Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ahimsa

I am ready for 2016 to be over. A lingering heartache, the election of a misogynist bully to lead our country, serious injuries and deaths of friends... The start of my 39th lap around the sun yesterday included news that my dear friend, herbal guru, and beloved yoga teacher Tricia had been missing since Christmas, her beaten body found two days later in her car. That her final moments on earth were filled with fear and pain makes me deeply sad and fiercely angry. Why??

In recent years Tricia and I had exchanged favorite new outfits at clothing swaps, watched 4th of July fireworks together in the mist from her balcony, ventured hours away to see my favorite musician in concert whom she had never heard of but instantly loved, camped on the beach and been awoken by curious wild ponies at 4am, eaten our body weight in local seafood, brewed beer, concocted herbal first aid remedies, and shared many hours on the yoga mat. I had just seen her on Friday afternoon, when she'd stopped by to help bottle our first ever batch of hard cider. A regular member of our Sunday Ladies Brewing Club, in spite of her gluten intolerance, Tricia was excited to help with this highly experimental brew that she could actually drink. Then we'd emailed back and forth a few times on Sunday in the late afternoon, excitedly putting pieces in place for her to lead another bitters making class this spring. How long was it between her last email and her last breath? Why did I not hug her longer when I last saw her on Friday? Was the homemade granola I'd given her to celebrate winter solstice the last thing she'd eaten on Sunday, before traveling to the holiday dinner at which she never arrived? I can't stop crying.

One thing that Tricia taught me by her example over the course of our friendship was the principle of Ahimsa, which I understand as the careful cultivation of nonviolence in thought and deed. She was no doormat, mind you, but aspired to always be loving and forgiving and respectful toward herself and others. It was one of the many things I admired about my friend, and I tried to practice it, too. I am really struggling with embodying this principle now, with the lack of it shown Tricia by the person who needlessly took her life. Would this not be the most important time to practice Ahimsa, though, when it is the most difficult? Is this how I can best honor my friend? I wonder.

One thing that Tricia has taught me through her death is to not take things for granted: people, opportunities, life. None of us saw this coming. How could we? Not knowing which day will be our last makes each moment precious -- a good reminder to cultivate joy and love whenever and wherever we can during the time that we have, leaving our mark in the hearts of others.


Farewell, my beautiful, fearless, loving friend. My heart will miss you for a long time, as will the hearts of so many whose lives you have brightened by just being you. Back to the earth you go, to nurture us yet another way.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Star-crossed ale

Well, it had to happen eventually: my first brewing mishap.


Few things are more sad than throwing out a batch of homebrew. A death in the family, of course, or the 2016 election results, say. Thankfully I am not dealing with the former, though I am going to need significantly more beer around to cope with the latter. This batch of psudo-beer, however, went to the worms....

Back in mid-September, my lady friends and I got together to whip up our second-ever all-grain beer: a rhubarb saison. With a fancy Belgian yeast and many pounds of freshly milled grains from 3 Stars, a few pounds of rhubarb from my landlady's garden, and a homemade mashtun inherited from my pal Bobby, we were all set for brewing greatness. With successful batches of pumpkin saison, belgian dark ale, persimmon red ale, scotch ale, and even an all-grain vanilla porter under our belts, we had no reason to expect anything other than delicious results. As recommended by the dude at the 3 Stars shop, I'd even read a homebrewing book cover to cover -- The Joy of Homebrewing, in case you're interested  -- prior to brew day. After a fairly organized brew session that Sunday afternoon, things were smelling good and looking good that first evening as the carboy bubbled away in my kitchen. However, as we were transferring the wort into the fermenter, I had noticed we had barely 3.5 gallons of wort, so I boiled a few more gallons (you never know what's in DC tap water) on the stove. It wasn't nearly cool enough even 3 hours later to add to the carboy, so I left it til the morning -- covered to prevent contamination, of course.

But maybe it wasn't sterile any more, I worried the next morning, so I boiled it again. By lunchtime, the doubly boiled supplemental water was cool enough to pour in, bringing our brew up to the five gallon mark. And then... no more bubbling. I waited another 24 hours. Still no sign of activity. A panicked search through my homebrew book yielded this advice:


WHAT?! You don't just drop this into a little bullet point tucked away in the middle of a chapter! THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN BOLD FONT AND UNDERLINED!!

Maybe the lesson learned here is that I shouldn't have been so greedy for a full five gallons of rhubarb ale. Or maybe it's that I need to be a better note-taker, should have marked that very important point while reading. I teach whole lessons on following directions, for heaven's sake! I shook my fist at the heavens, and then at the carboy, but there was still no bubbling.

A week or so later, my friend Jessica sent me an article on when to dump a batch of homebrew gone amiss. The long and short of it is: pretty much never, unless it tastes bad. Well, it didn't taste like much. We added more yeast -- this one not as fancy, but perfectly acceptable -- a few days later, but in retrospect I think I might have accidentally sanitized the yeast when trying out a new sanitizing solution on the funnel we poured it through. (Was this beer star-crossed from the beginning, I wonder?) More than 24 hours later, still no activity. Did I kill the yeast again? Or, one of my brewing companions suggested, was it possible that maybe we hadn't gotten sufficient sugars from the grain using the mashtun during the initial steeping so there was nothing for the yeast to break down? The measurements we took suggested there was practically no alcohol in there. Hmm. Maybe it needed more time?

Finally, now more than two months later, our moment of truth arrived as the Ladies Sunday Brewing Club gathered to start working on our first batch of hard cider. (That is a WHOLE other tale, with its own misadventures, for another day. It is still bubbling away... at the moment, at least.) We decanted some of the maybe-rhubarb-beer-maybe-not from the carboy and tasted it. I believe the resounding assessment confirmed my suspicion that we'd accidentally made artisanal Bud Light, which in the homebrewing world is tantamount to a felony. (Or if it isn't, it should be.) We looked up how we could use our five gallons of not-beer. No, not this article, this one. After reading about beer-based home distilling (a no-go if it's bad tasting beer to begin with) and culinary uses (I couldn't imagine using 5 GALLONS to braise poultry or make mustard), we stumbled upon the fact that beer provides an excellent boost for microbial activity in the garden. And... done!



R.I.P., Rhubarb Saison. My garden thanks you, even if my fragile homebrewing ego does not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cocinando en Spanglish


A few weeks ago, Ellie at DC Greens kindly invited me to lead a cooking demo at the beautiful new Mary's Center location in Fort Totten. We decided that it would be a hands-on seasonal cooking class, a fun culmination activity for participants in their Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program. (I've written about the innovative program  before, back when I taught similar cooking classes at the Upper Cardozo clinic during Wholesome Wave's pilot year of FVRx in DC. The short version is that doctors at affiliate clinics identify low-income individuals -- often kids -- at high risk for obesity, and the families can opt into the program which includes monthly health checkups, nutrition counseling, an exercise regimen, and, most awesomely, they receive a weekly "prescription" for fruits and vegetables redeemable at area farmers markets. Families get $10 per week *per family member* to spend on local produce, above and beyond any other food assistance they may receive. Talk about making healthy food the easy choice!)

Oh, did I mention that my class would be taught in Spanish?

I don't use my Spanish much these days outside of salsa club chitchat, but I figured I was somewhat fluent after working in Mexico a decade ago. Should be just like riding a bike, right? Let me just say that the Briya/Mary's Center staff and participants were very kind with their gentle corrections and patience as we chopped cebollas (onions), peeled and grated camote (sweet potatoes), and picked many handfuls of cilantro (cilantro! whew, an easy one). Together, about a dozen of us prepared sweet potato tacos, cilantro lime yogurt, and a cabbage slaw, which we enjoyed at the end of class. The women were so friendly, so gracious with their thanks, and some came up afterwards to tell me they were excited to try the quick, tasty, inexpensive recipe at home. Win!!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Drink to end hunger

This weekend, I ventured back to my old stomping grounds in western Virginia,  where I spent a few sunny days (and chilly nights) cooking, eating, drinking, brewing, and exploring the area with my friends Matt and Amanda. It was good to escape the District for a few days, where I'd been vacillating between anger and despair since Tuesday night....


Though I fear the direction in which our country is heading, I have faith in smaller communities and the inherent good in most people...and the power of having a drink together. If you can sit around and share a frosty beverage with someone, you can work through a lot, no matter your political differences. Yesterday, for instance, I took part in one of the coolest events I've been to in awhile: Homebrew for Hunger. (That's Amanda by the sign.)  Amateur beer brewers from surrounding counties descended on Charlottesville around 11am, with kegs and bottles of their homemade libations that they were donating to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Food Bank. A live band, a few food trucks, and a couple of professional local brewers with seasonal drafts filled out the parking lot. Community folks showed up around 1pm, and for the next four hours we all sampled beer, nibbled on pretzels, and swapped homebrew tips and horror stories.

It was awesome. I had some of the best sour ales and other unusual brews, including a rye-based berlinerweisse based on an 18th century recipe(!), and started brainstorming ideas with Matt about a collaborative beer we could make for next year. I might have to bring along some spent grain goodies as well. I mean, it is Homebrew for *Hunger*...and a woman cannot live on beer and pretzels alone!


Monday, November 7, 2016

The pink pantsuit

Readers, you know I try to leave national politics out of this blog, but after recent comments from a certain presidential candidate I find I can't keep quiet. Not just because one of the contenders for our nation's top job is likely to pave over the White House garden to build a Putin guest house. Our former secretary of state's response to the constant stream of insults and outright harassment was nicer than mine would have been under the circumstances. Heck, even Will Shakespeare might've broken out a line from Alls Well that Ends Well during that last debate, countering,

"A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality."


I love Shakespeare. I also love old friends and tasty cocktails. As fate would have it, my friend and NYC Teaching Fellows mentor Colette was visiting last weekend. As we sat chatting after a great visit and lunch at the new African American museum, I learned that along with a few "nasty woman" buttons, Colette had brought with her a new cocktail recipe from her favorite Brooklyn mixologist.

Of course Jacky and I couldn't wait to have one, so after a quick run to the liquor store and the Whole Foods, Colette got to work:


Tart, strong, and brightly colored like its namesake, I give you...

The Nasty Woman (Or, my rename: The Pink Pantsuit)

Ingredients
150 ml tart cherry juice (preferably cold pressed)
100 ml white tequila
50 ml fresh lime juice
50 ml simple syrup

Directions

Stir all ingredients together, then divide among 3 ice-filled glasses.

It scales up rather well, so you can make a whole pitcher and watch the election results with friends....


Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Memorium

I've been feeling out of sorts for a few days now. I realized why when my eyes started tearing up at the farmers market this morning: I would never again see my friend Tom.

Tom Hubric, retired commercial airline pilot, free-range egg farmer, mentor, activist, and insatiable jokester, has been my friend for nearly a decade. He was raising happy hens on Maryland's Eastern Shore before I had ever even heard of free-range eggs, and was one of the original farmers selling at the now prestigious Dupont market. When I started shopping for eggs at the Waterview Foods stand -- gosh, 10 years ago? -- I remember Tom smiling no matter the weather, telling me silly jokes -- sometimes the same joke for three weeks in a row, but I always looked forward to it. We became friends, and during our market chats and periodic phone calls I learned not only more jokes but also about the changing agricultural landscape and policies in Maryland and DC, about the rewards and challenges of raising chickens outdoors, and different ways to enjoy chicken and duck eggs.

After returning from my round-the-country bike trip in 2010, I began to learn more about Tom's work, including his mentoring of Ned and Eileen, a pair of egg farmers transitioning from a conventional to a free-range operation not far from his place in Nanticoke. After a series of calls and follow-up emails, my friend Jeff and I ventured out to the farms to photograph Tom and his protégés for a feature article in  the sustainable farming journal, Acres, USA. When the print issue came out, I'm not sure who was more proud of the other, Tom or me! He continued to encourage me to write, and despite his declining health in recent years remained a mainstay at the market and a thoughtful friend. In recent weeks, his mentee Ned has been helping at the market stand, and today it was only Ned selling eggs....

Tom died this past Thursday, after a multi year battle with cancer. I know his memory will live on within many of us that he has fed -- both intellectually and literally -- during his lifetime. Still, I will miss our chats terribly.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Feed me!

My teeth hurt on Thursday afternoon as I stirred the cauldron, waiting for 40 CUPS of sugar to dissolve in 20 cups of water. Bubble, bubble, toil and... well, you know. Filling and hauling two big jugs of simple syrup out to the hives was more of a workout than one might expect, especially after a full day of teaching. (For those of you into math and/or weightlifting, it works out to about 3.75 gallons, roughly 40 pounds. Next time I'm getting the wheelbarrow.) This afternoon, when I lifted the lids of the three hives, I couldn't help but smile beneath my veil. Thank you, my busy little friends, for the bountiful honey you've given us to enjoy. It was the least I could do to help them build their stores for the winter, after my mentor and a few other community beekeepers and I harvested nearly 80 pounds earlier this season. (Don't worry, mom, I've got a jar set aside for you.)

Though I've been helping with the hives for about a year now, today was my first time feeding them solo. I'd done a feeding a few weeks ago with Kevin, and everything had gone smoothly, but you never know. (No, I am not allergic to bee stings, but my friend Suzanne was telling me the other week that she suddenly developed an allergy, of the throat-closing variety(!), after 60+ years of no bee sting reactions.) With my insurance card in my pants pocket, and my pants dorkily tucked into my socks, I gathered my tools -- two jugs of syrup, scissors, ziploc baggies, hive tool -- and attempted to light the smoker. After five minutes and three attempts, I threw up my (gloved) hands and gave up on the smoker. Bees don't like the smell of sweat, apparently, and the longer I sat in my beekeeping gear in the 80F sunshine, the more torrential the river of sweat that ran down my back. Sweat = a higher likelihood of getting stung. Forget it, no smoker....

I was glad to have a full belly and a few mimosas in me -- thanks for brunch, mom and dad! -- just in case things went awry and I ended up in the emergency room. Hospital food. [Shudder.] Nothing like champagne cocktails to steel the nerves. Moving efficiently but not knocking things around -- bees don't like abrupt movements or their home being bumped (rushed movements, loud noises, or banging of equipment = a higher likelihood of getting stung -- I opened each hive and deposited the solution that should last them about a week, then carefully replaced the inner and outer lids. Lots of bees were out foraging, and many more were crawling over the remnants of last week's near empty baggies. A number of them landed on me, and I cursed my failure to pick off the excess propolis still stuck to my gloves from last time. Stay calm....

Twenty minutes after I had arrived, I was locking up the beekeeping shed and peeling off my gear. A quick bike ride home and a nap later, I'm happy to report my first independent bee feeding was a success! Now to start working on my next project: a fun recipe to use my thank-you pound of West End Community Garden honey. Maybe a honey ale?