from the New York Times,  and watch this short video:

Will Allen: The Urban Farmer from Spark Project on Vimeo.

So that's it. Just that. Maybe we don't really need all of those brightly wrapped packages. A home-grown head of lettuce, some real tomatoes, and the inspiration of people who are doing good things in the world might just be enough this holiday season. I know it is for me.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes, Redux

I love Thanksgiving. Food, friends, family squabbles - what's not to love?

Since moving to Dancing Rabbit Thanksgivings have gotten much easier - we have a potluck dinner with everyone from DR, Sandhill and Red Earth Farms who has not already gone away for the holiday. We all bring a dish or two; there are some very good cooks here.

The only snag is that more than Thanksgiving Day I love the day after, when we can make sandwiches with turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, all between two slices of bread (or perhaps a brioche bun) slathered with mayo. So I often make a mini Thanksgiving for me and Kurt, and we nibble the leftovers for the rest of the weekend.

I always bring cranberry sauce to the potluck. It is super easy, and the sweet/tangy cranberry with a bit of orange zest seems to make every bite of mashed potatoes, yams, turkey and gravy taste just that much better. I was horrified, and then amused, to find that not everyone shares my opinion. Thanksgiving seems to bring out our most base, almost reptilian connections to food. For example, our friend Tereza insists that her cranberry sauce must come out of a can (and have those little dents in the side). It is not about the flavor; it is about the memories. For those folks, I bring a can of congealed cranberry sauce, complete with little indentations from the can.
RECIPE # 1: Cranberry Sauce

Makes 2 1/4 cups


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cups (1 12-oz package) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • Optional Pecans, orange peel, raisins, currants, blueberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice.
  1. Wash and pick over cranberries.
  2. In a saucepan bring to a boil water and sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar.
  3. Add cranberries, return to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries burst.
  5. At this point you can add all number of optional ingredients. I prefer about a half a cup of roughly chopped pecans with or without some orange zest. (The recipes all say that you can add a cup of raisins or currants, or up to a pint of fresh or frozen blueberries for added sweetness. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice can be added too.)
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Pour into serving dish, and cool completely at room temperature. When it is cool, chill in refrigerator. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.
Photo Credit: Michele Hume on Flickr

Memories are also behind Kurt's seemingly innocent request for Green Bean Casserole - you know, the kind with Cream of Mushroom Soup in it. Which created a dilemma of sorts. You see, when it comes to food (and just about everything else), Kurt is the ultimate good sport, an incredibly amiable, agreeable guy. I, on the other hand, seem to be a bit of a, um, snob. The Cream of Mushroom Soup request really threw me for a loop - how to make Kurt happy and not make myself crazy?

You can imagine my delight when I found Robert St. John's cookbook, which comes with the lengthy subtitle " to survive in a southern kitchen without a can of cream of mushroom soup." Within its pages is the most divine recipe for Green Bean Casserole, bar none. The end result has the same just-like-mom-made comfort as the original (for Kurt) and yet contains nary a drop of cream of mushroom soup - it uses Béchamel Sauce instead - which satisfies my snooty inner gourmand. Besides that, it is relatively EASY, plus you get to throw around terms like "Béchamel." This year, I am adding Robert St. John to the list of people for whom I am thankful.

RECIPE #2: Ultimate Green Bean Casserole
4-6 servings
Inspired by Robert St. John's Deep South Staples. Changes made to original recipe by me (Alline) and are not indicative of Mr. St. John’s culinary talents.


  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 4 cans green beans, drained (14.5 ounce cans)
  • ¼ cup bacon, sliced
  • 1 cup onion, medium dice
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 1 6-ounce can French’s French Fried Onions
  1. Make Simplified Béchamel Sauce (below)
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. In a large sauce pot, bring chicken broth to a boil.
  4. Place drained green beans in the broth and simmer 10 minutes, Drain the green beans.
  5. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, render bacon until it just becomes crisp.
  6. Drain excess bacon grease from the skillet and add the diced onions. Cook over medium heat for five minutes.
  7. Stir in salt, pepper and Béchamel sauce.
  8. Remove mixture from heat and fold in green beans, cheese, and ½ of the canned, fried onions.
  9. Place mixture in a 3-quart baking dish and bake 30 minutes.
  10. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining fried onions over the top of the casserole and return to the oven for an additional 12-14 minutes.
  11. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Simplified Béchamel Sauce (modified from Joy of Cooking)

In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt:
3 Tablespoons butter

Stir in:
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally with a wood spoon or spatula, over medium-low heat until the roux is just fragrant but not darkened, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Slowly whisk in:
2 cups whole milk

and return the saucepan to the heat.

Bring the sauce slowly to a simmer, whisking to prevent lumps, and cook, stirring often and skimming any skin that forms on the surface, over low heat, without boiling, until it reaches the consistency of thick cream soup, 8 to 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, if desired. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste.

Hmmm....why does this dark brown chocolate nut tart look RED? Probably because I haven't yet learned to mess with photos that were not taken by me...sheesh. For the real thing, check out the Vegetarian Times website!

RECIPE #3: Triple Nut Chocolate Tart
Vegetarian Times November 1, 2008
Serves 12 (we served 16, easily)

No one will guess this rich, elegant tart is vegan.
  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup vegan margarine (1 stick)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 3 cups mixed walnuts, pecans, and almonds (1 cup each), coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup vegan margarine (½ stick)
  • 5 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped or in chips
  • 2 Tbs. pastry flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
To make Crust:
  1. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in bowl.
  2. Rub margarine into flour mixture with fingers until mixture is crumbly.
  3. Sprinkle in vanilla, and stir.
  4. Add 1 to 2 Tbs. cold water until dough clumps together loosely.
  5. Press dough into pie dish or tart pan until sides and bottom are covered.
  6. Chill in freezer 30 minutes.
To make Filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Spread nuts on baking sheet, and bake 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned.
  3. Melt margarine and chocolate in saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Sprinkle in flour and salt, and stir until smooth.
  4. Stir in maple syrup and vanilla.
  5. Stir in nuts.
  6. Spread nut mixture in piecrust.
  7. Bake 25 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is firm.
  8. Cool on wire rack at least 20 minutes before serving.
Have a wonderful holiday!

Occupy Your Community with Revolutionary Love

This short video was on Facebook the other day. As many of you know, I'm not very "woo woo." But this really hit home.

Following the video is the text from Sacred Economy. Thank you Charles Eisenstein - I'm looking forward to reading the book!

"This movement isn’t about the 99% defeating or toppling the 1%. You know the next chapter of that story – which the 99% create their own new 1%.

What we want to create is the more beautiful world our hearts tell us is possible, a sacred world, a world that works for everybody. A world that is healing, a world of peace. You can’t just say we demand a world of peace. Demands have to be specific anything that people can articulate can only be articulated with in the language of the current political discourse.

That entire political discourse is already too small and that’s why making explicit demands kind of reduces the movement and takes the heart out of it.

A real paradox, the movement actually understands that.

The system isn’t working for the 1% either. If you were a CEO you would be making the same choices they do. The institutions have their own logic. Life is pretty bleak at the top, too.

All the baubles of the rich are phony compensation for the loss of what is really important.

Loss of community, connection, loss of intimacny, loss of meaning. Everyone wants to live a life of meaning.
Today we live in a money economy, where we don’t really depend on the gifts of anybody, but we buy everything. Therefore we don’t need anybody because whoever grew my food or built my house or made my clothes, well, if they died, or if I alienated them, or if they don’t like me, well it’s ok, I can just pay somebody else to do it. It’s really hard to create community if the underlying knowledge is “we don’t need each other.” So people get together and…they consume together.

Joint consumption doesn’t create intimacy. Only joint creativity and gifts create intimacy and connection.
You have such gifts that are important just like every species has an important gift to give to an ecosystem and the extinction of a species hurts everybody. The same is true of each person that you have an important and necessary gift to give. For a long time our minds have been told us that maybe we’re imagining things, that maybe its crazy to live according to what you want to give but I think now as more and more people wake up to the truth that we are here to give and wake up to that desire and wake up to the fact that the other way isn't working anyway the more reinforcement we have from people around us that this isn’t crazy, this makes sense, this is how to live. As we get that reinforcement our minds and our logic no longer have to fight against the logic of the heart   which wants us to be of service.   

This shift of consciousness that inspires such things is universal to everybody –the 1% and the 99% - and it is awakening in different people in different ways. I think love is the self experience of connection to another being.

An economist says that the more for you is essentially less for me, but the lover knows that more for you is more for me too. If you love somebody then their happiness is your happiness, their pain is your pain, your sense of self expands to include other beings. That’s love.

Love is the expansion of the self to include the other. That’s a different kind of revolution.

There is no one to fight there is no evil to fight, there is no other in this revolution. Everybody has a unique calling and it’s really time to listen to that. that is what the future is going to be. It’s time to get ready for it and help contribute to it and make it happen.

Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Murmuration of Starlings - STUNNING!

Today Tereza and I had our weekly Art Date. Sometimes not much art happens, but we invariably have a great time. This week our date happeend to be on Tuesday morning, when Alyson is waking up the sourdough starter for her weekly bake on Wednesday. In the midst of a lively conversation and lots of catching up, Tereza mentioned the video of a murmuration of starlings. Huh?

Watch this video. It is absolutely breathtaking. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be paddling along and then have this happen right above my head. Sometimes nature knocks my freaking socks off.

More ecovillage schmoo later. In the meantime, take a walk, enjoy the leaves and the sun and the wind and whatever is happening in your neck of the woods.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't be Afraid! Composting Toilets at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

Oh, my. Just what is it about composting toilets that get folks in such a tizzy? It's the one thing that always gets commented on by guests and visitors, and the thing that most new people are most anxious about.

I suppose it's because it is much easier to flush and never think about where everything is going. To actually enable our "waste" to turn into a valuable resource requires us to think outside of the proverbial box, veers into the icky and sends the squeamish into paroxysms of phobic over-reaction. Even my own mother, when learning about our toilet system, put her hand dramatically to her forehead and sighed "oh, Alline, we worked so hard so that you would have indoor plumbing." Sheesh.

So let's get down to business. As the book title says, Everyone Poops.

Here at Dancing Rabbit (and Red Earth Farms, and Sandhill Farm) we do have indoor plumbing. We have running water and everything. We just choose not to mix our beautiful, pure, clean drinking water with our waste (Note: I am writing a post about our rainwater cisterns and will have it up here soon!).

In his book The Toilet Papers, Sim Van der Ryn says:

Throughout this book, you will find the word "waste" used to refer to those raw materials-feces and urine-your body passes on to make energy available to some other form of life. This is what you give back to the earth. The idea of waste, of something unusable, reveals an incomplete understanding of how things work. Nature admits no waste. Nothing is left over; everything is joined in the spiral of life. Perhaps other cultures know this better than we, for they have no concept of, no word for, waste.

In our home, and around Dancing Rabbit, most folks use the Humanure System popularized by Joe Jenkins. I was a little skeptical at first, while reading about this at home in Berkeley before moving to DR. How could it not smell? Could it really not be gross? I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived and actually used the system. After each use one adds a handful of sawdust or wood shavings, which really does work. How? Through the miracle of thermophilic composting, which is just a fancy schmancy way of saying that the bacteria essentially cooks itself into beautiful soil:

In many backyard compost piles... mid range bacteria do most of the work. However, if conditions are right they produce enough heat to activate the "thermophilic", or heat loving bacteria. Thermophilic bacteria work fast. Their optimum temperature range is from 104°F to 160°F. This natural heat further encourages the rapid growth of more thermophilic bacteria, until all of the original organic material is digested and broken-down into a stabilized and homogenized nutrient- rich soil product.

As a gardener, and an environmentalist, I was already a believer and great fan of compost - we had been composting food scraps and garden "waste" for years. The rich black soil created from what had previously been potato peelings, apple cores, coffee grounds, paper napkins, dried leaves, grass clippings and egg shells was astounding. What a great, free resource! And it also alleviates the guilt that often comes from harboring "science experiments" in the fridge a bit too long - we're not wasting food, we're recycling it! Additionally, it is a great way to reclaim nutrients from your garden - both "green" and "brown" garden debris (leaves, grass, deadheaded flowers, etc.) stay out of the landfill and boost future garden productivity.

The Humanure System is equally efficient. Here in Northeastern Missouri the soil is clay-y and dense, and not suitable for septic systems. There is no county sewage system to hook in to. So even if we weren't gung-ho environmentalists the options are limited. Which actually turned out to be a plus for us.

The Humanure System consists of a 5-gallon bucket, a toilet seat, some sawdust, and a compost pile outside. Handy to have for beginners is a compost thermometer. The entire book is online, as are helpful videos (see link above). Not exactly an ideal system for high-rise dwellers, but something to consider for others with a yard or some acreage.

Most houses here at DR have their own Humey toilet.

This is in the still-under-construction Milkweed Cottage. A simply constructed wood box, sized to fit a tall 5-gallon bucket. A bucket of wood shavings next to it. TP holder on the opposite wall and cat on the windowsill out of view in this shot.

