Monday, August 29, 2011

Come on, Irene

I've never had a guest blogger here on the Bikeable Feast. One thing about having your own blog is that you have total control over the content. Moo ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, the power!

Actually, speaking of power, I am lucky to have it after this weekend's hurricane, unlike some of my neighbors who suffered quite a beating from Irene. The past few days' crazy weather has both tormented and inspired some of us in the DC area (and all up the coast, I suppose -- my best friend up in Montreal hasn't had electricity since yesterday morning, which her kids loved, as it meant lots of candles and marshmallow roasting). Sandbagged inside my basement apartment during much of Saturday, I got to thinking about how different people prepare for and react to natural disasters. It often brings out the best in people, some kind of latent kindness and helpfulness that we are otherwise too busy and caught up in our own lives to extend. (Like my next door neighbor Henry calling to see if I needed help or sandbags amid the torrential rain. Not that he isn't usually helpful or friendly, but he was concerned about my apartment flooding again.) I thought about writing a little something about this myself, but frankly the best encapsulation of the triumph of local community in the face of environmental adversity came in the form of the weekly email from my friend Michele over at the Crossroads Farmers' Market. I've excerpted her note below:

"Though most DC area farmers markets closed on Sunday (and understandably so!), a bunch of brave Takoma Park vendors loaded their trucks during the height of the storm and drove in for business as usual. Which meant that I was on for my regular Sunday gig, selling at the Takoma Park farmers market for Pennsylvania-based Keswick Creamery. At the time, I was wholly unimpressed. Ok, after a sleepless night of whipping winds, crashing branches, and no electricity, I was downright cranky at the prospect of setting up market on a powerless street with gusts of wind still swirling through. After all, who in their right mind would be out to shop?

My question should have been: who wouldn't? In sweatpants and galoshes, the neighborhood came out. With trees and power down throughout virtually all of Takoma Park, the market was the only game in town. While the rest of the area was at a virtual standstill, our local food supply was vibrant and intact, our local farmers still able to provide a brilliant array of fresh, nourishing produce. So, though grocery store shelves were wiped of bread, the local bakeries provided; though people had stocked up on non-perishables, the abundance of fresh, local fruit, tomatoes, greens, and dairy ensured that folks would be well fed with real, whole foods until power was restored.

And perhaps equally important? It didn't matter than the ATMs weren't working and that refrigeration was scarce. People came to the market to congregate, to share stories, to laugh, to find their friends and neighbors and engage within a collective space. The takeaway: while this weekend's storm could have been so, so much worse, it was a tremendous reminder of how absolutely critical, how non-negotiable and essential, it is that we collectively build and support a thriving, robust local foods system. And it was a wonderful reminder of the ways in which food, markets, and the allure of a perfect heirloom tomato create such fertile ground (no pun intended) for fostering community."

In tribute to our local food system, to our farmers who need some extra support after loss of crop and revenue in the storm, come check out the Crossroads Farmers' Market this Wednesday from 2:30-6:30pm. (7676 New Hampshire Avenue, rain or shine -- and shine seems likely!) I suspect there will be a good crowd in attendance, especially for the tomatoes following my first ever canning workshop on salsa making with the Padres Latinos group that morning... in Spanish. (Que bueno, eh?)

Monday, August 22, 2011

La Vida Local

In the midst of a lovely dinner at Ripple yesterday evening -- I daresay it's becoming my favorite local restaurant, certainly giving Cashion's and Restaurant Nora and Founding Farmers a run for their money -- my dear friend Jeanne asked me point blank if I was planning to set out on another cross-country bike trip in the near future. No, I assured her, I should be around for awhile yet. I've gotten the big travel bug out of my system. (And it's not like lovers in other parts of the country are sending me amorous pledges of their undying affection.)

Actually, there's quite a bit to learn and see and do here in the DC area. Yes, in addition to all of the cooking and watching of tennis (at my favorite local sports bar -- I still refuse to pay for cable, but I can't miss the matches leading up to the US Open). There is the work I'm doing with FoodPrints and GrowingSOUL, as well as more intensive SNAP outreach in communities in the vicinity of a few farmers' markets around town. There are cooking demos and canning workshops to lead, and more writing to be done for a great local magazine. (Oooh, speaking of magazines: I got my copy of the September issue of Acres USA in today's mail, featuring my second article for the national eco-agriculture magazine! And it's looking like I'll be doing a bit more writing for them this winter.) Yeah, I have, like, six part-time jobs. C'est la vie.

So I'll be here. Mind you, it's not like I'm planning to sit still. It's simply not in my nature. I do have some short trips coming up soon to eastern Pennsylvania for the annual Pocono Garlic Festival, then to Charlottesville for the Heritage Harvest Festival. For those of you who may be wondering, I don't have plans to bike to either of these. Guess these 13 months of comparatively sedentary living in the same apartment and biking a mere 5-15 miles per day around town have made me soft: I'll be taking the bus.

For now, for the most part, I'll be here. Living La Vida Local, as it were. Mom and dad, aren't you relieved?

