Thursday, May 27, 2010

Meals Rarely Edible

So there have been a few inquiries about the status of the MREs since I acquired a couple from my new friend Buddy last week. Wonder no more.

Unless you've been in combat or lived in the wake of a natural disaster, chances are you might not know what an "MRE" is. Technically, it stands for Meal Ready to Eat. More accurately, I would suggest it is more along the lines of Meal Rarely Edible.

I am researching food, and here in tornado country I thought it a good idea to test out one of these emergency food packs. Also, I must say I was a bit curious. I mean, the Mysterious Reddish Experiment package even comes with its own plastic spoon, cookie, raspberry-flavored drink mix (which contains no actual raspberry), spices (a small packet of black pepper), and miracle-of-modern-science one-time-use heating mechanism. So just a couple of days ago, Aaron rejoined me in central Mississippi along the scenic (and blessedly tree-lined) Natchez Trace Parkway. As our supplies ran low and food options along the route were nonexistent (unless I wanted to take a crack at squirrel hunting or poison ivy salad), we broke out the Muck Reserved for Emergencies. Yep, I'm talking about the chicken and black beans and rice. We were starving, and the thought of yet another granola bar was less appealing than the hyper-synthetic food product. Maybe it was the southern humid heat making me delirious, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. (Michael Pollan would be horrified. At least I could pronounce most of the 17 ingredients listed on the label.)

I won't say the meal was an epic failure, but it wasn't one of my finer culinary moments. In spite of step-by-step instructions *and* diagrams, it took multiple attempts to prepare the Mush, Remotely Edible. (Yet another reason I'd never make it in the military: I'm not good with following orders. It's also probably why I am a better cook than a baker. What? Measuring? Bah.) Roughly 15 minutes after I'd stuffed the required components together, there didn't appear to be much activity going on in terms of the gruel heating up. I broke down and read through the instructions: top ripped open (with my teeth; I wasn't about to risk another incident with the multi-tool), salt water packet dumped in, packet folded over, package reinserted into cardboard box... oh... heat pellet on the *bottom*.... (Aaron helpfully pointed out that I didn't go through the requisite military training session on how to prepare these Mostly Rancid Ex-foods.)

Once I got the heating mechanism placed correctly, it was another 10 minutes or so until the Mildly Radioactive Ectoplasm was ready for consumption. As we waited for the contraption to cool to non-molten-lava temperature Aaron and I nibbled on the crackers and knead-packet-before-opening cheddar cheese product -- one of the side items in the Morphologically Re-Engineered meal.

When we actually got to eating the Magically Reconstituted Effect, I believe the consensus was "not as bad as it could be." With our salt intake for the week now taken care of, we hopped back on the bikes for the rest of the day's ride. All in all, the Mildly Repugnant Esculent fit the bill: calories not in bar form. (Though prior to heating, the foodlike substance was a Markedly Rectangular Entity....)

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Tabula rasa

After my time visiting the original Edible Schoolyard (ESY for short) on my way through Berkeley, CA, I was excited to see what its first attempt at replication would be like in the markedly different climate -- both socially and seasonally speaking -- of New Orleans. Before I sat in on a few classes last Wednesday, I was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with Kelly, the school's ESY community outreach staffperson (and, ahem, AmeriCorps alumnus), about the program's origins and other Louisiana-specific aspects of the program at Samuel Green.

It turns out that the original public school was in dire straits a few years ago and the school board had more or less thrown its hands up in exasperation. After a series of fortuitous conversations and almost impossible good fortune that included a chance meeting with Alice Waters (who founded the original ESY and who was looking for a way to reach out to the post-Katrina New Orleans community), the founders of a high performing charter school across the city agreed to take over the troubled school. The new charter school's program was essentially built from scratch -- a tabula rasa, as it were -- with a chunk of money from Ms. Waters and the steady support of the community. (For those readers who were not in my NY Teaching Fellows professional development sessions, "tabula rasa" means "blank slate." Jim, stop shaking your head.) The Edible Schoolyard NOLA folks were determined to develop strong lessons that built on Louisiana state standards -- a move that helps lend legitimacy to the gardening and cooking education program that has been criticized by some as taking students away from important lessons on things like memorizing the US presidents in order or diagramming sentences -- and I believe the school is the stronger for it.

The lessons that the California school garden program used didn't translate well to the New Orleans setting. This is not to say that the lessons at the Berkeley ESY were poor, but the school had more leeway. I didn't have an opportunity to sit in on classes there, but I did get the distinct impression that the curriculum was just recently starting to be more structured. (And for the record, I am not all about rigid "structure" or "standards." Heavens no. But as a former public school teacher, I also know you are asking for trouble if you don't have a solid lesson plan or can't justify a nontraditional educational activity. Also, many of the kids seem to respond well to classroom rituals and consistent expectations.)

At Green, the garden lessons for grades 1-8 are closely tied in with science class, while the cooking lessons are (quite creatively, I think) linked to history coursework. Every class is slated for 16 sessions each in the garden and kitchen (which works out to four times per quarter in each space). So while the 1st grade class that I observed conducted group activities related to plant cycles -- having seen the garden during different times of the year, there was much to notice and discuss as they planted flowers and collected seeds -- the 7th grade class reviewed people, places, and documents of the Civil War before cooking up steaming tureens of New England clam chowder and saute pans with traditional southern shrimp and grits. (My stomach started grumbling near the end of the lesson as students and teachers sat down to share the communal meal -- complete with flowers, napkins, and ice water -- so I had to hotfoot it down the street soon afterwards to get myself a shrimp po' boy. Not exactly sustainable, but local and delicious.)

While I did not have a chance to speak with the teachers at Green, I was impressed by the creativity of the lessons and the focus of the majority of the students as they joyfully (as much as 7th graders allow themselves to be joyful) undertook their assigned tasks. It's a very different model than, say, the School at Blair Grocery, and yet both tap into the potential for personal and community growth via food-centered experiences. Pretty fitting for a town known for it's culinary heritage, agrarian roots, and distinct populations.

I'm not saying I'm moving to New Orleans, or that I'm looking to jump back into a classroom full time just now, but what a place to teach!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weight, weight, don't tell me

Okay, now, I realize I have a lot of stuff loaded onto Ollie. No, really, I do. People stop and gawk all the time as we roll past. "What the...?" But can you believe my new friend Buddy loaded me up with *another* bag at the campground in Liberty, Mississippi? Yep. After helping me bandage up the bleeding hand wound -- oh, right, I should maybe elaborate on that -- he insisted I take two MRE packets. One with chicken and beans and rice and a second with pasta and marinara and vegetables, and both came with a drink mix and cookie. There's even a little self-heating device for the main course. I guess most folks in hurricane country have a few crates of these around. An interesting twist for the bikeable feast, to be sure. But seriously, Buddy must be the first person I've met in 22 states to actually tell me I could fit *another* bag on here somewhere (and not be saying it sarcastically). That's southern hospitality for you.

So: the bloody hand. Wouldn't you know that I was sitting in my tent making a sandwich this morning when my multi-tool got jammed. I had the feeling I should be careful, so I was. Well, until the blade finally started to close and I jabbed myself right square in the palm with the scissors and started bleeding like a stuck pig. I mean BLOOD EVERYWHERE. My tent looks like the set for a Coen Brothers movie. I stumbled out of the tent, gripping my wrist above my head, and made a beeline for where I'd seen a couple of gentlemen unloading a truck by the shower building. I thought it best to be around other people in case I passed out. Did I mention there was a lot of blood? It was like a dress rehearsal for the Black Knight scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Anyway, Buddy helped me dress and tape the wound once I got it rinsed out. His companion, a younger guy in striped trousers finishing up a two-year sentence for doing coke, offered me a tube of Neosporin -- I'd vouch for this guy as a model citizen any day.

I've given up some of my hypochondriac tendencies, but after the random staph infection this December, I thought it a good idea to get myself checked out. I slowly packed up my gear, wiping off what blood I could so as not to attract undue attention from the police as I continue my journey, and made my way to the nearest health clinic for a tetanus shot. Friendly and just a bit curious, the medical staff squeezed me in to see the doctor around lunchtime. Aside from discomfort for about a week, I don't foresee any serious complications. Of course, it's tender and bruised right where I lean on the handlebar, but I'm tough. (*whimper*)

And, yes, regarding how much weight I'm dragging around, well for my part I've put on roughly two pounds since leaving DC over a year ago. (They weighed me at the clinic.) Ollie, though... wooh! For those of you still wanting to know how much Ollie weighs -- now with two MREs and a jar of mayhaw jelly adding a solid pound -- I'll never tell. Or, rather, if I ever make it onto the Daily Show one day, maybe I'll roll a fully loaded Ollie onto a scale. Actually, Jon and I will probably need to go off site to a truck weigh station....

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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alternative education

I'd first heard of Our School at Blair Grocery -- an alternative school for at-risk youth focusing on urban farming and social justice in the still underdeveloped (and after Hurricane Katrina swept through, rather infamous) lower 9th ward in New Orleans -- from some food justice folks about a week before I rolled into the home of the Saints. The setup sounded like a grass roots, home school arrangement, and had been started by a larger-than-life educator and advocate known locally simply as "Turner." Needless to say, I was intrigued.

Nat Turner, I learned later, is a passionate, articulate force of nature, a mover and shaker in the company of folks like Will Allen (voted one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2010), and destined to become a household name in food justice circles soon, if he isn't already. Actually, quite a bit of the work being done at the school is modeled closely on Mr. Allen's work at Growing Power, and I have heard about the school in New Orleans incorporating a regional Growing Power training facility into its future plans.

I haven't met the man, but the Blair Grocery school site was imbued with the strong presence of its founder. The teachers all spoke very highly of the dynamic man who had started the project, currently housed in a structure that was the neighborhood's first black-owned business many years ago (the Blair family's grocery store -- ironically in a neighborhood now miles from the nearest grocer), with the goal of empowering young men and women through challenging classroom lessons and incorporating hands-on learning to produce clean, healthy food in (and for) the local community. And yet I don't get the sense that he's all big-headed from the 20 seconds I spoke with him. While the one name thing kind of reminds me of Che or Madonna -- who needs two names when you're that famous, right? -- when I called a number a friend had given me for the school, I believe it was the cell number of this "Turner" who nonchalantly passed along the number of another teacher at the school. (I thought it was the general school number. Doh.) In retrospect, I am moderately mortified to have simply asked for Cory's number. That's like calling Obama's cell number and asking for the White House mail room. Okay, maybe not that extreme -- Cory is also an amazing teacher -- but still, after more recently watching a YouTube interview with him explaining the drive behind the desire to create this alternative setting for at-risk youth to cultivate successful, well-educated adults, you can maybe glean that I feel a bit sheepish for not engaging Mr. Turner in a discussion of the school's philosophy, curriculum, and progress thus far. I'm lame. And entirely too shy to call back.

Luckily, I managed to connect with Cory on Monday morning and Ollie and I headed over to volunteer for the afternoon. Conveniently, I arrived just before lunch time, so after some work with Kyle stitching some coffee sacks onto the newly built shadehouse (it looks kind of like a greenhouse, but it's meant to protect young plants from extreme sun, wind, and high temperatures), Cory asked if I might want to help make lunch. Well. As there were no students in attendance that day, the longer time we took on the preparation and consumption of lunch with the group of teachers and volunteers meant I had a chance to learn about the school a bit more. I was impressed with the intelligence and enthusiasm of the group, as well as with the intensity of the topics covered in the curriculum: gender equality, race, immigration, healthcare policy, food access. These were lessons for kids, some of whom are considered one offense shy of entering the prison system. The space, the lessons, the student-teacher ratio (roughly 1.5 : 1), the fact that students in different wards of the city are picked up and brought to school by the teachers, make the school unique. And, I hope, a successful alternative education model.

After lunch I helped to seed about 20 flats with lettuce, peppers, mustard, and more while Cory and Kyle (who has years of experience working on professional development with educators nationwide) led a staff meeting and lesson discussion. Brennan, the garden manager, joined me a bit later to harvest a sizable bagful of arugula seeds from plants that had been drying in the rafters. (Seed saving, yay! The process involved stuffing the brittle arugula bunches into a large burlap coffee sack and beating it against the wall to loosen the seeds. I'm pretty relaxed these days, but I can imagine this being a pretty good tension-relieving activity, FYI.) By 4pm, it was time for Ollie and I to hit the road in an attempt to beat the rush hour traffic and make our way to Todd's place uptown. Not a bad way to spend a Monday, though I would've enjoyed seeing the classes in action. Maybe next time I figure out a way to get myself back to New Orleans. And there will be a next time....

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rice field of dreams

I recently spoke with a rare breed indeed: a sustainable rice farmer in southwestern Louisiana. For those of you unfamiliar with The Deep South, it is a region known for many things, but organic farming is not among them. (A friend finishing up a degree in agriculture at LSU was lamenting earlier today that not a single stall at the Baton Rouge farmers' market offers organic produce. Not one, not in these parts.) Racial tension, fried twinkies, grits, the Blues, okay. But composting and integrated pest management? Hardly. I am bummed that I learned of the farmer and his rice operation, west of New Orleans by about a four-day bike ride, too late to visit. (If I am to make it back to DC in early July, I need to start moving north. I don't want mom and pop Vincent to start giving me a hard time about pushing my return date back... again.) But after our phone conversation I have determined that the next time I am in Louisiana -- and I do hope to make my way back to the sweet, sunny South again -- I will make it a point to spend at least a week or two learning and working (and cooking) with Kurt Unkel.

Seriously, I have come across few others as articulate and thoughtful on matters ranging from food production to agricultural policy to cooking. (Okay, maybe I am a little biased because our conversation included a recipe exchange, but I'm telling you, the driving force behind Cajun Grain is a food activist in the making, whether or not he knows it.) The anomaly of a 3rd generation southern rice grower told me about his decision to convert his fields to meet organic labeling requirements a few years ago, and while he's not sorry for the transition that produces a superior brown jasmine rice -- superior in terms of flavor and nutritional value -- he is fighting an uphill battle to scratch out a living. Ah yes, once again I come across a farmer trying to do the right thing while barely making ends meet for his family. (At just under $35 for 16 pounds of his amazing rice delivered to your door anywhere in the country, he's not a price gouger by any stretch. "Good food at a fair price" was the impression I got during our talk. I know it's delicious because I picked some up at Hollygrove Market last weekend. And I'm totally ordering a shipment when I get back to DC.) He may not make a lot of money, he chuckled as he confided, but with pastured beef and pork supplementing his organic produce and rice (third after oats and quinoa, in terms of nutrition), at least he eats well. And the smattering of grad students and interns who have come to work with him eat well, too. He has built his field and, slowly, they are coming.

Kurt believes in nurturing people and the land through responsible, sustainable growing practices. But the means to designate the way he's been doing things, I learned, is in jeopardy. It was this renegade farmer with his charming drawl and passion for homegrown tomatoes who told me about legislation that is currently up for discussion that means to define and standardize "sustainable agriculture." (If you've been following my periodic rants about inane "education standards" set by disconnected state-level administrators, you can probably guess how I feel about a checklist for "sustainability standards" set by large national interest groups like the Farm Bureau.) If it is what Kurt thinks it is -- an expensive standardizing of requirements and broadening of criteria reminiscent of the USDA's certification process for organics a few years back -- the farmer argued that the term "sustainable," which fundamentally informs his day-to-day practices and which his loyal customers support, will be rendered meaningless.

I am not a policy wonk. I just don't have the head (or the stomach) for it. But I do think there is something wrong with a system that discourages farmers from practicing *actual* sustainability (managing soil and water, minimizing chemical and fuel inputs) in favor of a labeling system that, at the very least, lets agribusiness off the hook ("oh sure, we compost some stuff and, um, use lower octane fuel for our enormous tractors") and misleads consumers ("oh, well that must mean the company has my health and the health of the planet in mind"). Ha! Heck, under such criteria, GMOs like Roundup-Ready crops might be conceivably considered "sustainable" because they cause less soil erosion from weed killing machinery traffic.

Has anyone heard about this piece of legislation?? I'll be darned if I can find accurate, timely information on it, but it hardly seems like the kind of thing the passionate food advocate and grower would just make up. From what Kurt related during our conversation, they may well get away with it, as all of the voices involved in the policy discussion represent, or have ties to, large-scale conventional agriculture. The farmer confessed that he's about ready to stop using the term "sustainable" altogether, just as farmers like Joel Salatin have abandoned "organic" certification labels for what they are calling "beyond organic" -- a shorthand for a philosophy and set of practices that prior to this latest policy debate Kurt Unkel might've termed... "sustainable."

In the end, the rice farmer and I agreed that labels are on their way to becoming meaningless, that the only way to truly know what's in your food is to shake the hand of the farmer who grows it. (Or at least talk with him on the phone. Or, of course, grow it yourself.) I look forward to a continuing dialog on the matter of sustainability certification as it develops. In the meantime, it warms my little heart that there are farmers like Kurt out there in rural Louisiana growing good food and educating those willing to listen, and amid the changing agricultural climate continuing to do things [insert replacement term for "sustainably" here]....

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The food network

Yes, a food network. I'm not talking about the cable channel. (Come on, people, I haven't had regular access to cable TV in years. Remember how I had to bribe my way into friends' apartments on Wednesday nights with offers of cooking them dinner so that I could watch Season 5 of LOST? I'm just now catching up on Season 6 on Todd's computer. Um, I mean, I'm very focused on serious blog commentary during this rare opportunity to type on something other than my blackberry.) Today I mean to share some of what I learned about an amazing organization called the New Orleans Food & Farm Network (or NOFFN, for short)....

My first interaction with the diversified food education and advocacy group was this past Saturday, when I joined staff, garden leaders, and volunteers to help out with the Backyard Gardens program -- an offshoot of the Farm Yard Project -- which builds vegetable gardens for primarily elderly and low-income families around the city. (Some residents can afford the $100 garden installation -- a steal, considering $400-500 in materials, labor, and transportation costs -- while others apply for scholarships to cover all or part of the cost.) We met up at Hollygrove Market around 8:30am -- yes, the city that never sleeps was up early -- and after a brief history of the organization and an overview of the neighborhoods and garden-building process, we divided into groups, picked up our supplies (shovels, gloves, seed packets, water, and snacks), and headed out. I was fortunate enough to get a lift with Ana (an intern at NOFFN) and Bernadette (a garden leader, longtime city resident, and consummate storyteller) to Sheila's home in the lower 9th ward, where we would be digging up sod and putting in a potted garden along the fence line. Not three hours later, after a truck dropped off topsoil, compost, manure, mulch, and plastic pots, we stood back to admire the line of potted vegetable seedlings and a plot cleared and leveled for a future raised bed -- all thanks to the elbow grease of our team plus Sheila's grandson J'ai (an aspiring gardener) and materials supplied by the nonprofit. A garden in three hours: talk about instant gratification. Check out a close-up of some of the plants above. [If Ana gets back to me with a group photo, I'll post it, too. Well, depending on how clearly the camera captured how covered in dirt and sweat I was....]

Identifying needs and getting things done seems to underpin everything that the Food & Farm Network does. (Incidentally, "getting things done" was the AmeriCorps slogan back during my *NCCC days. Just today I learned that a good proportion of the work at the NOFFN office is handled by AmeriCorps service members. No wonder they get so much done with such a lean staff!) When the Network began, the group was quite literally a grass roots cadre of community gardeners who, back in 2002, had decided that New Orleans had an unconscionable number of neighborhoods without access to fresh, healthy food. In the aftershock of Hurricane Katrina, NOFFN went into emergency mode, developing "food maps" depicting different parts of the city where food -- any food at all -- could be found. Grocery stores, farmers markets, corner stores, soup kitchens. The need was for food, so they found it and handed out thousands upon thousands of maps to shell-shocked residents so that they could locate it nearby. Out of this initial response, the food justice organization began building on their success fostering community relationships, developing materials for varied neighborhoods to conduct their own research, connect with each other, and decide for themselves how best to develop stronger local foodsheds.

One of the things I've come to realize about NOLA (as the locals affectionately refer to the city) is that, maybe even more than New York City, there is a deep sense of belonging to a specific neighborhood: people identify themselves to a large degree based on where they live. Residents, especially in the veritable food deserts in poorer wards, needed food, and they had firsthand knowledge about the challenges and needs of their specific neighborhoods. (Another thing I realized about this town is that many food justice and post-Katrina reconstruction efforts have succeeded in spite of the kafkaesque bureaucracy at City Hall.) The Food & Farm Network staff continue to work alongside residents in different areas to determine how best to get food where it is needed.

During an animated conversation earlier today at the program's Bank Street office, I learned from the lovely Alicia (the community organizer on staff) that the organization works closely with a wide variety of partners across the city to support a broad spectrum of longer-term projects beyond backyard gardens and food maps: from booklets explaining zoning laws for aspiring livestock owners in the city to cooking classes for high school students. There are advisory groups and garden leaders -- experienced and friendly community gardeners like Tony, pictured above with Alicia outside of the NOFFN office -- and a growing number of passionate volunteers and residents helping to make the network stronger, even more connected. Keep your eye on this group that is making a real difference to support sustainable growing practices and ensure access to safe, nutritious, enjoyable food.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The green arm of the law

I have, historically, not been a fan of law enforcement. Some of this comes from an inherent distrust of "authority" and those wielding weapons. Some of it comes from my time living in Mexico, where it seemed I was the only one of my friends not shaken down by the local cops. I learned to blow right past the impromptu "security checkpoints" where folks were waved over on the side of the road by the policia. (Actually, one night on the drive home from Mexico City I got a flat tire at 2am and a cruiser stopped to help me put on a new one. When the two officers asked for payment, I pretended I didn't speak spanish and showed them my NYC drivers' license...rather than my Mexican license. "No speak-o spanish-o." Lo siento muchachos.) But along my current trip, law enforcement personnel have proven more helpful. The local police came to check on me at a campsite where I'd been harassed by a couple of drunk guys in central Iowa; I've been advised of safer, more bike-friendly routes in southern California by a state trooper; I was pointed toward a safe church lawn where I might camp in West Texas by the local sheriff's office. And there's the latest: greenthumbs at the sheriff's office. That I hadn't expected....

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a meeting at the sheriff's office in Lafayette, LA to discuss potential neighborhood garden projects. It was an idea initiated by the sheriff's daughter, who I learned is finishing up a degree in agricultural studies and who suggested that her dad contact folks at EarthShare to see about partnering on a few pilot projects. When you think about it, this actually makes total sense: community gardens help foster safer communities, so it's in the interest of the local lawmen to encourage them. (Have these guys read Seedfolks? Students, if you're reading this, you know what I mean.) It seems the sheriff's office and community watch folks agree.

So how will the whole thing work? Cops pulling weeds? Not exactly. The sheriff's office, as I understood things, would handle community outreach (something EarthShare has been short on staff to pursue), identify potential garden sites (largely housing projects and church properties in their jurisdiction), and provide the initial muscle to build the gardens. EarthShare, for its part, would help recruit volunteers and garden managers, act as a conduit for funds (it's an established 501(c)3), and extend its liability insurance to the sites as needed. The city planning department would help with site identification and planning -- Sanjay, who represented a local group of planners at the meeting, hopes that it will serve as a model for community action and empowerment. Stacey, over at the Nature Station, would draft the legal agreement and identify other possible stakeholders and their roles. Is this an exciting -- and unusual -- partnership, or what?

Lafayette is reclaiming its agricultural roots, building safer communities through neighborhood gardens. I hope to hear more about the progress of the project -- Community Roots -- in coming months. Gardening: bringing hippies and the law together at last.

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Saturday, May 1, 2010

PB & J(ust about anything)

I have always loved peanut butter. My last two years in high school as a vegetarian, I brought a peanut butter sandwich to school every day. (No jelly: I didn't want to bread to get soggy.) Later, when I was broke one summer during college, I experimented with peanut butter and dorito sandwiches. (Good jelly was out of my budget; I needed that money for beer.) When I gave up being a vegetarian, I dabbled with peanut butter and bacon. (Don't knock it til you've tried it.) A few years ago I introduced my friend Bettina to peanut butter and banana sandwiches when we were hiking through the jungles of Costa Rica. (I like to think she's spread the craze around Germany since her return.)

Crunchy, creamy, natural, decidedly not natural -- I love peanut butter in all its forms. (Well, except the low fat variety. I mean, come on.) Clearly I have been supporting the peanut butter manufacturing industry for some time.

On the bikeable feast, I've been working local ingredients into the peanut butter sandwich experiments. Blueberries right off the bush on my way through Concord, NH. Homemade kumquat jam from Jen's mom in Catalina, AZ. Steamed cabbage at Yochi's in Eugene, OR. (Okay, actually I didn't eat that one, but Yochi swears it's delicious.) With honey, with nutella, with the classic raspberry preserves or apricot jam. On sprouted bread, bagels, pita pockets, croissants, even those little melba toasts.

Today, in a moment of misguided fervor, I tried my first peanut butter and avocado sandwich. Um. Yeah. It was lacking in a little something, namely the ability to detach from the roof of my mouth. A water bottle and a half later, I've finished swallowing and decided it's high time to solicit some new ideas. I mean, variety is the spice of life, no?

This is where you come in, readers. I know you're out there -- I've been peeking at the google analytics stats every so often -- and I need your help. I'll be picking up food supplies soon for the next leg of the journey. Your assignment: send in a recipe for your favorite peanut butter [& something] sandwich. Actually, you know what, it doesn't even have to be peanut butter, just a sandwich that's tasty and relatively easy to assemble on the road. In fact, it might be nice to have a PB&J reprieve. When I get to New Orleans in about a week, I'll see what's been submitted and choose a winner, to whose home I will send a little cajun care package....

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