Over at Bluestem is the glitziest pooper on the farm. (Please note that I did not give them any advance warning or the opportunity to sweep - I just showed up at the door and asked Tereza if I could take a photograph. Where else does your neighbor appear 
out of the blue and ask to shoot your toilet? 
Ah, life at Dancing Rabbit). 
Tom made this 17-sided beauty. Apparently it was supposed to be 16-sided, and there was much swearing and frustration trying to get all the pieces to fit. It was only after he finished and counted that he realized that the difficulty came from the extra piece. Oops. 
Regardless, it is rather elegant.

This is a peek in the door of one side of the DR Outhouse. Sorry about the poor lighting. The outhouse features a Dutch door (for viewing scenery as you, um, sit) and side-by-side poopers - bring a friend! The toilet seats are attached to the plywood top, which lifts up (on hinges) in order to empty the buckets. It's a lot easier than it sounds.

A few houses have their own compost piles, others dump their buckets in the community humey bins, which are also where the buckets from the Community Building and the community outhouse are dumped. A humey shift is one of the rotational duties that all members of Dancing Rabbit agree to do. The finished compost goes on fruit trees in the community orchard.

Hauling buckets for a couple of people in one's own household, or being part of a cooperative system with 50-something people particpating feels manageable. But when it came time to choose a toilet system in the Milkweed Mercantile, Kurt and I wanted to be spending our time talking with our guests, not emptying buckets. A commercial composting toilet seemed to be an ideal solution.

We chose the Phoenix Composting Toilet from Advanced Composting Systems. A pdf of a cutaway drawing of the toilet can be viewed here.

We like it a lot - it is easy to maintain, holds a lot, and is fairly innocuous, as toilets go. Guests have confessed (after spending the night, getting to know us a bit and becoming comfortable here) that they were nervous about the toilets. Then they go on to tell us that the toilets were great, and exclaim "...and they (the toilets) don't smell at all!" We've asked them to include this info in their reviews on Trip Advisor and/or but so far no one has. Folks don't talk about toilets much...

Here's Kurt putting together the Phoenix Composting Toilet (or, Still Life with Coffee Cup). The bottom two sections are on the left, and the top section is upside down on the right.

A view of the tines inside the Phoenix.

More fun in the basement.

 The upstairs Mercantile bathroom. Scary toilet on the left. Antique dresser revamped into a sink on the right.
In the center - 18" thick straw bale wall.

Gene Lodgson wrote a book called  Holy Shit; Managing Manure to Save Mankind  where he makes the case for composting toilets. Publisher's Weekly had this to say about it:

Common sense and just the right amount of folksy humor make this treatise on feces a pleasure to read whether or not you've ever knowingly come within 50 miles of a compost heap. Logsdon writes for a wide scope: how to recognize a manure spreader for those who don't know; the finer points of old-fashioned pitchfork tines, for readers who actually use them. In addition to lots of clear DIY instructions for utilizing waste, Logsdon, a blogging farmer in Ohio, draws from his boyhood experience during the days of the privy, his Amish neighbors, and his understanding of how ancient China saw agricultural productivity rates the likes of which we've never had in the U.S. Ultimately, the real coup here is that this book overcomes the yuck factor and illustrates how, as with many things American, we've taken a natural, healthy, efficient system and replaced it with something expensive, toxic, and marketable - in this case, chemical fertilizers. As food locavores gain visibility and popularity, so too should the rear end of sustainable farming practices.

So consider getting over your yuck factor. Think about how things really work. Maybe composting toilets aren't such a crazy idea after all?

Love, Alline

Occupy Your Life - Put Your Money Where It Matters

Something that keeps coming to mind with all of the Occupy Everywhere protests is curiosity about where people are keeping their money. Regardless of how little you have, it seems to me that it (and you) are much better served in a local bank which invests in your own community.

I was excited to receive an email from the Social Venture Network talking about the Move Your Money Project and Bank Transfer Day, November 5th, 2011.

Here is an excerpt from their website:

Moving your money out of the big Wall Street banks to small community banks and credit unions is a great idea for a number of reasons:
  • you will get better rates and fewer fees
  • your comunity banker will learn your name and provide you with more personal service
  • you will be keeping money in your local community which increases economic development and eventually, creates more jobs. 
Yet the most important reason to move your money is to make your voice heard, to stand strong and no longer help a banking system that has run amok. 


When you keep your money in a local financial institution, that money in turn is reinvested in local businesses, which is important for building a stable economy and encouraging local growth. Put your money in the big Wall Street banks however, and they will use your deposits to make risky investments, gambling at the expense of the economy as a whole.

