Sunday, February 7, 2016

International [Whatever] Day

I love any excuse to celebrate. (It's true: my college roommate Mary can attest to my strict adherence to Margarita Tuesdays at our apartment during our senior year. In case you're wondering, no, I don't still stick to that rigid schedule. Any day is a good day for a margarita. But I digress....) Last month, on the eve of the big snowstorm, I stopped by my local Giant supermarket to pick up a few things. You know, the important stuff: rice crackers, an avocado, heavy cream. As I strolled by the cereal aisle, I saw this display:


Really? I'm surprised it wasn't promoted at school -- lord knows kids in the DC public school system could stand to eat more whole grains. I went home and made myself a fruit and yogurt parfait with granola, lest I be accused of neglecting this important occasion. Twas as delicious as it was patriotic.

Now, over this past summer, I acquired a jar of fancy chocolate hazelnut spread from my dear friend Susan. I vaguely recalled a few years ago hearing something about an international nutella day, and I distinctly recalled missing this most significant of days last year. So I made sure that I put it into my calendar and set a reminder. I mean, I wouldn't want to have my foodie card revoked -- the blatant use of fake cheese powder on my popcorn already has me on the food police watchlist.

This Friday -- February 5 -- I participated in my first local celebration of IND. As we sipped on our morning coffees at the school, my interns and I enjoyed slices of farmers market apples slathered in luxurious chocolate hazelnut spread. And then we proceeded to teach kids how to make a healthy butternut squash sauce with whole wheat pasta. (Are you kidding? Of course I didn't tell the kindergarteners it was IND or there might have been a riot.)


Last night, the IND celebration continued over handmade, mini nutella pop tarts that one of my dinner guests brought over. (In case you want to crank out some pop tarts yourself, here's a recipe that I used when we made them in a Brainfood class a few years ago.)

As we nibbled on Suzanne's flaky homemade pastries, her 10-year-old daughter informed us that she and her friends had celebrated National Icecream For Breakfast Day. What?! How did I miss that one? I'm marking NIFBD on my calendar right now. My dear readers, are you aware of any food-related holidays I should know about?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Hardly hibernating

I don't know where folks get the idea that gardeners and farmers aren't working in the winter. The same goes for food educators. My goodness, there are gardens to plan, pieces of equipment to fix, seed catalogs to browse, bee hives to build...


And there are plenty of fun indoor lessons to teach! Seriously, it's freezing out -- what better time could there be to look closely at soil in the classroom? Here are some kindergarteners examining soil samples brought in by Zach, the farmer-in-residence at one of my schools:

The coldest months also tend to be when many garden/farming-related events happen, like the annual Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture conference up in College Park earlier this month. Or  the awesome and free annual Rooting DC forum, coming up at the end of February.

Among my favorite activities are wintertime seed swaps, like the one put on by Washington Gardener Magazine earlier today. My friend Mike kindly gave me a lift to and from Brookside Gardens (which I hear is quite beautiful when it's not under three feet of snow). There, we met other area gardeners, learned about winter sowing, and oohed and aahed at some of the unusual varieties people had brought along to trade. I even worked up the nerve to make a little pitch for folks to check out Slow Food Ark of Taste seeds, a few of which I had to offer at the swap. (Have I mentioned how I generally avoid public speaking because it is scary? Though it was a large group, it was a friendly crowd, and exactly the type of folks who would buy into growing and eating heirloom foods in order to preserve them. So I spoke up. Now where's my gold star?) It was so fun to see folks really stoked about the new varieties of tomatoes, flowers, and odd cucumber varieties they would be growing in warmer months, and a handful of them asked me about my white velvet okra seeds. "Yep, they can grow to be eight-foot plants." Holy plantzilla, Batman!

This year, I'm going to try growing quinoa for the first time, from the heirloom seeds I got at the swap today. (Lord knows I eat enough quinoa to justify growing it.) And I'm going to attempt growing a bed of asparagus for the second time. (I think I got bad rootstock last year. Hmm.) Now, where will they fit in my limited garden space...? Wish me luck!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow gets in your eyes

The organized snowball fight at Malcolm X Park was pretty epic. The abundance of hipsters in attendance inspired me to compose a parody of the Platters classic on my walk home....

They asked me if I threw
Snowballs landing true.
I sheepishly replied,
"I just aimed inside,
But it went quite wide."

They said, "Some day you will find
That jerk who clocked you from behind
When your arm’s on fire.
For now realize
Snow gets in your eyes."

So I packed them, and I fired away --
To think they would hit a thing! --
Thankfully at last, one or two I cast
Finally struck something….

