Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The lanes they are a-changin'

Come gather ‘round cyclists, if in DC you roam,
And admit that the dark clouds above you have grown.
Best accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
‘Cause your raingear you’d left home this mornin’…
Well, you’d better start pedalin’ or you’ll never get home,
For the weather’s about to be stormin’.

Watch out for the cars double-parked in your lane,
And keep your eyes wide ‘cause they’ll park there again
(‘Specially if it’s rush hour and pouring down rain) –
Oh, there’s no tellin’ who just might door ya’!
For the taxi in front of you is likely insane,
And, oh, look, the weather is stormin’.

Come city officials, please heed the call:
How about a few bike lanes near the national mall
For those who’d get hurt from a serious fall
When a metrobus turns without warnin’?
So we can’t be a state yet, but please don’t drop the ball!
Oh, the weather? Thank global warmin’.

Dear pedestrians standing there right in the street,
Does that look like a safe place to stick out your feet?
Why not stand on the sidewalk, or in the crosswalk at least?
Oh, and now look, a bus queue is forming…
Please get out of the bike lane or you’re gonna get creased!
You’ve officially gotten your warning.

My advice has been given, my curses been said
(Though admittedly most of them just in my head):
Rather than swerve right at us, maybe yield instead?
What a concept, I know it sounds corny.
So butt out of the bike lane and let me please get ahead –
Hope this parody has been informing.
(I’m talking to you, drivers and pedestrians who think you own the street… Sheesh….)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Spread it around

Officially, I am not a fan of climate change, but yesterday's warm sunshine in the mid 60s made it a little hard to resist smiling. Being in the out-of-doors, leading a bevy of excited pre-teens, with my hands in the dirt for much of the afternoon -- it was just delightful. After a productive hour and a half of taking soil samples and building a raised bed and planting strawberries and spinach in the garden with my middle school group at Drew Freeman, a dozen of us washed up and strolled back into the classroom just in time to help Ms. Matthews and the class chefs out with the eating of our healthy snack of the day: black bean hummus with pita bread, blue corn tortilla chips, and a plethora of freshly cut up veggies. (They do love chopping, these young cooks.) Who knew these kids would love hummus? They certainly didn't...until they made it themselves and tasted it. The bowl was wiped pretty clean.

Afterwards, I realized that the teachers were as excited about the rich, creamy dip as the students were. It was that good. And inexpensive. And healthy. And, well, should you want to make your own, here's the ridiculously easy recipe, adapted from Cooking Light:

Black Bean Hummus
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 TBSP lemon juice (freshly squeezed using one of these cool gadgets, if you have one)
2 TBSP tahini (roasted sesame seed paste)
2 tsp ground cumin (kids seem to like using the mortar and pestle...)
½ tsp salt
2 15-ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
small jalapeno pepper, chopped
a handful of fresh cilantro, washed (optional to remove stems)
4 tsp olive oil

Put garlic, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, salt, black beans, jalapeno pepper, and cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. You may need to add in 1-2 TBSP olive oil to make it creamy. Scoop out the spread into a bowl and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Serve with sliced fresh vegetables, pita bread, or bagel chips.

You know, with the weather so warm like this, you might need to break out a bowl of this at a picnic in the not-too-distant future. I'm just sayin'... Spread it around!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A twist on your usual alfredo

One of the best things about volunteering with Brainfood is that you get to eat delicious food at the end of every class... unless you have to leave early.

After smelling chocolate banana cake and grapefruit cake with cream cheese frosting cooling on the countertop and discussing next week's workshop where the Brainfood MVPs will be teaching local middle schoolers how to make low-cal chicken and broccoli alfredo, I was STARVING. But alas, I had to get myself to UDC before the end of our session today and thus I left sans cake. (So sad.) Somehow the kale salad, carrot, and hard-boiled egg I brought for dinner during master gardening class tonight didn't do much to curb the grumbling in my tummy. I got home, still STARVING, around 10pm and started to rummage through my fridge with alfredo on the brain....

Lemons: check. Neufchatel (admittedly kind of random): check. Parmesan: check. Garlic, milk, fettuccine noodles: check, check, check. Broccoli... um... no. Chicken... um... no. Parsley... well, a bit... I think there's some out in the coldframe, which I could mix together with some of the recently maligned (but, to be fair, pretty tasty) cutting celery. Maybe there's something I could do with that baby bok choy I picked up from the Dupont market this weekend....

In the end, I concocted quite a delectable plate of pasta for my late-night Mardi Gras dinner, scarfed before I even got out my camera to snap a photo to include with the recipe. I can say with certainty that the creamy, lemony sauce was simply divine. Maybe not as good as the famous Madeira sauce, but maybe a reasonably close second, and a way faster and less labor-intensive recipe than the usual. Here's how to make your own in less than 20 minutes:

Creamy Lemon Fettuccine Alfredo with Bok Choy
(serves 2)

1-2 baby bok choy, washed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
½ box fettuccine noodles
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
zest from 1 lemon, freshly grated
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk (don't talk to me about skim milk, you're lucky this isn't cream)
½ tsp sea salt
2 tablespoons neufchatel (or low-fat cream cheese)
grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper
a handful of fresh parsley (and cutting celery, if you like), finely chopped
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add noodles. Cook for 10-12 minutes. (Or use fresh noodles and cook for 3-4 minutes.) During the last 3 or 4 minutes of the pasta boil, toss bok choy into the pot as well. (And Ryan teases me for how many dishes I use. Psh. I just prevented using an additional pot here -- a little credit, please!) While the pasta and bok choy cook, sip on a glass of something tasty and start making the sauce....

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemon zest and saute for about 1 minute. Add in the flour and whisk until fragrant, about 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and salt and cook, whisking constantly, until just thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the neufchatel and parmesan cheese and whisk until creamy, about 1 minute. Stir in a few grinds of fresh black pepper and the chopped parsley.

Drain pasta and cooked bok choy and stir into the alfredo sauce. Serve topped with a bit more grated parmesan.

Oh, my, that was delicious. I've nearly all of the ingredients to make another batch this week. Maybe I'll try mixing in some sauteed strips of sweet potato with the bok choy. Heck, you could add just about anything to this and it would be delicious: broccoli, chicken, peas, cauliflower....

Happy cooking! Let me know if you try it out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Making space

Are these gorgeous, or what?


This past week, I harvested turnips from my coldframe -- the first real, non-parsley-trimming harvest of the season -- and boy were they delicious. The turnips themselves were quickly sliced and tossed into my favorite jar of pickling solution in the fridge, and the greens made a special appearance with some goat cheese atop big bowls of beet risotto. Boy were those greens good, so fresh and fuzzy and spicy.... Mmmm....

You may notice that there are some little baby strawberry plants in the coldframe. (That sad looking cutting celery in the planter? Pay it no mind, we're not on speaking terms right now.) In fact, I had to pick my winter hardy turnips to make space for the little berry cuttings that I'd harvested with Sarah while we were thinning her strawberry patch over at Walker Jones Farm on Tuesday afternoon -- thanks, Sarah! Talk about a generous farmer:

Yes, strawberries. And you know what that means: warm weather is on the way... eventually. I had to wrap some burlap blankets around the little guys on Saturday night, but the leaves were looking pretty good this afternoon when I came back from helping some friends build a greenhouse. These little plants'll be hiding out from the overnight freezes until they get transplanted at Drew Freeman middle school next week... Stay tuned for how that goes....

Friday, February 17, 2012

A food gallery walk with Brainfood

Last week marked Brainfood's first ever Community MVPs Open House and Food Fair, and boy was it a fun (and delicious) event! Though the group taught their first workshop at Walker Jones Elementary this fall, for many in attendance this was their first opportunity to see the peer nutrition educators hosting food demos and leading a special event.

As I and the Brainfood staff and volunteers stood by, beaming, students welcomed friends and family and interested community supporters, explaining their plans to make an impact on the DC community: teaching people how to prepare healthy, tasty food. Following a narrated slide show, attendees roamed the meeting space on a kind of "gallery walk" of food. Small groups of students at a series of stations discussed healthy alternative ingredients in the (tofu) berry smoothies and (low-fat) creamy potato soup, then handed out samples for folks to try.

They demonstrated how to dredge chicken in cornflakes for "fake flake" baked chicken strips and how to melt chocolate in a double boiler for "trick-or-treat" brownies. They explained how the simple, from-scratch brownie batter had been blended with carrots and spinach to boost the nutrition content that even the pickiest eater would be hard pressed to identify. (So sneaky and chocolaty! Oooh, I can't wait to try out that recipe on a few of my own students who claim to not like vegetables....)

You can't tell from these pics, but in fact just off to the left of the camera there was quite a crowd. Still, there was plenty of food for us to nibble on at each station, and a cornucopia of goodies to eat on the buffet table -- pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, homemade poptarts, spinach artichoke dip, stuffed potato skins. Nobody went home hungry. Actually, I'm pretty sure most people went home well fed and looking forward to seeing the talented teens in Brainfood's second year program ramping up their work with local schools, community groups, and farmers' markets this spring and summer. I know I was.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Schooled by school children?

Last Wednesday marked the fifth Sustainable DC meeting since Mayor Gray gave his opening remarks at the inaugural gathering back in November. Session 5 was the first meeting to reconvene members of all 9 working groups for a larger sharing session on what we've been up to in our specific work areas. "Oh, boy," I mumbled to myself as lactic acid built up in my legs along the near endless uphill stretch of Tilden Street on my bike ride to UDC amid wind and sleet on Wednesday night, "another whah-whah-whah-whah, talkety-talk, official meeting where everyone blathers on in government speak and pretends to care about sustainability and then nobody actually does anything." And yet... as much as I dread these sorts of government-talking-and-little-action sorts of gatherings, I must say that I was surprised and impressed with what my peers -- a pretty good cross-section of DC citizens and advocates and, yes, a handful of city government officials -- had to say about what our city needs and ways we can get to a more sustainable way of living here in the nation's capital.

I know, I wouldn't have believed it had I not been sitting in the UDC auditorium myself.

There were some darn good goals and specific action items put forth by each of the working groups. After we heard each group's vision statement and their recommendations for the top 10 high impact changes needed in areas like water and waste management, food, nature, energy, green economies, and the built environment, DC residents circulated around a series of stations just outside of the auditorium -- each with a giant poster of possible goals and action items for a given topic -- and voted on overall priorities... using stickers, of which each attendee had exactly 25... just like we used to vote with in the 4th grade. (Only with less of an obvious black market sticker trade, perhaps.) Everyone had equal say -- democracy in action, for better or worse -- and it was fascinating to see how folks voted, which items outside of their own group's work garnered support. I can certainly say that I hadn't anticipated using so many stickers on transportation priorities, but that group had some excellent ideas.

Collectively, we voted for things like increasing double dollars at farmers' markets across the city (yeah, that got more than one of my stickers). Things like offering incentives to retrofit old buildings to be more energy efficient, requiring government agencies to source food locally, insisting that food businesses use biodegradable packaging. (Where am I, Portlandia?? It could happen.) Things like implementing a city-wide, 3-stream waste collection system to collect separated trash, recyclables, and compostables. Frankly, I am baffled as to why we don't already have a 3-stream system and am resisting the urge to look up how long the much larger city of San Francisco has had such a system in place. It's not hard, people, I've been doing with my middle school garden club since October. (Occasionally an apple core will end up in the recycling bin, but we're working on that.)

We've 4 more working group sessions to go over the next 2 months. There's a lot of potential here, some good ideas and momentum. I'm curious to see what the city government actually *does* with our collective ideas and votes. I've yet to see or hear any kind of follow-up from Councilman Wells' similarly ambitious urban agriculture public hearing last December, and I worry that our current mayor may similarly lose the good faith of the citizenry if he does not follow through with meaningful and timely actions.

It's not rocket science. I know some 7th graders that could offer some practical recommendations on how to live more sustainably.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A contest: give 'em the slip!

Rest assured that there will be a few blogposts coming up quite soon -- on the Sustainable DC initiative, on seed starting workshops, on master gardening classes, on beer brewing and bread baking and more -- but for now I think it's time for a little contest, New Yorker magazine style.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to come up with a caption for this photo, taken during my ride up the 11th Street bike lane here in Northwest DC. I'll pick a winner next week and send along a little something fun -- prize TBA, depending on how amusing the winning entry is.

Deadline for entries: Feb 21. Yes, Fat Tuesday. (Not to be confused with Flat Tuesday -- last week marked flat #5 since my return to DC. *sigh*)

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In search of a better bike route mapping tool

"Dear Google Bike Maps staff,
Please remove South Capitol Street from all possible bike route options in Washington, DC. That road is barely fit for cars; it is a total disaster for some poor schmuck on a bicycle...."

Now, I'll admit that I've ridden around the country on all manner of inappropriate roads for a bicycle. Shoulderless truck routes, 10-mile-long gravel paths, steep and often shoulderless Highway 1 down the Pacific coastline, the occasional stretch of interstate highway across New Mexico and Texas (which was actually legal, if you can believe it). But these perhaps foolhardy route choices were made before google launched the supposedly ever-improving bike mapping feature that I've come to rely on quite heavily in recent months. Well, I think the mappers need more feedback, because there are a few "suggested" roads I've discovered lately that a bicycle has no business being on. Ever. Like South Capitol Street in Anacostia. I count myself lucky to be alive to tell the tale. Bikers, beware!

[Note: The other suggested google bike route from where I was departing in Eastern Market involved Suitland Parkway, which, having been on it in a car numerous times on my way out to Drew-Freeman Middle School, I recognize as a road that only a cyclist with suicidal tendencies would tackle. Yet somehow that red flag did not elicit suspicion about South Capitol Street. Oh, silly Ibti....]

My foray with Ollie down a 2.5-mile stretch of South Capitol Street last Wednesday to get to Patterson Elementary was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had. (I know exactly how far it was, thanks to the snazzy new bike computer from Ryan -- a replacement for the one stolen at the farmers' market just before Christmas. I'm glad that the bike computer and I were not reduced to chalk outlines on the asphalt after our misguided adventure.) Going over the 11th Street Bridge under construction was scary enough on the 2-foot-wide sidewalk alongside speeding SUVs, but all was not lost... yet. (Am I losing my nerve a bit, getting soft with the comparatively easy city riding? Ah, who am I kidding, I'm not so tough. It is more likely my latent chickenheartedness emerging once again.)

Anyway, things seemed somewhat smooth with a nicely paved half mile of dedicated bike path along the Anacostia once I crossed the bridge into Southeast and it was a beautiful, sunny day after all. Then the bike path ended abruptly, so I rode on the sidewalk. See how calm and adaptable I was? Not even swearing... yet. Then the sidewalk simply ended, so I shook my head and crossed South Capitol (at a crosswalk: safety first!) to ride on the opposite sidewalk. Then that ended, too. I took a deep breath and crossed back over to ride on the right-hand road shoulder. Then that ended, so I crossed over to the left-hand road shoulder, now starting to really sweat as cars zoomed past. Thank god I was not there during rush hour, because right as I crossed under 295 that road shoulder ended, too. I will concede a few expletives and a few yelps of fear escaped as I saw the yellow line on my right scooting ever closer to the concrete barrier on my left. I decided that the safest option at this point was to cut over three lanes to ride in the right lane of the now sidewalkless, shoulderless road. Yes, that was the safest option. What the...? But things were looking more residential about a quarter mile ahead. Yes, I do believe I spied a sidewalk and the road appeared to get smaller, so I persevered.

I'm so glad I did. The school visit wound up being a delightful hour of singing and dancing and nibbling and talking about food with a fabulous group of preschoolers and a cadre of amazing teachers. I happily accepted a ride back to Columbia Heights with Vera afterwards, with Ollie lying comfortably in the car's spacious trunk. I also decided that next time I head out that way, I'm taking the metro.