Archive for June, 2009

Zurich, Switzerland

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My last trip in Europe outside Sweden was to Zurich, Switzerland. I was hosted by biodynamics expert Andrew Lorand, who gave a small seminar on the basics of biodynamics. I’m very familiar with organic agriculture, but before this trip I didn’t have much experience with biodynamics.

Both biodynamic and organic agriculture are alternative methods to conventional agriculture that aim to be more environmentally friendly, but they have very different approaches. Organic agriculture might be unconventional, but to be organic you simply have to follow a set of rules and procedures laid out by whatever country you are in. There is no specific philosophy behind them and they vary between different countries. Typically, organic farmers simply use more natural pesticide and fertilizer alternatives.

Biodynamics has the philosophy of anthroposophy behind it, which was founded by Rudolf Steiner. It aims to look at farms as organisms in themselves with a goal of achieving natural balances. Unlike organics, it has a spiritual component. A biodynamic farmer consults astronomical planting calendars, for example. A biodynamic farm also is also going to emphasize being self-sufficient by growing a diversity of crops and hosting many different animals, insects, and other beneficial organisms.

In own experience, there growing disillusionment with the organic movement in the US. After learning about the Aurora “Organic” factory dairy, I realized that to get good milk I would have to do my homework and visit actual small farms to buy milk. This means I usually eschew milk altogether.
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In Switzerland you can get very high quality untreated raw milk and other dairy products at biodynamic stores.

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I got a chance to visit Steiner’s center, the Goetheanum. I took a tour and learned about the building and Steiner. His influence extends through many different spheres from Waldorf schools to homeopathy.

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Some of the inside is painted lovely soft plant colors. Some day they will paint the whole building.

Sheepishly

Wow, it is very rainy and cold today. It’s kind of depressing because it’s June and I figure we’ve had just about enough dark weather.
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Yesterday was at least sunny. While biking home I saw these sheep grazing on the lawn of a local park. An excellent natural lawn mower.

Impressive horns too. Sheep always looked a little pathetic to me, but I wouldn’t want to bother these.

Forest Flavors

It’s not uncommon to see people here emerging from the forest with bundles of flowers or baskets of mushrooms, among many of what foresters call “non-timber forest products” that are harvested here.
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wild lilies of the valley

But what about the trees themselves? Can you use those as foods? Actually, there are many trees that produce edible substances other than fruit or nuts. In Sweden, a company called Grythyttan makes wine out of birch (björk) sap. The leaves of conifers also contain many interesting flavor compounds. I first became interested in them from reading Playing with Fire and Water, an amazing molecular gastronomy blog. She did a series on the flavors of conifers recently.

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I have not encountered good juniper berries in the forest here, but I did find this juniper vinegar at the ecological market that is at the Fyris river every Saturday morning in good weather. It tastes, not surprisingly, like gin. I’ve been using it in excellent salad dressings alongside the honey I extracted in my beekeeping course.
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I also made young spruce shoot beer, from the blog’s recipe. The method utilizes a simple mixture of sugar, yeast, and flavoring. The yeast eats up the sugar to provide the carbonation. The mixture has to be placed in a plastic soda bottle so you can check the gas level easily, but also to prevent explosions. Some really old fashioned recipes use natural fermentation. Yeasts are ubiquitous in nature and if prodded along you can use them for cooking, like this intimidating recipe for sourdough bread with juniper yeast. But these recipes take over a week to make, so I stuck with the yeast. It turned out wonderfully sparkly, but next time I would use less lime juice because it seemed to overwhelm the spruce.