Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Worms, are you there?

I know some of you have been holding your collective breath, waiting for an update on my fancypants composting nighcrawlers. Well, I just checked on them this weekend, and again this afternoon. I'm happy to report that our European-bred worms -- hardier, I was told, than their red wiggling brethren -- appear to be happily squirming around in the top foot or so of the outdoor compost bin. The scrap level has even visibly gone down a bit. Yes, in spite of our recent flurry (ha, ha) of snow showers over the past week, they seem to have settled in.

Hoping they can pick up the pace on the food scrap eating soon, though: I've been making veggie stock like a madwoman and need 'em to start eating things down asap. I'll need good garden soil soon. They are supposed to eat (and poop out) their body weight in food scraps each day, so with a solid pound of worms, they should be able to catch up fairly quickly. (They'd better not go on a diet, like my former roommates and one of my ex-boyfriends simultaneously did in the middle of an apple dessert baking frenzy I went through a handful of years ago. Now that sucked. Well, I suppose diets do, generally speaking.)

Listen here, wormies, forget about your figures. Your job is to eat as MUCH and as OFTEN as possible.

Or else we're going to go fishing when the weather warms up.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pickle me this...

Yesterday was just beautiful. Still a bit cool for my taste, with highs in the low 50s, but nice and sunny, and so, compared to recent weather, rather balmy. So Kenton and I decided to bike the 5 miles or so -- nearly all uphill, thank you very much -- from my place to the Takoma Park farmers' market. I was on the lookout for produce to pickle for my workshop next weekend, and I did leave with a pannier filled with local turnips. I was also tasked with bringing some salad greens for brunch at my dear friend Susan's place, where we'd be heading after the market. I don't know how the chocolate pudding got into my bag. Must've been Kenton's doing.

It's a good thing our ride home was 6 miles of mostly downhill after the double-fondue luncheon. Susan broke out first the smoked salmon and cream cheese, and then the cheese fondue with fresh bread, and then the chocolate and fresh fruit fondue, with plenty of chilled white wine throughout. Lordy, was that a tasty meal. And my salad was well received: a bowl of tender mixed greens, toasted walnuts, and pickled grapes with a curry vinaigrette. (What, like I was just going to bring some greens? C'mon.) It would've been nice with a few little blobs of chevre, but considering the cheesy nature of the bulk of our meal, I opted to leave that out this first go-round.

Pickled grapes?? Yes. I'd been thinking about these since I first heard of pickled grapes at last year's Rooting DC pickling session, so I decided to tinker with a few recipes. This one is adapted from Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life.  Delicious in salads (as proven yesterday), or alongside roast chicken, likely tasty in a chicken salad, and definitely as a nibbly alternative to olives (as proven this evening as I type and try not to drip mustard-anise solution on the keyboard).

Pickled Grapes

Combine in an 8oz jar:

  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 5 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp mustard seed
  • 4-5 whole black peppercorns
  • ½ star anise, crushed
  • large pinch salt
  • (you can add a spoonful of sugar if you like, but I find the grapes themselves have plenty)
Once dissolved -- you can speed up the process by simmering the solution in a small pot on the stove before pouring into your jar -- add:

  • grapes (about ¼ lb), preferably seedless, stems removed
  • ½ cinnamon stick
Add additional apple cider vinegar as needed to be sure all grapes are submerged. Seal and refrigerate for 2 days before using.

I'll be leading another session on pickle making at this weekend's Rooting DC conference, but this time along with my favorite refrigerator pickles, I'll have stuff to make these unusual but tasty pickled grapes, as well as lemon rosemary pickled green beans (that I suspect would make for kickin' bloody mary stir sticks...).

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Look what I did!

The adorable kiddos I work with have been cooped up by cold weather for too long lately.

When I told the kids in my section of VeggieTime this afternoon that we'd be having our first garden day of the season, the high-pitched squeals of excitement coming from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders moved like a wave through the group. Suddenly everyone had to use the bathroom, though I suspect some of the girls needed to check their hair since they saw me toting a camera today.

"Okay, okay, let's make sure everyone who needs to use the restroom does that first, then I'm going to need some help getting all of this stuff back outside. Hey, stop fiddling with that trowel -- put it back. Now, let's hope it doesn't decide to rain again." I crossed my fingers, and we piled into the elevator with two carts filled with compost, seeds, gloves, and garden tools. (It never ceases to amaze me how exciting using the school elevator is for elementary schoolers. Why is that?)

We made our way out to the furthest two raised garden beds and I explained the first task: remove last season's dead plants. Boy did they love pulling things out of the beds.

With minimal training, I think some of them could earn at least a silver medal if unearthing plants ever becomes an Olympic sport. (I've heard talk of yoga making it into the Olympics one day, so you never know.) I mean, there were some BIG roots in there. One in particular took six different people loosening things up to finally get it out! "Look what I did!" I heard from across the garden. "No, look what I did!" And another. And another. Here is the victorious team of root pullers -- they're tougher and more determined than those beguiling smiles might suggest:

By the handful or the armload, all of our plant scraps went down the hill, through the snow and puddles, and into the compost bins:

Then it was time to mix in some aged compost and get planting!

If I was surprised by how much they enjoyed pulling up plants, I was downright astounded by how much they loved digging, finding any excuse to use a trowel or a hand fork to... well... to move soil around. Most of it stayed in the beds. And we planted a few packets of seeds and watered everything using recycled milk carton "watering cans."

In a month or two, with decent weather, periodic watering, and a little luck, we should have some spinach, kale, beets, carrots, and swiss chard to nibble on. Mmmm, eating: my favorite part of gardening.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Falling off the gluten wagon

Nothing like a trip to New Orleans to knock even the most disciplined eater off the gluten-free wagon. I could only hold out for so long, which turned out to be approximately one hour, as the friendly hostess of the airbnb home we stayed at had baked us fresh oatmeal cookies to welcome us for the long weekend. It was all over. Po' boys. Beer. Beignets. Seriously, who could resist cafe au lait and beignets in The Big Easy? Well, the gluten gluttony did end eventually, and after a weekend of eating and drinking and biking around in 70-degree days and listening to live jazz late into the night, Kenton and I returned to chilly DC, and I returned to a gluten-free diet. Mostly.

I mean, today was yet another snow day, and I needed something to go with my soup....

Well, maybe tomorrow I'll swear off gluten again. Or maybe the day after, just in case there's a tasty Valentine's dessert on the menu.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Waiting for the worms


About a month ago, my landlady and I determined that between us we seemed to be creating a bit more compost than our single Oscar the Grouch can out back could handle. Okay, a LOT more. I suggested that we simply get a second can -- no, not only because I'd get to let loose again with the drill. Jacky had a better idea: worms.

Now, our household's curious and tenacious beagle population would not allow us to consider an indoor worm bin. And I'd always thought that you could only have red wigglers in your outdoor compost bins in mild weather -- certainly not during extreme cold (like, say, the past few weeks) or hot weather. I didn't want to get some happy wigglers and have 'em freeze to death mid munch, leaving us $40-50 poorer and with the same amount of compostables as we started with. I said as much to Jacky. Luckily, my landlady was not to be foiled so easily: after some research we learned that there are some hardy outdoor composting worms that would do just fine in our chilly DC winters. So a few days before the Martin Luther King holiday, we put in an order for 500 European Nightcrawlers and started stockpiling special kitchen scraps to welcome our hungry new arrivals in 1-3 business days.

We waited.

And waited.

Scraps continued to pile up.

And finally, after the first batch, delayed by snow and federal holidays, was delivered to the wrong address, and the replacement worm package, complete with the traditional misspelled name but at least the correct address, dispatched the following week, Jacky was elated to have our box of first-class-mailed wormies handed to her by our local postal worker yesterday afternoon. (The mailwoman was visibly weirded out when she learned what was in the box she'd been toting around in her messenger bag. It seems this company doesn't label their shipments as "LIVE WORMS" like my previous supplier did, but they were well protected -- as was the mail carrier -- by the sturdy, but breathable bag inside.)

This morning, before I headed out to teach, Jacky and I had a ceremonial installation of our new neighbors.

Our European Nightcrawlers must be Scandinavian. It's the only way I can fathom them not being phased by this weather and immediately starting to chomp away....

We covered them up with our special welcome scraps -- avocado skins, butternut squash peels, shredded crossword puzzles, and some of their other known favorites -- and left them to eat long and prosper. And multiply, we hope.

p.s.- Apologies to all of you Pink Floyd fans who ended up reading this blogpost by mistake (though I will say it's decidedly more hopeful than what you were originally seeking).