Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whisked away

I believe I am pretty good at recognizing superior baked goods when I taste them. Like the divine lavender cupcakes we transported to my friend Meredyth's wedding the six and a half hours from Columbia Heights to Charleston, WV (by car, yes, I'm a slacker, but we carpooled, at least) earlier this month. Or my friend Alessandra's focaccia, which I used to feast on regularly back when we both lived in Mexico. Or the outstanding sweet and savory goodness on hand as I pinch hit on some sales for the good folks at Whisked! earlier today.

I'd been clued into the two-woman baking operation during a few of my farmers' market cooking demos over the summer and was pretty impressed, but as I do a fair bit of baking myself and tend to have more of a salt-tooth than a sweet-tooth I don't generally splurge on those sorts of things. When my friend Heather told me she braved yesterday's wind and sleet and 30 degree weather to pick up a 6-inch savory apple tart (with caramelized onions and bleu cheese, ohhhhh) from the ladies at the 14th & U St farmers' market, I made a mental note to check out their wares more closely at my next opportunity. And wouldn't you know it, later that very afternoon I got a call from Robin (who runs both the 14th & U St market and the Bloomingdale market) asking if I might be able to help out selling a variety of Whisked goodies at her other market, to test out whether it might be a good fit for the bakers to join the Sunday market next season.


Yes, of course.

So this morning Ollie and I made our way to 1st & R St, NW at the crack of 9am. (Yes, that's early for this nightowl, and had it not been so beautifully sunny there would have been a lot more grumbling about the frost-covered ground we biked over to get there. I was glad to have my new faux-fur-lined boots to keep me warm. Thanks, mom!) The market managers helped me set up a display table and Jenna came by with a number of crates of... beautiful... flaky... buttery treats, and talked me through the names, ingredients, and pricing of each. Then the baker zipped off to a catering gig and I was left to my own devices, arranging the pear tarts and pumpkin coffeecake and cheddar-jalapeño loaves, suggesting folks try bits of the beef pot pie or sweet potato pie made with local sweet potatoes from Garner's Produce, cutting up bits of molasses-spice cookies and turtle bars and boozy blackberry handpie. "Boy oh boy, just look at those granola bar samples. They're spectacular. Go on, try one...."

Just two hours after the market opened, I had nearly sold out! Dozens of market shoppers strolled over because they'd heard about the pumpkin swirl bars or the salty oat cookies or the brownie whoopie pies, but alas, I told them, I'd already sold out of the large box of 'em. I really hope the artisanal baking duo decides to frequent the Bloomingdale market -- I'm certainly not their only fan. I wasn't the only one whisked away by my tastebuds this morning. Not by a long shot. Jenna and Stephanie, should you ever need an assistant -- especially a taste-tester -- call me. Any time.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cinderella Pumpkin Bread

I've been doing quite a bit of work with my friend Jeff the carpenter lately. No matter whether we're building a coldframe, inoculating mushroom logs, fixing that persnickety light in my bathroom, or constructing raised garden beds, our conversations invariably turn to food. (Don't look so surprised....) More often than not I am the one sharing new recipes, which my friend promptly scribbles into his pocket notebook. But a few weeks ago Jeff shared one of his favorite childhood recipes with me: pumpkin bread. And you know I love all things pumpkin. I was delighted. The original iteration had quite a lot of sugar (my teeth hurt reading it), but there was a great base recipe for me to tinker with, and Jeff was very encouraging of my effort to make it a little healthier. After picking up a beautiful, 8-pound Cinderella Pumpkin at the farmers' market a few days ago, I made a couple of loaves. With lots of pumpkin remaining, I made a couple more loaves last night, which ended up in my picnic basket along with a chickpea-chard-couscous salad and a whole mess of apples for today's Food Day Group Picnic downtown.

Moist and delicious, this one was inspired by the original recipe by Margaret Wilkes, handed down by her son to me....

RECIPE: Mom’s Pumpkin Bread Redux
(makes 2 loaves)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 2 loaf pans.

Whisk in large bowl to blend:
• 1 cup all purpose flour
• 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
• ½ cup brown sugar
• 2 TBSP ground flaxseed (you can grind whole flaxseed in a coffee grinder or use a mortar and pestle)
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tsp baking soda
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon
• 1 tsp nutmeg
• ½ tsp ground cloves
• ½ tsp ground allspice

Add in:
• 1 cup apple sauce
• ½ cup olive oil
• 2/3 cup water
• 4 eggs
• 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
• 1-2 TBSP maple syrup
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 2 cups roasted pumpkin (To roast pumpkin: Cut a fresh pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, roast at 400°F for an hour or so until soft enough to scoop out and mash.)

