Sunday, September 25, 2011

No cyclist left behind

It's been nearly a year and a half since Ollie and I returned to our beloved District after riding over 7,800 miles through 29 states and working on farms. Admittedly, from time to time we do muse about tackling those other 21 that we missed during our round-the-country trip. (Okay, maybe Hawaii and Alaska weren't really ever part of the plan. Still....) Yesterday we had a chance to take another crack at a multi-state bike tour, courtesy of WABA's annual 50 States ride. Well, first we had a volunteer shift with these lovely ladies:

After nearly four hours of handing out burritos and wisecracks at the Eastern Market pit stop, I tagged along with the "sweepers" that brought up the rear ranks, keeping an eye out for lost riders or those in need of help changing a flat. You know, the NCLB team. (I do believe that our "No Cyclist Left Behind" policy was more effective than our nation's similarly abbreviated educational initiative, but I digress....) As we rode along, I marveled at our curiously perfect cycling weather -- in the 70s and slightly overcast -- and mentally checked off a few more states: Arkansas, Utah, North Dakota, Colorado....

It was just like being on a real cross-country bike tour: I got ridiculously hungry every 15 miles or so (luckily, Mike handed me emergency dried mangoes and granola bars); we got notably lost (Alan and I missed the turnoff onto West Virginia Avenue, realizing our error multiple miles later as we wandered the precarious trolley tracks along Benning Road in Northeast); I found myself swearing on my way up hills (I'm talking to you, Montana and Hawaii Avenues). Of note: South Dakota remains my least favorite street in the city, closely followed by New York, Michigan, and Florida Avenues. (Hopping onto the tour when I did, I was fortunate enough to have missed oft maligned and poorly signed Texas Avenue over in Southeast.) We made it to the end, though, covering the final 35 miles (which included, I believe, 26 states), huffing up California to collapse, sweaty and proud, into picnic chairs at the after-party in Adams Morgan. We arrived just in time to grab a couple of free pints of Fat Tire (the lovely west coast brew premiering here in DC on tap at last) and our commemorative t-shirts. Not bad, eh?

I am happy to report that I drank a full gallon of water and slept for a solid nine hours last night. I am, however, a little mortified to report how tired my legs were when I awoke. I totally took the metro the measly 5 (but ahem, mostly uphill) miles to the Takoma Park farmers' market this morning to meet up with my dear friend Susan. Me, who used to ride 60 miles a day without blinking! Who a year ago biked the 25 miles to Upper Marlboro and then worked for 6 hours at Clagett Farm! Gettin' old, I guess. I think I'll be doing a little training before next year's 50 States ride.... Maybe by then we will have a 51st state... Maybe? Ah, I probably have a better chance of getting another flat tire than a senator before then.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Go car free this Thursday!

Leave the car keys on the counter and break out that bike helmet. Or walking shoes. Or maybe take a look and see if you have a few bucks left on on your SmartTrip (TM) card. Go car free this Thursday. All the cool kids are doing it.

Car Free Day is apparently an international event meant to encourage us city folk to get around without cars. Activities are organized in various cities throughout the world in different ways, but with the common goal of taking cars off the streets. There are all kinds of reasons to be a part of a less individual-car-reliant culture: less traffic congestion, no parking issues, a greener environment, reduced gasoline consumption, getting in a bit of exercise or socializing instead of grumbling in your car alone while sitting in traffic. The list goes on. According to the website, Car Free Day includes celebrations in 1,500 cities in 40 countries. Certainly there are lots of partners in Northern VA, MD, and DC, so you don't need to live/work in DC proper to participate in our local activities.

Around the District, we have lots of options: in addition to walking or bicycling, we can take a commuter train, metro, bus. We can carpool. If you absolutely need a car for a long commute from home to work, try being a "slug" for a day and hop into the HOV lane for a change. (I can't help giggling every time I read a reference to slugging, which apparently originated in Springfield, VA. Mom and dad, I wonder if there will soon be a Slugging Museum down the street from you, heheh.) You can also arrange to telecommute for the day. Car Free Day is open to everyone in the DC metropolitan area, and even if you don't drive anyway you can still pledge to add your non-driving effort to the larger group's effort (and get some free pizza or a free bike in the process). To participate, all you need to do is fill out the pledge form, then go car free (or at least carpool, ya slug!) on Sept 22. Go on, do it.

p.s.- In the event that I don't see you in the bike lanes on Thursday, perhaps we'll see each other at WABA's 50 States ride this Saturday!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Born to be wild

I can't help but gush about my favorite moment of today's Heritage Harvest Festival: meeting Sandor Katz -- the inspired author of "Wild Fermentation." I have blathered on about this book a few times on the blog, yes. Kim chi. Sourdough. Yoghurt. Pickles. Lebneh. Sauerkraut. If there is a fermentation bible, this book is it.

[Note: I generally turn my nose up at any cookbook that markets itself as any kind of "bible." The Bread Bible. The Cake Bible. Bah. This is the real deal... and there is no "bible" in the title. Though the author could probably walk on water. Or kombucha, rather. The man knows fermented foods, and any food lover I have ever met that has heard of his book loves it. And owns it, actually.]

I was skulking about the postcard section of the Monticello museum shop for a good 20 minutes before he showed up for a book signing, unescorted and unassuming in a plaid shirt. In spite of being a celebrity of sorts, Sandorkraut was really very personable and down to earth. We had a chance to chit chat for a bit before he signed my well-marked, dog-eared copy of the manifesto on food diversity and self-reliance. On the page with the kim chi recipe, of course. And then I overcame my natural shyness -- what, I am shy! -- to ask him to take a quick picture together. (Unlike that time I stood 3 feet from Michael Pollan, tongue-tied and blushing, at the Food For Thought Festival a few years ago. See? I've come a long way.)

Boy, oh, boy. Not only did I learn that Mr. Katz has a new book coming out -- more to learn, and likely more fermentation ideas to integrate into my own food education adventures around town -- but he'll be in DC this spring for a talk. I wonder if he'd like some of that wild-caught sourdough starter that I've been nurturing for about a year now. Is it weird for a fan to show up to a book talk with a jar of fermenting local yeast?

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Si se puede!

One of the things I love most about educating is that I almost always learn as much as I teach. It's both exhilarating and humbling. During my time working in the public school system, as I taught about subject-verb agreement and irony, my high schoolers gave me a primer on rap and fashion and slang. ("Who is this '50 Cents' character, and what the heck did he ever do to get shot NINE times? And those pants, why, you can see his underwear!" Yes, I had lots to learn. Still do.)

Teaching and learning don't just take place in the classroom, of course, and the pattern has not abated since my shift from teaching English literacy to educating about sustainable food. At a recent canning workshop in Takoma Park -- the first multicultural Padres Latinos/Linkages to Learning weekly gathering of the school year at Rolling Terrace Elementary -- I am certain that I learned at least as much as the dozen or so latina ladies I had been hired to teach. In this case, I was leading a hands-on workshop in Spanish on preparing and preserving fresh salsa, by special request of the group of local moms from a variety of Latin American countries. After an overview of the canning process and passing out of ingredients and equipment, everyone laughed and chatted away as we proceeded to prepare and process pint jars of spicy, aromatic salsa fresca. I found myself learning useful new words like "hervir" (to boil)... and realizing that I had mistranslated a few things on the worksheet I'd handed out. Luckily most of my errors were pretty obvious to the ladies -- one doesn't use "pepinos" (cucumbers) in salsa, but rather "pimientos" (peppers) -- and they helped me with a few of the technical terms like "higienica," which I said no less than 17 times as we sterilized and sealed our jars (kindly donated by the local ACE Hardware) filled with freshly made salsa (with beautiful organic produce donated by Potomac Vegetable Farms).

It was a lot of fun, and the women were kind enough to tolerate my Spanglish. (Michelle, my capable co-teacher, began far fewer of her sentences with "Como se dice..." than I did, to be sure, and often stepped in when I got flustered trying to explain concepts like checking to be sure the button on each jar lid was sucked downward during cooling to ensure a safe seal. Mil gracias, Michelle!) My vocabulary turned out to be less of a challenge than some of the technical limitations of the stove-less space: unfortunately, the electric, single burner contraptions we were using to heat giant pots of water didn't "hervieron con fuerza" during the 2-hour session. (Note to self: next time make sure a giant pot of water *can* get to a rolling boil on a single-burner stove.) I left the program director, Maria, with very detailed instructions and she told me later that after the requisite 45 minutes at a rolling boil and cooling of the jars, all but one of them sealed successfully. Hooray!

Even the principal seemed excited when a few of us brought some of the extra salsa to the main office at the end of the session, and a number of the ladies departed with extra jars and ingredients to try making more at home. Ah. What a day of learning for us all.

(5 points for those of you who didn't roll their eyes at my nerdy bilingual pun subject heading.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chocolate and garlic: a match made in heaven

It appears that not that many folks have tried -- or even thought of -- blending two of the most important food groups on the planet: garlic and chocolate. Some of you might have done a double take when I wrote about testing roasted, chocolate-covered garlic on the Mountaindale Farm blog awhile back. (Not mom, though: she asked for a batch posthaste.)

Well, the public had a chance to try out this little bit of culinary genius (if I do say so myself) this past weekend at the 2011 Pocono Garlic Festival. The reviews were generally pretty positive, actually. Dunked in dark Belgian chocolate, no less (Farmer Gary's favorite), we went through tray after individually-wrapped tray of them. It's not proprietary or anything, so should you want to make your own, here's the recipe.

I don't know that I'd make 900 hand dipped, individually wrapped cloves again -- that was a little extreme, even for my maniacal cooking tendencies (and thank the lord the peeling and roasting happened before I arrived on Wednesday night) -- but don't they look lovely?

It was fun peddling (rather than pedaling, for a change) some tasty wares this weekend. In addition to four varieties of heirloom garlic, bottles of garple, and beautiful garlic braids, there was lots and lots of garlic-chocolate goodness for sale. Dozens of folks came by our booth each afternoon asking for Caroline and Joanie's famous -- but by then sold out -- garlic chocolate chip cookies. Well, people, when I say "no pressure, but we sell out every year, so there might not be any left later in the day," it is not just a sales pitch. One thing I cannot supply here is the recipe for the wildly popular cookies, but I can assure you that they are darn good. Caroline and Joanie made over 700 of them, and we sold out by 2:30 both days. Fear not, I suspect there'll be more next year. If you can't wait, get yourself to one of these upcoming festivals.

Chocolate and garlic are a match made in heaven. Luckily, cousin Caroline loaded me up with Music, German White, and my favorite Siberian Red garlic. And, oh look, there are a few bars of Green & Black's 70% Dark in the pantry. And organic butter in the fridge. Mmmm. Yes. Next up: garlic truffles.