Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The eye of the beholder

I tell you, when I got an email with this photo the other day, I was beside myself. A garden bed, just filled with healthy soil and compost, mulched around the perimeter, and all ready to plant! 3 feet by 8 feet by 10 inches of pure, unadulterated garden potential. Ohhhh.

I almost swooned.

The message came from a member of the Outdoor Classroom team, part of the group that helped to construct the 8 brand spanking new raised garden beds at Tyler Elementary a couple of weekends ago. Here we are all smiley and spent from our afternoon of sod wrestling and drillplay:

And now: one ready-to-plant garden bed. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

What to plant in this very first bed? Snap peas! No, wait, spinach! Hold on: lettuce! Carrots! Radishes! Flowers! ... Maybe a row of each? Can't wait for school to reopen next week. Meanwhile, I'm spending spring break mapping out garden plans, digging up strawberry runners for transplanting, starting sweet potatoes on my kitchen windowsill, and daydreaming about warmer weather and snap peas.

Yeah, I'll probably want at least one whole bed of snap peas. I mean, the kids will.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Repeat after me

Well, folks, I finally had to have that uncomfortable conversation with my kids on Monday.

It was the final section of my 3rd grade FoodPrints class on Eating (at least) Five Fruits and Vegetables Every Day. As we reviewed students' One Day Food Journals to survey how many fruits and veggies students in the class had eaten in the previous 24 hours, students called out examples:

A handful of blueberries on my cereal! Yes.

Carrot sticks and ranch dip with my lunch! Well done.

An apple and some peanut butter for a snack! Same here, kid.

French fries! Excuse me? No. Try again. Technically potatoes are vegetables, but for our purposes, we're going to count them as starches.

But I had lots of ketchup on the fries! Excuse me??

Imagine the sound of tires screeching on asphalt. That is the sound that was in my head as I took a deep breath. All this time I thought this was an urban kitchen myth. People didn't ACTUALLY think ketchup counted as a vegetable... but apparently they did. I suppose I can't really blame the kids. They had some logic.

Ketchup is made out of tomatoes, and tomatoes are vegetables, another kiddo piped up.

Okay, class, let's be clear here. Ketchup is NOT a vegetable. It is mostly salt and corn syrup and Red Dye #5 and teeny, tiny little bit of tomato. Repeat after me: KETCHUP IS NOT A VEGETABLE.

Ketchup is not a vegetable.


Ketchup is not a vegetable!

One more time.

Ketchup is NOT a vegetable!

Good. Now let's move on to preparing our three seasonal salads...using actual vegetables.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seasonal Defective Disorder

Dear Mother Nature,

Perhaps your google calendar didn't send you the usual reminder: spring was supposed to start last Thursday.

According to the Farmers' Almanac, the last hard freeze of the season is supposed to be this Thursday. And then no more freezing temperatures until late autumn.

Just want to be sure you saw that.


your friendly-neighborhood food educator

Monday, March 17, 2014

Broccoli vs. kale

It's St. Patrick's Day, so I thought I'd celebrate with something green. I wore my bright green bicycle socks on the trip back from New York City earlier today -- didn't want to get pinched on my way through the parade going on in Manhattan as I shuffled to the Bolt bus.

Speaking of green: I saw this little number as Felicity and I were leaving Claire's after a lovely lunch in New Haven this weekend. Ha!

Now, I do love kale. (If you've followed this blog for any length of time, or been to a few cooking classes I've led in recent years, you know this.) It is not a pretentious green -- my dad has even remarked on how CHEAP kale is when he buys a big bag of loose curly kale at Giant -- but this campaign is hilarious. And if hilarity helps get people thinking about eating a wider variety of healthy foods, I'm all for it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Non-traditional shepherd's pie

So I'm doing a little personal cheffing these days -- cooking for a few friends who appreciate well made food, but have little time to shop for and prepare it. It's nice to have a little extra income, and because they are adventurous and have relatively few dietary restrictions, I have free reign with the menu each week, basing what I make on the freshest ingredients I can find and any recipes that tickle my fancy.

Yesterday, I made one of my favorite dishes thus far -- a variation on Shepherd's Pie, in honor of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day festivities. Okay, well, maybe St. Patrick would turn up his nose at my version, since it does not, in fact, contain any potatoes. The recipe is an adaptation of one I found while sorting through my seemingly endless pile of old magazines, in this case the October 2012 issue of Better Homes and Gardens. The various components were so tasty as I was putting things together, that I made a couple extra little pielets (yes, I just invented a word) for Kenton and me. It's a bit of work to make, but the recipe makes 6-8 portions, so would be nice for a fancy dinner party.

Butternut and Chicken Sausage Shepherd's Pie

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" chunks
  • 2 TBSP butter at room temp
  • 3 TBSP olive oil + a bit more for greasing and cooking
  • 1/4 cup or so freshly grated parmesan
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 large chicken sausages, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 cups mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 cup veggie stock
  • 1 pint canned/crushed tomatoes
  • 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 large carrots, diced


Preheat oven to 400F.

Use a bit of olive oil to grease whatever dishes you're using (2 pie dishes or 6-8 ramekins, say) to bake the assembled Shepherd's Pie in, and place greased dishes on a cookie sheet.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a sprinkle of sale and the butternut chunks, then cover and cook til squash is tender (15 minutes or so). Drain, then mash with butter, 3 TBSP olive oil, and parmesan. Set aside.

In a large skillet, cook onions and a splash for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add sausage, mushrooms, and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or so until sausage bits are cooked through. Stir in broth, tomatoes, carrots, peas, and rosemary, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until liquid is a bit reduced and things are smelling very fragrant.

You may want to open a window at this point -- things are getting quite hot near the stove -- and while you're at it, maybe add a few splashes of red wine to the simmering meat and veggies. Go ahead and pour yourself a glass. I mean, the bottle's already open....

Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste (I did a few big grinds of black pepper and just a tiny sprinkle of salt), then divide among greased dishes. Top each dish with the mashed butternut mixture (and chopped scallions if you want to get fancy), then place on cookie sheets.

Bake, uncovered, in oven for 15-20 minutes, until top is lightly browned.

(If you have a second glass of wine and forget the pielets in your oven for a bit longer, they are no worse for the wear. They also store, unbaked, covered with tinfoil in the fridge for a few days with no problem.)

I'm still waiting for the elves to show up and do some of the dishes....

Monday, March 3, 2014

A feast for some of the other senses

It's not every day that a celebrity chef performs at one's local farmers' market. It's nearly as rare as weather that is 55F and sunny in Washington, DC these days. Kenton and I basked in the wonderfulness of both anomalies yesterday.

As I picked up bunches of kale and beets, tubs of yogurt, loads of butternut squashes and potatoes and sunchokes, we began to notice flocks of folks in chef coats chattering in Spanish all around us. A culinary school field trip, I figured. One of them looked kind of familiar, but I couldn't place him. ("Watch more of the Food Network," I can practically hear my students suggesting. They know *all* of the celebrity chefs.) When my shopping buddy and I made our way to the information tent, I learned from one of the market volunteers that there was going to be "a surprise" of some sort that morning, and moments later....

Is that percussion I heard just then? Some rhythmic tapping on... could those be pots and pans? Was that a flute? Cellos?? Did I just overhear a french horn at the farmers' market?! Okay, that was definitely a trombone.... Kenton and I followed the music toward where a crowd had gathered, and there was Jose Andres, standing near a marimba made of water-filled glass bottles, smiling broadly while conducting an orchestra of chefs from his various restaurants. What fun: a flash mob chef concert! We stayed for a few songs, and Kenton kindly snapped these pics. Not that I think they should quit their day jobs -- I've tasted some of their (delicious) work at Oyamel, Jaleo, and America Eats -- but those chefs were pretty good for non-professional musicians.

What a delightful surprise on a surprisingly delightful morning. Hoping this is a sign of impending good weather at last, and other fun market surprises to come!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Worms, are you there?

I know some of you have been holding your collective breath, waiting for an update on my fancypants composting nighcrawlers. Well, I just checked on them this weekend, and again this afternoon. I'm happy to report that our European-bred worms -- hardier, I was told, than their red wiggling brethren -- appear to be happily squirming around in the top foot or so of the outdoor compost bin. The scrap level has even visibly gone down a bit. Yes, in spite of our recent flurry (ha, ha) of snow showers over the past week, they seem to have settled in.

Hoping they can pick up the pace on the food scrap eating soon, though: I've been making veggie stock like a madwoman and need 'em to start eating things down asap. I'll need good garden soil soon. They are supposed to eat (and poop out) their body weight in food scraps each day, so with a solid pound of worms, they should be able to catch up fairly quickly. (They'd better not go on a diet, like my former roommates and one of my ex-boyfriends simultaneously did in the middle of an apple dessert baking frenzy I went through a handful of years ago. Now that sucked. Well, I suppose diets do, generally speaking.)

Listen here, wormies, forget about your figures. Your job is to eat as MUCH and as OFTEN as possible.

Or else we're going to go fishing when the weather warms up.