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:


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

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


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.)