Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The (incr)edible schoolyard

Welcome to Day 1 of my week-long California adventure. This morning found me back at Alice Waters' original Edible Schoolyard project. It was amazing to revisit this most beautiful and extensive school garden, tucked away in Berkeley. Having worked in the field for nearly six years since Ollie and I passed through here on our cross-country bike tour, I was even more impressed than I was the first time around. Imagine that!

I picked up my visitor's badge in the school's main office a bit after 11am, then wandered out to the garden to poke around. When I asked them a couple of questions about their interaction with the green space, two middle school girls hanging out at the garden's long picnic table proceeded to give me one of the best garden tours I've ever had. After tasting some delicate yellow raspberries growing near the entrance, the girls walked me past the espaliered apple orchard and excitedly told me about pressing the fruit into cider the previous autumn. We strolled past the in-ground beds of swiss chard and brassicas, with a stop to admire the gorgeous dahlias (my new favorites) as we made our way to see the chickens cavorting around the straw fort students had helped to construct in the far corner of the outdoor space. We continued on to the chicken coop to check for eggs, admired the orderly tools around the shed, and then explored the greenhouse, where I examined the remnants of last week's seedling sale on tables that students had built.



My impromptu guides led me next to the bee hive, apologizing that the usual veil and gloves were not around for me to borrow so I could take a closer peek. (Yes, kids are invited to check out the honeybees on their own. Pretty awesome!) After that, we meandered to the school-built outdoor prep tables and stone pizza oven, where eighth graders annually prepare and bake their own pizzas. The young people have become much more involved in garden work and construction than seemed to be the case during my last time through, and they sure are proud of this... as they should be!



As if I wasn't enamored enough, my teenage guides led me next through a tunnel of grape, kiwi berry, and passion fruit vines. "Certainly more prolific than my own school garden's vining fruit," I muttered, mostly to myself. California weather and four garden teachers certainly help things thrive around here. Still: impressive. We ended our loop back near the entrance, where I admired the outdoor worm bins and rustic kitchen setup.



With a friendly wave, my guides were off to class, and I was left wondering if one of my own gardens might be as impressive one day. Something to ponder during lunch tomorrow at Chez Panisse with my friend (and kind local host) Colin....

Sunday, June 5, 2016

So, I may have gone a little crazy at the farmers market

Ollie was definitely creaking on the ride home. Good thing I ate the half dozen dumplings I purchased on the spot, and a few strawberries, else everything might not have fit in my panniers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Strawberry fields for a few weeks

What a cold and rainy early summer we've had here in the District, eh? I thought strawberry season might never happen. About three weeks ago, I finally started seeing strawberries at the farmers' market. Sadly, they were pretty bland. All that water. Meh. Two weeks ago, I tried again. Bah. Disappointing. And then I tasted a berry at the Twin Springs stand at the Dupont farmers' market last Sunday. I walked away with a whole quart for myself. Then I foolishly stopped to pick up a few more things on my way out of the market, and found myself with yet another quart of strawberries from Spring Valley's farmstand. Darn my lack of resistance. But I'm supporting local farmers, right? Right??

Right.

I ate probably about a pint of berries while I was rinsing and storing them Sunday afternoon. (What's that? Yes, I learned a new berry keeping trick from my gentleman friend, Harlan, recently. You rinse the berries in a solution that's 1 cup white vinegar and 2 cups cool water, blot the berries dry, and store them in a tupperware with a clean towel at the bottom. Rinse them with plain water just before you eat them. They last for a week. If you don't eat them all before then. My record since learning this trick is four days. So, about that lack of resistance....) I decided I would share this berry bounty with friends, so set to making some strawberry ice cream for a Monday night dinner party.

When mom called me on Sunday evening, mid-icecream-project, the following conversation ensued:
Me: I'm making a custard base for a roasted strawberry balsamic ice cream.
Mom: Sounds weird. I'm sure you'll love it.
True story. And I do love it. Mom's so smart.

At the request of my lovely interns, who tasted a bit of the creamy berry bounty on Tuesday afternoon, and my dear friend Kathryn, with whom I enjoyed the remainder of the quart of ice cream after dinner last night, I offer you the recipe here. It's based partly on a Driscoll's recipe, but then my teeth started to pre-hurt when I dumped in all of the sugar in that recipe so I switched recipes to one on the Serious Eats website mid-stream. And then I strained out and cooked down the post-roasting balsamic-strawberry liquid, stirred in some chocolate, and made a sauce. Okay, well, it started with actual recipes....

Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulls removed
  • 2/3 cup + 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 generous drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F.

Chop strawberries into bite-sized chunks, then toss with 2/3 cup sugar. Spread in a pie dish, drizzle with balsamic, and roast for 8-10 minutes until berries are soft and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then strain liquid. (Save this liquid for later use in a reduction sauce OR an amazing salad dressing base. Trust me.)

Puree half of the roasted berries in a food processor or blender , then store in the fridge. Store the chunky remaining roasted berries in another container in the fridge. (I am NOT just creating dishes here, there is a reason for separate storage, that you will discover later.)

In a medium saucepan, simmer cream, milk, and remaining sugar until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream mixture into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the cream. Return saucepan to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Strain your custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cool mixture to room temperature -- I like to set my custard bowl inside a larger bowl that has ice water in it.

Cover and chill overnight. The ice cream base, too. ;)

The next day, start churning your ice cream base in the pre-frozen bowl of your ice cream maker.

With the motor running, drizzle in your roasted strawberry puree, then the buttermilk.

When the ice cream is frozen to a soft-serve consistency, with the motor still running, add your roasted strawberry chunks. Allow the ice cream machine to continue until the ice cream has reached the proper consistency.

Transfer your irresistible ice cream to a container with a tight-fitting lid and place in the freezer until it is firm (at least 4 hours). Devour.

Oh, that balsamic sauce? I just had the balsamic-strawberry liquid simmering in a small saucepan on low for a few hours while I worked on lesson plans -- Memorial Day doesn't mean I'm not working, people -- then stirred in a handful of chocolate chips during the last 20 minutes and whisked it every few minutes. Delish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's that kind of day

Cold. Grey. Rainy. And after a long day of teaching and biking and dog walking, I'm glad to be at the end of it.

Time for a hot toddy, methinks.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Using our collective noodles

I've been really struggling with this low-gluten diet, readers. It seems at every turn there are delicious breads and croissants and beers to consume in recent weeks, and my arthritis is flaring up as a result. Yes, I've been indulging -- thank goodness I don't have celiac or a gluten allergy -- including last week, when my 5th grade classes had a chance to make pasta at the hip and delicious Urbana restaurant in Dupont Circle. The butter and herb smothered fettuccine and spinach/kale/ricotta stuffed ravioli almost brought tears to my eyes.

Pasta, how I've missed you!

I know that gluten-free variations are heretical to some (including me, up until about two years ago, and just about every Italian person I've ever met), but there must be something good out there. I have yet to find it. Readers, this is where I do a little crowd sourcing: anyone know of good gluten-free pasta recipes? (Or at this point, I'd even be open to buying pre-made gluten-free pasta. God, I miss noodles....)



[This is actually a photo from a post I wrote for the FoodPrints blog last week. See? I have not been neglecting writing altogether. Just here, apparently. You can read the post on making pasta with 5th graders and an awesome local chef here.]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mycelium rumbling

There are few things as delicious as a good mushroom. Last week, I was honored to be a part of my friend Jonathan's "test kitchen" dinner party, which featured some of the most delicious fungi I have ever sampled. That's not just the prosecco talking, either (though there was plenty of that, chilled, on hand.)

I've known Jonathan -- local cookbook author and lover of all things farmers market -- for a handful of years now. He's the real deal: a man who talks to farmers in detail about their crops, who talks at length with market shoppers in search of new recipe ideas or cooking tips, who talks to me for hours about making food more fun and accessible to everyone. My people, this one. For years I've known he hosts regular recipe testing gatherings at his house, yet last Tuesday night was the first one I'd joined. I'm wondering why the heck it took me so long. I have no good answer to this question. What I do have is another great recipe, courtesy of Jonathan and the good folks at Mycolumbia Mushrooms -- James and Natalia were our culinary co-conspirators for the evening, as we brainstormed, chopped, and tasted our way through the evening, along with my gentleman friend, Harlan.

Actually, we made a few different recipes -- chicken and mushroom dumplings with three trial dipping sauces (all delicious), a spinach salad with oven fried mushrooms, a seared steak with sauteed oyster mushrooms and bleu cheese (who knew I liked bleu cheese that much?), and, the one I begged the recipe for afterwards, a hearty mushroom and barley soup. My tummy was rumbling for it for days. This weekend I'll be picking up ingredients to make more....

Mushroom barley soup
Recipe notes courtesy of Jonathan Bardzik

Ingredients

Soup
  • 3 oz dried oyster mushrooms soaked in 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 TBSP butter -- I'd brought some leftover from the day's classes, handshaken by 1st graders
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup uncooked pearled barley, rinsed
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 TBSP yellow miso -- I'm obsessed with this stuff, be warned
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 lb fresh pea tendrils, tough stems removed
Miso butter: 
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP yellow miso -- see what I mean?
Directions

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest for 20-30 minutes to reconstitute. Drain mushrooms through cheese cloth, reserving both mushrooms and liquid.

Melt 2 TBSP butter with 2 TBSP olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add barley and cook an additional 5 minutes to toast, stirring occasionally.

Add mushroom liquid and cook approximately 1 hour until barley is tender. 

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F. Separate reconstituted mushroom stems and caps. Shred caps  with a knife and thinly slice stems. Toss with remaining 2 TBSP olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until mushrooms are deep brown and crisp. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Add mushroom stock and miso to the barley mixture and simmer for 5 minutes longer allowing flavors to blend.

Remove soup from heat and stir in pea tendrils. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of rice wine vinegar.

Make miso butter: Melt butter and yellow miso in a small pan over medium heat. Whisk together.

Serve soup garnished with miso butter and toasted mushrooms. OMG, so good!!


This spring is so wonky lately, it's actually, strangely, soup weather again. So get yourself out to the farmers' market to get your oyster mushrooms and get cooking! (What's that? Oh! Mycolumbia will be at the 14&U market and the Bloomingdale market on alternating Saturdays and Sundays this season... starting this weekend!)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hive beetles, beware

So I may mutter unkind words as I swerve around cars double parked in the Q Street bike lane -- ahem, bike lane, not parking spot! And I have been known to let certain gentleman callers know about my propensity for headbutting lest they get any funny ideas about putting a hand somewhere inappropriate on a first date. But overall, I'm a lover, not a hater. I love people, and plants, and animals. Even bugs, so long as they are not cockroaches. (Ick.) And yet there are some critters that have been getting a little too comfy in the beehives I've been helping to tend this year.... I'll give you a hint: it's not the bees that have gotten into my bonnet.

My beekeeping mentor, Kevin, suggested this past fall that we keep an eye on the hive beetle numbers, and squish any of these pernicious pests that we came across while inspecting hives. We also periodically refilled the hive beetle traps with baby oil. (Weird, right? But it works. Drowning in baby oil, what a way to go.) The beetle numbers dropped somewhat, but after finding one hive significantly weakened this spring, Kevin decided we needed to take more aggressive steps. Enter nematodes -- my kindergarten students would be SO excited, but these are different than the nematodes we found in class -- and diatomaceous earth.

I am learning so much about organic pest management this year, I tell you. A key piece of managing pests is understanding their life cycle. (Wow, that sounded very professional. Don't be fooled: I'm still a total novice at this.) Anyway, I learned from Kevin that hive beetle pupae -- the stage after those little jerks hatch -- need soil to burrow into so they can grow into adults, and messing with the soil underneath the hive, where pupae drop down after feasting on honey and bee brood, is the best place to take them out of commission. First, we cleared all debris from around the hives. Then we sloshed a solution with millions of microscopic assassins -- yep, the beneficial nematodes -- all around the base of the hives. Any hive beetle pupae foolish enough to drop down out of THESE hives would die a horrible death. (I won't describe it here in great detail lest I give my readers nightmares, but the short version is that the nematodes enter the pupae, release toxic bacteria, and the pupae turn to goo inside of about 48 hours, at which point the nematodes eat the goo and lay eggs in the corpse. Okay, that was maybe a little detailed. Sorry. Read the comics or something before bed tonight.)

Of course, in order to even get to the soil, the loathsome beetle pupae need to make it past the diatumaceous earth we scattered around the hive. What's that? You haven't ever heard of diatumaceous earth? Basically, it's ground up, fossilized phytoplankton. But the important thing to know about it is that, according to one fairly graphic source I discovered, "When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton" -- or, like the hive beetle pupae, without a skeleton -- "it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards into teeny tiny bug jerky." Take THAT, hive beetles. And if you make it through, well, we've got some nematodes dying to meet you....


And you thought The Sopranos was violent? Try beekeeping.