Monday, April 18, 2011

Greenhorns report

So this Saturday's urban farm bike tour that was so meticulously planned... was rained out. But the screening of The Greenhorns went rather well. Those who braved the storms were rewarded with a beautifully filmed documentary, piles of great, local food (and so much beer we didn't even break open the last keg), and great tunes. Hopefully this is the beginning of a Greenhorns MidAtlantic chapter. How cool would that be?

Of particular culinary note was the farm-themed parsnip cake with cream cheese frosting, complete with rows of veggies and even fences -- beat it, Bambi -- donated by the good folks at Buzz Bakery. How cute is this cake??

Thankfully chef Tiffany, the creative force behind the farm cake, remains unaware of my own cake decorating... experiments. Whew.

Anyhow, folks, I will let you all know when the urban farm bike tour is rescheduled. It may be a few weeks: getting five or six community garden groups to agree on a single date on which to hold workshops is a bit like herding cats. Very environmentally and socially conscious cats. Stay tuned. (Meow!)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spring is here!

April is the cruelest month. But seriously. How do I know spring has finally arrived? Well, there are a few key indicators:

1) Allergy season has officially started.
I swear I never had seasonal allergies until I moved to DC back in 1995. I actually used to wonder why there were so many commercials on TV -- yes, this is back when I watched TV -- about allergy medication. "Pollen?" I thought to myself. "Bah. Leaf mold? Pshaw. What a bunch of whiners. How bad can a few sniffles be?" Justice has been served: I have not smelled properly, tasted fully, slept soundly, or breathed freely since Tuesday afternoon.

2) People are asking me to help them with their gardens.
Mike and I had a great planning session last week, mapping out the timing and location for transplanting for his little urban homestead up 14th Street. I spent much of yesterday at mom and dad's house hauling wooden planks, dirt, and compost up and down the black diamond slope that is their back yard with my brother. Mom is now the proud caretaker of 2 lovely 4'x4' raised beds plus a makeshift planter in the form of a wheelbarrow that needed to be, um, repurposed into something... useful. I cautioned her that we may not yet be past danger of frost, so, readers, don't go transplanting your little seedlings out in the yard just yet. I'd wait until the first week of May. I keep waiting for my next door neighbor, Henry, to call me up to get to building the raised bed in his back yard. Any day now.

3) I saw asparagus at the farmers' market this morning.
Dad was standing right there next to me -- our first trip together to the Dupont market! -- so I purchased a small bunch for each of us. Beautiful, no?

He wasn't nearly as giddy as I was, but then he isn't as fanatical about eating seasonally as I am (and thus less sick of apples and sweet potatoes these days: I can't wait for berries, peaches, and plums again). TGFA. (Thank God For Asparagus.)

4) The weather is insane.
I'm sorry, did the weatherman say it was going to get up to 70 today? It was darn cold at the market this morning and there I was without a proper coat. I'd bet my garlic it wasn't more than 50 degrees by 11am. Curses. The manic-depressive nature of springtime weather has caused me to reschedule my plans for a test run of next weekend's urban farm bike tour. Maybe tomorrow, when hopefully the weather after work is as predicted: 80 and sunny. We shall see. Meanwhile, time to pop another (semi-useless) decongestant....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

No utensils allowed

So, right, I seem to be slacking a bit on the blogging. Okay, okay, you're right. Even in the midst of the absorbing job of developing and managing the first mobile farmers' market here in the District, there are some things that should remain sacred. I even missed the men's college basketball final this year, if that gives you any sense of the (somewhat controlled) chaos that is my life these days.

One thing that I have managed to keep up is the favorite part of my week: Tuesdays at Brainfood! I've been especially excited lately, with two special guest visits from professional chefs and the shift in focus beyond basic cooking skills to delving into the preparation of cuisine from various countries around the world. Yesterday, as I took a deep breath in an attempt to shed the stress of the workday, I opened the door to smiling student faces and a stash of unusual ingredients about the kitchen. Mmmm, yes, this was going to be good. Ahhhh....

"There will be less dishes to wash at the end of class today, since no plates, forks, knives, or spoons are allowed at the final meal," Amy began, smiling mysteriously. Students looked around at each other and a few giggled. "Yes, this week we are packing our bags and traveling to Ethiopia!" (And me without my toothbrush and pajamas. Oh. Right. Okay, so our stomachs and imaginations are going.) As Amy led us through a bit of culinary history in one of Africa's most populous and linguistically diverse countries, we passed around some of the traditional spices we would be using: berbere (an Ethiopian staple, which reminded me of a cross between cayenne and paprika; the student standing next to me suggested it smelled kind of like barbecue), cardamom, turmeric. You know, I've eaten Ethiopian food a few times -- I do live near the U Street corridor, after all, which apparently houses the largest Ethiopian population outside of Ethiopia -- but for no good reason, frankly, I'd never cooked any myself. There was much for me to learn here.

Amy and I made our way around the kitchen to help turn on burners and check in with each of the 16 high schoolers as they came together in groups to prepare pretty darn authentic Gomen (spicy stewed collard greens), Amhari (a vegan stew, loaded with carrots, potatoes, onions, and cabbage), Dora Wat (Ethiopia's national dish, a chicken stew with hard-boiled eggs), and even a quick, crepe-like version of Injera (to supplement the authentic flatbread Amy had picked up at a local market).

Class ended with a feast, shared family-style, and the group sampled each of the dishes before each student steadily devoured a new favorite. Such adventurous eaters, I love it! I think Dora Wat was the most popular, though there was quite a contingent of Gomen lovers. What little bits of Amhari and Injera remained were quickly wrapped in tinfoil and stowed in backpacks and purses for the commute home.

And in the end, Amy was right: very few dishes. (Very few leftovers, too.)