Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Are you a worm expert?

It's funny, I've composted at home for a handful of years now, and tried my hand at worm composting at least twice, with mixed success. But to the 1st grade FoodPrints class I was assisting with at SWS this morning, I seemed to be one of the authorities in the room.

"Are you a worm expert?" young Isabelle asked me as she crumbled coconut coir into our homemade, two-level bin. I tore up some more paper bag scraps as I considered this new title.

"Well, I know that worms breathe through their skin," exclaimed her table mate, Evan, "so that makes me kind of an expert!" He had a point.

I wonder what makes someone an expert at anything, really. I mean, I am pretty darn good at changing flat tires. And improvising ways to lash an inordinate amount of stuff to my bicycle. I can prepare a meal out of seemingly incompatible ingredients -- take my chicken, chickpea, peanut, and coconut milk stew I tossed together last week for some personal chef clients: delish!

I suppose by the time I got through working with the fourth group this morning, I was a worm expert. I could talk about slimy skin and a lack of teeth and not letting the bedding get too wet with the best red wiggler authorities out there. Especially if my colleagues are 6 years old.

I can't wait to start a bin with 1st graders at Tyler Elementary in a couple of weeks. Viva la vermiculture!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Had your fill of phyllo?

I have a funny feeling that phyllo dough will play a role in my afterlife somehow: if I end up in heaven, I'll be eating it; if I end up in hell, I'll be cooking with it....

This weekend marked my dad's 80th birthday. (Before you say it, I know he doesn't look anywhere close to 80. But it's true.) The past few days have mainly been spent cooking, eating, drinking, and laughing as a result. As it was a significant milestone --one only turns 40 twice, after all -- I wanted to be sure the food I was preparing was of a significant caliber and volume. So I broke out the recipe from my friend Jenn up in Brooklyn, memories of the flaky cheesy goodness she made for us for dinner one night when I was visiting this summer still lingering in my memory. Doesn't that just look delicious? And in this shot it hadn't even been popped into the oven yet to become crispy, creamy perfection!

Now, I recall phyllo being a bit of a challenge to work with, back when I was making baklava in Mexico. No need to get into the soggy and overly sweet disaster that was that little experiment. Let us just say that I knew not to over-butter each sheet this time.

I honestly think phyllo dough is God's little joke on food lovers. It is so tantalizingly delicious, and so tempting to think that this time one knows what one is doing, and will not make the same mistakes that resulted in the last attempt's imperfections. Keep the dough cool. Keep it moist. Not too moist. Work quickly.... Anyway, despite my best efforts, the brand new, cool but not too cool, barely moistened with a kitchen towel, paper-thin sheets of heaven fractured as soon as I attempted to unroll them. Armed with a glass of wine and no shortage of muttering, I forged ahead, patching the strips together with (you guessed it) plenty of butter. And you know what, it came out just fine. Especially if you pre-slice it before baking.

Adapted from Jenn's meticulous following of the spinach pie recipe in Amy Sedaris' hilarious cookbook, "I Like You." The changes are mostly due to my failure to read the original directions closely enough, but the result was still delicious.


  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs cooked spinach, excess moisture pressed out by smooshing in a colander
  • 8 oz neufchatel or cream cheese
  • 6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
  • 8 oz small curd cottage cheese
  • 2 bunches scallions, chopped
  • 1 small bunch dill, chopped (comes to 2-3 TBSP)
  • 1 stick (8 TBSP) of butter, melted
  • 1/2 box (8 oz) phyllo pastry


  1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until fluffy, then add everything else except phyllo and butter. (You can make this filling ahead of time and store for an hour or a day.)
  2. Using a pastry brush, butter a 9" x 13" baking dish.
  3. Line the bottom with one sheet of phyllo (or a bunch of individual strips of it if your day is looking like a phyllo-hell day, but don't worry, it will still work out!). Continue layering -- phyllo, then butter -- until you use about half of the phyllo dough.
  4. Add spinach filling and spread evenly.
  5. Place the remaining phyllo on top, again buttering between each layer.
  6. Pre-cut the spanikopita, cover with foil, and place in the freezer for about an hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350F.
  8. Remove foil, baptize the top of the spanikopita with a little water, and bake until brown and crispy (45 minutes to 1 hour). If the top layer of phyllo starts to get too brown, cover with foil.
  9. Enjoy!

p.s.- Dad, in case you are inspired to try your own masterful hand at this recipe , have at it. I left some extra spinach and the other half of the box of phyllo in your freezer. I recommend at least one glass of wine to steady the nerves while working with it. Happy birthday!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

May you have a thousand flats

I said a lot less polite things under my breath the entire bike ride home from school today, my semi-detached rear fender rattling and squealing as I rode with an overloaded pannier filled with cooking supplies for tomorrow's class lashed to Ollie's front rack.

Why? you ask.

Because some... jerk... decided to take my rear bike rack for himself. And took bolt cutters to my fender in the process. In the middle of the day, on a somewhat busy street corner near the Waterfront metro station, from a bicycle -- with both wheels locked, thank god -- right in front of an elementary school. Sure, it's a $30 part, but I feel violated. I mean, who walks around with BOLT CUTTERS that isn't up to something shifty. (I guess nobody.) And I won't have a chance to get to a bike shop to buy another rack for a couple of days due to a packed teaching schedule, so I'll be hauling stuff around in a backpack for the next little while. (Riding home with loaded front panniers was dicey at best. I'm not going to try it during rush hour.)

Some people clearly were unloved as children. I mean, seriously, a rear bike rack -- who does that??

I guess I should be glad that this mouth-breather didn't try to take my front rack as well or I'd have been really up a creek trying to get stuff home. My landlady pointed out that they didn't steal my seat or cut the bike chain. That's something, I guess. I checked the brakes and they seem intact, if in need of adjustment, and they didn't steal the two spare spokes on Ollie or the pedals. That's something. And that something is a low bar.

Bike vandals, I wish the wind in your face as you ride and a thousand flat tires.