Sunday, September 28, 2014

I am a professional

But, as I tell my students, everyone messes things up sometimes, too. Life is a learning experience.

I've been canning for about four years now, but until yesterday, I'd never broken a jar. I am, as you might guess from my obsession with equipment sterilization, a bit of a stickler about technique. And yet somehow, I managed yesterday to break not one, not two, not even THREE jars while canning. Four jars. Now in pieces in the recycling bin. Embarrassing, but true. Three perfect pint jars and one beautiful quart of tomatoes exploded over the course of one solo canning session as I rushed to get things wrapped up before heading to a Nats game. I'd poked around the jars with a chopstick before sealing them to clear out any potentially explosive air bubbles. Apparently not well enough.

Some days, you just need to throw in the towel. Or rather, you mop your brow with a kitchen towel and fish out the tender, floating tomato bits in the canning pot and make tomato sauce (with lots of red the sauce, and also for the person making the sauce) and try again.

Maybe, I thought, it was the equipment. Or maybe, I reconsidered, as the equipment has not changed much since last time I canned tomatoes, my canning mojo was just off. Maybe I needed help.

And help I had. Today, Kenton came over this afternoon. After treating me to a lovely brunch, he assisted me in disposing of the 5 FLATS OF AMAZING HEIRLOOM TOMATOES I picked up from McLeaf's Orchard. A few caprese salads eaten, a few pounds given to my landlady (share the wealth, right?), 24 pint jars of tomatoes cooling, and with 6 jars of (non-explosion-induced) savory tomato sauce processing right now, we're done. The glass of wine tonight was just for good measure. After all, I am a professional.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The cycle of stuff

A few months ago, my landlady and I determined that my homemade Oscar the Grouch composter was too small to accommodate the quantity of food scraps the two of us were producing. It was a sad day. I loved that can. Remember when we first started composting?

Through the winter months as the lid was periodically in danger of popping off due to overstuffing, we tried everything we could think of: adding more browns, adding outdoor worms... In the end, I agreed that we needed a bigger can. (We were certainly not going to cook less, if that's what you were going to ask.) Oscar was retired on a sunny afternoon in April. He sat there out in the backyard, rinsed out and forlorn for months, casting langorous looks at our super-sized new compost bin as his own fate hung in the balance.

Then a couple of weeks ago, while scarfing down some delicious grilled food at their place, my friends Katie and Joey mentioned that they wanted to start composting at their home in Fort Totten. They had a huge yard, and more than enough food scraps and leaves to get started, they insisted, but they needed something rodent-proof. Within days, Oscar was installed in his new digs.

"Here are some pictures of your can's new home," Katie wrote, "and Eliza participating. Tried to get her to help me collect leaves. She mostly tried to eat them, but then liked dropping them in the can. Fun teaching moment -- thank you!"

No, Katie, thank YOU for giving Oscar a second life. Happy composting!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Parks and Rec

Many thanks to my friend Josh, who invited me to teach a Garden Cooking class this evening at the Deanwood Rec Center. It was a lot of fun, and part of DPR's Community Garden program: a whole season of free classes on everything from building compost bins to designing a forest garden to beekeeping to inoculating mushroom logs. My assignment was to teach folks tasty and inexpensive ways to cook the bounty of produce one can grow in a DC-area home or community garden plot (or at least find at local farmers' markets -- we're no purists).

We started out with about 5 participants, but after I finished blah-blahing and we got to cooking, the numbers steadily jumped to about 15 people. It was my favorite kind of class: low-key with a mix of ages and experience levels, but with enthusiasm across the board. After a round of hand washing, I introduced the recipes, then let folks self-select which group they'd like to work in (oh, what a change from teaching a classful of 5th-graders).

The crowd favorite may have been my favorite massaged kale salad, with well-beaten purple kale and double the usual goat cheese. That kale was massaged to within an inch of its (delicious) life by a very enthusiastic masseuse:

No, maybe the favorite was the basil-chard-pumpkin-seed pesto pasta salad, in which some attendees tried sauteed chard stems for the first time (and loved them, thank you very much):

Then again, one of the aspiring young chefs told me on her way out that she was definitely going to make the peach-tomato-black-bean salsa at home. I mean, who can resist late-summer peaches?

For your cooking pleasure, I offer the latter, one of my newest favorite recipes, here....

Tomato, Peach, and Black Bean Salsa


  • 1-2 cups cooked black beans (see below)
  • 1 small red onion, diced small 
  • 2-3 tomatoes(of any color and shape), diced small 
  • 2 peaches, cored and diced small
  • ½ small chili pepper, seeded and minced
  • Handful of herbs (mint, cilantro, and/or parsley), chopped
  • ½-1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Juice from 1 lime (optional)
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss thoroughly.

VARIATION: Leave out the beans and plop spoonfuls of this on slices of baguette for a fresh bruschetta!

TIP: How To Cook Dried Black Beans (courtesy of
  1. Take 1 cup dried beans, place in a bowl, and cover with about double their amount in water. Soak for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Drain the beans of their soaking liquid and transfer to a pot. Cover again with at least 2-4 inches of water and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the heat down and simmer covered on very low heat until the beans are cooked through and soft (about 1 hour).
  4. You can add cumin, ginger, or garlic to the cooking liquid to add flavor. Ginger and cumin both help with the digestibility of the beans, reducing gas.

Oh, heck, they were all delicious. And luckily I didn't need to schlep any leftovers back home. Now THAT is the sign of a successful class.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chocolate sweet potato truffles

One of my favorite pastimes these days is taking on too many things at one time. Take today, for instance....

Things started bright and earlier than usual with a 5th grade team meeting across town, followed by an impromptu curriculum planning meeting. By 10am, it was time to continue on to check on the garden at Tyler after the long, rainy weekend, then head to Whole Foods to shop for the cheffing gig I would spend the rest of today cooking for...sorry, I couldn't end that sentence with a preposition. In the midst of all this, I've been trying to keep up with the women's quarterfinals and men's round-of-sixteen of the U.S. Open. It's no surprise that this week's cheffing dessert wound up being something quick, easy, and shaped like a tennis ball....

Chocolate Sweet Potato Truffles
Recipe adapted from

1 large sweet potato
2 TBSP honey
2 TBSP coconut oil
½ cup almond flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
for dusting: ½ cup or so of shredded coconut, ground nuts, and/or cocoa powder

  1. Wrap sweet potato in foil and bake at 400F til soft (I did about 45 mins, then let it cool in the foil, where it continued to steam and loosen the skin for easy peeling).
  2. Peel cooled sweet potato, then mash with coconut oil and honey.
  3. Stir in almond flour, cocoa powder and mix well.
  4. Refrigerate until dough is a little more of a playdough consistency – at least 30 minutes.
  5. Put your “dusting” ingredient(s) in a small bowl.
  6. Use a large spoon – I used a Tablespoon – to coop out sweet potato mixture and use your fingers to gently roll your chocolatey blob around in the dusting bowl until it forms a ball-like shape.
  7. Place rolled truffles on a plate or tray lined with waxed paper and slide them into the fridge for at least 1 hour to set (or into the freezer for 20 minutes if you happen to be a poor manager of time while as you watch the U.S. Open while trying to keep up with an ambitious personal cheffing schedule…).
  8. Enjoy!

Did I mention these are gluten-free? Yep, that means no back pain, no matter how many I eat. Luckily this batch should come out to at least a dozen or so....