Saturday, March 26, 2011

An irresistible fleet of bicycles is coming through DC on April 16!

It's really happening. I have been enamored with The Greenhorns for a few years now. The posse of like-minded young, sustainable farmers and food advocates kindly helped to promote my bikeable feast project from afar and now, at long last, I'll get to meet a few of them in person because they are coming to my hometown! Oooh, I can't wait to show 'em around....

For those of you readers with ADHD, here's the short version:
(Hey, pay attention! Hey, over here! Stop looking at that shiny thing!)

The Greenhorns
and you!
DC Urban Farm Bike Tour, Greenhorns documentary screening, and reception
Saturday, April 16th, 2011
Bike tour/workshops from 1:00-6:00pm
Film screening and reception from 6:30-9:00pm
1pm meet @ Mamie D. Lee Community Garden, 100 Gallatin St., NE (Fort Totten)
6pm @ Letelier Theater, 3251 Prospect Street, NW, Upper Courtyard (Georgetown)
$10-30 sliding scale for film and reception (bike tour/workshops are free)

RSVP to my friend, Farmer Mo (only necessary for film attendance, as seating is capped at 90). If you have questions about the biking part of things, drop me a line. Otherwise, just show up. Those of you cyclists who have been following this blog KNOW not to show up without a helmet. I'd bring a bike lock, too. And a water bottle. And maybe some sunscreen. (And I'd pray for sun that day.)

Isn't this poster gorgeous? Kudos to Laura Cline, who does all of the Greenhorns' fantastic artwork, and who teamed up with local artist Karri Roberts on this project. Just need to add on a few more logos for additional groups who recently contacted me about donating tasty, local food.... Oh, this is going to be good.

Even Ollie's excited. Look, she's donned a new sticker for the event (freshly painted over with clear nail polish so it lasts more than 5 minutes...). Come join us on April 16!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A little leg

It is rare that I am intimidated by a piece of meat. But this past weekend, when I was entrusted with a beautiful, three-and-a-quarter-lb. leg of grassfed lamb to prepare for dinner the following evening with the good folks from White House Meats, I'm not going to lie: I was nervous.

Mostly, my concern was that I would mess it up. I mean, sure, I have cooked quite a bit of lamb in my day. But it was always in stews or curries. And this leg, oh, it was not meant to be cubed and slathered in an intense marinade. It was meant to be grilled and served rare. And me without a decent meat thermometer. (There you have it: a confession. "Forgive me father, for I have overcooked....") Whenever the esteemed Leg Of Lamb was prepared in my family, it was always dad or my brother out searing it on the grill. Now, I'd thought the guys might pick me up a roast or something that I could cube up for a lamb curry, but no: after the butchering demonstration they attended in Front Royal over the weekend, the guys handed me one of the most gorgeous pieces of meat I've ever laid eyes on. (Yeah, I probably need to get out more.) Ah. Stunning.

So what did I do? Well, after flipping through my copy of the Niman Ranch Cookbook (and cursing at myself for returning to dad the copy of The Grassfed Gourmet cookbook... yes, that I had given him as a gift, but still....), I put in a call to my best friend. Felicity and I talked through a number of potential recipes -- all kinds of dry rubs and wet marinades inspired by cuisine around the world -- before settling on a simple North African chermoula. Flavorful, but not something that would mask the distinct terroir of the meat. Yes, that would do nicely.

Along with Adam's lovely kale salad, a somewhat respectable variation on pulao prepared by yours truly (a rice dish that only very narrowly resembled the North Indian staple, as mine featured cilantro, toasted almonds, and grated sweet potatoes), and a few bottles of wine (and a bit of bubbly) from Jon, Seth, and Wolf, the lamb was simply delicious. Wrapped up with a freshly baked chocolate torte -- my, it's been awhile since I've made one of those -- it was a meal that I will not soon forget. I mean, look at Seth's masterful carving job here:

In case you get your hands on a good leg of lamb, here's roughly how to make your own

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Chermoula

Combine in a small bowl: 1 large handful of chopped fresh cilantro, 1 large handful of chopped fresh flatleaf parsley, 1 small minced onion, juice from 1 lemon, 1-2 T olive oil, 1/2 tsp smoked paprika powder, 1/2 tsp ground coriander, 4 minced garlic cloves.

Rub mixture all over a 3-lb. leg of grassfed lamb. Place lamb in a plastic bag (this can be the one it came in) and marinate in the fridge for 24 hours.

Heat a pan on the stove until it's hot. (I mean really hot. I like my roasting pans like I like my lovers: smoking hot. Heheh.) Wipe off as much marinade as possible from the leg of lamb, then sear each side of it in the pan. You may want to disconnect your smoke alarm temporarily...

Let the lamb rest under a towel on a cutting board while you preheat the oven. Once it reaches 350F, put the lamb on a roasting pan (or in my case, a metal cooling rack on a cookie sheet) and cook in the oven for about 45 minutes (for rare). Let meat rest under foil on a carving board for at least 15 minutes.

Carve and devour.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Serenade in A flat

Today was gorgeous and I was glad to be out zipping around with Ollie much of the morning. After a trip to the farmers' market to pick up some produce for the week, I met mom for a nice late lunch and a sunny stroll about Dupont Circle. Around 4:30, I walked mom back to the metro, called Wolf to say I'd be coming by to pick up the leg of lamb (more on this most beautiful of grassfed lamb loins to come in a later post), hopped on Ollie and... noticed a familiar bumping and wiggling in the rear tire....

I'd not had one flat since being back in the District. Since July! In fact, I'd just been marveling at this good fortune on my ride out to cousin Sonia's place for dinner on Friday. Well, we all know what happens when Ibti gets cocky. Yep, strings of flat tires. Oh, but *this* time I was prepared. I had my pump and my patch kit... without a tire iron... but... but... okay, fine, I used the flip-out footholder on my bike pump to slide the tire off. MacGuyver would've been proud. I found the hole in the tire tube (and the GIANT thorn still wedged in there, which I promptly yanked out) and got to work preparing the area around the gash with some sandpaper. Patting myself on the back -- oh, when will I learn? -- I cracked open my tube of... dried out rubber cement. And no back-up spare tube to be found.


(What would MacGuyver say? Nothing. He'd be shaking his head and starting to search his pockets for twist ties and sticks of gum, I'll bet.)

I hadn't felt this unprepared since, well, that time I got a flat on my way to work at the bike shop two years ago and vowed I would never again be thus unprepared. Argh. The nearest bike shop was open for another ten minutes, I learned during a frantic phone call, so I locked a still upside-down Ollie to a nearby park bench -- oh, the inhumanity! (luckily, she isn't human) -- and hotfooted it five blocks up Q Street with my helmet and tulips, arriving just in time to purchase a patch kit and spare tube before The Bike Rack closed for the day. Praise the lord, that was a close one!

I swear Ollie was smirking as she lay prone against the metal bench while I fiddled with installing a new tube. It was a bit more challenging since in my fervor whilst using it as a tire iron I seem to have accidentally snapped the little foot holder thingy on the pump, necessitating some minor contortions on my part to inflate my new tire. But I got it. And I learned my lesson (again).

So tonight, as my chocolate torte cools on the rack and my leg of lamb marinates in the fridge, I settle in to patching a few old tubes to have on hand for future mishaps of the road shrapnel variety. I will not be caught singing a serenade in A flat next time....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Everything's coming up garlic

Happy St. Patty's day, food lovers! (While I am not, in fact, Irish, this did not keep me from attending my friend Bobby's annual Irish Breakfast this weekend. Nothing like eggs and whiskey at 10am on a Saturday.) Today I celebrate all things green....

I awoke this morning to bright, if not overly warm sunshine. As I got ready for work, I made a quick check on the plants in starter trays: hollyhocks and broccoli are in the lead, parsley's finally sprouted, the ruby chard and various tomatoes are well-represented, the bagdad long melons are looking sharp, the peppers are thus far no-shows. On my way out, I walked past my humble garden plot and lo! Everything's coming up garlic! (I attribute the growth spurt to the nutrient-rich worm castings I sprinkled around a few weeks ago.) There are a couple dozen hardy shoots out there. That squirrel on the fence better not be getting any ideas....

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, March 11, 2011

March madness: eastern conference seedling bracket

Last Sunday was officially garden day at the apartment: seed sorting, soil sifting, watering, and getting my mini greenhouse set up. With seeds collected along my bike trip and scavenged from the Rooting DC forum, some organic starter soil and trays from my buddy Mike, and a grow lamp and special agrobulb from dad, nothing could keep me from starting my garden indoors this year. No, not even a cold, cavernous basement apartment.

This evening I came home from work to discover a small but sturdy verdant presence in the previously empty cobbled-together greenhouse. Plants! My seeds were off and running, with zinnias in the lead, broccoli a close second, and even some ruby red chard poking a few shoots up out of the starter pots. I think those are little bitty hollyhocks in the corner there. Hooray! As I sipped on a beer and reviewed the current standings, I started to wonder which of my little plants would flourish. Which would come up next? Which would be the late arrivals? Which ones weren't going to start at all?

No, I couldn't just look on the package for this information. You see, while some seeds came in well-labeled packets with germination estimates and planting instructions from Johnny's or Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, others came in yellow envelopes from friends (like those Iraqi heirloom tomatoes and melons) or were seeds saved from last summer (like the bell peppers). Since I haven't had cable TV for years now, I figured I could maybe use a little entertainment....

My money's on the broccoli for the winner-take-all victory. I predict parsley in last place. Yes, even with two parsley contenders. Last year's team barely made it two weeks in the crummy soil I have out back. Then again, I did just till a few scoops of nutrient-rich worm castings into the backyard plot two weeks ago. Could be anybody's game, I suppose.

Anyone care to place a wager?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's the pig deal?

I do seem to have pork on the brain more than usual these days. It's not intentional, it just kind of... happened. There was my first article (on pastured pork) in this month's issue of Acres USA. Then I had a lovely chat with Bev -- of EcoFriendly Foods -- while picking up some breakfast sausages and taking a little footage for my mobile market fundraising video a couple of weeks ago. (Speaking of which, have you donated yet? Hmmm? Have you?) Then a series of coincidences led me to Seth and Jon, the cool cats behind White House Meats, with whom I shared a pint and quite a lengthy discussion at the Mardi Bus happy hour earlier this week. I do like bacon. And those local, sustainable pork shares are pretty reasonable. Mmmm, Berkshire....

Well. Last night I had planned to have dinner with my dear friend Susan. But alas, she woke up yesterday morning feeling sickly and we decided to reschedule. Wouldn't you know it, this meant that I would in fact be able to attend the screening of Pig Business downtown (and the panel discussion and happy hour that followed) that I had been spreading the word about. It turned out to be quite a night.

After only just barely refraining from audibly badmouthing the security guard who insisted that I leave my nalgene bottle outside of the Capitol Building -- this same innocuous bottle that had traveled around the entire country lashed to the front fender of my bicycle and had joined me without incident on a number of, ahem, airline flights, which I would think would indicate that it, when emptied, would gain admission to such high-security-risk settings as a documentary screening in a public visitors' center on a Wednesday afternoon -- I made my way through the metal detectors to join the throngs, securing one of the few remaining seats in the packed auditorium. After some opening words and an appeal by the ever passionate Robert Kennedy, Jr., the lights went down. I watched in horror as atrocious animal cruelty, unbridled greed, and "corporate kleptocracy" unfolded. (How does Bobby Kennedy come up with these terms? As a former English teacher, I can't help but admire his exceptional vocabulary. "A+, Mr. Kennedy.") The film focused on Smithfield -- the largest and most reckless purveyor of pork in the country, which recently expanded abroad to begin crushing pork farmers in Europe, most notably in Poland. (I know, mom, I know.) It was scary to watch folks on camera hardly bat an eye as they talked about the need for more meat, how these giant hog factories were necessary, even good for their economy and their countrymen. How about... eating less meat? How about the health and environmental concerns, if not of the animals, at least of those very countrymen? I got pretty worked up.

Needing a stiff drink afterwards, I joined a bunch of other sustainable foodie friends at the evening happy hour a few blocks away. After a nice bourbon and ginger ale and a few nibblies featuring some of Bev's famous pork, I pinned a food bus button on the pastured pork farmer himself and began to feel a little better. Sure, our country's meat production system is terrible now, but we can fix it. Even my small voice, my personal choice to only consume responsibly-produced meats, makes a difference. I refuse to buy factory farmed meat. And so did the guy next to me. And the lady on the other side of him. And probably most of the people in that room (or at least they're way more likely to avoid it after watching that movie). Sure, we're not changing the system overnight, and many policymakers at home and abroad are in the pockets of these large CAFO executives, but as more of us vote with our food dollars what kind of agricultural practices we support, we begin to take back control of the system that feeds us.

What difference does it make where your pork chop comes from? Actually, it's kind of a pig deal. Don't you want to support an operation that looks like this?

[photo courtesy of Sarah Willis, Niman Ranch]

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In print!

Okay, I'm not positive in terms of copyright law what I can post here, but I'm pretty sure a Table of Contents page is fair game. (I don't want to be dodging the law all the time, and I'm already on the run from the fashion police....)

I was kind of hoping Acres USA would allow folks to view articles from this month's issue for free on their website, but apparently I have to be as famous as Joel Salatin for that to be possible. I've got a lot more writing (and ranting) to do to get to that level. Give me some time.

This first foray into print is an article I wrote on the pork industry and the work of my friend Paul (the pastured pork farmer and food advocate in Iowa). It features some photos taken by Paul's daughter, Sarah, of THE most adorable piglets ever and a recipe (of course) by yours truly.

A second article should be coming out in the next few months, so keep an eye on the magazine stands at your nearest food co-op....