Stir just until incorporated. (Do not overmix.) Pour half of batter into each of the two prepared baking pans. Bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick poked into the center comes out clean. Run a butter knife around the perimeter of the loaf pan to loosen, then cool loaves on a wire rack.

For a fancy, more dessert-y experience, toast slices of pumpkin bread in the oven, then drizzle on a glaze made by blending the following:
• 8 oz package of cream cheese
• 1 tsp lemon juice
• 1/4 - 1/2 cup powdered sugar
• sometimes I add a splash of cream or a few TBSP butter

No matter how you slice it, this pumpkin bread is downright delicious. Especially alongside a good cup of coffee or tea during a blustery afternoon. Without the frosting, it's pretty darn healthy. (But c'mon, a little frosting isn't going to hurt anyone.) Now go out and get yourself a pumpkin and get baking!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Adventures of Peapod Ibti

While I was out running errands earlier today, something suddenly reminded me that I'd forgotten to post something on the blog about DC Farm to School week...hmmm....

And then, lo not 10 minutes later, a message popped up in my inbox with a photo attachment from supermom Laura over at Watkins Elementary:

Yep, that's me dressed as a giant peapod. Why would I agree to such silliness, you ask? I couldn't help myself: I love Farm to School Week. And admittedly I rather enjoy opportunities to dress up. I'll agree that it was not the most flattering of costumes, but it was apparently very effective: I was told there was a huge line for the cafeteria salad bar the following day as a direct result of my veg promotional efforts. To be honest, I think it was the bright, crunchy veggies and delectable champagne vinaigrette that the friendly folks from SweetGreen brought along, but, hey, if a smiling stranger dressed as a legume and handing out stickers helps encourage consumption of seasonal produce, I'm happy for whatever part I played.

I will say that I was impressed that nearly every kid that scampered up to the salad table we'd set up in Watkins' brand new beautiful playground knew what I was. (You may not think that's a big deal, but can I tell you how many kids in this country can't identify a tomato not in ketchup form?) Only one little boy asked if I was a cucumber... his classmate quickly corrected him. Props to the school's FoodPrints program for getting kids excited not only about identifying lots of veggies, but also about preparing and eating them. Yes, it didn't take long for a few of the older girls to ask to help mixing ingredients together in large bowls and serving the fresh salad samples (using plastic gloves) to their peers. I couldn't stop grinning the whole ride home. (No, not in costume.)

Don't worry, I don't plan on breaking the peapod getup out again any time soon. I've got my hands full making a cape for tomorrow's Food Day group picnic....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kale Carbonara

Yes, you read that correctly: kale carbonara. Don't wrinkle your nose until you've tried it. I made it a few nights ago and I'll tell you, it was pretty tasty. Huh. I can see you're going to need more convincing....

Now, if you've been following this blog for any length of time, or spoken with me in person for more than, say, 20 minutes, you know that I am something of an improvisational cook. Well. I'd been away for the weekend at my friend Meredyth's wedding in West Virginia and thus hadn't stocked up on produce during the usual weekend farmers' market trolling. My cupboard was relatively bare, but I was HUNGRY. As I rifled through my freezer in search of edamame for a completely unrelated dish I started concocting, I stumbled across a few strips of Niman Ranch bacon I'd squirreled away. In the fridge, I discovered a few eggs... a bit of cream... a lemon.... Some fresh basil and parsley were still holding onto dear life out in the backyard garden patch.... I could only assume that the universe was telling me that I was destined for more carbonara that night. (After making my way home from my weekly volunteer shift at Brainfood an hour before, I had carbonara sauce on the brain. We'd made a quick chicken carbonara as our snack at the end of class, but I was ravenous. I blame this sudden cold front.) Yes. Carbonara would do nicely. But I had no chicken. I did have some kale that needed to be used up.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? And I am pleased to report that this invention was downright delicious.

After much prodding by my friend Jeff, whose mouth watered so much during my relation of this latest cooking experiment earlier today that I felt bad for eating half the pot for dinner and the other half the following morning for a hearty breakfast without sharing a bite of it, I give you...

Kale Carbonara

Chop up 3-4 strips of thick-cut, pastured bacon into 1/2-inch pieces and fry in a small saucepan until almost crispy. Remove bacon to a small bowl and let cool while you proceed.

In a medium pot, boil 1/2 lb pasta. (I used fusilli, but shells or fettucini would work just as well. Actually, shoot, use whatever you have handy. I think classic carbonara is made with spaghetti anyway.)

In a medium bowl, whisk together:
-3 or 4 yolks from pastured eggs (save whites for another dish)
-the zest of 1 lemon
-1/4 to 1/3 cup cream
-a handful of freshly grated parmesan
-2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
-a few spoonfuls of freshly chopped basil
-a few spoonfuls of freshly chopped parsley
-5 or 6 kale leaves, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
-salt and pepper to taste

Return drained pasta to pot, turn burner to low, add in bacon pieces and egg mixture, stirring constantly until pasta is completely coated and everything is heated through. Scarf, maybe with a nice glass of white wine.

Yeah, it's not low calorie or anything, but if you use good ingredients it's not really bad for you. And it is tasty and relatively inexpensive and makes a fair bit -- enough for 2 or 3 people, anyway. Try to share, eh?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A semi-spontaneous group picnic: Oct 24

So October is officially Food Month, featuring:

Oct 1-16: the Right 2 Know March (to advocate for the labeling of GMO foods)
Oct 3-7: DC Farm to School Week (to encourage schoolkids to eat more healthfully)
Oct 8: dad's birthday dinner
Oct 9-10: prime time for garlic planting (can go until Nov 1, according to Farmer Mo)
Oct 16: World Food Day (focusing this year on mitigating the global food pricing pendulum)
Oct 24: CSPI's more domestically oriented Food Day
Oct 31: when I invariably find myself wearing some kind of food-themed Halloween getup....

Let's focus here on Oct 24 -- Food Day -- and its infinite potential for ways to celebrate healthy, sustainable, and fair food. There are tons of ways you can participate, no matter where in the country you happen to be on that Monday in late October: cook dinner with friends, have lunch with a colleague and maybe even share a little something you made yourself, make an effort to eat something local/seasonal that day, patronize a restaurant known for its conscientious procurement and labor practices....

Should you find yourself in DC, however, I invite you to join me and Ollie downtown for a semi-spontaneous picnic lunch! Yes, take a break from work for a REAL lunch break, celebrating good food and conversation in the out of doors. (Or indoors -- I have some thoughts on a rain location.) Bring your friends/colleagues, a picnic, and a blanket. Those who bring a dish with at least one local/seasonal ingredient get a big hug, and the first 75 or so will get... a surprise Food Day memento. (Ooooh, the anticipation!)

Relax, it's not a rally. It's not a protest. It might be considered a flash mob, but one that the cops have nothing to worry about. It's a picnic... with a few hundred of my closest friends and DC-area food lovers to celebrate Food Day. The location will be announced the morning of the 24th, but I can tell you that it will be metro accessible.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A pork-stravaganza

I love this time of year. Sunny days and crisp, cool nights. Garlic planting. Long weekends. Apple cider making. And cooking up something ridiculously elaborate and tasty for dad's birthday dinner. This year, in honor of the big 7-7, it was a pastured pork extravaganza, courtesy of a little inspiration from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit and a bevy of local, seasonal ingredients from a few farmers' markets around town.

Poor mom was once again subject to a little miscalculation on my part on the amount of prep time required, so we had a rather, er, European experience, dining at 9:30 last night. The consensus: delicious, and somewhat less work than my brother's (in)famous turducken. Here's a pic of it just before going into the oven:

Pork Three Ways


In a large, deep pan, saute:
-2-3 TBSP butter
- 3-4 small onions, peeled and diced
- about 1 cup mushrooms (I used a few handfuls of dried porcini, soaked in hot water, but I think fresh would be just fine as well)
- 1 large apple, cored and diced
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Stir in:
- 1-2 TBSP brandy
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp fresh rosemary
- 1 lb. ground pastured pork (mine came from EcoFriendly Foods)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Your filling is complete. Well, almost. You should also de-stem 8-10 fresh kale leaves, then blanch (i.e. boil for about 30 seconds) and quickly rinse them (under cold running water).


Preheat the oven to 400F.

Butterfly two 1 1/2-lb pastured pork shoulders (mine came from Smith Meadows Farm), place a clean towel or piece of plastic wrap on top, and pound to about 1/2" thickness. You should now have two big rectangles of pork.

Lay cooled kale on top, then spread on a thick layer of the pork/mushroom/apple filling. Roll each rectangle into a log, then wrap with prosciutto (mine came from La Quercia via Whole Foods) around the outside.