An important call-to-action that came up during that meeting is the "Move Your Money Project,"  also known as Bank Transfer Day, November 5th, 2011.  If you haven't already, we encourage you to move your money this week and put your assets in financial institutions that have a social mission that’s aligned with your values.

Here's a partial list of financial organizations to consider:
•    Calvert Group 
•    Domini Social Investments 
•    Ocean Endowment Partners
•    New Resource Bank
•    RSF Social Finance 
•    SocialK 
•    Sunrise Community Banks 
•    Trillium Asset Management 
•    Vancity

Late addition: just found this on Facebook (so you know it's true!)

Thanks for reading.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Milkweed Mercantile Eco Inn "Library" - Bathroom Art at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

When the Mercantile was just beginning its construction phase (back in the digging in the mud phase) I attended an auction at a school in Ewing, Missouri, which was being closed down. In addition to the card catalog (now used to display merchandise, see below) and the swings from the playground (still to be installed) I found the door to the school library. Laying on its side and leaning against an exterior wall, the door was like a forgotten step-child. I paid $1.00 and walked away with my prize.

Prize? You bet. My late father-in-law, Clyde Kessner was a character of the first order. Along with a plethora of maxims, adages and bromides, Clyde announced his departure to the bathroom with a rustle of a newspaper and the comment "well, I'm heading to the library." Thus, the Clyde Kessner Memorial Bathroom came into being.

Danae and Kristen snap the chalk lines.
Clyde's granddaughter (Kurt's niece) Danae Howell has been working here at the Milkweed Mercantile all summer. When I told her about wanting to add a wall of books to the downstairs bathroom/library she got a huge smile on her face and went to work.

The finished "library."

Danae added a few of our favorite eco books (Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk, A Reasonable Life by Ferenc Mate, The Humanure Handbook by Joe Jenkins) and made up a few (Baloo's Guide to Happiness, Queen Alline's Guide to Life, and Exploitation or Education: the Life of a Wexer). She also added Work Exchanger Robby's (aka Dr. Bob) doctoral thesis, and a list of the 2011 Work Exchangers.

Homage to Baloo

Dr. Bob's Thesis

Our 2011 Work Exchangers

Come visit our library soon!

PS Here is the card catalog, put to use as our "apothecary."
Milkweed Mercantile Apothecary

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage Featured in a COOL New Documentary - Help with a Pledge on Kickstarter!

This summer, during the hottest, brain-meltingest days of July, three filmmakers came to visit. We had no idea what to expect - we get approached all the time by folks who want to film us. Occasionally we say "yes." This time we definately made the right call.

Tamer, Armand and Tom are not only supremely talented but also extremely respectful and thoughtful human beings. They do a lot more listening than they do talking, and while they were here they spent a lot of time getting to know us before ever turning on a camera.

When we saw the trailer they put together we were stunned (in a really good way). These guys get it. They are presenting the three communities of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, Red Earth Farms and Sandhill Farm in a clear, thought-provoking, positive way. The film itself is beautiful - the transitions are striking (I love the blueberries in a food processor turning into a cement mixer...) and so many Rabbits and Sandhillers and Red Earth Farms folks are represented.

The clip is below.

As one listens to the first 30 seconds, which was filmed at Sandhill Farm, one is immediately transported to Rutledge, Missouri in the middle of the summer, early in the morning - can you hear the birds and the train in the distance? This is what our life is like here. At 1:12 we see Thomas, working on his hand tools; at 1:23 we see Stan of Sandhill Farm, chopping cabbage with his earthy farmer's hands; at 1:35 we see Alyson, a former Rabbit and current DR Board member, with her daughter Cole; I can be see chatting behind the bar of the Milkweed Mercantile at 1:42; Laird, of Sandhill Farm who is one of the founders of the Fellowship for Intentional Community and a huge supporter of DR and the Mercantile is at 1:46; Ziggy, who is co-creator of Gob Cobitron and author of the A Year of Mud blog is seen tamping the floor in his house at 1:49.  At 3:00 you can see Kurt with Rabbit Tom Cowen and our work exchangers Robby and Jordan working on our wind turbine....

Help The Last Volunteer get this film made! As of today it is 54% funded. In eight short days the party is over. Please help!

How's this for an incentive: Contribute $1,000 and you get a night's stay (and dinner!) at the world-famous Milkweed Mercantile. It's a bargain at twice the price!

