Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Garlic scape season is here!

You know you are a food educator -- and not a graphic designer -- when you find yourself making pictures like this one, just cobbled together moments ago for a friend who tends a nearby community garden plot. This pathetic excuse for a how-to diagram was too hilarious for me not to share here.

But it's garlic scape season, and I was worried she might accidentally snip too much (perhaps cutting off the leaves and thus harming the developing bulb) or too little (wasting the single, delicious scape each plant produces) without me there to guide her. (I swear I am not a control freak.) "Once you snip one or two," I told my students at Drew-Freeman last Monday as I demonstrated harvesting garlic scapes that were fated to end up in some delicious, spicy salad dressing during our final class/celebration/harvest, "you'll get the hang of it." And they did.

Actually, some of the teachers who helped out all year will be tasting some of the fruits of our garlicky labors tomorrow, when I bring them small jars of pesto made with the remaining Drew-Freeman scapes and some greens from my own little garden plot out back. No basil, though, thanks to some nefarious rodent that took a liking to the leaves of my little baby basil transplants in the garden. Bah. Who says pesto needs to be made with basil, anyway? I laugh in the face of culinary convention, and boldly claim here -- right in black and white (or whatever this font shows up as in your browser) -- that you can make pesto in near endless variations. And I did.This is a little more adventurous than the admittedly-perhaps-already-adventurous swiss chard pesto I posted here awhile back.

"Whatever's Around" Pesto

Combine in a food processor and blend together:
1. something garlicky: a few cloves of garlic (peeled) or a handful of garlic scapes
2. something leafy and green: a few cups of fresh basil, spinach, swiss chard, parsley -- go nuts!
(Speaking of nuts....)
3. a handful of some kind of nut: walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, pine nuts
4. a couple glugs of olive oil (or, heck, you can try other oils if you like)
5. a handful of shaved or grated salty cheese: parmesan, pecorino, asiago (or omit, to make it vegan)
6. a pinch of salt

The possibilities are almost endless! And so are pesto's uses! Toss some in with cooked pasta, slathered on a grilled cheese sandwich, mixed into salad dressing for a pasta salad, as a marinade for chicken or fish.... Lord, I love pesto.

I did draw the line when my friend and colleague, Jessica, suggested a peanut and kale pesto, but I am glad that she disregarded my recommendation to abandon the idea because I later learned her family LOVED it. (See? I can admit when I'm not right. It doesn't happen often, though.) ;)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Irresistible chocolate zucchini cake

So it appears that the mild winter we had this year in DC means that zucchini is in season earlier than usual. Let me guess: you're worried about the inevitable onslaught of these prolific cucurbits, these sneaky but delicious vegetables that seem to spontaneously multiply in the crisper each time you close the refrigerator door from the moment they come into season. Well never fear, I have a recipe that will have you eating more zucchini than you ever thought you would, and looking for more. (Quite the claim, yes.)

I have had plenty of opportunities to test out this theory in recent days. I couldn't resist the gorgeous, slender green veggies at the Pleitez Produce stand at the Columbia Heights farmers' market last weekend and got a little carried away. (Their tomatoes were pretty stellar, too: I had to make an emergency tureen of garlicky caper pasta sauce the other night, as I began to fear I'd overbought and the luscious nightshades would be lost to the growing population of fruit flies hanging around my apartment. But back to the focus of this post: zucchini!) The other day, I began to tinker with my recently perfected chocolate zucchini cake recipe and brought some chocolatey goodness to a little gathering with the Bittersweet ladies. A significant amount of zucchini remained, so I made a second cake this weekend for a Sunday afternoon barbecue in Takoma Park with my friends Kevin and Dina.

Who can resist chocolate zucchini cake? And that frosting?? Nobody so far.... I certainly can't. You'll want to tuck this one into your recipe card file (or whatever the digital equivalent of that is these days). Inspired by the original sheet cake recipe on my friend Beth's cooking blog, I give you:

Ibti's Best Chocolate Zucchini Cake

A surprisingly healthy, moist, decadent treat. (Well, the frosting isn’t particularly “healthy” in the traditional sense, but it’s good for the soul.)


2 cups flour (1 cup all-purpose + 1 cup whole wheat flour), sifted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp instant espresso powder (optional)
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBSP maple syrup
4 eggs
3/4 cup olive oil
1 ½ cups applesauce
6-7 oz. dark chocolate, melted and cooled
3 cups grated zucchini (you can use a mix of yellow squash and zucchini, if needed)


Butter and flour 2 round (8”-9") cake pans. Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, brown sugar, cocoa, coffee, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add the maple syrup, eggs, oil, applesauce, and melted chocolate. Mix well. Fold zucchini into the batter until evenly incorporated.

Pour half of the batter into each of the baking pans. Lick the spoon. Bake cakes for about 50 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean). Cool cakes completely before frosting and devouring.

Chocolate frosting

Combine equal parts softened butter, powdered sugar, and cocoa. You may want to splash in a bit of cream (whipping, but not whipped) to make it creamy. Slather it on each of the cakes and/or make a 2-layer cake. So good.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The next generation of strawberry lovers

I spent yesterday afternoon getting mobbed by 3rd graders climbing over each other (and, at times, me) to find the picture of a strawberry on the seasonal food poster, count the number of green berries on the demonstration strawberry plant, and tell me how much they loved the juicy red berries that were in their lunches that day at school. Yes, it was the annual DC Farm to School Network's "Strawberries and Salad Greens" day at Tubman Elementary.

Lettuce was a harder sell. And, oddly, the demonstration plants I had were harder for the students to identify.
"What is that one?" I'd ask.
"It's a plant, " they would answer.
"Yes, what kind of plant?" I would push a little further.
"A plant with leaves." Yes, well.
"Well, most plants have leaves. We usually use these leaves in salad. Can you guess what kind of plant it is?"
"A salad plant." Not an eyelash batted.
"It starts with an 'L'," I'd offer.
"It's lettuce."
"Lettuce! Hey, it's lettuce! Can I have my sticker now? I want to go get some more strawberries."

I think we're going to have to work a little harder on cultivating salad eaters. Maybe they'd like some of the strawberry-laden spinach and kale salads we've been making at the Columbia Heights farmers' market lately. Yep, I think local strawberries are the portal to a lifetime of loving fresh fruits and vegetables.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bike to Work day is this Friday!

So, admittedly, every day is bike to work day for me. Hmmm. Not as catchy on a t-shirt, I suppose. Anyway, sounds like a fun-filled day for area bikers. Sign up. Win stuff. Ride with lots of other cyclists along DC's growing number of bike lanes (and lots of other streets that should have them). More details are here.

(Hold on. Is that cyclist in the logo wearing a helmet?)

Friday, May 11, 2012

You may be a bike messenger if...

1. your day involves dashing into various print shops to pick up fliers, posters, and banners and then transporting them across town on your bicycle.
2. you find yourself hurtling downtown in rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon to get to the UPS Store to pick up that last, critical package before the shop closes for the day.
3. you treat red lights as stop signs. (Hopefully the metropolitan police department does not follow this blog. Though if that is the case, officers, please look into ticketing those SUVs that regularly park in the 15th Street bike lane.)

No, don't worry, I have not acquired yet another job -- I still only have six. Today's bike-courier-like schedule was due to the final day of rushing around to get everything ready for tomorrow's opening day at the Columbia Heights farmers' market.

The guys at the UPS Store were pretty impressed as I described how I planned to transport the 3 three-foot by six-foot banners back home on my bike. "That's a real woman there. I wouldn't even know how to get something like that on a bike. You're really going to put that on your bicycle?? You know, I think she's calling us out." Yes, sir, maybe a little bit. I could try and make some kind of quiver out of a cardboard tube and my scarf and sling it over my shoulder, but no need to get too crazy: really, you just need a couple of panniers and some bungee cords. I always travel with a few extra bungee cords these days. (Oh, if only they saw the gear I hauled around the country for more than a year....) It's not that hard. For heaven's sake, the banners even roll up.

I made it home safely and had a beer on the back patio and did a little early evening gardening to celebrate. I'd have taken a victory lap if my legs weren't spent from the uphill ride back. In truth I could never be a bike messenger. I mean for starters, I wear a helmet. And I look with disdain upon death traps (aka fixed-gear bicycles). And I don't go the wrong way down one-way streets. And that swerving in and out of traffic? That's not me. See? I'd never make it as a messenger. Better stick to being a short haul trucker. And a teacher. And a writer. And a curriculum developer. And an outreach specialist. And a distribution manager....

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Short Haul Trucker

Yesterday was my first shift picking up and delivering CSA shares for White House Meats in their refrigerated van.

What’s that? A meat CSA? Yes. Usually Community Supported Agriculture shares consist of weekly boxes of fresh, local fruits and vegetables, but they don’t have to be fruits and veggies. I’ve heard of everything from an all-herb CSA to a pie CSA to, well, a friend of mine was even talking about doing a beer CSA. (Sign me up! And dad wants a double share.) The point is you're supporting local producers and getting a high quality of a variety of tasty goodies. White House Meats approached me a few months ago to see if I could help them start up a local, grassfed meat CSA to market their pastured beef, chicken, pork, and lamb to folks in DC. I’ve tasted their wares – good stuff. How could I resist the chance to get out of the city to visit farms one day a week, yap with farmers, pick up delicious, Ibti-approved meat, then bring it back into the city and talk with folks about how to cook it? We decided on an 8-week trial run to gauge interest, test out the model, and work out the kinks.

Oh. Your question was about the driving of the van? Yes, it’s a little out of the ordinary for me. For the record, though I have never owned a car, I did drive the 15-passenger van quite often during my AmeriCorps days. I have a drivers' license, you know, even if I mostly use it when I get carded buying beer. Ollie -- my faithful Long Haul Trucker -- was pouting in the corner when I returned from my gig as a Short Haul Trucker around 7:30 last night. She didn’t seem at all impressed when I showed her the mock tenderloin Seth sent me home with as thanks for a job well done. (True, I suppose bicycles don’t eat much meat. It is a beautiful cut, though. I’ll have to cook it up with a few friends this weekend....) So, yes, I am, as a rule, a cyclist, but the local, grassfed meat CSA was too good of an idea to pass up. And it is patently ridiculous* for me to bicycle out 60-100 miles to these farms, pick up over 120 pounds of meat, and keep it cold while biking it back 60-100 miles into town each week. So, yes, I drove. And sang quite loudly along with the radio, as it was "Two For Tuesday" on the classic rock station and they just kept playing lots of The Who and Hendrix and... well, anyway, it's probably for the best that Seth got stuck in a meeting...

My first CSA drop-off day had a few hiccups, of course: Seth got stuck in a meeting, so my inaugural drive out to pick up grassfed beef from Fauquier’s Finest about an hour and a half away in Virginia was with a GPS rather than the planned human navigator; I had to make a few U-turns out on not-so-well-labeled country roads; a couple of crates toppled over in the back of the refrigerated van (due, most likely, to the aforementioned U-turns); there was a fair bit of rain; and three folks missed the pickup window at District Crossfit (we left their shares in the gym's fridge overnight).

In the end everything seemed to work out. In fact, a few folks already sent in thank you notes. This one’s my favorite: “Already made burgers with the ground beef...Best.Thing.EVER. You guys are awesome, this was such a great idea! Thanks so much!!!”

Not a bad first day. If all goes well, maybe we can expand and extend the program after the 2-month trial. Don't worry, I'll never be a full-time trucker....

*Dad, I know what you are thinking: "It was patently ridiculous to bicycle around the country for over a year...."

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The most wonderful time of the year

It's not often that the Kentucky Derby, Cinco de Mayo, a full moon, and the opening of one of my favorite farmers' markets coincide. What did you do on this most celebratory of days?

Me? I went to a baseball game, then a Derby de Mayo party -- mint juleps and margaritas. But before that, I headed to opening day at the 14th & U Street farmers' market for the 2nd annual DC State Fair Seedling Swap. I dropped off my heirloom Black Prince tomato and zinnia starts and took a raffle number, but since I had a half hour or so before the drawing I poked around the market to pick up ingredients for class on Monday. And brunch tomorrow. And, okay, fine, some strawberries and asparagus and sunchokes and a few other odds and ends for myself for the coming week. This may well be my favorite time of the year for produce. (Though peach and tomato and sweet corn season always puts in a strong bid, now that I think of it.)

I made my way back to the swap just as they were getting ready for folks to start choosing plants to take, admittedly somewhat overladen with produce and wondering how I would get everything back the mile straight uphill to my apartment, when my eyes fell on the sole raspberry plant in the mix. Oh, I wanted it -- thorns be damned. Luckily my number got drawn second, so I had almost first dibs. I am now the proud owner of my very own berry plant! (I also managed to snag a little bitty okra plant and a small pot of basil that are now happily ensconced out back.)

Have you been to a seedling swap before? It was my first time. Virginia peanut seedlings and brown turkey fig cuttings were definitely the most popular items on offer and were scooped up early on. But there was still excitement right up til the end. In fact, I think someone could have lost an appendage in the final moments as folks dove for the heirloom tomatoes and peppers and herbs.

Here I am with my friend Marisa and her husband and their Hungarian peppers and basil just moments after the final frenzy of the seedling swap:

Look how proud we are, us novice gardeners. I can't wait to dig a nice hole out back and mix in some rich worm compost for my new raspberry plant. I think I'll call him Scratchy (in honor of the little reminders he left me as I struggled to get him out of my crammed-full pannier back at home)...