Tie the whole thing closed with kitchen twine (or, if you're fresh out of kitchen twine, have your brother help you only moderately mangle the prosciutto-wrapped pork rolls while tying them with fishing line) and tuck in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, then place the rolls atop 3-4 chopped, cored apples in a roasting pan.

Pour in:
- 1 cup apple cider (I used hard cider, but I think nonalcoholic stuff would work just as well)
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock

Place the pan in the oven and turn it up to broil for 3-5 minutes (to brown the outside), then reduce heat back to 400F and cook, uncovered, for about an hour and 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer placed in the center of each pork roll reads 140F. Let the meat rest for about 15 minutes before carving. Use the pan drippings to make a savory gravy. Serve pork slices alongside sauteed kale with garlic, baked sweet potatoes, and some good red wine.

(In case you're wondering, no, the four of us did not eat both roasts last night. We saved the second one to accompany our eggs florentine and a big salad for brunch this afternoon. I swear I am not a huge carnivore -- no, really -- but with all of this sustainable, pastured meat around I can't help myself. Bulking up for the winter, I suppose.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Since devoting myself entirely to food (with periodic breaks for dancing and biking and laundry, of course), I find that sometimes my work and play lives blur. I know, it's a tough life. But truly, it's been a busy few weeks, dear readers, and I've been meaning to tell you all about the food education adventures of late. Food stamp outreach at the Kwanzaa Kitchen Breakfast (work). Jeff's kind assistance with setting up my very first batch of shiitake mushroom logs (play, though there is a related magazine article in the pipeline -- see what I mean about the blur between work and play?) and drafting the last couple of FoodPrints lessons, hopefully soon to be available online (work). Curriculum writing for elementary and middle school after school programs I'll begin co-teaching later this month (work). Dressing up like a peapod to help get kids at a nearby primary school excited about their new salad bar. My first shift with the brand spankin' new Brainfood MVP program. (These last two were both volunteer gigs earlier this week.) And, last but not least by a long shot, making and canning applesauce with my friend, Farmer Gail (play).

(Note: this post, as implied by the title, is about making applesauce. For those of you who want to read more about some of the other recent food adventures, sit tight: I've got some writing to do. And Ibti Peapod pictures to bury in case I ever decide to run for public office one day.)

All food all the time. Every so often I worry that I might stop loving food so much. Then I remember it's me we're talking about here. Have I grown tired of canning? Ha! Hardly! When Gail came by to pick up me and my spices on Sunday afternoon, I must say I was a little giddy. I hadn't made apple sauce since last fall. Autumn, indicated by the onslaught of apples at farmers' markets as much as the troubling drop in temperature, was officially here. (What's that you ask about the spices? Just 3 or 4 of them plus a couple of fresh lemons -- a far cry from the cache of 25+ baggies of key ingredients like cardamom and star anise that I schlepped around the country.) I looked up a couple of basic recipes -- mostly to check the processing time and triplecheck that I had not misread, that it was in fact OKAY that I would not be bumping up the acidity level with the addition of a mess of lemon juice or vinegar or something, as I do in normal canning to stave off bacterial growth (raise your hand if you've lost sleep over fears of botulism) -- and my cooking companion broke out the handy dandy apple peeling and coring contraption.

[I love that gadget. If I ever get married, that thing is going on my registry. They seem hard to find, these apple peelers, but less so than, say, a loving life partner. Actually, recent broken hearts considered, I may as well go ahead and buy one for myself and cut out the interminable wait. Yes, let me just take a look on Craigslist....]

With Gail washing and peeling, and me slicing and spicing, we had two big pots' worth of applesauce simmering on the stove in no time. Wash out and boil the jars, fill 'em, check 'em for air bubbles, wipe the rims, twist on the lids, submerge the filled jars at a rolling boil for 20 minutes, cool on a wire rack... I daresay I'm getting pretty handy at this. (And a good thing, too, since I'll be co-teaching another bilingual canning class, featuring homemade applesauce, later this month.) Though she admitted to a shared fear of botulism before we got started, Gail seemed delighted at how simple and straightforward the whole process was as we cooled the jars and checked the lids. I suspect that she'll be tackling the rest of the half bushel of apples soon, empowered by the confidence (and deliciousness) inspired by this initial batch of sauce.

Have you made applesauce yet this season? If you need ideas or have questions about spice variations, you know who to call....

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