(This is not to say that should a Fulbright to study food traditions in India emerge I would turn it down. I'm just sayin'. It's probably best for friends and family to ply me with lots of fresh figs and good wine so I am sure to stick around.)

Monday, August 15, 2011


Maybe it's the Jewish men I've dated these past few years. Maybe it's the fact that roughly half of my friends are Jewish. But there's just something about challah.

Today, with the help of a recipe from Wild Fermentation, I made my first loaf. (I splurged on a used copy a few weeks ago in order to brush up on my fermentation knowledge before teaching another workshop on making kim chi. To be honest I'm kind of enamored with Sandor Katz's loving tribute to all things fermented.) I'll bet you didn't even know you could make a sourdough challah. I sure didn't.

Note: I am a night owl by nature, but it is admittedly a little late to be baking. Working with wild-caught (rather than packaged) yeast does seem to add an hour or more onto most recipes, but I did start it at 9 this morning. There were a few additional challenges along the way. My real near-meltdown came during the heating of oil, sugar, salt, and eggs until they formed "a creamy, custard-like texture." The process was less clear or speedy than one might think. I mean, seriously, does this look like it's going to turn "custard-like" any time soon? It's been half an hour in a makeshift double boiler on my stove!

But finally, through the grace of Yahweh, it thickened. Then hubris set in -- directions, shmirections, I've been baking sourdoughs for nearly a year now -- I decided to go against the advice of the cookbook and combine ingredients directly on the counter (instead of in a bowl), old school Italian style, so this:

quickly became this:

(Doh!) But not irresolvable. See? Nothing ten solid minutes of intense kneading can't fix:

Three hours of rising, a break for yoga class, a little braiding, a second rising, and here it is going into the oven:

Just moments before midnight, I'm done.

Here it is -- beautiful and golden and perfuming my apartment with the most divine scent. I'll sleep well tonight. Tomorrow morning: egg sandwiches!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let me entertain you

It's summer. While you're grilling or picnicking with friends and family, you may be on the lookout for tasty, easy recipes to pull together that require minimal cooking. Lord knows I used a few such dishes this weekend for mom's retirement party: lemon juice and holy basil marinated zucchini "noodles," honeydew with fresh mint, cherry tomato and cucumber salad, refrigerator pickles.

Here's a little something I just made at the 14th & U farmers' market this past Saturday. It was quite popular. Free food always is, I suppose, but people seemed genuinely interested in the recipe: I saw a few excited market shoppers beeline from my demo station to the farm stands to pick up the requisite ingredients. I do believe Cherry Glen will have more of their divine chevre next week, and hopefully North Mountain Pastures will have more pickled beets so I can pick some up myself to make my own batch of...

Pickled beets and goat cheese on baguette slices

-1 baguette, sliced into ¼ to ½-inch coins and brushed with olive oil
-1 pint jar of pickled beets (sliced or grated)
-1/4 cup chevre (or other soft goat cheese)
-a handful of dried fruit (raisins, chopped up dried apricots, dates, figs) OR fresh herbs OR toasted walnuts
-salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Toast bread slices on a cookie sheet in the oven, on the grill, or in batches in a nonstick skillet on the stovetop until golden. Top each baguette slice with a bit of pickled beet and a spoonful of goat cheese. If your pickled beets are really tart, try topping the goat cheese with a few sweet raisins. Or garnish with fresh herbs (a spring of basil, parsley, fennel, etc.). Or should you want to base the appetizer more closely on the dish that inspired it -- roasted beet salad -- you can top the goat cheese with a toasted walnut.

The recipe makes about 2 platefuls (enough for 4-6 people, as an appetizer… assuming you don’t eat one plate yourself while making them) and you can assemble it in just a few minutes for impromptu entertaining. While I am rather insistent on seasonal cooking wherever possible, the core ingredients are all available year round. And it's equally good with a light red or chilled white wine. Imagine that.

A word of caution: beware of talking with the market manager while slicing bread or you may end up with one of these:

It doesn't look bad now, two days and half a tube of neosporin later, but it was a gusher. Thankfully, I didn't cut through the nail. Just as importantly, I didn't bleed all over the food. I got everything cleaned up and myself bandaged before the next round of eager tasters arrived at the cooking demo booth. (Honestly, I don't slice into my hand that often....)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Sniper for hire?

I've been garden-sitting for my friend Mike for the past week and a half and for the most part things have been going well. With the much-needed bouts of rain, the plants are looking lush and the harvest has been pretty impressive. The cucumbers and melons are going bonkers, corn and chard and fennel have been putting on a good show. But most of all, the tomatoes are looking just lovely. And Squeazle apparently thinks so, too....

Honestly, what kind of self-respecting squirrel would only *partially* eat a beautiful, ripe red tomato like this?? Jerk. I harvested a number of just-barely-orange ones a few days ago -- preventive measures after three days in a row of half-eaten evidence around the garden.

I wonder if one or two of the snipers that guard the White House garden might want to moonlight at Mike's place a few nights a week. I couldn't pay much, but I'd feed them well: tomato and fennel bruschetta, cucumber corn salad, chard and feta quiche.... (Oh, come on, there *must* be snipers posted around the perimeter of Ms. Obama's garden else there'd be no produce for the photo ops.)

These city rodents are ruthless, I tell you. Ruthless!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The family jewels

Now, I don't come from wealth. If I have kids one day, the family heirlooms will most likely be in seed form. Bagdad melons, Polish garlic, and a whole lot of tomato varieties. Those are my family jewels. Though most folks have heard of "heirloom" varieties in the context of tomatoes, there is actually a wide variety of heirloom fruits and vegetables from around the globe, carefully cultivated and passed down for generations.

But speaking of heirloom tomatoes, just this morning I was organizing an heirloom tomato tasting with red, green, yellow, orange, and purple varieties at the Bloomingdale farmers' market. Many of these luscious varieties from Snow Bear Farm, Truck Patch Farms, and Reid's Orchard made their way into my cooking demo. Mild White Queens, sweet Hawaiian Pineapples, tart German Greens, mellow Brandywines, Purple Cherokees, Pink Oxhearts... mmm.... Incorporating fresh bread from Panorama Bakery and topped off with fresh fennel fronds and a pat of quark (Keswick Creamery's German-style cream cheese with which I am becoming intimately familiar), the seasonal bruschetta samples were going as quickly as I could crank them out. Not that I was going at a maddening speed, but there wasn't much of a break in the hour and a half demo and when things slowed even a bit I was asked all sorts of questions as I doled out rounds of samples: where can I find these tomatoes? do you grow any of these yourself? which one is your favorite? how did you become a food educator? do you teach adults? do you have any recipes for cold summer soups? (Do I ever....)

It was a lovely way to spend the early part of my Sunday (the late part being absorbed with the Legg Mason tennis tournament finals and a couple pints of beer): working with beautiful produce, preparing and sharing tasty food, encouraging folks to get excited about their new favorite variety of tomato. I could get used to this. Because I ran out of copies at the market, and because some of you, dear readers, were unable to make it to the market this morning for this tasty treat, I thought I might post the recipe here on the blog. (So there are a lot of cooking-oriented posts these days. Can I help it if this is the most bountiful time of the year in terms of fresh produce?)

Here it is, the much sought after

Heirloom Tomato and Summer Peach Bruschetta recipe:


-1 baguette, sliced into ¼ to ½-inch coins
-4-5 heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
-3-4 ripe peaches, peeled, cored, and diced
-1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
-a handful of fennel fronds OR fresh basil, finely chopped
-salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
-optional garnish: 1/4 cup cheese (feta, chevre, quark, grated parmesan, etc.)


Toast bread slices on a cookie sheet in the oven, on the grill, or in batches in a nonstick skillet on the stovetop until golden. Combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Top each baguette slice with a generous spoonful of the tomato-peach mixture. Top with a sprinkle or dollop of cheese and a spring of basil or fennel. Serve immediately. Don’t expect leftovers.

*The quick version: don’t peel the tomatoes or peaches. Thinly slice baguette, but don’t toast it. Otherwise, proceed as directed. You can also make the tomato-peach mixture a day ahead and store in the fridge.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A night out

I don't get out as much as I used to, though by many people's standards, I still am out and about more than most. (Except, perhaps, my friend Ronn, who makes normal social butterflies look like homebody moths.) Okay, so I like exploring DC. It's not all happy hours and late nights of salsa dancing. This past Tuesday I participated in my first National Night Out -- an annual event whereby local police departments all around the country organize family-friendly events (usually featuring a band, some informational booths, food, a moonbounce, and if you're lucky, as I was, some poor fellow dressed up as McGruff the Crime Dog). In my case, I was helping out at the GrowingSOUL/Crossroads Market tent at the Takoma Park Night Out. My task: cooking demos. Oh, goodie....

While the live band got cranking, folks of all ages and colors wandered by to see what I was up to. Some timidly asked if they could try making a small jar of kale/collard kim chi, others sauntered up and reached right into the big bowl of tomato corn salad I was offering (made with some of the gorgeous tomatoes that Crossroads had for sale). Especially fun were the kids who walked past a few times and then couldn't resist coming over and trying their hand at mashing up the ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and leafy greens with salt to make small jars of kim chi to take home. Some of them really got into it. So did my compatriots from GrowingSOUL and Crossroads. We went through a good 6 or 8 bunches of greens and many, many old spaghetti jars.

Somewhere along the line, a random guy (I'm pretty sure he was sober) wandered up and without asking reached into the display kim chi jar and ladled a few forkfuls onto his hotdog. I was speechless, as much from the lack of asking "Do you mind if I take some of this?" as the idea of adding this totally organic, fermented food to what is widely regarded by most as nitrate-laced, ground up pig lips. Then, I'm not going to lie, Jessica and I ran to get our own hotdogs and try out the kim chi on top.

Yep, like I said, I'm no purist.

I would say that the evening went really well. Lots of folks went home with new recipes and fresh, local produce (made even more affordable by Crossroads' Fresh Checks) and fermented goodies. Not a bad night out.

And, okay, for those who complain that there are no photos of me on this blog -- ahem, mom -- here's one for you: