Saturday, February 26, 2011

All Quiet on the Wormy Front

Greetings, faithful readers. It's the last Saturday in February and you know what that means: it's time to harvest my worm castings!

It's been a few months since I had to rescue my little commune of veggie-scrap-eating wigglers from the brink of a toxic poop disaster. The fly problem seems to have abated -- a few winged hellions remain -- though I fear that my worms suffered a bit as a result. You see, to get rid of the flies, I had to freeze my food scraps (to kill fly larvae). Then I tried leaving the lid off the bin for a half hour or so a couple times each week. When that didn't work, I stopped adding food for a couple of weeks. At least there were no weird smells. Thankfully, there were still a number of plump little wriggling wormies in there when I carried the bin outside into the 60 degree sunshine and poked around. Yep, still quite a few in there. (Whew!) It looked a little something like this:

Lovely, eh? (No, those aren't my wigglers. I took this pic of Jen's beautiful worm composting operation at Fountain Prairie Farm on my way through Wisconsin about a year and a half ago, right around the time I became enamored with the idea of vermiculture.)

Judging by the estimated compost-to-other-stuff ratio, I decided it was time for my first harvesting of worm castings. (Wow, that sounds so civilized: in actuality this meant scooping worm poop out of a plastic bin.) I fished around with my trowel and scooped out as many wormies as I could and let them hang out with some food scraps and a little coir -- coconut husk (that I would be using to restart the next round) -- before dumping out the castings and tilling the clumps into patches of my little backyard garden plot where I hope to transplant some seedlings in a couple of months. (Hmmm, maybe I shouldn't say "fished" around -- don't want to make my worms nervous.) Hooray for compost!

I am so ready for spring. I was practically dancing around the apartment the other night after I returned home from Mike's house, where we'd talked about our spring planting plans and divvied up a whole mess of seeds and starter soil between us. (If only I had a sunny windowsill to start some seeds. Time to start trolling Craigslist and Freecycle for a used grow light....)

I rinsed out the bin and splashed my slacker version of "compost tea" over other areas of the garden that needs a little help in the organic matter department. Worm poo tea is supposed to be the best stuff around. No joke.

My wormies are settling into their newly furnished worm apartment this evening, complete with top-of-the-line shredded brown paper, coir, and organic lettuce and onion scraps. I'm off to a party at my friend Amanda's place, so they'll have some quiet time to get used to their new digs. I'll just take one last look before I head out....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mardi Bus

Mark your calendars: two weeks from today (March 8, 2011) you will be attending one of the most fun events the District has ever seen.

Yes, officially called the "Bus + Beer Bash," this Mardi Gras make your way to Churchkey from 4-8pm for good beer and complimentary nibbles. Those who make a donation using the on-site laptops will earn a complimentary beer -- I've been slowly making my way through their menu myself, and highly recommend the lovely Canadian hibiscus wheat beer that I stumbled across last week -- and very possibly a hug from me.

It's the kick-off event for my online Kickstarter fundraising campaign to raise money for the mobile farmers' market. (If you can't make the event, but still want to contribute to this project and learn more, details can be found here.)

Because I need one of these:

to bring more of this:

Come celebrate with good food, beer, and people! You might just find yourself calling it Mardi Bus next year....

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Getting back to my roots

I love Rooting DC. It gets me all kinds of worked up. No, in a good way. Heck, I left the urban composting demonstration at the 2009 event with a bee in my bonnet that was buzzing nonstop until I got myself an Oscar the Grouch trashcan to set up my own backyard bin. Once again, the speakers and presenters helped demystify all kinds of projects I'd been hoping for some time to tackle myself, things ranging from small-space gardening to growing shiitakes on logs. I was just as fired up this year, leaving the Coolidge High School auditorium with all the seed packets I could stuff into my handbag and a conviction that the time had come to grow my own mushrooms.

I sat mesmerized as Nazirahk, who runs Purple Mountain Organics in nearby Takoma Park, talked the group of us through how to set up our very own shiitake logs. (Finally, some perk to having a mostly shaded back yard! Not that I don't love my little garden plot, but the tomatoes last summer were a bit put out by the lack of sunlight.) I learned about different types of spawn, application techniques, and even what varieties of logs to seek as host sites for my future motherlode of mushrooms. I was right up in the front row as our workshop leader broke out the high-powered drill and started showing us how to prepare our logs. Wood chips were flying everywhere, even into my hair, but I wouldn't've traded that seat for the world as I scribbled down notes on how to start cultivating my own mycelium. I couldn't stop thinking about fungus during the bike ride back home. I must get myself a decent maple or oak log and inoculate it asap with some wide-range shiitake spawn. Unless I come across some poplar and want to try my hand at oyster mushrooms. Or maybe I can do both. Now, where to find myself a free log....

A few hours later, while out salsa dancing with friends, I met a guy who happened to mention he had been hauling around fallen tree limbs earlier in the day. I wish he'd told me about the 5"-diameter, 3'-long oak logs that are PERFECT for growing shiitakes before I'd given him a fake phone number. Darn. Well, hopefully we'll run into each other again and laugh about it. I mean, seriously, I thought he'd get the 80s reference....

So, step 1 is to get myself a log. Step 2 is to find a few folks to go in on a bag of sawdust and mushroom spawn with me. (It appears that the $25 bags will seed a good 20 logs or so and I can hardly talk my way into 20 free logs. Though I could probably eat 20 logs' worth of shiitakes.) Step 3 is to borrow a high-powered drill....

At present, I have no log nor spores nor equipment, but I've got shrooms on the brain. I couldn't resist picking up this little bunch at the Dupont market earlier today. Apparently others who attended yesterday's workshop had beaten me to the mushroom stand, as they were fresh out of shiitakes. Hmmm.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Loafing around

I may be crazy busy these days with my new job -- it's not like I'm loafing around -- but I still manage to make a little dough from time to time. Of the bread variety, anyway.

Boy do I love fresh bread. So a few months ago, I -- self-proclaimed foodie and kitchen maven -- started teaching myself to bake. I recall reading somewhere that the aroma of fresh bread activates some kind of primal "happiness" reaction in the human brain, regardless of the age, language, or culinary culture of the person who smells it. Happiness (and bread) sounds good to me....

For those of you beginning bakers, let me first say that there's no shame in starting out with a breadmaker. I myself borrowed one from my friend Mike and the bread came out decently well, if a bit oddly shaped. See? My herbed shallot and dried herb bread turned out to be a good tastin' loaf. It was especially nice because the breadmaker didn't heat up my apartment during the steamy summer months.

But after seeing me crank out loaf after loaf and smelling the divine bready fumes in my apartment, Mike wanted his machine back to start using it more himself. And, to be fair, I was ready for my next challenge. It was at this point that I decided to abscond with my mom's dutch oven after dinner one night at my parents' place. Throughout the early autumn months I started cranking out the (almost) no-knead bread... A little dry, I noticed as I experimented with different kinds of beer and vinegar in the recipe, but good slathered with pastured butter or some of the peach lavender preserves I'd made over the summer.

Check out that texture, eh? Delicious.

Eventually, mom noticed that her dutch oven was missing -- I'm convinced that somebody ratted me out (maybe dad inadvertently mentioned it was missing when he was looking for something in which to make some ratatouille) because, seriously, who besides me inventories their kitchen? -- and so I sheepishly returned it. But I needed bread.

Not a week after The Dutch Oven Repatriation of 2010 I happened to get into a conversation with my friend Katie about our mutual love of fresh bread. It was totally random, I swear. While I had actually come by to pick up my printer -- which she had been holding for me during my 14-month bike odyssey -- I left with my very own sourdough starter made with wild-caught DC yeast and a basic bread recipe. Here's a snapshot of Katie showing me how to "feed" it.

(Incidentally, I owe Katie a homemade dinner some day when she's back in DC as thanks for not only the sourdough starter but also for putting me in touch with the good folks at Arcadia, where I now work!)

I made my first sourdough boule a few weeks later and brought it to a dinner party at my friend Sheffy's place. Is this a good lookin' loaf or what?

There were no leftovers, only a few crumbs that dinner guests must have missed under the placemats.

I'm not sure why the next 3 boules that I made didn't come out as well. Maybe I should recreate the method of baking the first perfect loaf: bake for 30 minutes, realize that one of the oven coils is out and also that I am running late, wring my hands, wrap the partially-baked loaf in a kitchen towel, throw it in a pannier, bike 4 miles in the freezing cold, finish baking it for 30 minutes in a second (working) oven. In any case, I've got things down pretty well since then, largely based on the recipe and advice here. So of course I decided last night that I would delve into sourdough baguettes.

Yes, baguettes. What can I say, I was feeling daring. In fact, they turned out rather well. Erin and I polished one off today at lunch with some hummus. Here's the basic recipe, should you want to make your own. (Well, I mostly followed it. I used a mix of sifted all-purpose and whole wheat flour instead of cake flour. Oh, and I used a 1/2 cup of my existing sourdough starter. And I let mine rise on the counter overnight. Okay, fine, it's a recipe that I referenced....) Pretty, no?

What's that? Ah, yes, the recipe does make three, but, er, I had to taste test a bit before bringing it out in public and, well, I couldn't very well bring a baguette with a bite out of it to share with my boss, and, you know, it might've gotten stale by the time I got home tonight, so I had to dispose of it... in my belly. Luckily, the final baguette remains, so I can bring a sandwich with me during tomorrow's delivery runs with the Capital Area Food Bank -- it's part of my hands-on learning about logistics to prepare for my mobile market work with Arcadia (and boy was I hungry without a snack during yesterday's 5-hour shift).

Anyway, friends, let me know if you want a bit of my sourdough starter or recipe ideas. I'm hoping to spread the yeasty DC baking love around....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lavender love

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day -- or, depending on your perspective, Singles Awareness Day -- and once again I have my trusty Ollie by my side. Sure, she's not much of a snuggler, but she's trustworthy, loyal, and doesn't primarily communicate via text message (unlike the last lover who broke my heart, darn him). Apparently I am not so good at choosing human partners, but I do decently well picking out good bicycles. And boy can I choose a recipe.

This Valentine's Day, whether you're making a batch of cookies for your hubby or a hearty plateful to devour while watching When Harry Met Sally in flannel pjs by yourself and grumbling about how love never actually works out that way, I offer this favorite new recipe:

Lavender Shortbread

(makes about 2 dozen cookies... if you can resist nibbling on the batter!)

Combine in a double boiler: 1/4 cup local honey + 1 T crushed dried lavender flowers. Heat over low for 15 minutes. Strain and discard flowers.

Beat 1/2 pound (2 sticks/16 T) salted butter + 1 t dried lavender flowers + the honey. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bring lavender butter to room temperature, then beat in 1/2 cup brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in 1 t vanilla extract, then stir in 2 cups all-purpose flour (about 1/2 cup at a time). Roll dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for an hour. (It'll keep for a few days in the fridge... again, if you can keep from eating the delectable, buttery goodness.)

Preheat oven to 375F. Slice 1/4-inch rounds of dough and bake on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Alternately, if you want to get fancy, as I did for the batch I made for mom's birthday earlier this week, you can roll the dough out and cut shapes or letters. You can write messages like "Happy birthday, mom!" or "Love is a battlefield." Anyway....

Enjoy with a big mug of black tea or a nice tall glass of cold milk. And don't be alarmed by all of the butter. I mean, you can't make these every day -- for one thing, the process is a little labor-intensive -- but they're a lovely, just-a-little-bit-fancy treat for special occasions. Go on, break out the fancy tea set.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Busy bee

Faithful readers, I must apologize for my negligence of the esteemed duty of keeping you abreast of sustainable food goings on and adventures in biking this past month. It's been a busy time, and I am immersed each and every day in fascinating research and engaging conversations with food activists, educators, farmers, and cyclists.... and used school bus salesmen, food truck operators, small business owners, filmmakers, policy advocates, and government officials. It's not that there's nothing to blog about; it's that there's no time to blog!

Okay, okay, that is sounding like me making excuses. As the line between my awesome job and my personal love of all things food continues to blur, I've been talking, writing, thinking, and dreaming about food constantly. In truth, I have been writing quite a bit. About the adventures in bus stalking as I continue to research vehicles for my mobile farmers' market project. About my upcoming workshop on fermenting foods at the (free!) Rooting DC Forum. About seasonal recipes. About pastured meat. (Oops, this last one isn't available in print until next month. If you don't have a subscription, you can pick up a copy of the March issue of Acres USA at your local food co-op soon.)

But you're right -- I can almost see you giving your computer monitor a stern look right now, brow furrowed, lips pursed -- I've been slacking here with the Bikeable Feast. Stay tuned for a write-up on this weekend's TEDx satellite event: my first public speaking opportunity on behalf of Arcadia. (Somebody take the microphone out of my hand. Please.)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The groundhog weather report

Is it spring yet??

It's coming...eventually. In spite of ongoing gales and persistent sleet, there are signs of hope if I look hard enough. Just this morning I was admiring my spunky little heirloom garlic tops poking through the snow (that has yet to melt from the storm we had here a week and a half ago). They are a rare but apparently hardy Polish variety that I planted a few months back in my experimental backyard plot in honor of the Polish heritage on my mom's side of the family. (Bet you didn't know I was half Polish. "That would explain the jokes.")

Spring is coming, or so they say. Earlier this week, I was overjoyed to hear that Phil the Groundhog did *not* see his shadow -- an odd but long-standing folk tradition that many believe indicates winter will be ending sooner than later. Yes, in this modern age where technology is king and paganism is scorned, we look to a rodent for our weather forecast. I wonder if there's a groundhog iPhone app. Probably. (You just checked for one, didn't you?) I should mention that Phil has a better track record than my morning weather reporter, Matt McClesky, who led me out of doors without nearly enough warm layers the other day. I'm hopeful that Phil is right again and this ungodly long and unusually cold DC winter ends before too much longer. I can't take much more of this biking over sheets of ice every 20 feet on the 10-mile ride to work every day.

Come on, spring, hurry up and get here!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry