Thursday, December 27, 2012

A bacon birthday

Wouldn't you know it, I had a few extra shrimp and some pitted dates around the apartment last night, which my gentleman friend wrapped in some needing-to-be-eaten bacon and handily tossed into the cast iron skillet to roast while I packed for our jaunt up to New York and points north. Not a bad happy birthday midnight snack, is it, washed down with a nice Belgian ale? My apartment still smells of (ahem, free-range, local) bacon this morning. Yes, 35 is going to be a good year....

(Don't give me that look. I needed something to balance out all of that healthy seafood over the Christmas holiday. I'm not a big dessert eater, and I'm trying to bulk up for the winter! It's going to be a long, cold one!)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Feast of Seven Fishes

After the recent Great Goose Debacle, my family made a pact to have a poultry-free Christmas holiday this year. Actually, we decided to take a break from meat altogether for a few meals. When I happened to mention this to my friend Griffin a few weeks ago, he made a joke about the Feast of Seven Fishes that his Italian-American, Catholic relatives have celebrated for years.

What?

I was raised Catholic. I love Italian food. And food traditions. I studied in Rome for the fall semester, the one leading up to Christmas, my junior year of college, for crying out loud... How could I not have heard of this before my (almost) 35th year?!

There is, of course, a simple explanation: I do not know everything about food. Yet. But I am a tenacious researcher. And I decided, after reading up on the history and skimming the list of typical, fried Seven Fishes fare, that the Vincents would be departing from that menu quite drastically.

Our Christmas Eve dinner began in earnest with five of us sitting down before a small vat of my brother's now famous ceviche, this time made with shrimp and a white fish he knew only as "basa" (our first two of the seven fishes). Then came dad's also famous crabcakes (fish #3). Sure, there were some non-fish items -- my kale salad, for instance, or the platter of macaroons mom brought out -- but our feast was decidedly fishy. As mom and dad made their way to church on Christmas morning, I got working on our seafood-laden brunch. I warmed up a few pints of lobster bisque (fish #4) and got working on the rice, sweet potatoes, avocados, and other tasty fillings for our sushi luncheon: slicing up wild Atlantic salmon (#5) and part of a beautiful tuna steak (#6) along with the meticulous process of deveining, peeling, flattening,and steaming shrimp (#7 -- yes, I'm counting it twice, it was that much work!). Good thing little brother didn't get around to making a salad that day, as there was not even an inch of space in my belly for it after we cranked out roll after roll of fresh sushi, topped with wasabi and pickled ginger.*

I think this seafood themed holiday may have to become a tradition. Maybe next year oysters and snails will make an appearance.... Yum.


*Much as I love sushi -- and I do love it quite a bit -- my favorite part has always been the pickled ginger. What's that? You say you want to make your own pickled ginger? It's easy! Here's how:

Easy Pickled Ginger

Peel and thinly slice 1/2 lb fresh ginger (young, if you can find it) and toss with 1/2 tsp salt. Meanwhile, combine 3/4 cup rice vinegar with 1/2 cup brown sugar and bring to a boil on the stovetop. Simmer until sugar dissolves. Stuff ginger into a clean, heat-tolerant glass jar -- I used a wide-mouth pint jar -- and pour the sugar-vinegar mixture over it. Cool on the countertop, then cover and store in the fridge. It should be good for a few months. If you don't scarf it all in the first week.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Eat more whole grains

So batch #2 of homebrew (name TBD) is underway. This time, it'll be a Dark Belgian Strong Ale, started using a kit I picked up during the jaunt up toThree Stars Brewery recently. Funny, Amanda, Jessica, Kenton, and I arrived too late for the brewing demonstration, yet with plenty of time for tasting the four beers they had on tap. But, really, what could we have learned, us semi-pros with a whole, single batch of homebrew making under our collective belts? Well, probably a lot.... One thing I could maybe show the master brewers a thing or two about is cooking with spent grain. Because I'm an expert now. At least on whole grains.

Bread and another round of some pretty darn tasty veggie burgers emerged from my kitchen after the pumpkin ale brewing this autumn. With this darker malted grain for the Belgian strong, brewed for the cold weather, I cranked out some pretty stellar falafel -- who doesn't love falafel? -- on brewing day, then biscuits with scallions and parmesan using the hearty whole grains to feed the masses. But my favorite thing so far may well be the pretzel rolls Carina, Kenton, and I made after we racked the dark ale into the secondary fermenter. 

Check out Carina's expert racking method. (Yes, we're getting fancy here.) And here's Team Pretzel at work.


Delicious. And not just because of the generous application of sea salt. They were good and good for you!

Admittedly, the pretzels were a little more work than the other recipes, but so worth it... especially hot out of the oven and slathered with (homemade, of course) spicy mustard. I toasted the spent grain and then ground it up in my coffee grinder the day before my sous chefs arrived. I'd gotten lots of practice during the two prior weeks, teaching five classes of 3rd graders about the parts of the grain and the importance of eating whole grains. Part of the lesson involved making whole wheat flour and white flour using coffee grinders and sifters. It was a pretty informative lesson for me as much as it was for the kiddos.

Did you know
that white flour (aka all-purpose flour or even 'wheat' flour) isn't all that good for you? You know, that stuff that most of us have used -- myself included -- for baking all of our lives? I was horrified to learn during my lesson prep how little nutritional value even 'Enriched' All-Purpose Flour has in it. "You see," I explained to each group of rapt 8-year-olds, "when you eat anything made from flour, unless it says 'whole wheat,' you're only getting the endosperm part of the grain." That means you pretty much only get the carbs and miss out on the other two main parts, the really good things that whole grains have in them: the bran (where all the fiber is that helps keep your digestive system running smoothly) and the germ (where the fat-soluble vitamins hang out).

"Don't be fooled by packaging that tells you that the loaf of bread you're holding is 'wheat' bread. That just means it comes from the wheat plant. Look at the label." A number of the parent volunteers in class were as concerned as the students to learn this, but I tried to minimize the freaking out by pointing out how a good food detective can easily tell by looking for the words WHOLE WHEAT. "That means that it has to be made from the whole wheat kernel, right? And have all of the parts of the grain ground up in there, and have all of the vitamins that should be there? Otherwise, the company is breaking the law?" one astute young student asked. Exactly. And don't fall for that "Enriched" flour -- it's better than nothing, but they don't put everything back in. And it's usually bleached. (Blech.)

Now, readers, I'm not saying you should never, never, ever use all-purpose flour again or you are sentencing your friends and loved ones to a life of malnutrition and diabetes. I'm just saying you might want to try mixing WHOLE WHEAT into your baking when you can. It doesn't work for everything, but you can sift in at least some whole wheat flour into most recipes and things will turn out just fine. And if you need some ideas for ways to use whole grains -- spent or otherwise -- you know who to call. (Me.)

All spent grain recipes mentioned in this post are based on ones I found on the Brooklyn Brewery blog.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Choked up

While I do try to eat locally and seasonally as much as possible, I keep telling folks that I am not a purist. And I am capable of letting someone else take over my kitchen... a little bit, anyway. Especially when there is positive reinforcement.

I present Exhibit A: the delicious artichokes that my gentleman friend made for our luxurious lunch this rainy Sunday afternoon (along with a heck of a tasty flank steak grilled up out on the back porch, but the photos I took of that before gobbling it up didn't turn out so beautifully so you'll just have to use your imagination). Lord, do I ever love artichokes, and these were perfect.

Turns out the recipe for steaming the delectable thistle relatives came from Grandma Mil -- Kenton's paternal grandmother. (God bless grandmas and moms who pass along the culinary traditions.) The secret -- can you keep a secret? is it even a secret if I'm posting it out there for an indefinite number of unknown foodies reading this blog from an indeterminate number of computers, forevermore accessible in cyberspace? -- is celery seed! And fresh celery chopped into the boiling water, along with lemon slices and rings of fresh onion. Dunked leaf by luscious leaf into an herbed butter and garlic sauce, our first meal with me not dominating the kitchen was simply divine. A girl could get used to this. (Okay, maybe I made the dipping sauce while the head chef was out manning the grill. And some mashed potatoes. You know, just to round out the meal.)

Heck. Forget roses. If a man were to show up on my doorstep with a bouquet of artichokes, I'd be hard pressed to resist pretty much anything. And if he came in and steamed them for me... and did the dishes afterwards....

Monday, December 3, 2012

A town called Arlington

The other night, as we scarfed lentil soup (and a crazy carrot and buttermilk salad that may warrant its own blogpost sometime), my friend Jeff looked across the dinner table at me with a sad face and confessed to a fear that I was going to abandon DC for Arlington. Let me assure you, friends and readers, that while I have been spending quite a bit of time wandering around Clarendon with my paramour in recent months, I am still A DC Girl. I will admit that I have come to love a few Courthouse-area coffeehouses and eating establishments, and maybe I even checked out the "hoppy hour" at the hip but unassuming Rabbit once or twice in the past week, but that's not enough to make me want to move there.

I am not cool with the rationale that instigated the separation of the former southwest corner from DC proper back in the 19th Century, but "separate but equal" ain't such a bad thing when it comes to car and bicycle lanes. Yes, this town could show the District a few things.


It's a solid street ride with aggressive traffic, narrow lanes, parked cars galore, and rarely a bike lane to be found the whole way West through my beloved city, but the instant I cross the Key Bridge into Virginia -- bam! -- instant, dedicated bike trails and bike lanes the whole way. Aside from the hills, this place is a cyclist's dream! God bless the Custis Trail, which avoids the mile and a half straight of uphill riding through Rosslyn. (The time a few weeks ago when we cut through Rosslyn was, I believe, the night Kenton vowed he would give up smoking. It is entirely possible that I will have to make a follow-up music video purely about biking up those hills.) After trying out a few different routes in recent weeks, it now takes Ollie and me less than 45 minutes door to door from my apartment to get to my gentleman friend's place in Arlington.

THANK YOU, whomever had the foresight to design such a bike-friendly town. For sure the DDOT could take a page or three out of Arlington's city planning book. Okay, fine, it's not that there's no progress to make DC more bikeable. I mean, there are Share the Road signs... that motorists patently ignore. And the 14th Street bike lanes are more continuous than they used to be a few years ago... not that the delivery trucks parked in them have changed in the interim. There's a dedicated bike boulevard along the iconic stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to The Capitol... clogged with tourists on Segways. Okay, um, let's see... Well, we are getting a much-needed cycle-track tomorrow -- finally -- after many months of foot dragging and stops and starts. Ah, a nice 12-block, East-West stretch of protected riding in the heart of the business district. So help me, I'd better not see yet more SUVs parked in this dedicated bike lane.

Don't worry, Jeff: Ollie's not moving to Arlington. But with farmers' market season wrapping up for the winter, she will soon be exploring more of the bike trails around there on the weekends.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

When your goose is cooked

I will admit that I've been wanting to try roasting a goose for some time now. No, not just because geese are loud, mean creatures -- well, they are! -- but I'm always on the lookout for a challenge in the kitchen. I have managed in recent years to pretty much master roasting chicken and duck (if I do say so myself), and to be honest when there was a mixup with the Muscovy duck I'd ordered from one of the local farmers last weekend I took it as a sign that I was at last meant to cook a goose. He had one on hand, ready to go. There was just one little problem: mom had expressly nixed goose as an option when I proposed it last Thanksgiving. "Too gamy," she insisted. Well. Maybe I just wouldn't tell her it was goose until afterwards. I wouldn't lie about it, exactly, just refer to it as "the bird" until after the first helping....

Thanksgiving morning began with me lopping off the long neck of the (thankfully) plucked and footless bird, then cutting off the excess fat while mom and dad went to church. After a rather comical skin-pricking and scalding of "the bird," I dunked some prunes in sherry to soak awhile. This would be the base for the bird's stuffing -- "If this doesn't balance out the gamy flavor, I don't know what will!" I mused as I later sipped on the plum-infused sherry -- along with apples, orange zest, and roasted chestnuts, according to the roast goose recipe I'd chosen. My plan for the Chinese White heritage goose was almost foolproof.

Almost.

By around 6 that evening, I'd sufficiently smoked up the kitchen with melting goose fat and singed the bird. Dad and I determined it was ready to carve and bring into the dining room.

 While the skin was crispy and the color was nice -- all dark meat, when cut up it was almost identical to the lamb dad had roasted (because apparently there was not enough meat on the table for the 5 of us) -- the meat itself was tough, stringy, and... gamy. We all tried some, but nobody reached for seconds. This may have been been as much due to the flavor as to the fact that the almost-6-pound bird didn't have much meat on it. (I later learned that these are generally laying geese rather than meat birds. Yes, apparently so.)

Maybe it's my Catholic upbringing, or maybe my culinary pride, but on Friday morning I felt compelled to confess to mom that it was in fact a goose -- not a duck -- that we'd eaten the night before. "I was wondering why it looked and tasted funny," she laughed. Dad and I decided to toss the carcass: no need for goose soup. (I did save a little of the rendered goose fat for frying up some latkes sometime soon, though.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

A pumpkin on the porch

Note to self: do not mock farmer friends who do not have enough time to carve a jack-o-lantern or you may end up with an orange behemoth on your porch.

It came to pass that Farmer Robert left a pumpkin on my doorstep about 2 weeks ago. Having a soft spot for pumpkins as well as an almost clinical condition that will not allow me to let food go to waste, I wrung my hands for about a week before deciding to do something with the enormous cucurbit. Ever find yourself in such a predicament? I can't be the only one out there.

Mind you, I'd already made more than a gallon of pumpkin butter with the various winter squashes and pumpkins left over from 5 -- count 'em, FIVE -- lessons that involved cleaving open dozens of bright orange vegetables with 3rd graders in late October. I was quite proud of myself for disposing of the various jars filled with spiced orange-y spread amongst friends and neighbors so quickly. While I brainstormed ways to utilize this more recently acquired gourd on Friday morning, I began to chop, scoop, and roast.... An hour and four heavily loaded cookie sheets later, I had the pumpkin (plus half an heirloom Jarrahdale squash) roasted and ready.


I made a triple batch of curried pumpkin soup to bring to the 5-year anniversary dinner for a senior housing community in the neighborhood on Friday afternoon, but that only took out about a third of the stockpile of mashed pumpkin. So I took a few pre-roasted pieces to cousin Sonia's for dinner on Friday night -- these ended up pureed into a lovely shrimp and pumpkin bisque. With still nearly 10 cups of pumpkin left, I was getting antsy. A few more cups made it into another batch of pumpkin soup for my Slow Food DC board retreat on Saturday afternoon. Then this afternoon, I baked 3 loaves of pumpkin bread and a solid dozen pumpkin walnut muffins.

What's that? The seeds? Yeah, there were a lot of those, too. I roasted 'em while preheating the oven and am nibbling on them as I type.


 

I have about 3 cups' worth of roasted, pureed pumpkin left. Any ideas?? (Six batches of pumpkin biscotti, perhaps?)

Sunday, November 18, 2012

When I say "farmers," you say "market!"

FARMERS!

MARKET!

FARMERS!!

MARKET!!!
I love my work. I do not much love public speaking, however. And yet the two overlap more and more these days.

Take the pre-Thanksgiving rally this past Saturday, where my self-proclaimed "sister from another mother," JoAnn, who runs the outreach program for the World Missions Church, introduced me to her congregation of 300+ families. She asked me to say a few words to the crowd of low-income residents who had gathered to pick up boxes of food -- collective contributions from a number of local organizations. I spoke for a few minutes about the local apples and sweet potatoes donated by the Bloomingdale Farmers' Market, and the food assistance programs that we offer (and match up to $10 per benefit) each weekend. Food stamps, WIC, senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers... I can almost give the talk in my sleep by now, but each time I'm in front of a group I still get a little nervous.

The turnout on this chilly, sunny morning was quite impressive. So, too, was the positive energy. JoAnn's encouragement and help connecting me with her people made me a little choked up. (It wasn't just the wind making my eyes a little watery.) She really gets what we're trying to do: make healthy food accessible for everyone, regardless of age or color or income.

"Wait, so let me get this straight," my co-speaker bellowed into the microphone. "You mean you can use your food stamps at the farmers' market on Sundays and get free food? Wait, wait, wait. Hold on there. You mean if I spend ten dollars on my food stamp card, I get another ten dollars to spend on more food at the market? That's a deal!"

"Yes, that's the idea," I confirmed, as she handed me back the mic.

I can't tell you how many folks came up to me as over the next half hour I slowly made my way from the stage past the food pickup tables over to where I had Ollie locked up. They'd ask me for copies of our market postcards, or what fruits and vegetables we'd have at our final market of the season the following day, and how much we would match each week ("$10 per benefit, per weekend," I assured them). From what the market director, Robin, tells me, there were a number of new shoppers at today's market, quite a few of whom had heard about it -- and the various federal assistance benefits that BFM accepts -- during yesterday's rally. Hooray!

So this getting over my aversion to public speaking is a good thing, since I suspect Robin will want me to do something similar next spring. I may start to dread it less, especially when I am so warmly received and the positive impact is so visible. So, neighbors, keep showing up at our farmers markets... I need the positive reinforcement.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pain in the rear

A few weeks ago, while we were picking out my new bike wheel at the local shop, dad pointed out that my snazzy new front wheel had a new tire that did not match my older tire on the rear wheel. "I am not a fashion maven to begin with," I assured him, "and certainly not concerned with such things when it comes to bike gear." (This has been evidenced most recently by my tendency to wear my new, warm brown, under-helmet knit cap with my black windbreaker while zipping around town. They both do their job, and so who cares if they match?) But today I realized there was another reason I should have taken him up on the offer to buy me a new rear tire: the one I had is worn out. Badly.

Too bad it took me three flat tires over the past three weeks to admit it. (What can I say, I'm stubborn.)

The final straw came this morning, as I heard the familiar pop and hiss en route to my monthly meeting with DC farmers' market directors. Luckily, I was only two blocks from my destination when it happened, and I locked a fully-rear-flattened Ollie to a pole and arrived only 5 minutes after the meeting started. Still, I was not a happy camper.

Within minutes of exiting the 2-hour meeting, I was covered in bike grease as I pulled off the rear wheel and felt around to discover yet another gash in the kevlar-belted tire. (I sure hope kevlar is more effective in combat wear than it is against the shrapnel lying around DC streets is all I can say....) So I patched Ollie up as best I could, shook my fist at the sky, and grumbled as I rode over to The Bike Rack to get a new rear tire.

The good folks at the shop handed me a matching tire -- well, it might as well match at this point -- and I bought a few spare tubes for good measure. As I suited Ollie up with her new tire earlier this evening, I realized that my steady ride hasn't had a new rear tire since... cousin Laith bought her a new one on our way through Austin. Okay, it was time. And now she's ready to roll for the winter:


Monday, November 12, 2012

All kale, all the time

My, oh, my do I love kale salad. And it's a good thing, too, since the bottom shelf of my fridge seems to be continuously filled with bunches and bunches of kale these days.

making massaged kale salad - 7 nov 2012making kale salad at walker jones clinic 5 - oct 2012

From a Growing Healthy Schools week cooking lesson at Cap City Charter School to an anti-obesity clinic session for seniors at Walker Jones to a healthy cooking class with kiddos at the Upper Cardozo clinic, it seems that I am not the only one who cannot get enough of this most delicious and nutritious of leafy green vegetables. (It's too bad I didn't snap a pic of the 3rd graders at Watkins Elementary clamoring for seconds on the Tuscan kale salad at the end of last week's FoodPrints class. Alas.)

I don't want you to think I am a one-trick pony, though. I can make other things with kale. Like hearty, warming kale and bean soup, which poor Kenton ate no less than 3 versions of over the course of last week as I perfected my recipe for a "Kale Three Ways" cooking workshop at the Upper Cardozo clinic. The first iteration (also taste tested by Cousin Sonia) was good with black beans and chicken sausage, but the best version turned out to be the one made with cannellini beans and cabbage and smoked ham. Oh, it's good. One of the moms who came to join us at the end of last Wednesday night's class may well have licked the pot if I hadn't been standing there next to it.

Should you find yourself with a little extra pork lying around, I'd offer this simple, inexpensive recipe. It's easy to make a double batch for a crowd, too, this holiday season....

Ham, Bean, and Kale Soup

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ pound (or more) of ham steak, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cans beans (Great Northern, cannellini, navy, etc.)
  • 2 cups cabbage, finely chopped
  • 8 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 cups (or more) fresh kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Directions


Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onions, ham, and brown sugar and sauté for about 5 minutes (until onions are tender). Add garlic and saute for a minute, until fragrant. Add one can of the rinsed beans, and use a heavy spoon or potato masher to mash the beans. (This will help thicken the broth later on. I kid you not, this makes the soup really phenomenal.)

Stir in cabbage and thyme and mix well, cooking for a few more minutes. Add broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes longer. Stir in the rest of the beans and the chopped kale, and simmer until the kale is bright green and tender. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with parmesan cheese if you like.

(Y si quiere la receta en español, la tengo....)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'll be patching you in all the old, familiar places

And here we are again on the side of the road.

After a fantastic lesson on bright orange and leafy green vegetables with 3rd graders at Watkins Elementary, just moments ago Ollie and I were on our way to the store to pick up ingredients for tomorrow's health fair cooking demonstration (for 200 preschoolers!) when I heard a quick pop and that old, familiar hissing sound.

At least FOR ONCE it is a beautiful sunny day, and the flat happened just alongside a lovely park with lots of autumn foliage and vacant benches here in Northeast DC.

Ah, yes, not so bad after all. (And I'm sure I'll enjoy the cheese samples at Whole Foods with the subtle metallic flavor of bike grease. "Yes, it really complements the saltiness of the parmesan....")

Thursday, November 1, 2012

DC School Garden Bike Tour

Because I can't say no, apparently, a couple of months ago Sam over at the State Superintendent's office talked me into leading this year's DC School Garden Bike Tour -- the concluding event of Growing Healthy Schools Week. (Because DC Farm to School Week and DC School Garden Week 2012 were, go figure, the exact same week, somebody decided to combine the two. Incidentally, I also led two hands-on cooking classes for with students from Oyster Bilingual and Cap City Charter School for GHS earlier that same week. More on those entertaining lessons coming soon.)

IMG_3803

[Photo courtesy of fellow cyclist, Jaqueline Hammond]

I could not have pulled it off without the help of my friends Kealy and Ariel, whose logistical and moral support proved invaluable as schools and routes shifted... again... and again... and Kenton, who fearlessly joined me on test rides between the schools, including that terrifying stretch that we decided to circumvent after white-knuckling it across the river on decidedly bike-unfriendly East Capitol. (Flashback, anyone?) I should know from the last time that organizing a group bike outing is like herding cats, but once again, on the day of the ride everything came together.

October 20th was perhaps the perfect cycling day -- bright, sunny, warm (in the sun), and with a bit of a breeze. More than 40 folks showed up at Kelly Miller School, the first of five of the finest school gardens our city has to offer. The majority of these folks joined me for the biking version of the tour that I led through Southeast and Northeast DC. Also included on the tour was Prospect Learning Center, winner of this year's "Golden Shovel" award (largely due to the inspiring essay written by one of the students, which I got to hear firsthand at the Kid Power celebration dinner a few nights later.)

At each stop, a garden manager or parent spoke about the green space's history, what was growing, and how students (and in some cases, staff) engage with the growing spaces. Most had raised garden beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, some had pollinator gardens. A few were specifically geared towards students with various physical and learning challenges. Some were integrated into the curriculum, while others were used primarily for after school programs. Each had a story to tell of challenges and successes. In truth, I think the story of the ride is best told by the video, shot by Francis over at BicycleSpace:


Special thanks to Jordan, whose bike-along stereo system made the bike tour the most fun thing ever. Nothing like 80s tunes to pep up an already great day. I may have to insist that all bike tours I organize going forward include a bikeable boombox. (Yep, I'm sure I'll get talked into organizing another one. Maybe a Bike the Breweries tour this spring?)

Monday, October 22, 2012

A better mouse trap


About a month ago, I learned that my upstairs neighbors had a run-in with some rodents. They'd caught three mice in a week. Ick. Compulsive kitchen cleaner that I am, I was unperturbed, reassuring myself that this sort of thing would never happen in my kitchen. (Not that I am accusing my friendly upstairs neighbors of being slobs or anything, but they probably don't scour the countertops or floors as much as I do.) Then about three weeks ago, as I was settling into bed, I heard it. Scratching. Distinct and persistent clawing sounds coming from somewhere on the far side of the apartment. I stealthily padded across the carpet to see if I could narrow down the location, but by the time I got to the tiled kitchen, it had stopped.

Two nights later, as I was sitting at the laptop working at the kitchen table, I heard it again. The lights were still on and I was sitting about six feet away from the scritch-scratching. Agh! BRAZEN little bugger, this one was. Still, I didn't get a visual on my uninvited guest.

The next night, as I settled down to do a little reading in bed, I heard something that sounded like a plastic bag rustling. This time I bolted across the apartment wielding a heavy frying pan, sprinting to the kitchen just in time to see a furry intruder scamper out of the small trashcan and disappear behind the counter somewhere. The next morning, I borrowed the electric mouse zapper from my upstairs neighbors, whose furry interloper population seem to have moved down to my place. I set it with a nice, stoneground wheat cracker slathered with organic peanut butter. What mouse wouldn't want that (as a last meal)?

Apparently not this one.

A day or two after that, the little bugger took a bite out of one of the tomatoes I had ripening on the counter. The counter!! Where I knead my sourdough bread! Blech! I scrubbed the counter down, then disinfected it, then scoured it again the next morning just before I started making bread. Then, concerned that maybe some gunk in the mouse trap was blocking the sensor, I scrubbed out the zap trap with an old toothbrush -- finally, something useful that my ex-boyfriend left here -- and put in a stale cracker with some stinky brie rind. That should do it, I congratulated myself. What mouse could resist?

Nope.

Now, I know it's getting colder and all, and outdoor creatures are in search of a warm, safe place to snuggle up for the winter. And I am an animal lover through and through. I actually capture silverfish and spiders and crickets when I find them in my bathroom, carry them outside, and let them out in the garden. I've made a relative truce with the squirrels and rats that scamper through my garden on occasion. But I cannot abide rodents in my kitchen. This is war.

Today, after lunch and a stop by the bike shop for a new front wheel, dad and I made our way to Logan Hardware to prepare my apartment for a serious anti-rodent offensive. After some debate in the pest aisle, dad suggested that I try out a few different mousetrap models. He and I have a wager on which one will work best. My money's on the covered one (which, incidentally, has a lower probability of Ibti finger damage), while dad stands by the cartoon-style, old school snap trap:

We'll see who's the smart one now, Nibbles....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mean people suck

Well, statistically, it was inevitable, I suppose, but this realization didn't make it suck any less to discover, after a lovely dinner with my friends Meredyth and Greg at their Bloomingdale apartment, to find a still locked up Ollie one wheel lighter. I know that things could've been way worse, but I still can't help feeling violated.

I should know better. I do know better. And you can bet your bike lock I will not make that mistake again. Well, as soon as I get myself a new wheel -- it may be a few days before your friendly neighborhood food educator can get around the neighborhood again. (Thankfully this happened after yesterday's DC school garden bike tour -- more on that group riding adventure when I stop being pissed off about the neighborhood wheel stealer. Grrr. It may be a few days.)

Okay, I'll admit it is my own fault for not locking Ollie up as securely as usual. I'm usually so compulsive about that sort of thing. Certainly nobody would be so brazen as to steal a wheel off of a locked bike, I thought, not with folks sitting at outdoor tables at Boundary Stone right across the street. I couldn't get her up against the fenceline fully, and after reflecting on how I'd been to this neighborhood many times over the past few years with no incident, I figured locking Ollie's frame and back wheel to the fence would be enough. The thief could not have missed the "Please don't steal me" sign on Ollie's handlebars, so I wonder: was he illiterate or mean-spirited or both?

Is The Universe trying to tell me something? Perhaps I am too trusting. Maybe it's a concrete reminder that there are many unhappy, unloved people out there who take things of relatively little value to themselves but of critical importance (not to mention sentimental value) to one person -- oh, if they only knew the roads that wheel and I had traversed! -- and I need to protect myself and my loved ones (even the inanimate loved ones) more carefully. Or perhaps after 10,000 miles it's time for a new front wheel and I needed a bit of a cosmic push to shell out the money for one.

But seriously, who steals a wheel? Jerk. At least they got one with a slow-leaking tube....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fuuuuudge!

You know that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is helping his dad change the flat tire? My morning was kind of like that, only it was me changing a bike tire (and luckily only the houseplants were around to hear the swearing).

Already running about 15 minutes late for this morning's Farm to School cooking demo, I was just getting out the bike pump to top off the air after loading Ollie up with a giant bag of kale and other fixin's for my (now famous) massaged kale salad when I heard that familiar hiss.... Noooo!

This incident marked a personal best: 12 minutes it took me to get Ollie flipped over, unhook the brakes, get her rear wheel off, tube out, check for lingering puncture creators, get the new tube in, pump it up, slide the wheel back on, rehook the brakes, load up, and get out the door. (No time for hand washing!)

I was a pool of sweat, with grease so thick on my hands I had to wash them TWICE before the official group handwashing with the middle schoolers at Capital City Public Charter School, but I made it. And still 10 minutes before I was meant to start. Not too shabby, I'd say.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's up, butternut?

Winter is almost here. Okay, fine, we're still in mid-October, but it sure felt like winter was setting in during the Hunger Games themed field day and campout at my friend Kristin's farm this Saturday. Each time an inch of me accidentally ventured outside of my sleeping bag I was suddenly jolted back to chilly reality. (The field day, potluck, and camping were a heck of a lot of fun, even with the risk of frostbite.)

Cold weather also means that winter squash season is here. Wouldn't you know that a number of folks I work with at area farmers' markets have been asking their friendly-neighborhood food educator for recipes that use these most delicious of deep yellow and orange cucurbits. Of course, I always have the curried butternut squash soup recipe in my back pocket, but as you can probably guess by now I am always tinkering with ingredients and fiddling with recipes. A few weeks ago at the Bloomingdale farmers' market I was whipping up a few batches of a variation on the veggie alfredo pasta using sauteed delicata squash instead of bok choy (and substituting some cool weather parsley and chives for the summer basil). Then about a week later, while flipping through a copy of Bon Appetit at my parents' house following dad's birthday dinner, I came across a recipe for butternut squash macaroni and cheese... and decided to improve on it a bit.

(Yes, I just said that: "Let me just make this recipe published in an established foodie magazine better.")

I got a little overambitious with the portioning, so I called a couple of friends as I popped the delicious cheese-and-vegetably-pasta goodness into a deep baking dish and into the oven to bake last Monday night. My buddy Jeff showed up with a bottle of white wine an hour later. We barely made a dent in it, even as I sent him off with leftovers. After hearing about the heavenly mix of smoked cheese and garlicky bechamel laden squash the next day, my gentleman friend invited himself over for an impromptu dinner of leftovers on Wednesday evening. I sent Kenton off with leftovers as well, and by Friday I had just two servings left. These last bits were hungrily polished off during the brief lunch break that my co-teacher Sofiya and I had at the end of our week of teaching cooking at E.L. Haynes. (More on that week-long culinary instructional adventure in controlled chaos to come....)

For now, to warm your heart and your belly, I give you (friend tested, paramour approved)
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, Improved

Ingredients
  • 16 ounces (a bag or box) whole wheat pasta -- I used shells, but rigatoni, penne, or traditional elbow macaroni would be just as good
  • 1 medium butternut squash -- peeled, seeds removed, and cut into bite-sized chunks (1" or so big)
  • 1 delicata squash -- also peeled, seeds removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups milk -- raw, if you can get it
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 8 ounces (a block) of smoked gruyere cheese, grated -- this comes out to about 2 cups
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic -- peeled and minced
  • 1 leek -- washed well and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 handful (er, what is that, 1/4 cup?) breadcrumbs
  • 3 spoonfuls of butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F.

Saute leeks and garlic in a large pot with a spoonful of butter and cook over medium heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add squashes and 2 1/4 cups of milk. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and simmer until squash is tender (15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the pasta, according to package instructions, until cooked al dente (aka not mushy), then drain and set aside.

Whisk together 2 spoonfuls of butter and the 1/4 cup flour to make a paste, then stir in the remaining 1/4 cup milk and mix the resulting roux into the cooked squash mixture. Use an immersion blender (my preference -- I love that thing!), a food processor, or a regular blender to blend the squash-milk-flour mixture into a thick sauce.

Stir in the cheese and cooked noodles. Spread the whole thing into a large baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and pop it into the oven for a little while (20 minutes or so) until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are nice and browned.

It is just lovely with a simple tomato salad on the side and a glass of pinot grigio. (Jeff said so.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The sacred cow

This past Sunday, I had the good fortune to meet Ms. Sally Fallon (Morell) -- perhaps best known for founding the interesting and at times somewhat extreme Weston A. Price Foundation, but she will always live in my heart as the woman behind the awesome, activisty cookbook, Nourishing Traditions. And for her advocacy around legalizing raw milk -- which in the District is harder to lay one's hands on than hard drugs, apparently -- she is one of my heroes.

Somehow, over the course of the months we spent corresponding by email leading up to the free talk and potluck I was organizing for Slow Food DC, I managed not to gush too much. I refrained from going on embarrassingly about how much I adore that cookbook of hers, with its recipes for fermented foods and the joys of whole grains and unapologetic tirade against modern health trends. I mean, for heaven's sake, the subtitle of the book is "The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats." (Yes, it really says Diet Dictocrats in the title. Love it.) Unfortunately, my introduction of this local celebrity was a little gushy and awkward, but hopefully most folks forgot about that by the time Ms. Fallon got a few slides into her presentation.

Lord, I hate public speaking.

After some history of the research of Dr. Weston A, Price, whose work studying the links between health (specifically dental health) and diet in populations around the world, Sally -- hee, hee, I used her first name -- launched into a diatribe against the vacillating patterns that are the dietary/nutritional recommendations and health scares of our day. One day butter is bad. The next day it's good. Carbs are bad. No, wait, they are the main component of the USDA food pyramid, but a growing number of people can't properly digest contemporary commodity grains. Red meat is bad. Dairy is bad. Raw milk is dangerous. Fruit is too high in sugar. There's e coli on the spinach.... Aaaagh! What the heck are we supposed to think? Or eat??

After trashing processed foods (no arguments here) and maligning a series of new-fangled diets including vegetarianism (hey, though I do love my pastured bacon and grassfed lamb stew there's no need to hate on the veg lovers), Sally got to the meat (har, har) of her argument: we Americans have lost touch with what our bodies need, which is a complete diet that includes healthy fats. Things like lard. Yes. Lard. You know: Evil Ingredient #3, only bumped out of the top two spots by High Fructose Corn Syrup and Arsenic as things we should avoid putting into our bodies according to the folks telling us what to eat these days. Well, the lard from pastured animals is actually good for us. The junk they call lard that comes from animals raised in confinement is not. (For the record, I am not a fan of HFCS nor a proponent of arsenic consumption. I have been known to cook with lard on occasion.)

Now, I take these sorts of ideas, these calls to eat more meat and animal products with a grain of Salt (which, incidentally, is also not an inherently bad ingredient in moderation), and I was a little taken aback with how extreme her views were at times. However, Sally (hee, hee, I just called her Sally again) did have some good points. There are a lot of important nutrients we can get out of eating animal foods -- eggs, milk, butter, cheese, meat, and (though I squirm to think about it) offal -- but we need to raise our animals differently than we have been. Out on pasture, roaming and eating what they would normally eat rather than a steady diet of commodity corn as they're crammed shoulder to shoulder in a windowless cement building. Raising animals slowly, letting them put on weight naturally over time, and as a result having the flavor of the land they are raised on... these are Slow Food principles if I ever heard any. And since it takes so much more time and work to raise animals this way, the quality of the meat would be higher and the higher price of meat would mean that we would eat less of it overall. I imagine at the higher price, too, we would not want to waste any bits of it... including things like liver (which I would welcome my dad to eat my share of since he loves it).

Speaking of appreciating good food, who could turn down something as delectable as the raw milk cheese Ms. Fallon brought from her farm?


Yes, we had much to chew on -- literally and figuratively -- at the potluck that followed, including some of my beet risotto (this batch made with homemade, free-range chicken stock).


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ah, it's merely a flesh wound...

Well, it seems the annual tradition of me inadvertently slicing or stabbing myself in the hand continues.

Today's adventure involved a wickedly sharp chef's knife and some fresh herbs that got a little too close to my left thumb while I was chatting and chopping away, in the midst of making a delicata and chard alfredo dish at the Bloomingdale farmers' market....

Luckily, I am calm during self-inflicted wound crises. (I should be by now: don't tell me you have forgotten the incidents in 2010 and 2011 already.) After looking down at my suddenly slivered nail, I put down the knife, picked up a paper towel, put some pressure on the seeping cut, and made my way directly to the market information table. The market director, Robin, and nearby Big Bear Cafe owner, Stu, were both nearby and quick to supply me with first-aid supplies. I managed to stop the bleeding, rinse out the cut, and get bandaged and rubber-gloved by Stu within about five minutes before I was back to whisking the alfredo sauce.

I swear I am not a masochist and I am generally pretty good with knives. No really. Have you any idea how often I am wielding potentially dangerous kitchen implements? It's actually somewhat impressive that I only injure myself with sharp objects once every 600 times that I pick up a knife. Okay, fine, I made up that statistic, but it really isn't that often, all things considered.

Anyway, it'll heal. The sooner the better: using the Blackberry (TM) with one thumb and a forefinger is really awkward....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A kid will eat anything if dipping sauce is involved

At least this was my theory during the recipe planning stage of last Wednesday's cooking class with young kiddos in the anti-obesity program at the neighborhood health clinic. Tell me I am wrong: that a child will not be more likely to eat something if they can dip it into something else. Doesn't matter if it's ranch dressing or barbecue sauce or ketchup or a healthy dressing. The point is the dipping.

So after we collectively washed and chopped broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, onions, avocados, bell peppers, and string beans; once we'd juiced a bag of lemons and whisked olive oil and ground black pepper and torn fresh herbs; following our mincing of garlic, peeling of hard-boiled eggs, and draining of black beans; and subsequent to the rinsing and patting dry of our lettuce leaves that would be the base for our vegetarian wraps; we each dunked our "tortillas de lechuga rellenas y enrolladas" in one of four simple, healthy, just-made dips. Ha! If they only realized that was low-fat Greek yoghurt instead of sour cream. And they were positively guzzling the lemon herb concoction....


 

The vast majority of students came back for seconds, some under the auspices of trying out one of the other (surprisingly healthy, moo ha ha ha) dips. Some came back for thirds! I did feel a little bad when one of the adults told me later that the students had their physical activity after the snack session. Oops. Well, at least it was a light and healthy snack.... that hopefully did not end up regurgitated all over the 3rd floor of the Upper Cardozo Health Clinic.

The low-carb wraps and cut up raw veggies were a hit! I attribute it to the hands-on nature of the class. I consistently find that folks young and old alike (but especially the young) are more willing to try -- and also more likely to enjoy -- food that they've had a hand in preparing. But just as important, I will concede, is the appeal of dipping stuff into a sauce of some sort. (I know plenty of grown-up kids who could be similarly cajoled. Heck, half the reason I ordered chicken wings tonight at Boundary Stone's one-year anniversary celebration was because of the bleu cheese dipping sauce. I am no purist, though I did check first to be sure that the now-wingless chickens were local and free-range. The waitress couldn't tell me the name of the farm, but I only realized that after beer #2. But I digress....)

Should you want some inspiration for some irresistible dipping sauces to get yourself or a picky eater in your house to eat more veggies, try one or more of these on for size:

Dipping sauce ideas

1) Lemony and tart:
In a jar, shake together 3 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon lemon juice + pinch of salt & pepper + handful of fresh herbs, minced + 1 clove garlic, minced (optional).

2) Creamy and savory:
Combine ¼ cup plain Greek yoghurt + pinch of salt + ½ teaspoon of curry powder OR hot sauce OR a handful of fresh mint, chopped.

3) Nutty and spicy:Whisk together ½ small onion, minced + 2 tablespoons oil + 2 garlic cloves, minced + ½ cup water + ¼ cup creamy peanut butter + 1 tablespoon chili powder + 2 tablespoons lemon juice +  2 tablespoons soy sauce.
(Whisk in a few spoonfuls of olive oil to any of these to make a delicious dressing for a salad, too.)


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Surgeon hands

"What's the first thing a good cook does before doing anything else in the kitchen? Right! She washes her hands with soap and water...."

Thus began the cooking portion of the class of twenty-six 3rd graders earlier this week. And you'd better believe the groups I am teaching Thursday and Friday will be practicing good hygiene, too. I mean, schools are veritable germ factories and elementary school students seem particularly prone to regular nose wiping and shoelace tying and virus smearing. (While I have mostly gotten past my hypochondriac tendencies, I also know that I am a terrible sick person... too impatient... and I have classes to teach!) Half of the stuff we'd be eating at the end of class was going to be chopped and served raw, to be dipped in the (also raw) pesto we were making. So before they even headed over to the sinks, I made sure my young sous chefs knew that they were grown up enough to practice "surgeon hands."

Yep, visualize a roomful of 8-year-olds walking around with their hands up in front of their faces, bent at 90 degrees from the elbows and carefully scooting out their chairs using one foot and you could be a fly on the wall of the FoodPrints classroom last Monday. "You're in third grade now," I told them, very seriously as I demonstrated, thankfully without tripping over the chair myself, "so I know you can handle this." And they could. Hands-free chair scooting? No problem! Self-directed hand rewashing? Like clockwork. I noticed a few of them patiently tapping a tablemate on the shoulder and pointing out that there had been an inadvertent face scratch or nose rub or hair adjustment, that it would be wise for the (mildly) accused to rewash and come back with surgeon hands. "If you need to touch anything," I overheard one student matter-of-factly reminding another one, "hold on to your other clean hand."

Love it.

I probably should have followed my own advice and not been nibbling on the remains of my own plate of food while packing up the classroom and wiping down tables after class ended. Well, I wasn't making food for other people at that point. If I get sick, it's my own fault. (Do what I say, not what I do....)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chocolate-covered bacon

I'll bet this post gets a lot more google search hits than usual. Why? Because it is FREAKING DELICIOUS.

I will admit that most things taste better when either bacon or dark chocolate are involved. Using both is almost -- almost but not quite -- too much. Behold: Smith Meadows pastured bacon slathered in Green & Black's 80% dark chocolate.

This was the spectacular final course during the celebratory dinner I had with my friends Michelle and Forrest after helping out at the family farm part of last week in nearby Berryville, VA. After a long day of serious apple picking, chicken coop painting, egg gathering, sassafras hunting, and maybe just a little late afternoon napping, Michelle let me play with some truly beautiful ingredients in the kitchen. The homemade pasta and tomato-gin-bacon sauce were a great start, and the pickled veggies and (flat -- alas!) pumpkin beer were good complements, but the highlight of the meal was the dessert course... in three parts.

I am not big on dessert eating, certainly not in large quantities, but tell me honestly: if you had to choose between roasted-then-chocolate-dipped garlic cloves, just-baked apple pie, and bacon covered in dark chocolate, would you be able to not at least make a little sampler plate? It was divine, we agreed, as Forrest first regaled us with some points from his upcoming book -- if it is truly the intersection of The Princess Bride, The Ominvore's Dilemma, and A River Runs Through It like it sounds to be shaping up as, I will get myself in line for an autographed copy -- and then whipped out the guitar for an impromptu singalong. What a fun visit. Work hard, play hard, sing loud, eat well. My kind of people.

(I wonder if Michelle noticed that I gobbled up most of the leftover chocolate bacon as I carried snack supplies out to the truck at 5am to catch a ride back into the city with the farmers' market crew the next morning....)

Should you want to get some of your very own local, pastured bacon and endear yourself to friends and loved ones with a batch of chocolate-covered bacon, here's where you can get some of the good stuff.

Instructions: cook bacon, cool bacon, have a beer and rest a bit, dunk bacon in melted chocolate, chill to set chocolate, devour.

Rushing the Saison

Okay, fine, so I may or may not have happened to stop by Meridian Pint last night, where the judging of the DC State Fair homebrew competition was taking place. And my charming companion, Kenton, may or may not have wandered off from the main bar area away from the men's room "by mistake" in the general direction of where we suspected the judging might be happening. Fear not, though various friends have offered to try and sway the judges' opinions in my favor, I have not in any way tampered with whatever the outcome will be. No, I am confident that once they taste my very first beer, with pumpkin grown not five blocks from the site where my inaugural homebrew -- along with as many as 99 other DC-area submissions -- was first tasted by the professionals, they will conclude that the "Rushing the Saison Pumpkin Ale" is undeniably delicious.

Well, assuming I didn't somehow end up giving them one of the uncarbonated bottles.... Eep.

The first taste I had of the much-anticipated pumpkin ale was with my friend Jessica last Monday, after we finished canning a whole mess of tomatoes at her place. It was, in a word, DELICIOUS. Nice color, nice body, nice flavor, not overly pumpkinny....


Then Kenton and I, while we were finalizing the name of this most homegrown of homebrews, split a bottle a few nights later. Again, though slurped surreptitiously out of travel coffee mugs downtown and thus enjoyed in a less than optimal drinking vessel, the beer was quite delicious. I was perhaps getting a little cocky. Oh, I should know better by now....

Then, as part of the celebratory final dinner with my friends Michelle and Forrest out at their farm in Berryville on Friday night, we cracked open a bottle of chilled pumpkin beer goodness and... it was flat! (More on that stellar dinner later, though I cannot help but mention that dark-chocolate-covered, local, pastured bacon was one of three desserts involved. It would have been perfect with a nice, carbonated pumpkin ale to wash it down.) It didn't taste bad, exactly, but it just wasn't great. Hmmm.

Well, here's hoping that everything turned out alright with the homebrew competition. Assuming that they followed my very specific instructions to drink it cold, and I didn't manage to inadvertently submit 3 flat 12-ounce bottles of the RTS pumpkin ale, I think we have a good shot at winning... something. I'll find out when they make the big announcement at the fair proper on Saturday afternoon! (By the way, I wonder how someone gets on that panel of judges....)

Many thanks to all who helped brew, bottle, name, and taste my very first batch! (Don't worry, dad, I'm saving a 6-pack of it for your birthday dinner in a few weeks.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Er, your salad is moving

I love when I have a chance to hang out with my cousin Caroline. It doesn't happen nearly as often as I would like, to be sure (and it's certainly harder since she stopped living in Queens and I no longer reside in Brooklyn). But I make it out to the Poconos to help her and Farmer Gary once or twice a year. Mostly around harvesting and festival time. You know, when there's lots of chocolate and garlic around.

I like helping on the farm itself, but most of my favorite times are in the kitchen making and sharing meals. Such amazing ingredients to play with: venison, freshly dug potatoes and carrots and beets, heirloom tomatoes and garlic, garple, homemade maple syrup, shiitakes from the logs they started a few years ago, edible flowers, and herbs galore. Mmm mmm mmm. And Gary and Caroline are quite the conversationalists.


During my final meal of this most recent visit, in the midst of an intense discussion about raw fish and pickled meats -- neither on the menu that night, thankfully -- I was about to stab a roasted beet with my fork when a squiggly green caterpillar meandered out of a nearby nasturtium on my plate. Guess I shouldn't harvest salad ingredients after dark without a flashlight, eh?

A few years ago, I might've freaked out a little bit. These days, I simply reflected on how the invertebrate still has more backbone than the last guy I dated. (At least the caterpillar has the excuse of having no opposable thumbs to be able to pick up the phone....) I delicately plucked the errant wriggler and moved him away from my salad and onto the table while continuing my defense of sushi as delicious. Didn't even lose my appetite. Imagine that!

(In case you're wondering, Gary eventually moved the little guy into the compost bin -- aka leaf-eater paradise. And, also in case you're wondering, no, I don't normally overlook lepidoptera when preparing food for others.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

When nature attacks

I was just minding my own business, humming quietly to myself while picking some zinnias at cousin Caroline's farm when I found myself suddenly and inexplicably under attack. Who does that?? I mean, seriously, what kind of self-respecting bee stings a woman behind her ear? Jerk.


I wonder if it might be the long lost cousin of this guy....

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Que Rico!

Last Sunday, I led yet another bilingual cooking demo, this time at the Bloomingdale Farmers Market – one of my other favorite markets around town. And this time, it was an interactive cooking demonstration. It was all part of the group visit with some of the families involved with the exciting Fruit and Vegetable Prescription pilot program. Well, I hadn't intended for it to be quite as interactive as it was, but when the opportunity presented itself, I went with it. I am a go-with-the-flow kind of girl.

As the moms shopped, and after I picked up ingredients from Truck Patch and Mountain View Farm, I found myself entertaining the kiddos while I set up to make cold zucchini noodles, chatting and joking with them in Spanish and English. First one precocious young man asked if he could help. Then another. Then suddenly there were five of them. "Okay, okay," I conceded, "but everyone who is going to touch food here has to wash their hands. Ah! And with soap!" I shouted as they scampered into Big Bear Cafe one after the other, coming back with reports of each other's hygienic diligence. "Todos listos? Okay, let's get started...."

With assistants to peel the squash and zucchini, juice the lemons, measure out the olive oil (oh, if only they knew how I generally neglect measuring, they'd maybe reconsider their precision), remove the basil and parsley leaves from the stems, we made the first batch of Fideos de Calabacin in less than 15 minutes.

 fvrx kiddos at bfm - 26 aug 2012

“Que rico!” I heard from the mothers who stopped by to taste the fruit of our collaborative labors. “Vamos a cocinar esto a casa?” was answered with nodded assent from the 7- to 10-year-olds. I also heard a number of mothers chat about a return trip to this pleasant, friendly Sunday market, where nutrition assistance benefits are not only accepted but matched up to $10 each weekend. Healthy food, happy families. Sweet.

What's that? Oh. You want to know how to make this most simple and delicious of cold zucchini dishes... possibly with your kiddo(s)? Here's how:

Zucchini Noodles (aka Fideos de Calabacin)
Using a vegetable peeler, carefully slice the zucchini lengthwise, starting at one end and ending on the other end. As you peel closer to the center of the zucchini, turn the zucchini over and start peeling again from the opposite side. You can use a sharp knife to cut slices into thinner strips if you like, though a julienne peeler makes for the most consistent, skinny strips. These “noodles” are great COLD as a salad or HOT as a low-calorie substitute for pasta.

COLD ZUCCHINI SALAD
Make a dressing of juice from 1 lemon (about 3 Tablespoons), 4 Tablespoons olive oil, and 1/2 cup sliced or chopped fresh herbs (basil, mint, and/or parsley). Toss raw “noodles” with dressing and let marinate for 15-30 minutes. Variations: toss with 3-4 handfuls of lettuce or arugula. Sprinkle on 1/4 cup crumbled feta.

HOT ZUCCHINI “PASTA”

Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add zucchini/squash “noodles” to the boiling water and cook very quickly, just 1-2 minutes until tender, but not mushy. Drain then toss with a little butter or olive oil, fresh herbs, and fresh peas or cherry tomatoes. You can also simply top with your favorite pasta sauce (or make some fresh pasta sauce with fresh tomatoes, the chopped up remains of your zucchini, herbs, and lots of garlic).

[Photo courtesy of Kealy Rudersdorf]