Opponents did deride
My repeated tries
To protect my head.
They aimed from the side,
More snow got in my eyes.

So, yes, though I ducked and weaved constantly, I got hit directly in the face precisely four times. I worried that the last one would lead to a fat lip -- someone was definitely making icier snowballs on the other side of the battle line -- but I am happy to report that did not come to pass. I seem to lack both the killer instinct and the aim to be much of an asset in snowball fights, but it sure was fun. And I sure am sore today, though that may just as easily be a result of my multiple shoveling shifts, hiking, sledding, and snow angel making as from snow combat. Here's my friend Sarah demonstrating proper angel making technique:


After all of that physical activity, I arrived home ravenous, and ready to make something hearty that could cook while I soaked in the bath. As I stripped off my 47 layers of outerwear, the appeal of mashed potatoes was suddenly overwhelming. And, readers, you know I rarely stop at making something as simple as mashed potatoes. A few minutes of rummaging around the kitchen resulted in the following delicious new dish:

Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie
(Definitely not vegan, though!)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup leeks, chopped
  • 1 cup shiitakes, chopped
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1-2 cups chickpeas (from a can, or pre-soaked and boiled until soft)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • handful of fresh herbs, leaves only, minced: parsley, thyme, rosemary
Directions

Preheat oven to 375F.

Saute leeks, shiitakes, butternut, carrots, chickpeas, and garlic in a medium cast iron skillet. Stir regularly.



Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add potatoes. Boil until potatoes are soft. (20 minutes should do it.) Drain potatoes, then return them to the pot, add butter and milk, and mash with a fork until smooth.

Add herbs, broth, and tomato paste to veggie saute, then top with the mashed potatoes.

Bake until heated through and liquid creeping around the edge is bubbly (about 30 minutes). Viola! You're done!


I took out the remainder of the pan the following day -- yet another snow day!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Well stocked

The bike lanes are already icy and unridable after a mere inch of snow last night, so Ollie's hanging out in my living room making friends with the houseplants. The DC government has preemptively decided to close schools tomorrow. Metro has announced that no trains will run this weekend, and only limited buses, due to what weather reporters are calling a "historic" blizzard heading our way.

Am I worried? Not a bit (though it may mean I'll have to skip my usual weekend dancing, which is, a bummer).

I'm well stocked here, though, with a freezerful of various soup bases (veg, chicken, shrimp, and fixins to make more), along with veggies and other goodies to toss into simmering pots. There's plenty of (semi-carbonated) homebrew on hand, and odds and ends to make cocktails. I've stockpiled some Netflix to watch and sci-fi to read. The Australian Open is on. I've just put my fuzzy flannel sheets on the bed and broken out my favorite sweatshirt. Ahhh.

Yes, I am *ready* for this blizzard.

What I want to know is: when are they holding the big snowball fight in Dupont Circle? (Maybe that's when my fortune cookie prediction will come true. He'd better not clock me in the face with an icy snowball is all I can say.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Snail mail is the best

I love surprises. And snail mail. But the best are surprises that come IN the mail. And one of the best surprises of all came in MY mail just a few days ago...


Yes! As temperatures have dropped this past week, a set of brand new lobster claw bike gloves arrived. They're a belated birthday gift from my best friend Becky, just in time for the below freezing morning bike commutes.

I 'm not going to lie: I was more than a little afraid to wear my new winter bike gloves. I have a bit of a track record of losing them, you know. Luckily, Becky thought of that, too. She's such a mom. THIS set of gloves came with some little accessories:


So what if those clips are usually used by moms of 7-year-olds to keep mittens from getting left on the playground? They work!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Iron Maiden

[Apologies to medieval torture seekers and heavy metal fans who may have gotten here by mistake: this is a food blog. But stick around, you might like the recipes.]

A few evenings ago, I came downstairs to chat with my landlady who was in the midst of making herself some dinner. "Oooh, what're you cooking?" I asked.

"Well," Jacky confided, "I have too much stuff in my freezer and I never have any room to put anything else in it. I don't even remember what half of it is, so I have decided to change that. I pulled out the first thing I saw and decided I would somehow use it in my dinner. In this case, it was tomato sauce, so I'm making pasta to go with it."

"Using whatever's in your freezer to build a meal, eh? I like that. Kind of a domestic version of Iron Chef." Bold.

"More like Iron Maiden," she smiled, mischievously. Love it!! I meandered back upstairs and have since been reflecting on some of the random odds and ends in my own, often overstuffed fridge and freezer that could use some creative integration into my diet. So I decided to try this approach, too.