I realize that most people who read this blog are interested in simple, sustainable living, and therefore may not have a lot of disposable income. I know I certainly do not (although with our latest accounting Kurt thinks we may be making $4.75 a day now!). But this project is so worthwhile - I would love to see the story of Dancing Rabbit and other commuities told by someone who clearly understands and has a gift for story-telling. Even $5 or $10 will help.

Thanks for considering!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers - Secret Friends Everywhere!

Gifts come from the most astounding, unexpected places, and miracles are everywhere. This morning I opened my email and found this:

"Hello Aline, Kurt and everyone!

By bizarre and convoluted means (arent they always!) I found myself on your site.

I have a small organic garden and was reading up about composting seaweed and came across a post by Aline on the Ventnor Permaculture site.

There was a link to The Milkweed Mercantile and Ive spent a lovely hour looking through your site and various blogs and Im staggered at what you all have accomplished.

I looked backward through Aline's photostream on Flickr and travelled back in time through the building of the Mercantile. First I saw the cheery guests and beautiful rooms and eventually made it  through to digging out the basement with your enormous digger!

Initially when I spied beautiful floors, fireplace and the lime plastered walls I assumed you had converted a barn at *considerable* expense. However as I travelled further back through your photos, I discovered to my intense joy you had fulfilled your very own self built 'Grand Design' from scratch!

Oh well done everybody! What a journey! It looks FABULOUS and so warm and inviting. But my goodness what a lot of work- I mean crazy amounts! Kurt and Aline, I have so much respect for your vision and energy. To envision the possibility of 'what could be' from 'what was' is rare gift!

And you had so much help from your community! So many smiles and waves to camera throughout the process Aline and Kurt are truly blessed with friends and neighbours who have gone above and beyond to help create the amazing guesthouse and cafe.

I never knew of you until an hour ago, and probably couldn't find Rutledge, MO with an hour, two hands and a paper map! My life is very different, I have a a busy urban life in London,  but Im genuinely proud of your achievements:-

The wonderful cafe kitchen, the PV panels, wind turbines, the strawbale construction, reclaimed doors and floors, Tamar's beautiful mosaic swirls... all created with such good grace and a passion for quality work. Its absolutely shines through in everything you've done.

Congratulations one and all!

Have a good day!"

Wow. I'm considering printing this out and carrying it around in my pocket, as a touchstone of sorts, on those days when all I can see is what hasn't yet been done, when I forget what we've actually accomplished. 

This is also a very good reminder of the power of connection, and how a kind word can make a world of difference.

I really am speechless. I'm sitting here at my computer with a big smile on my face. Words are pretty much failing me, so I'll just finish by saying Thank you Anne-Marie. You made my day!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage Open House - Saturday, September 24th

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage is hosting its 

Annual Open House 
Saturday, September 24, 2011
from 1:00- 4:00 p.m.

and we really want you to be here!!!

Come enjoy free tours, a peek inside several of the private homes, an insider's guide to life off the grid, info on renewable energy, building with alternative and sustainable materials, a village fair, live music, and much much more! We hope to see you there!

Our children are slow but cute. Please don't run over them.

If you get lost we'll be in the Milkweed Mercantile most of the day and can help talk you in. Our phone number is 660-883-5522. Please note that AT&T does NOT have cell phone reception in this area (maybe they're not so smart after all...)

Wear comfortable shoes, bring a jacket and maybe an umbrella, and your friends!

 The Rabbits demonstrate car-sharing.

A google map is available here:

Our GPS Coordinates are:
40 degrees 19.953' N
92 degrees 5.766' W

Driving directions from just about everywhere:

From the NORTH (Minneapolis, Des Moines):
  • Follow 35 South from Minneapolis.
  • In Des Moines, take the exit onto I-80 E toward Davenport 3.4 mi
  • Take exit 141 to merge onto US-65 S toward Altoona/Des Moines 4.5 mi
  • Take exit 79 for IA-163/E University Ave toward Pleasant Hill 0.4 mi
  • Turn left at IA-163 E/E University Ave
  • Continue to follow IA-163 E
  • Continue onto US-63 S
  • After going through the town of Bloomfield, turn left on Iowa Route 2.
  • Head east to Iowa Route 15 and head south (a right turn onto 15). NOTE: If you are driving by during business hours, Milton Creamery has AMAZING cheese. They are on Route 2 on the right just before you turn onto Highway 15. Absolutely worth the stop. We highly recommend Prairie Breeze and Prairie Rose.
  • As you cross the state line it will turn to Missouri Route 15.
  • Continue on Route 15 all the way through Memphis.
  • Several miles south of town at the bottom of the hill, take a left turn to head east on 136.
  • Continue on 136 for a couple of miles. After the Pizza Hut and J’s Grocery store, turn right at Ridge Road/Highway MM.
  • Ridge Road//Highway MM.will take you along the ridge, down into the river bottom, over the creek and back up the other side.
  • At the T intersection, turn LEFT on Highway M.
  • M will twist and turn, and eventually come to another T intersection. M goes left, W goes right. Turn LEFT, continuing on Highway M.
  • When you see the sign where you take a right turn to stay on M and go into Rutledge, go straight instead, continuing on Route A. Take your first left turn in about 100 yards. THERE IS NO ROAD SIGN HERE BUT TURN LEFT ANYWAY. If you reach the railroad bridge (or the town of Gorin) you have gone too far.
  • Go one mile and take a SHARP left turn on the first gravel road, once labeled "Woehrle" but sadly no longer labeled THERE IS NO ROAD SIGN HERE BUT TURN LEFT ANYWAY (we're working on putting up our own signs, but we haven't gotten to it quite yet!).
  • Ignore the gravel road that goes off to the right and continue on 0.8 miles and you'll see the Dancing Rabbit sign on the right.
  • Turn in at the next entrance, where visitor parking is located on your left.

From the EAST and SOUTH (Quincy, St. Louis):

  • From US 61 near Quincy IL, head west on Missouri 6.
  • Go 32 miles to Knox City and take a right on V (there is a route V after just a few miles on Hwy 6 - DONT TAKE IT, it is the WRONG V. Each county has its own highway V – go figure).
  • When you come to a tee intersection, take a left on K.
  • Go a few miles and take a right (north) on M--you'll see a sign that says "Rutledge 5 miles."
  • Cross the line into Scotland County and go through Rutledge on M.
  • Just north of the town, M comes to a tee intersection--go right (east) on A.
  • Take your first left turn in about 100 yards. This road does not have a sign. If you cross the railroad overpass/bridge you have gone too far.
  • Go one mile and take a sharp left turn on the first gravel road, once labeled "Woehrle" but sadly no longer labeled (we're working on putting up our own signs, but we haven't gotten to it quite yet!).
  • Ignore the gravel road that goes off to the right and continue on 0.8 miles. You'll see the Dancing Rabbit sign on the right.
  • Pull into the second driveway and park in the lot on your left
  • The Mercantile is the big white building with the porch.
 For an internet map follow this link:

From the SOUTH and WEST (Kirksville, Columbia, Kansas City):
  • Take US 63 north to Kirksville, where it will turn into North Baltimore Street.
  • Take a right on Missouri 11 (the Hyvee store is a good landmark).
  • After 20 or so miles, you'll come to a stop sign--go straight, crossing over Missouri 15. At this point, 11 will turn into highway K.
  • Go through Baring on K, and after a 6.5 miles on K, take a left (now heading north) onto M. You'll see a sign saying "Rutledge 5 miles"
  • Follow M all the way through the town of Rutledge until in stops at a tee intersection. Just north of the town, M comes to a tee intersection--go right (east) on A.
  • Take your first left turn in about 100 yards. This road does not have a sign. If you cross the railroad overpass/bridge or reach the town of Gorin, you have gone too far.
  • Go one mile and take a sharp left turn on the first gravel road, once labeled "Woehrle" but sadly no longer labeled (we're working on putting up our own signs, but we haven't gotten to it quite yet!).
  • Ignore the gravel road that goes off to the right and continue on 0.8 miles and you'll see our sign on the right.
  • Pull into the second driveway and park in the lot on your left
  • The Mercantile is the big white building with the porch.

For an internet map follow this link:

From Chicago
  • 80 West towards Iowa (approximately 116 miles)
  • Merge onto I-74 E/IL-110 W/CHICAGO-KANSAS CITY EXPY toward PEORIA. 31 miles
  • Merge onto US-34 W/IL-110 W/CHICAGO-KANSAS CITY EXPY via EXIT 46A toward MONMOUTH. 21.7 miles
  • Merge onto US-34 W toward BURLINGTON (Crossing into IOWA). 28 miles
  • Take the US-61/ROOSEVELT AVE exit, EXIT 261, toward FT MADISON. Continue to follow US-61 South  18 miles
  • In Ft. Madison Turn RIGHT onto US-61/AVENUE L/IA-2. Continue to follow US-61/IA-2. 3.3 miles
  • Turn slight right onto IA-2W 0.2 mi
  • Turn slight right onto IA-2W  8.7 miles
  • Turn LEFT to take the US-218 S/IA-27 S ramp.  0.3
  • Merge onto AVENUE OF THE SAINTS (Crossing into MISSOURI).
  • Take the US-136 ramp toward WAYLAND/KAHOKA. Turn RIGHT onto US-136.  26 miles
  • After going 26 miles, turn LEFT onto MO-A. DO NOT TURN ON THE FIRST MO-A THAT YOU SEE – IT IS THE WRONG ROAD (each county has its own highway A – go figure). 6.5 miles
  • In south Gorin cross over the railroad tracks and continue south on MO-A. Watch the mileage – approximately 6.8 miles
  • When you have covered approximately 8-7 miles you will cross a small overpass bridge that goes over the railroad tracks. Immediately after this is a paved road on your right. This is Old Highway Y. There is not a road sign here. Turn right. (If you get to MO-M you’ve gone about .2 miles too far).
  • Go one mile and take a sharp left turn on the first gravel road, once labeled "Woehrle" but sadly no longer labeled (we're working on putting up our own signs, but we haven't gotten to it quite yet!).
  • Ignore the gravel road that goes off to the right and continue on 0.8 miles and you'll see our sign on the right.
  • Pull into the second driveway and park in the lot on your left

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Timberframe Bent-Raising at Wabi Sabi

NOTE: all photos are clickable for a larger view.

Two of the many things I love about Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage are these:
1. When you need help, folks come a'runnin'
2. A variety of building methods, techniques, and philosophies are embraced, encouraged and supported.

Yesterday was a good example. Wabi Sabi, a food cooperative with Thomas, Ziggy, April and Ali as members, hosted a bent-raising for their under-construction kitchen. Joined by work exchangers Jacob and Jonathan, they've been working hard getting ready for the big moment. 

It was an impressive set up.  I apologize in advance for the poor photos - I did the best that I could with my goofy outdated camera (hint to Kurt: I need a new one!) while trying not to be crushed to death under beams that surely weighed a zillion pounds. Additionally, April was shooting video that will soon (I suspect) be posted on Ziggy's blog,  at A Year Of Mud

The building is being built with the timberframe method: the method of creating structures using heavy timbers jointed by pegged mortise and tenon joints. So here was the challenge - to get this peg into this hole (one of these on the north and south sides of the building),

and this little piece of rebar into that little hole, on the middle post. 

Which doesn't sound like such a big problem until you realize that these pegs/rebar are supporting these mondo huge beams. Here is a view from the other side.

In the photo above you can see how they have rigged up a pulley. Attached to this crossbeam are the three posts which are being lifted into place. We hope.

Here (above) the crew of volunteers gets instructions from Thomas. He's the one on the right in the dashing bonnet. In the background you can catch a glimpse of Wabi Sabi's temporary kitchen, complete with "clerestory" windows.

Katie, Jordan, Claire, Jacob, Maikwe, Jenny, Marqis, Kate
About this time Thomas yelled "PULL!" and so they did. At the same time the other half of the crew, below, supported the beam with notched 2x4s.

Snack, Tim (boots only are visible!), Craig, Dan, Travis, Ziggy

This is when Ziggy called to the rope pullers "oh! Watch out for the sweet potatoes." OK, Zig. No problem. You can see that Jacob and Jonathan ran around the garden patch to pull while not stomping on dinner. Good job!

Meanwhile, Pug supervised. He did an exemplary job.

While the crew with the 2x4s supports the beam (the rope has been tied off at this point) Ziggy and Thomas check to see how close (or how far) the pegs are from the holes.

The pegs are close! First they adjust the one on the right (south), then move to the middle. This takes a lot of crowbar action and careful support from the 2x4s. Jacob get ready to grab the "persuader." Talk about perfect names for things. The Persuader must weigh at least 20 lbs, and is bigger than Rhode Island.

I realize that this looks like a photo of Ziggy's lovely behind, but it is REALLY a shot of all of the careful aligning being done. Jacob is persuading, Thomas is working the crowbar, BETsey and Marqis are supporting with a 2x4 (as are Snack, Tim, Kurt, DAn...). An impressive group effort!

The pegs pop into place. Kurt and Thomas screw in supports. 

And we're done! Which is when the playing begins. Below, Kate demonstrates the power of persuasion on Tim.

Thanks for reading. More soon!