Sunday, August 21, 2016

A community of gardeners

So it's August. It's hot as heck. And there's not much going on in my home garden. What can I say, the veg plants are the only things in town that seem to dislike the shaded plot out back this summer.


Aside from the ever-robust compost bin, it's pretty sad back there. But that doesn't mean the plants aren't lush in other parts of my life. Check out the growlab residents, all started from seed in my living room last month:


Those little lettuces, beets, and flowers were just transplanted to their new home in my newest FoodPrints garden during this weekend's School Beautification Day. Oooh, the kids are going to be so thrilled to see the thriving plants when they return to school tomorrow. I bet they'll be especially excited to see the 3 Sisters Garden plot, with heirloom popcorn grown taller than the parents who came to help me with garden cleanup on Saturday:


Many thanks to my former intern Jessica for plantsitting while I was visiting friends in Vermont and Connecticut for a couple of weeks, to the volunteers who have helped to water the garden daily through these hot summer months, and to the parents and community volunteers who came to help me dig up the grass between the raised beds, mulch paths, weed, water, and transplant this weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy farmers market week!

Did you know this week is National Farmers Market Week? It may not have a Hallmark card section yet, but it's something to celebrate. Hug a farmer! Show up at a friend's house with a local watermelon! Try a new seasonal recipe!

You might imagine my elation when a colleague of mine asked me to do a chef demo at the market earlier today. I was especially honored as the market was to be visited by the undersecretary of the USDA. (That is quite a celebrity in my line of work.) He even stopped by for a bite of my raw zucchini noodle salad -- a brief visit as he was learning all about the Foggy Bottom market's awesome farmers and food benefits initiatives in action.

Here I am, all packed up after a successful demo. Note the trendy "I heart farmers markets" temporary tattoo. (It may be hard to see quite how overloaded Ollie was after the first market visit in two weeks -- my kitchen was quite bare when I returned from Connecticut on Monday night. That situation has been fixed.)

See, mom, I occasionally have a picture of myself on here.... in motion, as usual.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Vermonster

Goodness, I believe I haven't been to Burlington for a summertime visit since biking through on the Bikeable Feast in 2009. Now, this wasn't just an excuse to escape DC's heat and humidity -- I was heading up north to Vermont to visit friends, and then just a bit further south to Connecticut for my dear friend Felicity's wedding -- but fleeing DC summer weather for a week and a half was not a tough sell.

I love this place. Not even an hour after collecting me and my little rolling suitcase at the Burlington airport on Thursday afternoon, my old teaching pal Mark whisked me off to the Intervale, where we picked up a double farm share -- he knew I was coming, so wanted to be fully prepared with ample produce. After harvesting armloads of string beans and basil, cutting floral bouquets, and shuttling piles of fresh corn and tomatoes and greens into and out of the minivan, it was time for a dip in the lake followed by an outdoor concert and picnic (featuring seasonal fruit, local cheese, and the classic wine in a water bottle). Friday was a cooking extravaganza, with Mark and I sampling local beers and ciders while whipping up at least a half dozen dishes for an evening barbecue with friends. If I didn't know better, I would think Mark and Susan were trying to lure me into moving to Vermont. Hmm.

Saturday afternoon, I met up with my best friend Becky. She and her family had driven down from Montreal to hang out at Burlington's annual Festival of Fools. There was some good eating along the way, before her family let her come spend a few days of much-needed quality girl time with me. After a stop by one of my favorite co-ops in the country -- City Market -- to pick up dinner and some snacks for the next day's anticipated long hike, we were off to Waterbury.  It took us 5 hours on Sunday to make the rather steep hike up to the summit of Camel's Hump and back, and Becky and I were a bit ravenous afterwards. Oh, we had hiking snacks, sure, but did I mention it was a challenging, 5-hour hike? There was no choice but to head directly to the Ben & Jerry's factory. Forget the tour, we dove directly into a Vermonster:


Okay, technically it was a Mini Vermonster. That's Becky proudly showing off the sundae as big as her head. Don't shake your head at me, we split the four enormous scoops of ice cream, 2 bananas, and a brownie slathered with hot fudge, whipped cream, and nuts. Good thing it was a few more hours before dinner. It was amazing. I wonder if Becky is also trying to lure me north. Hmm. It is awfully good ice cream....

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Finally, a decent gluten-free cupcake!


A few weeks ago, I volunteered to make desserts for my friend Felicity's wedding shower. As she and I are both trying to cut down on our gluten intake, I decided to take another run at gluten-free baking. I mean, it's not like a wedding shower is a high pressure situation, suitable for a first attempt at a new recipe, right? ;) So I decided to make a few dozen mini peach tartlets and a couple dozen carrot cupcakes -- all gluten-free. And much to my delight, both came out deliciously. Things turned out so well, that I actually am whipping up another batch of cupcakes right now, which I'll be bringing to a pool party after work tomorrow. Just a dozen this time around.

Here, for your gluten-free recipe box, is a little something I adapted from the Divas Can Cook blog. I think even the decidedly un-diva-like Bugs Bunny would approve of these....

Gluten-free Carrot Cupcakes
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients

CUPCAKES
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or milk + a splash of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups carrots, finely shredded (I used a little over 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, finely shredded
FROSTING
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 TBSP butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (may need more to thicken if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F. (Or if it's my not-so-great electric oven, 375F. Don't ask.)

Prep a dozen muffin tins with paper liners (or grease with a thin layer of butter, then dust with flour.)

In a large bowl beat oil, both sugars, and eggs. Set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until just combined.

Fold in shredded carrots, coconut flakes, and vanilla.

Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. (I used a 1/4 cup measure.)
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, then cool in baking pan on a wire rack on the counter.


Prepare the frosting by first creaming together the butter and cream cheese.

Add in the confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Mix until silky and creamy. Add more sugar if a thicker texture is needed.

When cupcakes, are cooled remove them from pans and frost.

Note: Unfrosted cupcakes will keep on the counter for 1-2 days, or in the fridge for a handful of days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in the freezer for a couple of months.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A recipe for venison

For years I have listened to gardeners and farmers in rural areas complain about deer eating their crops (or in the case of my ex-boyfriend's mom, their hostas). Seems people try all kinds of things, from scattering powdered wildcat urine -- I can't help but wonder what the job must be like to gather said urine -- to draping human hair around the perimeter to hanging bars of Irish Spring soap nearby, to deter the gentle but hungry ruminants.

I never had to deal with deer myself until I started working with a school garden within long-range spitting distance of Rock Creek Park this past fall. One day in mid-October, students and I planted a 3-foot by 20-foot block of kale seedlings; the next day half of them were chomped down to about 2 inches above the soil. Now, that's just rude. A mass planting of garlic around the perimeter of the single long garden bed seemed to help, but I didn't want to take chances with the other half of my crop so I invested in a few rolls of deer netting. (Really, though, they should call it human netting, since more often than not students and I got ourselves tangled in it during the harvesting process.)

I've just worked with volunteers to build and plant a few more garden beds at the school, but without a protective garlic border around each of the 8 new beds I fear I might need to do something to supplement the deer netting loosely covering the tender young veggies growing in them. Perhaps I should prominently post a recipe for venison stew... and get it translated into deerspeak?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

A german feast!

I was sad to have my friend Tinka head home to Munich earlier today, after our fun week of biking and dancing and exploring the city together and feasting. What a special treat it was to have my friend here for her birthday, when we cooked up a feast based on some recipes from the Bavarian cookbook she kindly brought me. (Seems I'm not the only one who gives other people gifts on their own birthday.)

Last weekend as we perused the farmers market, the two of us picked up fixin's to make chicken schnitzel and spaetzle. And of course since I had an extra sherpa with me at market, I went a little crazy again with the produce acquisition... which is funny, since my fridge was already stuffed with homebrew, and produce from both of my school gardens, as well as about 6 pounds of rhubarb from my landlady, but luckily I am an excellent fridge packer. Anyway, when Wednesday evening rolled around we got to work on a proper German meal, paying no mind to the fact that I was woefully underprepared for proper German cooking. How do I not yet own a spaetzle press?? At least I had a solid tenderizer:


Each of us playing to her strengths, Tinka took care of the chicken pounding and cheesy spaetzle making, while I got cracking on some veggies to make sure we didn't die of heart attacks right at the end of the meal.


It was SO delicious. But the highlight of the cooking was perhaps earlier that day, with our improbably successful German rhubarb cake, which we baked and then enjoyed with a few cocktails midday for a birthday "lunch." (I think the last time I counted drinks and dessert as a meal was some time during my senior year of college. Though at that time I didn't need a 2 1/2 hour nap right afterwards.) I say improbable because, dear readers, the recipe was the most bizarre thing I had ever read, and having never tasted -- nor even seen -- a rhubarb cake in my life, I had no idea if my interpretation of the less-than-clear directions would even come to an edible conclusion. Clearly it did, as less than half of the 10" pastry remained after lunch:

If you want to try making it yourself, here's the recipe we found online for the rhubarb topping and for the base. (Forget the meringue layer -- it's way too humid to mess with it these days.) Beware, though, as my landlady tried to recreate it twice to no avail. Let's just say the instructions are not up to the stereotypical German standards of precision. I'm thinking I need to head to Bavaria sometime soon to research this recipe further....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Herbal first aid

I have always been fascinated by idea that plants have medicinal properties. The power of plants to affect us, positively or negatively, to heal us, to alter our perception of reality, is something I've been ruminating about more than usual, having just finished reading Michael Pollan's brilliant Botany of Desire during my flight back from California last week. And wouldn't you know it, mere days after my return my friend and local herbalist, Tricia*, sent an email advertising her class on herbal first-aid remedies. A class on identifying and local plants to alleviate common maladies? Sign me up!

Actually, I signed myself up as well as my dear friend Tinka, who is visiting from Germany for the week. As usual, it was both enjoyable and informative -- Tricia's such a great teacher. During the first segment of the class, we learned how to identify, cultivate, and take advantage of the basic medicinal properties of some culinary herbs as well as plants often considered weeds (like wild plantain, no relation to the banana). Talk about practical: Tinka immediately chewed up a couple of plantain leaves to create a "spit poultice" that immediately reduced the irritation from some recently acquired mosquito bites. The technical term for this property is anti-pruritic, which means it stops things from itching. And two days later, when I found myself with a scratchy throat, chocking down a mug of freshly boiled oregano tea knocked whatever was breeding in my respiratory system RIGHT out of there. (It is quite an intense concoction, with 1 cup of hot water to 1 packed teaspoon of fresh oregano leaves. Not a remedy for the faint of heart. Or rather, the faint of tastebuds.) It turns out that both oregano and thyme are not only delicious but also naturally antibacterial. We also learned about the medicinal uses of plants that were vulnerary (heal tissue damage), anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling), and anti-microbial (kill germs). Suddenly I felt like a shaman-in-training. Well, without the drums or animal bones.

After Tricia talked the group through harvesting and storing everything from thyme and yarrow branches to comfrey and chamomile flowers, we headed into the fire station for some hands-on work making infused oils, salves, and balms. (What's that? Oh yes, I should mention that the class took place at one of the local firehouses, which partners with a cool local nonprofit called Everybody Grows. Two guys from the EG team manage the on-site demonstration garden out front, and were as excited as I was to learn more cool things to do with the stuff growing out there.) Together, we proceeded to make a batch of calendula-infused olive oil. Tricia explained that it needed to steep for anywhere from 4 hours (in a warm water bath) to 2 weeks (in a hot car -- no, really), so she did a TV-style quick change and whipped out a second jar of already steeped calendula oil.


We used the herbalist's medieval torture-style mini press to extract as much infused oil from the soaked flowers, stirred in some natural beeswax, and warmed the viscous mixture. The result was now considered a salve. We removed it from the heat and added a few drops of lavender essential oil. What we had now was a balm, which Tricia carefully poured into cute little tins that we labeled and brought home.


Pretty awesome, no? I can't wait for Tricia's next class....

(*You may remember reading about Tricia in an earlier post on making homemade bitters. I learn so much from this lady! Incidentally, a blogpost on other cocktail-related bitters I've been concocting since then is currently under development...)