Sunday, December 29, 2013

Absolut power

If you have been following this blog, you are well aware of my obsession with all things pumpkin -- muffins, soupbread (as distinct from muffins), beer, curry (blogpost pending after many attempts to recreate the divine dish at Thai X-ing). Well, a few weeks ago my friend Amanda passed along a link for DIY pumpkin-infused vodka. Oh, my, yes.


One small kabocha squash from the farmers' market, some spices, a small bottle of Absolut, and a day later.... I will say that the original recipe called for canned pumpkin (boo!) and entirely too much nutmeg (hiss!). But the idea was there. So after a bit of tinkering with the second batch, I offer this improved recipe:

Pumpkin-infused vodka


Ingredients
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¾ cup raw turbinado sugar
  • 4 whole cloves
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (the TBSP the original recipe called for was WAY too much)
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • peel of one lemon (try to keep it in one long piece, which makes it easier to fish out later)
  • about 1 cup roasted, mashed pumpkin (I can’t bring myself to use the canned stuff)
  • 1 ½ cups vodka

DirectionsBring water to a boil over medium high heat in a small saucepan. Add the sugar and return to a boil, cooking until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Remove from heat and add cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, lemon peel, and pumpkin. Return to stove and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add vodka, and mix until completely combined.

Pour your fancy liqueur into a Mason jar and put in the refrigerator. Strain it (or don’t) before drinking.


My landlady liked a shot of the strained infusion with tonic water and lots of ice when we had a snow day recently. (No snow, incidentally, but classes were canceled and to be honest it was nice to have the morning off.) I prefer my pumpkin vodka with eggnog. To each her own. I will admit that eggnog is not always my thing. My take on glasses of eggnog is similar to my take on pastrami sandwiches: they should be consumed infrequently but enjoyed thoroughly. I'm significantly less strict about things containing pumpkin, however: the more the better.

Earlier this evening, after a bit of mulled wine and holiday punch and lots of tasty seasonal nibbles, I was in the mood for my annual bit of 'nog. Instead of the usual brandy for spiking it, though, I decided on some of my homemade pumpkin vodka, and I can tell you -- this is not the pumpkin vodka talking, really -- it may become a holiday tradition. I don't know why friends at this afternoon's apartment-warming gathering were stifling grins and refusing glasses of it. Have to get home soon? More for me, I guess. Better mix myself another to keep my spirits up as I proofread....

Monday, December 16, 2013

A bike lane is not a parking lane

Why is it, I ask you, that it is perfectly legal for every delivery truck on god's green earth to park in the bike lane? Why not, frequent stoppers, put on your flashers or live park in a driveway for your quick dropoff or pickup? They're just sitting there most of the time, unoccupied... unlike the bike lane you just parked in. Again.

Should I assume driveway blocking -- even for live parking purposes -- is categorically illegal? It's the only way I can explain this frequent and highly obnoxious (and somewhat dangerous) habit of cars and trucks parking in bike lanes. The only other explanation I can think of is that the vast majority of DC drivers are simply jerks.

I have been contemplating this quite often as the holiday season gets into full swing and everyone seems to be getting packages from UPS, FedEx, and all kinds of unmarked white vans that are parked right smack in the middle of the bike lane. And it's not just delivery trucks. Construction vehicles. Cadillacs. Taxis. What gives??

By my count -- and I've had plenty of time to gather data in recent weeks -- it's averaged out to two vehicles parked in a bike lane for every five blocks along my regular weekday commute from my place to Eastern Market, or once weekly trips up to Van Ness, or Sunday farmers' market shopping runs to Dupont, or, you know what, they are parking in bike lanes EVERYWHERE... and it's starting to make me a little cranky. At not even 36 (yet), I am too young to be getting this cantankerous.

So, if you're an automobile driver, please: I don't park in the car lanes, so I ask that you don't park in the bike lane. Scoot into a driveway or hug up next to the corner for a few minutes and let us chilled-to-the-bone cyclists get to where we're going (which is hopefully somewhere indoors) and not get hit on DC's narrow streets by aggressive drivers as we try to scoot around your double-parked self. Thanks!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Foodie stamps

Can you feed yourself on $30/week?

Zucchini latkes, made one summer with farmers' market eggs
 and yogurt, community garden zucchini, and homegrown chives.
Cost per serving @ $1.
    I did not take the official DC Hunger Solutions Food Stamp Challenge last week, but I've been there and so can attest that one can still eat well on not much money. It's odd being a self-proclaimed foodie while being not so far above the income bracket qualifying for food stamps these days, but it's not unheard of. Food education is important -- people tell me this on an almost daily basis -- but it doesn't pay that well. So in honor of the Food Stamp Challenge, I offer some ideas for ways to eat well when you don't have a lot to spend. Incidentally, these are tips that I often share with groups of low-income folks I work with here in our nation's capital:


    1. Learn to cook -- Not only will you enjoy the food more when you've had a hand in preparing it to your liking, but it's way less expensive than eating out. (And don't give me that "fast food is cheaper" line: you'll be paying for it in poor health and hospital bills later.) Plus, you will endear yourself to friends and family, and neighbors who smell the aromas coming from your kitchen.
    2. Go vegetarian -- Meat, especially sustainably-raised meat, is pricey. Lentils, black beans, cowpeas, chickpeas are your friends... and dry legumes are more nutritious and less expensive than their fresh, frozen, or canned brethren. Eggs are another good option. Need recipe ideas? Call me.
    3. Garden -- Grow some of your food. It's amazing what you can grow in a 4'x8' raised garden bed, or even a few pots on the porch, steps, or windowsill. And you may never have to pay $2.99 for a sprig of fresh herbs again. (Take that, Whole Paycheck!)
    4. Barter/workshare -- If you're new to gardening, you can learn by volunteering at a local farm or community/school garden, and the bonus is that folks often send you home with fresh goodies. (The free produce is limited in the winter, but spring, summer, and fall are bountiful in our region.)
    5. Learn to bake -- Flour is way cheaper than bread, and you can adjust the texture and ingredients to your taste. And there is the added bonus of killer triceps with all that kneading. Let me know if you want some sourdough starter.
    6. Drink less -- And have friends who are generous with their homebrew.
    7. Save your scraps -- Little odds and ends of things can be mixed together to make tasty soups, salads, stir-fries, and quiches. I've been saving bones and vegetable scraps in my freezer and making broth out of them for years, and my stocks for soups and stews are the tastier for it. (I also pack out my vegetable scraps for composting when I cook at friends' houses, but let's not get too crazy here. We can talk about composting another time.)
    8. Use your benefits wisely -- If you do qualify for food stamps, use them as much as possible at local farmers' markets that double (yes, you read that right, DOUBLE) the value of your food stamps. Your grocery store sure as heck doesn't double 'em, and the produce is so much fresher and healthier at the market. Even if you only spend $15/week at the farmers' market -- half of the allotted $30/week of the F.S.C. -- you'd get $30 worth of fruits, veggies, milk, eggs, and such at the market and still have $15/week left to spend on other stuff at the grocery store (orange juice, beans, rice, you name it).


    So that's my spiel. Whether or not you're on food stamps, I like to think that these tips might be helpful for those on a tight budget.

    Do you have other ideas for eating well for not a lot? I'd love to hear 'em.


    Sunday, December 8, 2013

    Holiday jewel scones

    Okay, I'll admit it: I've had baked goods on the brain more than usual these days. I think it started when I went on a self-imposed gluten fast for the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving (to see if gluten was the nefarious force behind my many months of back pain -- you never know), but it turned into a full-fledged craving after Kenton told me about the fancy tea he'd been to with his parents and aunt last weekend. Lemon tartlets, cucumber sandwiches, and the fluffiest, most decadent sounding scones... ohhhh... I wanted some.

    After three weeks of almost absolute gluten abstinence, I may have gone a little crazy this weekend. Puff pastries and lobster risotto and cookies at Kenton's holiday office party last night. Pizza for lunch today -- though to my credit I did halve the regular whole wheat flour with some (gluten-free) rice flour. And I couldn't resist cranking out a batch of scones using some of the fresh pomegranate seeds dad gave me during my visit to Northern Virginia yesterday afternoon. I mean, I haven't made scones since the summer. It was time. And, boy, were they good. You'd never guess that they're actually pretty healthy, too.

    Pomegranate and almond scones
    makes 8 large scones
    (Thanks to budgetgourmetmom for the general recipe idea, but especially the tip on grating butter, which allowed me to get the butter mixed in quickly, before my hands warmed it too much -- genius!)

    Ingredients
    • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/3 cup raw sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 8 tablespoons butter, cold
    • 1-2 handfuls pomegranate seeds
    • 1 handful slivered almonds
    • a bit less than half a pint (6 ounces or so) of plain, lowfat Greek yogurt
    • 1 large egg
    • zest from 1 orange
    • splash of vanilla (1/2 teaspoon?)
    • 1 egg white
    • sugar for dusting

    Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 400°
    2. In a medium bowl mix together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
    3. Grate the butter into the flour mixture using the large holes on the grater. Use your fingers to work the butter into the flour until it resembles a course meal.
    4. Stir in the pomegranate seeds and almonds.
    5. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, egg, orange zest, and vanilla. 
    6. Add yogurt mixture to the flour mixture. Use a fork to stir it until dough clumps form. Continue to press the dough together with your hands, but don't overwork it. (I don't purport to make scones as well as the ladies at The Rosemary House, but that is one of the big lessons I learned while baking there: don't manhandle the dough!)
    7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, press into a 7 to 8 inch circle, and cut into 8 triangles. Brush tops with egg white, then sprinkle with sugar.
    8. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15 minutes or so. Cool on a wire rack and then either devour (or freeze so you have some to share with others).



    So far so good on the back pain after the 24 hour gluten extravaganza. Maybe its the post-scone-number-two delirium, but now that I look a little more closely, I can see what dad means about the pomegranate seeds looking very festive, like Christmas lights. As we move into holiday season, I wouldn't be surprised if I make these baked wonders again. Especially if dad takes care of the laborious seed removal process again, heheh.

    Wednesday, November 20, 2013

    Word to your mother

    A couple of weeks ago, I started myself on a gluten-free diet to see if it would help my persistent back pain. So far the only difference I've noticed is an increase in my cravings for sourdough bread and beer, but I'm sticking it out til Thanksgiving. Now, giving up gluten doesn't mean that I have to give up all things fermented, thankfully, and it's actually inspired me to try out some otherwise neglected food and drink items. Hot mulled cider with bourbon, for instance, which I had a mug of at Mothership last night. Shrubs with sparkling water. And kombucha.

    Readers, if you've been following this blog for awhile, you may recall the first time I tried to make kombucha. It was, shall we say, not the most delightful thing to imbibe, and I may or may not have promptly deposited that kombucha "mother" directly into the compost bin along with its putrid liquid accompaniment. Perhaps, I thought, I was just not cut out for making this tart and fizzy health drink. And yet, another opportunity presented itself at the Alexandria Food Swap a few weeks ago and I couldn't resist. Armed with a new "mother" -- a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast), if you want to get technical about it -- I'd snagged, and some instructions from the kombucha swapper, Jen (I suppose you could call her the Mother of the mother), I decided to try my hand at this fermented beverage a second time. Lord knows it couldn't possibly taste worse than the first time.

    I will concede that kombucha mothers are kind of strange, somewhat akin to what you might encounter in a mad scientist's laboratory. Kenton was totally weirded out when I showed him the gelatinous floating mass in the quart jar I had tucked into my cupboard and I've noticed he hasn't gone into that particular cabinet much the past few times he's been over. He did seem intrigued by my explanation of the unusual taste and the probiotic benefits to one's digestive tract, though, so I think he may be up for trying some when it's ready. Well, after I pre-taste this second version, made with blueberry acai tea and raw sugar.


    Is it just me, or does my kombucha jar have a certain Middle Eastern flair? Maybe that's what was missing the first time around: a trendy headdress.... Lord knows this second attempt tastes better. I tried my first shot of it this morning before breakfast. Delicious. Word to my mother.

    I'm brewing a batch of raspberry tea for batch #3 right now. Finally, a use for the fruity teas that I seem to acquire each holiday season!

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    Eating a rainbow

    It's not often that I break out my Bugs Bunny apron, but twice last week I had a very important lesson to teach some very young students, and if a cartoon rabbit gives me a little street cred among the little people, I'd take it.


    "What do I mean when I say you should try to eat a rainbow every day?" I asked a roomful of 6-year-olds last Thursday. (I'm not talking about Skittles here, people.) "I'll give you a hint: I'm talking about fruits and vegetables...."

    Oh, the kindergartners at Brent Elementary got it. So did the 1st graders at Inspired Teaching Academy. Both groups were super excited for last week's Healthy Schools Week hands-on cooking demo in their classroom. They were so antsy for it to be HANDS ON, in fact, that I had to ask a few kiddos to keep their HANDS OFF of the ingredients until we were ready for the part where I would need some fearless volunteers: the mixing of salad dressings.

    Before we got to that part, I explained, we needed to take stock of our fruits and veggies, identifying each by name and then organizing it into our produce rainbow....


    Hands shot up. Carrots! Pears! Broccoli!! There was a little hesitation with the eggplant, but I know adults who couldn't name eggplants, either. Cucumbers, peppers, sweet potatoes... these kids were something else. Some would start telling a story about a relative who'd cooked -- or even grown -- each item on the table. Others loudly proclaimed their favorite one to eat. (Cherry tomatoes were especially popular with one group, carrots with the other.)

    Our rainbow arranged, I moved on to the crux of the lesson.  "Rainbows look pretty and eating a rainbow helps you all stay pretty and keep your bodies healthy. Different colored fruits and vegetables have different vitamins so that's why it's important to eat many different colors. Try to eat at least a few different colors of fruits and vegetables each day," I encouraged the class. "How many colors will you try for our snack?" Lots, it turned out.

    Alas, the action shots of various students helping me with assembling and shaking up the ranch and balsamic dressings came out blurry, but here's a great one of a few kids chomping on the plates of cut up fruits and veggies near the end of the lesson.


    My favorite moment was at Brent, when a somewhat shy student shared his reflections on the lesson. "You know, today I had the very first radish I ever tasted and I liked it. Thank you for bringing the radishes and other things for us to try, Chef Vincent."

    Anytime, kid.




    Monday, October 28, 2013

    I'll trade you!

    Who would have thought that spicy beer mustard would have been one of the most popular items at the Alexandria Food Swap this past weekend?

    Truth be told: seven or eight excited foodies left the Friendship Firehouse with 4oz jars of really the spiciest mustard I've made to date -- this time with a bottle of Great Lakes' Dortmuder Gold and balsamic vinegar -- but I made out like a bandit! Homemade pretzels, apple fruit roll-ups, a good sized bottle of amaretto (and no idea what to use it for), peach lavender jam, chocolate covered coconut and almond clusters, rosemary popover mix, rhubarb butter, a new kombucha starter, and my favorite: dehydrated fruit and seed crackers. Yum. A girl could get used to this!


    Thanks to my friend, Shelu, for organizing the homemade food extravaganza (and making those divine almond joys).

    Sunday, October 27, 2013

    The First Garden

    After my gentleman friend  treated me to a stellar dinner at Le Diplomat on Friday night, I didn't think my weekend could get much better. (I am telling you, that duck breast alone lived up to the hype. Don't even get me started on the cheeses or wine or escargot.) Little did I know the surprises that Saturday had in store....


    After a busy morning cooking at a local health fair, Kenton helped me schlep my farmers' market groceries back to my place, where we had a snack as we looked at the clock and speculated. It's 2pm? There's no WAY we'd have the slightest chance of getting in to see the White House garden before the final 3:30pm tour, we agreed, but on such a beautiful, sunny afternoon, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to head downtown and try our luck. Worst case scenario: we have a nice walk and maybe check out a museum (since they're open again -- hooray!).

    One metrobus ride and many tourist mobs later, there we were at 3pm, gazing at the very garden that the First Lady started a handful of years ago -- around the time I set out on my bike tour, come to think of it -- and which I have been angling to check out for some time. (In my more elaborate daydreams, I imagine having tea with Michelle and swapping recipes before we peruse the brussels sprout plantings and discuss some of our favorite experiences getting kids excited about food.  Being one of the masses on the annual free public tour is only a few steps down from that, right?)

    Hot peppers, swiss chard, tomatoes, artichokes, and of course the requisite Secret Service staff:


    Nice work, Madam First Lady!

    Friday, October 11, 2013

    Guide for hire


    I keep getting talked into organizing garden tours by bicycle....

    Earlier this week, my friend Sam cajoled me into leading a group of environmental educators who were in town from all over the country (and two from Canada, which I suppose makes it an international conference) on a relatively low-key, 4.5-mile tour of school gardens around Eastern Market. Still groggy after returning from San Francisco about a day and a half prior, I agreed. Maybe it was the jetlag talking, or the compensatory lunch I was promised. (What can I say, I have a soft spot for Chipotle's veggie burritos. Sam knows this.) Despite the severe lack of sleep and the impending rainstorm and the head cold I was nursing, I'm so glad he did.

    After all kinds of adventures trying to locate their bus to bring them down from Baltimore, and then worse than usual delays on the beltway, fifteen members of the North American Association for Environmental Education arrived almost exactly an hour behind schedule.  They met us at Union Station and saddled up on their rental bikes. After a few minutes of introductions, we hit the road.

    The group was wonderful: enthusiastic, curious, appreciative, observant. And they all wore their bike helmets without me having to harass anyone even once. Imagine that!

    We visited four schools around Capitol Hill, climbed on found material structures at some, snacked on fresh dips and salads at others, and celebrated what I hadn't realized were quite the cutting-edge garden programs at Watkins, School Within a School, Peabody, and Capitol Hill Montessori. Oh, no, I knew these were all cool gardens with great teachers -- they were chosen as highlights of the DC school garden scene, after all -- but it was interesting to hear how they compare to programs and gardens in other places. DC school gardens rock.

    I daresay I'll get talked into another one of these soon. Oh, look, I already have been: the first event for Healthy Schools Week is, you guessed it, a school garden bike tour. It should be pretty fun.... Come join!

    Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    No green for greens

    This collection of six people (plus one dog) counted as our midafternoon "rush" at the market today.



    A number of our regulars showed up, but many familiar faces were missing, from the neighborhood crew as well as the usually very supportive Census Bureau across the street. Less than 50 shoppers gathered over the course of the 5-hour-long farmers' market in Suitland today -- midway through week two of the (so far as I can tell) pointless government stalemate. Yes, this lack of people working or having money is sure to fix the nation's healthcare system. And what's this I hear about cuts to food stamp funding starting next month? Aaaarggggghhhh!

    Yeah, I'm mad. Good food is a human right. Now how are folks supposed to eat?

    People are hungry, but they're counting their pennies, uncertain about when they're going to be able to work -- and get paid -- again. Me, I spend what modest funds I do have on quality ingredients and cook up a storm with the extra time I have these days. But I don't have a family, or a car, or a mortgage. After two weeks of abysmal sales and no end in sight, I'm not sure how our market's going to keep going. Somehow I don't think Congress is going to offer backpay to our farmers (or backsleep to the worried market managers)....

    This furlough stinks.

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013

    Get mashed

    "Two tickets, please."

    Every so often, membership has its privileges. Though often combined with a fun and tasty potluck meal, most of my work with Slow Food DC involves many meetings and lots of logistical planning. It was fun this past Friday night to simply kick back with a couple of free tickets to a fantastic benefit dinner for my local Slow Food chapter thrown by two amazing chefs.

    Did I mention it was a beer dinner?

    Not only that, but one of the chefs -- Andrew Gerson -- is also one of the driving forces behind my all-time favorite spent grain cooking blog. I was so excited to be in the same room, and listened eagerly as the surprisingly humble but knowledgeable chef explained the beer pairing as we passed around each of the six courses. So entranced was I that I almost spilled my beer. Twice. (I maybe don't need to mention that I was entirely too shy, even after five or six drinks, to approach Chef Andrew to tell him how much I love his work. I mean, he's a real spent grain chef. Me, I dabble. No need to babble.)

    The food was stellar, as was the beer. But the genius was in the pairing. Okay, fine, there was quite a bit of inventiveness in the food itself, actually, as chef Hiyaw Gebreyohannes mingled traditional Ethiopian flavors with globally inspired dishes ranging from a surprisingly spicy guacamole with toasted injera chips to a watermelon and catfish ceviche to beer braised lamb shanks to a custard with figs and honeyed injera. My favorite, though, was the chicken and peanut stew. (Oh, no, not because it was paired with my favorite Brooklyn pumpkin ale. No, really. That is good beer, though.) Kenton and I left the four-hour-long meal around midnight with full bellies and happy hearts.

    To the Brooklyn brew crew and Slow Food DC, I must say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

    It was an amazing meal, and so beautifully presented, that some of us who will remain anonymous maybe took their placemat home as a memento....

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    Green pre-teens

    It's not just me who is obsessed with raw kale salad. It's not even just the entire third grade at Watkins Elementary who can't get enough. Now folks all over the city will be making it. At least those who attended the healthy cooking session at the Good Food Stage at 2pm last Saturday. Some of them were fortunate enough to walk away with beautiful bouquets of fresh kale, courtesy of FreshFarm Markets (who sponsored the demo), ready to make it at home.


    I like to think it was me who got the audience interested in eating dark leafy greens, but in truth credit is due to the Watkins superstars who stole the show during our salad making demonstration at the Green Festival. Many an audience member came up afterwards to pick up a copy of the simple yet irresistible recipe, to ask questions, and -- mostly -- to marvel at the poise and skills of my assistant chefs.

    We all know I hate public speaking, but I keep ending up in front of groups. Luckily, these amazing 9-year-olds from my third grade FoodPrints classes last year upped the cuteness factor enough to cover for my mumbling into the wireless microphone and near stabbing of myself in the hand trying to saw open the jug of olive oil. Many thanks to my lovely assistants, Destiny, Damiyah, and Londyn, for their help this weekend -- I'd be proud to work with you any time!

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    A not-so-lazy Sunday



    When my boyfriend and I decided to spend yesterday together, I wondered how it was going to go down. His agenda: football. My agenda: canning. Seems incongruous, no? Successful relationships are all about compromise.

    As he cracked open a beer and settled down to some snacks at my kitchen table, Kenton joked that he couldn't just sit there like the lazy grasshopper in the children's story while the ant processed 25 lbs of tomatoes. ("Who are you calling an ant?") I am not one to turn down help in the kitchen, mind you, so as the NFL pre-game commentary yammered on in the background, I gave the grasshopper a quick primer on canning: wash, sterilize, score, scald, fill, check, seal, process, cool.

    Kenton scored and scalded tomatoes during commercial breaks, peeled heads of garlic with increasing zeal in the clove smashing department as the game went on and the just-returned star quarterback biffed another key play. I stirred fresh garlic and basil and red wine into the pasta sauce simmering on the back burner, poked air bubbled out of jars of tomatoes before sealing them, and paused to wave my jar grabber to echo the protest against another bad call by the must-be-almost-blind referee.

    I'm happy to report that though the Redskins did not have a win under their belt, the afternoon was not lost: we had 10 quarts of processed tomatoes cooling on the counter. Not bad for an ant and a grasshopper on a Sunday afternoon.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Suitland salsa

    Last week, my friend Jessica asked if I could lead a bulk salsa and pesto-making session at a church in Suitland. Get paid to teach a group of friendly local food lovers and farmers' market supporters to make some of my favorite foods? Yes, ma'am. Call me any time.


    I took the metro out early Monday morning to meet up with the group at a church that had agreed to let us use their commercial kitchen. With Maxine at the wheel, we roamed the area to gather our necessary ingredients and equipment. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find fresh cilantro in this urban food desert?? I do believe it took three separate stops to find it. (First world problems, yes.) Then we had a little stop for lunch. (It is me we're talking about here, and by then I'd gone more than three hours without a snack. Thanks for treating me to lunch, Antoinette!) We made our way back to the Hunter Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church and for the better part of the afternoon, the four of us washed, chopped, stirred, and blended many quarts of fresh tomato salsa and kale-sunflower-seed pesto for taste testing at the Suitland Farmers' Market.


    There may have been a little taste testing during our session, but that was purely for quality control.

    Interestingly, the salsa was not nearly as spicy as I'd remembered it being when I made it with middle schoolers awhile back. No matter how many jalapeno peppers we added, the "hot" salsa never got very hot. Maybe it's because we used grocery store peppers instead of farmers' market ones. I wonder. In any case, it was still very fresh tasting and delicious with the onion and (much sought after) cilantro. Our market shoppers who tasted it the next day seemed to like it just fine scooped up with whole wheat tortilla chips, so we may give this another go sometime soon.

    The sunflower seed-based pesto was not as good as Jessica's original version using peanuts, but with peanut allergies abounding these days, I opted for tasteability over taste-superiority. It wasn't bad, but we can do better. And I very much look forward to that research....

    It was a lot of fun all around, but my favorite part of the afternoon was hearing from one of my young assistant chefs how excited she was to learn to make pesto from scratch, how she loved tasting and adjusting the recipe each time -- a squeeze of lemon juice here, a little more garlic there, maybe a pinch of salt -- and how she just couldn't wait to go home and make a batch with her young daughter.

    Ah. This is why I do what I do.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013

    Green machine

    Yesterday evening, I handed my friend John a bag of vegetarian goodies through his car window -- he'd stopped by for a food pickup, but it is impossible to park in my new neighborhood, alas, so there I was out on the curb -- with the stern warning that the creamy green gazpacho that was included was highly addictive. I am not even kidding.



    Two weeks ago, while I was helping out with a chef demo at the 14&U farmers' market, I slurped no less than three samples before I felt too sheepish to keep pretending they were for other people and decided to make my own batch. Kenton agreed, and the following day we whipped up a blenderful of our very own, devouring it almost instantly. And I've made two more batches since.

    Good lord, it's delicious.


    You should totally buy Joe Yonan's new cookbook, from whence the recipe comes, but since he was handing it out on free recipe cards I don't mind recounting it here....

    Creamy Green Gazpacho


    Ingredients
    • 1 medium tomato, cored and cut into quarters
    • 1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into large chunks
    • 3 large basil leaves
    • 1/2 jalapeño (optional), seeds removed
    • 3/4 cup lightly packed watercress or baby spinach leaves
    • 1 small celery stalk (optional)
    • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more to taste
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 2 ice cubes -- I smashed mine with a hammer
    • Filtered water (optional)
    • Kosher or sea salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 avocado, cut into large chunks


    Directions

    Combine the jalapeño with tomato, cucumber, avocado, basil, watercress or spinach, celery, garlic, red wine vinegar, honey, and ice cubes in a blender or the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth. Add 1/4 cup or more water to thin the mixture, if necessary. 

    Taste and season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if needed. Refrigerate until cold.




    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    Holy shiitakes!


    I was swatting away flocks of hungry mosquitoes and pinching off endless limbs from some of the most gigantic tomato plants ever on Sunday afternoon while Kenton napped on the couch upstairs. (Yes, I have a real couch in a real upstairs at the new place!) As I stepped back to marvel at the growing pile of tomato branches and the single red tomato produced by the 5-foot plants, I leaned to the right of the back yard's single raised bed to see if I might have missed any errant plant bits that needed to be removed. I suddenly noticed some growths on the oak logs propped against the shaded fence...

    HOLY SHIITAKE, another harvest! A real one!!

    After two years of near dormancy, save two shrooms a couple of months ago, one of my shiitake logs presented a rather generous peace offering. (Maybe it knew I had contemplated donating them to the great compost pile in the sky not too long ago.) I scampered up two and a half flights of stairs with close to a pound of gorgeous mushrooms and as we admired them piled on my kitchen table I began to scheme how best to prepare and enjoy this most delectable and unexpected fungal feast. In a stirfry? Sauteed with butter and loaded onto toast? Was I somehow out of tamari?? Noooooo!

    In the end, they ended up sauteed in thick slices in butter with homegrown garlic and thyme and a generous helping of sherry. Served over a bed of creamy rosemary grits, Kenton agreed they might have been the most delicious mushrooms ever.

    I may or may not be checking the logs twice daily now.

    Sunday, August 25, 2013

    What's up doc: slightly healthier carrot cupcakes

    There are a couple of recipe sites that are vying for the title of my favorite these days. Smitten Kitchen is definitely up there, but at the end of the day on Friday with a veggie drawerful of carrots, I found myself back at the wonderful, old familiar Epicurious website on the lookout for a carrot muffin recipe. And, as usual, I only had most of the ingredients. Considering the recently increased rent and two trips to the store already this week I was not about to go back to Whole Foods, I decided to improvise. ("What a surprise, Ibti's not following the recipe.")


    The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, from friends to lovers to birthday boys, so in case you want to wow a special someone with your bakerly prowess, try this one on for size:

    Ingredients

    For cupcakes
    • 4 medium carrots (enough to make @ 2 cups grated), washed but not peeled
    • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
    • ½ teaspoon baking soda
    • ¾ teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
    • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
    • ¾ cup olive oil
    • 3 eggs
    • ¾ cup turbinado sugar
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • Handful of walnuts (optional)

    For icing
    • ½ stick (4 TBSP) butter
    • ½ package (4 TBSP) Neufchatel – lowfat cream cheese
    • Juice from ½ lemon
    • Splash of vanilla
    • Confectioner’s sugar

    Garnish
    • 1-2 carrots
    • ½ cup sugar
    • ½ cup water

    Directions

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin cups with paper liners.

    Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg in a bowl.

    Coarsely grate the carrots, then whisk them together with oil, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and optional walnuts in a large bowl. Stir in the flour mixture until just combined.

    Divide batter among muffin cups and bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of a cupcake comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.

    Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Turn oven down to 225°F.

    While you’re waiting for the cupcakes to cool, make the carrot curls by using a sharp peeler to peel at least 12 long, broad ribbons of carrot. (You’ll probably want to make a few extra, in case a few self-destruct during the candying process….or get eaten before they make it to a cupcake.)

    Combine ½ cup water and ½ cup white sugar in a saucepan and heat until dissolved. Add carrot ribbons and simmer for about 10 minutes, until carrots are well coated.

    Fish out carrot ribbons and lay them out on a foil (or parchment paper, if you have it)-lined baking sheet, then bake for about 10 minutes.

    Turn off the oven and remove carrot ribbons. Form the still pliable ribbons into curls or whatever shape you want. Chill in the fridge until ready to use.

    Mix together all frosting ingredients -- using more confectioner's sugar to make it more sweet/thick, to taste -- and slather on cooled cupcakes. Top with a carrot curl. Fancy!

    Friday, August 9, 2013

    Making healthy food affordable


    Earlier this week at the Suitland farmers' market, a woman came up to the information table with her EBT (food stamp) card. She wanted to spend $1.50 at our market. "Well," I explained, "We can only do whole dollar increments. But you know, since we match food stamps here, you can actually just spend a dollar and then we'll give you another dollar to buy fruits and vegetables. It's part of our Maryland Market Money program. You'll have another fifty cents to use on something today. We match up to $10 every week when you use your food stamp card."

    She smiled the biggest smile I'd seen all day. "Wait, so then I can get another bell pepper?" Yes, ma'am, and a cucumber. Affordability shouldn't keep anyone from being able to buy healthy food. "See you next Tuesday!"

    And word is spreading. Slowly but surely, folks are learning about our market and what we're trying to do out here. A few reporters have called in recent weeks, elated at the small dent we are putting in the historic food desert in southern Prince George's County. We're getting there. Now if we can just keep people from stealing our market signs, we might get the word out a little faster....

    Know any local printers willing to donate a couple dozen "Farmers Market This Way" signs?

    Monday, August 5, 2013

    Who knew that washing dishes could be so much fun??

    Photos courtesy of Brainfood
    Last Friday marked the final day of the Takoma Academy Rising Tigers day camp, where I've been spending two days a week with middle schoolers teaching cooking in Langley Park for much of the summer. From the first day's Basics of Baking to the final session's Invent Your Own Pizza, the enthusiasm of the campers was positively infectious. And miracle of miracles, they actually loved doing the dishes.

    Chattering away, rising 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders scraped and scrubbed, rinsed and sterilized, dried and stacked their dishes at the end of each session. I usually had one or two quality control folks at the drying end of the line who would send things back to the scrub station if anything looked questionable, but aside from a cracked pestle and a few broken glass bowls (note to self: do not buy glass bowls again) the dish crew pretty much took care of itself.

    "I never knew doing dishes could be so much fun!" exclaimed Cerina as I came around the corner one afternoon with a load of mixing bowls and spoons. "Do we get to do this at the end of every class?" Yes, yes, you do. This is Brainfood, and among the youth development goals that we focus on in the program are accountability and being part of a community. We cook together, we clean together. Even so, I've never worked with folks who actually looked forward to washing up after cooking. (I mean, Kenton's a good sport and all, but I would be lying if I told you he was glad to hear my new apartment would not be coming with a dishwasher.)

    I kid you not, when we had the end-of-camp open house for friends and family, I had five or six campers practically knock each other over to get to the kitchen to demonstrate how to use the dishwashing station. Scrape. Wash. Rinse. Sterilize. Dry. It was awesome. Parents took note. The kids also showed off their pizza dough kneading skills, their knowledge of the different food groups, and photos of themselves with the Signature Sandwiches that they'd made the week before. They impressed their parents with tales of trying (and liking) spinach and mushroom frittatas, kale basil pesto, and tofu berry smoothies -- "You don't even know that it's tofu, it's just really smooth and creamy!" -- and showed off the take-home recipe booklets that my fearless intern Sam and I had made for them. I hope I teach some of these kiddos again some day.

    Not just because on their exit surveys some of the campers actually said that their favorite part of class was doing the dishes. To be fair, most of them listed the cooking portion as their favorite, but if some kids like washing up then more power to them. Oh, yes, I hope they sign up for Brainfood's after school program when they get to high school! (Unless Brainfood starts an after school program for middle schoolers in the meantime... I'd be so there.)

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    Final harvest at 1343

    It was sad to have to pull up the giant cucumber vines and two-foot-tall flowering okra shrubs in the garden earlier today, but what is a renter to do when the house she's been living in goes on the market?

    Earlier today as I uprooted and composted a gardenful of plants at the height of their productivity, I harvested, discovering a few slightly overripe cukes and a rather large zucchini hidden under elephant-ear-sized leaves. So there's that. And I'm looking forward to trying my hand at some feta-stuffed, pan-fried squash blossoms at Meredyth and Greg's place, where I'll be staying for the next couple of weeks til I move into my new place.

    It's the little things that we gardeners celebrate, and this final harvest is one such thing:

     

    I was tempted to leave the thriving plants they were, but who knows if the people who will be moving in this fall will even want a garden. Though the soil has been improving over the past handful of years' diligent weeding and composting, maybe the new folks will use the back area for a parking spot for their SUV. It could happen. I try not to think about it too much, and comfort myself with the reminder that many of the herbs are in pots and the mushroom logs are transportable. (I also recognize that it's the ideal time for my landlady to sell, as home values in my neighborhood have skyrocketed in recent years. No harm, no foul.)

    However, I wish I'd known before the springtime transplanting of heirloom plants Kenton and I started from seed that I would not be there to revel in the bountiful harvest come late summer. Then again, knowing me I probably would have planted them anyway. Oh, to witness the beautiful, purple and cream colored okra blooms unfurl in the late morning as I sipped my morning tea, even if only for a few weeks, was worth the pain of having to uproot them prematurely. (What, was that too dramatic? Try reading Michael Pollan's Second Nature. My ode to okra is comparatively subdued.)

    After the better part of six years cooking and gardening in the formerly dicey and now unequivocally hip Columbia Heights neighborhood, it's time to move on to the next backyard plot about a mile and a half down the road. I may or may not have left the strawberry plot and the raspberry bush for the new owners....

    Tuesday, July 23, 2013

    Gaining Ground

    I ran into my friend Forrest again at tonight's Eat Local First Week kickoff event. It reminded me that I have yet to write a proper review of his wonderful book, which I devoured over two months ago. And I call myself a friend... And a lover of good writing... Here it is (na endlich!):


    "[My father] looked at me as though I had just told him I wanted to push helpless old ladies down long flights of stairs."

    A handful of pages into Chapter One, Forrest describes the day he told his parents he wanted to quit his teacher training and become a farmer. "Farming? Are you kidding me? You don't even know how to grow a turnip!" He could well have described my own dad's reaction the day I told my own parents I was going to bike around the country by myself. ("Biking? Around the country? But why? You don't even ride a bike!") It is one of a number of instances with which I suspect many of his readers (and if you are not yet one of these readers, you should be) can identify. It is a book written for dreamers and doers alike, a story of passion and determination and deep love for land and family.

    I can't help but laugh out loud at the hilarious turns of phrase throughout, the way this up-and-coming author finds humor and chooses to learn from things that could easily make a lesser man (or woman) throw in the towel. Freshly repaired fences knocked down by 1500-pound cattle again? "I can honestly credit cow butts for helping me to become the carpenter that I am today." Time and again, the newbie farmer gets knocked down and gets up again, wiser each time, and now it's been about 17 years since he went into farming -- still a young farmer by many standards, but a good one and among the most eloquent and thoughtful ones I know.

    So much of what I love about this book is the way that anyone -- no matter what their background -- can identify with moments of frustration at ridiculous situations (such as the early attempts at constructing and moving chicken tractors or building cow fences) as well as those moments of giddiness at small but important victories (a slow and steadily growing customer base, financial solvency at last). Lord knows his recounting of the abysmal early days at farmers' markets is encouraging for me amid the slowly growing Suitland market that is absorbing more than its fair share of my waking (and supposedly sleeping) hours. If we pay attention and put our hearts into it and work hard, things will fall into place. Despite many bittersweet moments along the way, Forrest tale of reclaiming the family farm has a happy ending. It gives me hope for what many of my other friends venturing into rural and urban sustainable farming are trying to do: fix our food system one farm, one community, at a time.

    At the end of his book, as at the end of his presentation at tonight's Eat Local First event, Forrest gives us hope for the next generation of farmers, if we are brave and determined enough to show them that farming can be a noble and viable profession: "Potential. Respect. The sweet simplicity of toil, the satisfaction of working in harmony with the land. Bounty, and the grateful reward of harvest. These phenomena are both timeless and contemporary, deeply and constantly present. Over the course of a lifetime, farmers grow straight out of the soil, wizening into abstractions of their former selves[...] Somewhere, another farm awaits its farmer."

    Thursday, July 18, 2013

    Sour Cherry Jubilee

    I love sour cherries. Which is funny, since I don't much care for cherry pie or cherry preserves -- the two most common ends that sour cherries are known to meet. My sour cherries, like scrumptious, glistening jewels, are destined for greater things than pie.


    Most recently, shrubs -- just before booting up the laptop I whipped up a batch with said cherries + brown sugar + apple cider vinegar that will ferment into mouth-watering deliciousness over the coming days -- but last night might have been the creme de la creme of sour cherry usage thus far. I'm talkin' scones. And not just any scones. The kind one's boyfriend writes specifically to thank one for the next day. And I quote: "My goodness these are some fine scones. Love that they are soft. And the cherries and walnuts make a fine pair." Just a little something I whipped up for dessert while I drafted the weekly newsletter for the Suitland farmers' market at 10:30 at night....

    I wish I could claim that it was my original recipe, but it's not. My cousin Sonia has been raving about the cooking blog Chocolate and Zucchini for years. Last night, I tried yet another winning recipe -- slightly adapted to accommodate the quart of sour cherries I'd picked up at the 14&U farmers' market last weekend. And with some lemon zest. And vanilla. And, okay, maybe it's kind of a new recipe after all, but it was inspired by the C&Z blog.

    Sour Cherry and Walnut Scones
    • 1 2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    • 2 TBSP sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • pinch of salt
    • 3 TBSP butter, chilled
    • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 2 TBSP whole milk
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • zest from 1 lemon
    • a handful of chopped walnuts
    • ¼-½ cup sour cherries, pits removed


    DirectionsPreheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

    In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

    Dice the butter and blend it into the dry ingredients with a fork or pastry cutter, until no visible lump of butter remains.

    Add the yogurt, milk, vanilla, and lemon zest. Mix in the nuts and cherries. Use your hands to quickly blend them in until the dough forms a ball. Handle the dough as lightly as you can. (Avoid over-mixing, or the scones will become tough!)

    On a floured surface, pat the dough into a flattish round, about 1-inch thick. Cut into eight wedges with a knife or a pastry cutter.

    Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet, giving them a little space to expand. Bake for 15 minutes (or longer, if your oven stinks like mine does), until the top of the scones is set and lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

    What's that you say? Why, yes, I do frequent a number of farmers' markets these days. Between working with various markets in the area and teaching cooking at a middle school summer camp, I seem to have fallen way behind on blogging in recent weeks. So much for summer being the slow season.

    Thanks for coming back to see me, dear readers, and please accept this stellar scone recipe as a sign that I have not forgotten you. You may forget all about me when you're lost in the bliss of eating all eight of them yourself. Yes, you'd better make a double batch.

    Saturday, June 22, 2013

    Summer Root Veggie Coleslaw

    Okay, so maybe kohlrabi isn't a root vegetable -- it's actually the swollen stem that we eat, and in this recipe I chop up some of the smaller leaves as well. I'm sure there are some other inaccuracies I was unintentionally promoting, most likely involving my Spanish translations of the two recipes I made at the 14&U farmers' market earlier today.

    It was the day we were to have a group of Spanish-speaking families touring the market as part of the second year of the Fruit & Vegetable Prescription Program pilot in DC, and I did my darndest to translate things as best I could. Seriously, though, what do you do when a language doesn't have a name for a vegetable because the culture speaking that language doesn't have people who tend to grow or eat it? I continue to refer to kale as "col rizada" -- "curly cabbage" -- and determined that the closest I could find to the Spanish word for kohlrabi was "colinaba" -- which, when I translated it back into English from Spanish online came up as either "kohlrabi" or "turnip." Well, I suppose salad turnips could be delicious in the coleslaw I was handing out.

    Since I ran out of the copies of the English language version of this latest favorite recipe, and a number of shoppers at this morning's market begged me to post it, I needed to get this recipe up asap.


    For your root -- and other veggie -- tasting pleasure, here's the much sought after recipe for a killer summer coleslaw.

    Ingredients

    1 large kohlrabi, peeled and grated (you can chop up some of the leaves as well)
    1 tsp salt
    3 TBSP mayonnaise
    2 TBSP sour cream
    2 TBSP olive oil
    2 TBSP vinegar
    1 TBSP sugar
    2 tsp celery seed (or finely chopped celery)
    1 small red onion, peeled and minced
    1 clove garlic, peeled and minced (or 1 garlic scape, finely chopped)
    2 carrots, grated
    1 bunch radishes, grated or thinly sliced*

    Directions

    In a small bowl, combine the grated kohlrabi with salt. Set aside.

    In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, oil, vinegar, sugar, and celery seed.

    Squeeze the grated, salted kohlrabi to remove any excess water.

    Stir in the onion, garlic, carrots, radishes, and kohlrabi. (It’s okay to use your hands to mix!)

    Enjoy as a cool salad alongside grilled meat or fish, as a sandwich topping, or as a midday snack.

    *You can also grate other veggies in. Cabbage, for a more traditional coleslaw, perhaps, or beets -- but beware they will turn everything pink. Or salad turnips... you know, the other colinaba. ;)

    Many thanks to my friend and colleague, Carolyn, for giving me the basic recipe for the slaw (that I then took in directions she might not have foreseen).


    Wednesday, June 5, 2013

    Opening day!



    When your colleague shows up with a giant bunch of balloons spilling out of her truck, you know it's going to be a good day at work. So it went for opening day of the much-anticipated Suitland Farmers' Market. Perfectly clear, sunny weather, gorgeous fruits and veggies grown by a core group of local farmers, lots of volunteer helpers, and tons of friendly shoppers... not a bad way to start the season. Sure there were some hiccups, but together we made things work.

    Barbed wire on the top of the fence popping the balloons? No problem, tie them down lower on the fence.


    Times printed incorrectly on the signs? No sweat, use duct tape to write out the correct times over top.


    No place to pick up lunch? Well, we are in a food desert -- that's why we're here! -- but you can grab a mediocre sandwich down the block and slice some farmers' market tomatoes and cucumbers on top to jazz it up. How about a handful of local spinach, too, or some chopped up garlic scapes? Maybe some grown a few blocks away?


    I'm not going to lie: I was especially excited to see some of the fruits of our labors from what we'd planted with students at Drew-Freeman, but there was plenty of beautiful produce at the traditional farm stands as well. Which is good since quite a few community members and folks at the Census Bureau across the way came to check things out and support the area's first farmers' market in a long, long time. According to Delante, my official record-keeper -- a first-time volunteer who I may have won over forever with a quart of fresh strawberries -- we had upwards of 170 shoppers over the course of the 4-hour market. Not too shabby, all things considered. Most importantly, nearly everyone left with smiles like this one, and similarly loaded shopping bags.


    I arrived home last night slightly sunburned, moderately loaded down with fresh produce, and completely exhausted. And proud: we did it!!!

    Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    DC school garden bike tour: summer 2013 edition

    Get some air in your bike tires and some oil on your chain. Grab that helmet and water bottle. It's back, and it's going to be even better (and certainly bigger) than ever before. Yes, it's another school garden bike tour!

    After the previous school garden bike tour (this past fall), the BicycleSpace and OSSE and school garden peeps got to thinking: why not take the ride to the next level? The idea this time around is to not only raise awareness about a handful of awesome school gardens but to then help to raise a bit of funding support their amazing work.  I mean cash money. Not a lot, but a bit. (It all goes to the garden project -- promise! Your friendly neighborhood food educator is helping to organize this gratis.)

    It all starts at BicycleSpace @ 11:30am -- a perfectly reasonable hour to be riding a bicycle on a Sunday, don't you think? The group will share a tasty, free breakfast. At the final school, thanks to a generous donation by our local Slow Food chapter, we'll transplant seedlings grown by the wonderful Farmer Kristin over at Radix Farm into raised garden beds at one of the schools. In between, we will learn from each school about a project they need to accomplish in order to make their garden an even better learning environment.  As the tour goes on, you'll want to keep in mind which school inspires you the most, or looks to have the most potential, because at the last school, over a delicious free lunch around 2pm or so, BicycleSpace will request donations. Then we will all vote on which school's project will receive all of what has been collected.  You will decide which school will benefit. (Bam! There's a direct democracy in action for you!)

    Space is limited so sign up here.

    Okay, so, yes, it is technically free, but I'd encourage you to donate if you are one of the 80 cyclists on the ride....

    Monday, May 27, 2013

    Once a food educator, always a food educator

    My next door neighbor, Henry, called out to me from his back patio earlier this evening as I was ducking into my apartment. "Come on over for a barbecue!"

    What would Memorial Day be without a barbecue? Not a proper American holiday, certainly. But after a weekend spent mostly in Arlington, I was at a loss for something to contribute. And I'll be damned if I show up at a barbecue empty-handed. Luckily, I had some garlic scapes on hand from the farmers' market in my fridge.

    You should have seen the odd but intrigued looks I got from Henry and friends when I emerged moments later. "I'm bringing over some garlic scapes," I called over the fence as folks looked down into my garden. "They come from this part of the garlic plant -- just one scape per plant, see, here's one coming up right here on this plant -- and they're something to feast on while the garlic bulbs do their last few weeks of growing underground." I couldn't help myself, they were so curious. (Henry is used to my quirky contributions -- I'd brought along chocolate beet brownies to a cookout on his deck a few years ago. Still, he happily munched on a scape in the bundle as they came off the gas grill minutes later.)

    "So you just toss those... scapes... on the grill with a little olive oil? And that's it??" one guy asked. "That's so easy!" It's true, I assured him, as I set to chomping on some corn on the cob.

    "Wow, they're done in less than five minutes! And you're right," a woman nearby commented, "They are definitely garlicky, but much milder than regular garlic. Can you eat these raw, too?" You certainly can, I assured her, and continued to field questions as I dug into a bowl of potato salad at the end of the picnic table.

    "How come I've never seen those before?" another barbecue guest asked. "I'm going to keep an eye out for them. And you say they are good in pesto...?"

    I really just stopped by for a beer and a veggie burger, but can I help it if folks want to learn about seasonal food and cooking in my free time? Ah, I love it. And I suspect some of them will be seeking out these treasured allium shoots at the farmers' market, since as far as I've seen they are unavailable at the grocery store....

    Saturday, May 18, 2013

    Every day is Bike To Work Day

    "Are you part of Bike To Work Day?" a middle-aged, spandex-clad man asked me as Ollie and I caught up to him coming up that 4th Street hill in Northeast DC yesterday morning.

    "Every day is Bike To Work Day for me," I smiled, suddenly feeling a little silly in my sundress and sneakers on a weathered touring bike next to this guy and his buddy on sleek racing bikes in matching outfits and clip-in shoes.

    "Oh. That's pretty cool. Well, nice work getting up that hill. Have a great day!"

    "Thanks. You, too!" I managed to mask the heavy breathing until we'd split off in different directions a block later. I have a badass biker reputation to uphold, after all, and I didn't want him to see me catching my breath after that killer incline.

    Later, as I cycled home from teaching, a random guy in a crosswalk down near the White House called out, "Beautiful day, isn't it? Are you part of Bike To Work Day?" Now, I'm not used to such open friendliness towards bikers in this town, so I was a little startled. I didn't have a Bike To Work t-shirt on, and started to wonder if I looked like someone who didn't normally bike around. In retrospect, I realize that he might've just seen something in the news about it. I vaguely recall hearing something on NPR about BTWD as I was stepping into the shower that morning at the crack of 7am.... Okay, fine, maybe 7:30. Anyway, the memory was foggy.

    Seems my local Bike Advocacy group, WABA, did a great job spreading the word around the city. While chatting with folks at a BTWD pit stop in my 'hood, and assuring them that I am a dues-paying member already, thank you very much, I learned that over 14,000 people in the DC area apparently registered to ride their bicycles to work yesterday. That's amazing! I might go so far as to suggest a low level of legitimate "traffic" in the bike lanes over the course of the day. Though it slowed me down slightly, I was elated to see so many cyclists during my morning, midday, and late afternoon commutes.

    I've been noticing a lot more inverted U racks (for bike parking) and "share the road" signs around town lately. Is it possible that our nation's capital is at least becoming truly bikeable? With this many cyclists on the road, even for just one day each year, I'm hopeful.





    Saturday, May 11, 2013

    Fun with fungi

    "Here I am, all ready for eating," I hear a little voice call from under my back porch.

    Another small voice chimes in, "Me, too!"

    No, those aren't the imaginary voices of the microgreens I started a handful of weeks ago. The cutting lettuces and baby spinach have a higher pitched, chirpy tone when they're ready. There is something calling out that has a distinctly... fungal... lilt.

    (In case you're worried about my mental well-being, let me assure you that I don't actually think my mushrooms are talking to me. Everyone knows that mushrooms don't talk. They sing.)

    Is it possible that at long last, my homemade shiitake logs have fruited? Those beautiful logs that Jeff hauled over in the trunk of his car, lugged from the side of the road in Takoma Park, where Park Service crews were chopping up a large white oak felled after a heavy thunderstorm back in the late summer of 2011? The ones that he and I drilled, inoculated with hundreds of shiitake spore plugs, and meticulously covered with melted beeswax (to keep nondesirable things from reproducing in the depths of the nutrient-rich logs)?



    Those logs were a LOT of work to get ready for mushroom growing, let me tell you, and I was perhaps not overly kind in my references to the non-fruiting logs over their year and a half of seeming dormancy. I may have audibly maligned them when six months went by, then nine months with no sign of even a single, tiny shroom. Grrr....


    I got so irritated after about a year that I lugged them around, finally forming two makeshift raised beds under my back porch "so that they could at least serve some function instead of just sitting there taking up space." Becky came to visit soon  afterwards and seeded the beds with spinach, baby chard, lettuce mixes. At least I had some salad greens through the late summer and autumn of 2012. Now could it be that they were just slow growers, that those previously unfruitful (har, har) fallen-tree chunks have taken off at last, that I am about to be up to my eyeballs in fresh, organic, homegrown mushrooms?? They look promising...



    I called Jeff yesterday, when I discovered the two sizable (probably shiitake) mushrooms sprouting out of the logs, excitedly telling him about our maybe-successful-after-all mushroom log development. He congratulated me. He also recommended a few nearby hospitals "just in case." There is a high probability that they are shiitakes, being that the logs were stuffed with shiitake spores. But what if they're not?

    To be honest, I am a little nervous. What kind of end to a life story would that be: death by misidentified mushroom consumption in one's own backyard? Tell me honestly: don't mine look like the ones cousin Caroline and I harvested from her shiitake logs at Mountaindale Farms a couple summers ago? At least a little bit?


    Anyone want to come over for mushroom stirfry tonight?

    Monday, May 6, 2013

    You can quote me on that

    Did you catch last week's Food Section in the Post?

    I almost missed it, busy as I have been, but luckily Kenton's mom sent me a copy. She thought I'd get a kick out of the feature article on the wacky world of DC-area farmers' market newsletters. I did enjoy reading about some of my market friends' fun and quirky weekly updates. Just below the second page of the article, my eyes fell on a short piece on new markets opening this season... one in which I am quoted. Extensively. I am pleased that the reporter contacted me a few weeks ago about including the soon-to-open Suitland market in a piece about innovative new community farmers' markets. I am just a little anxious about the details.

    It is true that I will be the market manager. It is true that the market will benefit the neighborhood and nearby federal workers. It is true that we will have awesome local farmers from Maryland and Virginia... What is not exactly right: the market doesn't start until next month. (To be fair, back over the winter, the community had discussed an April start date, but we'd still much to work out, so we moved the opening to June.) And there were a couple of things that I had tried to emphasize that were completely left out. In particular, the amazing partnerships that brought the whole thing about.

    Reading the piece, it sounds like I am putting this market together all by myself. That is hardly the case. The lion's share has been handled by my friends and colleagues, Jessica and Janet, who have been working with farmers and other small food producers and extension officers over the cold weather months. Where is the mention of the STEER Center -- the driving force behind the market that "has been in the works for several years"? Yes, yes, I am sure there are character and column limitations, so the friendly reporter couldn't include everything I wanted. (She was writing the piece -- not me -- and to her credit did hit on a number of the key details.) Me, while I am very much looking forward to opening day on June 4th, I am hardly a veteran in the neighborhood. I only got involved with the Suitland community a year and a half ago, when I helped some middle schoolers start a garden. True, I do love those students, and am elated that the program has since evolved to include a hoophouse -- the source of the "hyper-local produce" mentioned in the Post article -- but the idea of a market in the Suitland community had been discussed for years before I came on the scene.

    What reporters decide to include can be funny. Just the other day I was laughing out loud while reading a chapter of my friend Forrest's (excellent) book that touches on a much more extreme interaction with the local media. (Not much time to myself lately, so it's taking me awhile to get through the preview copy Forrest gave me, er, wow, over a month ago. And now it's available on Amazon. Shoot. I'd better sign off of the computer and get back to reading Gaining Ground before Forrest comes out with the sequel!) There's a great scene in chapter 10 where a reporter comes to interview Forrest as he's just starting his first season of selling free-range meat on the family farm in rural VA. The young farmer walks his guest around the farm, pointing out the happily grazing animals, answering questions, and clarifying -- he thinks -- any confusing points. The article comes out, and Forrest stares disbelievingly at the selective interpreted quotes taken out of context in the local paper. His explanation of the complexity of flavor that comes from the unique blend of grasses and clover, the terroir, in the resulting beef is printed as "You can taste dirt in the meat." I don't want to give away the whole take on manure management -- you're just going to have to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. It's too funny.

    Luckily for Forrest, "[e]vidently, weed-fed cattle with meat that tasted like dirt had a certain appeal after all." And luckily for me, a lot of other good details were included, but I want to make sure that the official interwebs record clearly states that I am not single-handedly starting up a farmers' market in Suitland. It is very much the labor of love of quite a few people, unmentioned in the final article. It is for you that I write. Thank you. For everything. Looking forward to our grand opening in a few weeks!

    (Did I mention the market starts on June 4?)