Friday, October 21, 2016

Soup weather

I've been daydreaming about miso and mushrooms and ginger ever since my friend Jonathan's mushroom-laden dinner party last May, and have been making pretty regular batches of a simple, clear soup using brown rice miso, baby ginger, lotsa garlic, and shiitake mushrooms whenever I get hit with seasonal allergies... which in our nation's tempestuous weather capital is every few weeks. This recipe -- which came about when Robin, who directs the farmers market at 14&U, suggested I make a warming soup at the market this weekend -- is a bit more sophisticated, and is heavily based on one I saw in The NY Times a handful of months ago.

I've not been digging on soy as much lately, so I opted to replace the tofu with some Asian greens and butternut squash, which give it a different flavor and texture. It is still savory, warming, and delicious. Yes, even when you don't have the sniffles. I'm making another batch of the dashi right now and it smells like heaven....

Miso Mushroom Soup


Dashi (aka soup base)
  • 2 4-inch pieces of kombu (available at Whole Foods -- who knew!)
  • 1 handful dried oyster mushrooms, chopped (MYCOlumbia Mushroom has good ones)
  • 3 teaspoons tamari, or soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons mirin
  • 2 Tablespoons sake
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh baby ginger, minced
  •  Salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons white miso
  • 1 bunch bok choy or tatsoi, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small (1/2") pieces
  • optional garnish: a few shallots, thinly sliced and fried

Make the dashi: Put kombu, dried shiitakes, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar in a large soup pot. Add 6 cups cold water.

Place over medium heat, allow the liquid to barely reach a boil, then reduce heat to low and let cook at a very slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Skim foam as necessary.

Let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and add salt to taste. (I figured it would be much easier to use dashi at the farmers market if it was pre-made and cooled, and transported to the market in a few tightly sealed quart jars.)

Put the sliced mushrooms in a bowl and drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce. Add garlic and ginger and season with salt and pepper. Toss and let marinate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put dashi in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in bok choy and butternut, and cook for 15 minutes, until butternut is tender.

Add mushroom mixture to soup and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Remove 1/2 cup hot broth from pot and place in a small bowl. Stir in miso to dilute, then return miso-broth mixture to the pot. Taste and adjust seasoning. Once the miso has been added, do not let the soup boil.

Serve warm, with fried shallots on top as an optional -- but delicious -- garnish.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday morning

Just a little post farmers' market musing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This one is in honor of another favorite American poet....


Complacencies of the pjs, and late
Espresso and leftovers on the purple couch,
And a Car Talk rerun on the radio
As she scribbles her shopping list with
The holy rush of caffeine in her blood.
She dozes a little, then she feels the slight
Panic that she’s going to be late –
They may be out of eggs or mushrooms soon!
The fragrant melons and luscious tomatoes
Are going to be gone before too long.
Cycling across the city, with panniers.
Ollie zips west on R Street, without fear,
Save for the passing SUVs drifting
Halfway into the bike lane, toward Dupont,
Dominion of the farmers and their wares.


Why should she give her paycheck to The Man?
Is it even food if it is grown
Only in giant factories and labs?
Shall she not find at small and  local farmstands
Pungent fruit and bright green kale, some of them
Among the most flavorful of the earth,
Things to be savored like the taste of heaven?
Divinity must be the food she makes herself:
Passion for homemade bread and pickles
– Eaten alone or, better, with a friend –
Elations when the meringues come out fine;
Avgolemono soup on autumn nights;
Many pleasures and a few pains, remembering
That one batch of rhubarb beer that went south.
That last is not the measure of her soul.


Scraps in the compost bin return to earth.
No need for a large trashcan, not at all,
To hold such trifling scraps of garbage here.
There is enough among us, let me tell you,
Appalling mounds of packaging and waste,
Until the Styrofoam and ziploc bags,
Piled high to heaven, cause enough distress –
Some of those jerks deserve it, but not yet.
Shall she give up? Or shall it come to be
The way she lives? And shall the earth one day
Become a paradise that we shall know?
The land will be more productive than now,
One part devotion, one part stubbornness,
But most of all a love of Mother Earth,
She will not let our planet go to Hell.


She says, “I am content when slow-cooked onions,
Before they burn, perfume the kitchen
During late morning breakfast, with their sweet aroma;
But when the meal is done, and piles of dishes
Sit in the sink, where, then, is the assistant?”
There is not any sign of a dishwasher,
Nor any elves who wash them in the night,
Neither is there a roommate who will scrub
The plates and forks before she cooks again,
Nor a companion for some time now,
Remote is the chance of one who will endure
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of caramelized onions,
Or her desire for more garlic and red wine,
During the consummation of a meal.


She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need to fill a hunger yet unsated.”
Food shared is the Food of souls; hence from it,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our bellies
And our desires. Although Food strews the crumbs
Of sure distended tummies on occasion,
The path such gluttony has sometimes taken
When gorging on a hunk of raw milk cheese, or while
Nibbling on charcuterie, for which she has a soft spot,
When spurned by lovers lost the will to cook,
This maiden who was smitten with a vegan
Had considered relinquishing all milk.
It caused her friends to pile more icecream
In a giant bowl. The maiden tasted
And returned at once to the dairy fold.


Is there no chance of a food-loving partner?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the guys around here
Have no standards, no clue what food could be,
Fail to know its pleasures, and ignorant of her,
With quirks like biking compost across town,
Which some have found endearing if a bit weird
Who never save their food scraps to make stock?
Why set the table for more than one diner
Or bother setting cloth napkins today?
Alas, that solitude must settle here amid
The wistful musings of her sunny afternoon!
She flicks the dial back to NPR.
Food is the anchor of all good things, delicious,
Around the table life’s problems we devise
Solutions to as we move toward dessert.


Subtle and fragrant, a bouquet of basil
Shall be nibbled upon tomatoes ripe,
With bursting juices running down her chin,
This is her god, as much as any might be,
Here in this life it fills her, like a pitcher.
A quiet belch, and then a soft “excuse me,”
Beside the breakfast table can be heard;
And in this moment she thinks, “I am happy,”
Surrounded by a kitchen of delights,
The cutting boards, knife rack, and mess of herbs
That oft infuse her sauces, soups, and stews.
Few men know her heavenly chicken marsala
Or the rich perfume of her ratatouille.
But her friends have tasted and asked for seconds –
The dishes in the sink to that attest.


She hears, sometimes a whisper, breathless, soft,
A voice that cries, “Just cook a little less food,
It’s not like you’ve got large armies to feed.
You know you live alone, for heaven’s sake!
Besides, we live in a huge fast food nation,
And folks depend on large factory farms,
And we eat happy meals while on our phones,
Just face that fact, it’s inescapable.”
She walks across the kitchen to the fridge
And rummages about to find more jars;
She brews another batch of tart kombucha;
And, in the quiet Sunday afternoon,
Sings softly, as she minces up a shallot
And gets to work to plan another dinner,
Considers which friends this time to invite.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pucker up

I'm not bitter, I just like drinks that are.

These days, I've found myself dabbling more in cocktails than beer -- not just because of the ill-fated rhubarb sour ale (R.I.P.), mind you, but because there are so many elements to play with, so many variations. One recent discovery was the leftovers from the sour cherry bitters I made this past July. I mean, I was NOT about to toss the quart of not inexpensive, organic, local sour cherries from the farmers market into the compost bin once they'd done their work. Turns out the spiked cherries left at the end perfectly balance what I thought had already been the perfect cocktail: a limoncello tonic. I love this kind of kitchen kismet.

What's that? You'd like to make your own? Well, you're going to have to do some serious work to find some of these ingredients, let me tell you. Even my friend who is a professional herbalist didn't have two of them on hand, and hadn't even heard of one of the ingredients.

Well, okay, readers, I like you, so I'll tell you about the source I discovered for all things herbal. What? No, not THAT kind of herbal... though it is legal in the District. I mean my buddy at Blue Nile Botanicals, in a basement shop tucked away where you'd never expect it on Georgia Avenue, who sells every herb and spice you can think of, including those some herbalists have never heard of.

(Goodness, I'm so excited I just ended a sentence with a preposition!) Before I digress even further, possibly sliding further down a slippery poor grammatical slope, here's the recipe, adapted from a recipe on the Serious Eats blog:

Sour Cherry Bitters


1 1/2 cups sour cherries, halved and pitted
1 whole star anise, crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3" stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in small pieces
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon gentian root
1 teaspoon quassia chips
1 cup Bulleit rye whiskey


Put the cherries in a glass quart jar with 1/2 cup of Everclear. Shake. This is your cherry flavoring.

Put the anise, fennel, lemongrass, vanilla, and cardamom in a glass pint jar with remaining 1/2 cup Everclear. Shake. This is your spice mix.

Put the gentian root and quassia chips in yet another glass pint jar with the rye. Shake. This is your bittering mix.

Set all jars aside in a dark place at room temperature for 10 days.

Strain the spice mix and bittering mix through a fine-mesh sieve, removing solids, and into the cherry flavoring jar. Do not remove the cherries. Shake. You now have one jar that contains the strained spice mix and bittering mix along with the steeping cherries and alcohol.

Let this steep for an additional 2 weeks.

Strain out the cherries through a fine-mesh sieve, and then strain the rest through a coffee filter into the quart jar. (Save those cherries in the fridge for months, in a tight-lidded jar, and drop a couple in your limoncello tonics or any other cocktail that could use a bitter accent.)

Store your homemade sour cherry bitters in a dark place, at room temperature, for up to one year. It just might last that long, since you only use a couple drops in a cocktail. Oh, yeah, you'll want to buy an eyedropper for that because you're on your way to becoming an amateur mixologist. You're welcome.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Local honey is the bees knees

Today marked my first ever opportunity to participate in a honey harvest! I can think of few things that would cause me to happily bike through the hellacious traffic that is DC rush hour, but local honey is one of them. Some small part of me felt bad smoking the bees earlier today and stealing their food. But just a small part.

Amazed that I hadn't been run off the road during my commute from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom in 5pm traffic, I arrived to find Toni and Kevin -- my beekeeping teacher and mentor, respectively -- just getting the smoker going and pulling on safety gear at the West End Community Garden. We got right to work, checking the frames for honey and estimating how many boxes we could safely take so that the bees would have enough remaining stores to get them through the cold months. (It was strange to be thinking of winter as I stood there sweating in my veil, long sleeved shirt, long pans, and socks in the late afternoon sun.) Each box we harvested had to be bee-free, so Toni applied her special menthol-and-almond-extract-soaked hive lid to each of the chosen hive boxes. This cleared out about 90 percent of the little buzzers, leaving us to gently brush any remaining bees off the individual frames. It's funny that bees don't like the almond odor -- I thought it smelled delicious! -- but it totally worked. I think we only had 5 or 6 hangers on by the time we got to the processing stage.

You will notice that there are no photos of us working with the hives -- I know some of you would love to see me in my orange pants tucked into grey stripey socks and my oh-so-fashionable bee veil. No time for photo ops, people, there was much to be done in the short time: we had to get four hives checked, bees evacuated, and boxes into the back of Toni's car.

Here we are set up for honey extraction at the Boys and Girls Club in Georgetown where, for the price of a few bottles of our honey, the staff kindly let us use one of their classrooms. We got right to work, using some crazy tools to upcap the honey frames: two of us worked with a "scratchers" (glorified metal picks) while the third person attempted to use the "cold knife" (which we later determined was more useful as a spatula):

Here are Toni, Kevin, and Tom trying to figure out how best to balance the 9 frames we would be spinning at a time.

I spent most of my time working with Annie at the upcapping station, using the scratchers to scrape off the outer layer of wax so the honey would be able to flow freely in the frame spinner.

Here's our team pouring our beautiful, freshly spun honey through a strainer.

Straining removes the little bits of dead bees, honeycomb, and other detritus. Not that I am a total purist -- I actually quite enjoyed chomping on some of the honey-coated comb when we sampled some from a blown out hive frame -- but a nice, clear bottle of honey is pretty special.

80 pounds of strained honey later, we were done!

Now it's time for a quick dinner and change of clothes before heading out for a night of salsa dancing. I wonder if I still smell like propolis....

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


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....