Now, there are no rules for this culinary game except that I need to use something up every meal to make more space in my fridge or freezer. I've been nibbling on pickled radishes pretty regularly -- I've a quart jar to get through -- and drinking more kombucha. I cleared out a couple of quarts of frozen veggie stock making a delicious chickpea and kale soup yesterday. I made a smoothie for a snack with some frozen strawberries this afternoon. But the best thing going these days has to be the AMAZING brussels sprout dish I  cooked up using some of the spicy beer mustard that's been hanging out in my fridge for... awhile. I made a batch first with my brother and his wife on Sunday, and then another round for dinner with my friend Kate last night. Both begged for the recipe. I was happy to oblige.

To give credit where it is due, the recipe is in fact based on one in my friend Jonathan's wonderful new cookbook, Seasons to Taste. Of course, Jonathan proposes his original recipe as a great way to enjoy steamed sprouts, I couldn't resist roasting them. Okay, okay, you just want the recipe, eh? Here is my version of it:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bleu Cheese and Mustard

Ingredients

  • 1 quart fresh brussels sprouts
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 3 TBSP minced cippoline onion
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup mild bleu cheese
  • 1-2 TBSP spicy, wholegrain mustard
  • 1 handful fresh parsley leaves, minced
  • white wine vinegar

Directions

Preheat oven to 375.

Wash brussels sprouts, then remove stems and halve sprouts. Toss them in a cast iron skillet with a few glugs of olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until slightly soft (20-25 minutes).

Meanwhile, let butter soften in a medium pot on the stove. Stir in onion and garlic, then bleu cheese, mustard, parsley. Slowly stir in a teaspoon or so of vinegar.

Once sprouts are roasted to your liking, remove them from the oven and toss with bleu cheese sauce.

That's it! Even folks who claim to not like bleu cheese or brussels sprouts may find this combination irresistible. Dubious? I dare you to try it!

Now, what to clear out of here next for part of my lunch...?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dazed and Infused

Christmas is always a tricky time for me.

Things I love about it: 
  • opportunities to get together with friends and family
  • strings of those little white lights
  • having an excuse to bake a lot
  • the possibility of making a snowman

Things I hate about it:
  • it's cold outside (but not at the moment -- thanks, climate change!)
  • it's the time of year with the least amount of daylight
  • there is an endless loop of mostly terrible holiday music playing everywhere
  • the pressure of gift giving

Don't get me wrong, I *love* figuring out the perfect present for people in my life. I often get so excited when I find that something that I can't stand to wait until the designated occasion to give it to them. And then the occasion rolls around and I have bupkis. "Remember that awesome thing I gave you three months ago? No, that other thing. Yeah, happy birthday."

Well, this year, I decided to go homemade. And boozy. On Christmas morning, Mom unwrapped a big bottle of homemade limoncello. Dad found himself with a hand-painted recipe and ingredients for chestnut chocolate milk -- don't be fooled, there's bourbon in it -- that I'd learned from the good folks at a cocktail tasting and watercolor class my friend Patricia invited me to at Union Market a couple of weeks ago. And little brother became the proud owner of a pint jar of lemongrass-infused vodka. Plus some books for his wife and the most adorable 9-month-old niece ever, both of whom apparently don't drink. (Slackers.)

Yes, lemongrass vodka. I'd never come across it before, either. It all started when my friend Steve decided to dig up the lemongrass plants in his back yard last month to make room for some winter greens. Admiring them sitting in a sunny windowsill in my front room, I began to brainstorm things I could make with 3 large pots of lemongrass. This was assuming the plants survived the repotting process. (And as you can see, they have, and are even starting to grow new shoots!)


Historically, I have pretty much only used lemongrass in Thai cooking. But there are only so many curries a woman can make, even one who loves them, so I started to dabble in other lemongrass experiments. Lemongrass in my miso soup (great with lots of fresh ginger and garlic). A few stalks in the bath (nice). Burned as incense (not recommended). Lemongrass tea (lovely with a touch of local honey). Wait. Drinks. Yes. Why not lemongrass cocktails? I thought. It was time to do some serious experimenting.

Okay, maybe not so serious. But thorough. If you decide to make your own, all you need is:
  • a handful of lemongrass
  • some decent vodka
  • a bottle with a tight top
  • a dark place to let your infusion steep
  • a sense of adventure

(Goodness, this is starting to sound like the list of "things I couldn't live without" on my online dating profile. Hmmm. This might be a better list.)

Anyway, if you need some lemongrass, call me. For heaven's sake, don't pay $5 for a 3-inch stalk at Whole Foods! And if you need some ideas for what to do with your fancy seeming lemongrass-infused vodka, try one of these cocktails:


Be careful, though. You don't want to end up like this guy: