Saturday, December 26, 2015

Dazed and Infused

Christmas is always a tricky time for me.

Things I love about it: 
  • opportunities to get together with friends and family
  • strings of those little white lights
  • having an excuse to bake a lot
  • the possibility of making a snowman

Things I hate about it:
  • it's cold outside (but not at the moment -- thanks, climate change!)
  • it's the time of year with the least amount of daylight
  • there is an endless loop of mostly terrible holiday music playing everywhere
  • the pressure of gift giving

Don't get me wrong, I *love* figuring out the perfect present for people in my life. I often get so excited when I find that something that I can't stand to wait until the designated occasion to give it to them. And then the occasion rolls around and I have bupkis. "Remember that awesome thing I gave you three months ago? No, that other thing. Yeah, happy birthday."

Well, this year, I decided to go homemade. And boozy. On Christmas morning, Mom unwrapped a big bottle of homemade limoncello. Dad found himself with a hand-painted recipe and ingredients for chestnut chocolate milk -- don't be fooled, there's bourbon in it -- that I'd learned from the good folks at a cocktail tasting and watercolor class my friend Patricia invited me to at Union Market a couple of weeks ago. And little brother became the proud owner of a pint jar of lemongrass-infused vodka. Plus some books for his wife and the most adorable 9-month-old niece ever, both of whom apparently don't drink. (Slackers.)

Yes, lemongrass vodka. I'd never come across it before, either. It all started when my friend Steve decided to dig up the lemongrass plants in his back yard last month to make room for some winter greens. Admiring them sitting in a sunny windowsill in my front room, I began to brainstorm things I could make with 3 large pots of lemongrass. This was assuming the plants survived the repotting process. (And as you can see, they have, and are even starting to grow new shoots!)

Historically, I have pretty much only used lemongrass in Thai cooking. But there are only so many curries a woman can make, even one who loves them, so I started to dabble in other lemongrass experiments. Lemongrass in my miso soup (great with lots of fresh ginger and garlic). A few stalks in the bath (nice). Burned as incense (not recommended). Lemongrass tea (lovely with a touch of local honey). Wait. Drinks. Yes. Why not lemongrass cocktails? I thought. It was time to do some serious experimenting.

Okay, maybe not so serious. But thorough. If you decide to make your own, all you need is:
  • a handful of lemongrass
  • some decent vodka
  • a bottle with a tight top
  • a dark place to let your infusion steep
  • a sense of adventure

(Goodness, this is starting to sound like the list of "things I couldn't live without" on my online dating profile. Hmmm. This might be a better list.)

Anyway, if you need some lemongrass, call me. For heaven's sake, don't pay $5 for a 3-inch stalk at Whole Foods! And if you need some ideas for what to do with your fancy seeming lemongrass-infused vodka, try one of these cocktails:

Be careful, though. You don't want to end up like this guy:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hot buttered popcorn

I can't stop thinking about the popcorn I had a couple of weeks ago at Lyman's Tavern, out on a date back in my old Columbia Heights stomping grounds. While we didn't pan out as romantic partners, I will be eternally indebted to Patrick for introducing me to sriracha popcorn.

I know what you're thinking. Popcorn isn't very highbrow. And I am something of a foodie. But I have to tell you, this stuff will change your life. [Cue infomercial....] But seriously, should you find yourself snuggled up on the couch with a movie and a hankering for something to nibble on, try this twist on the traditional buttered popcorn, which is great washed down with a cold beer or a finger of rye whiskey:

Sriracha buttered popcorn


  • 1/4 cup olive or grapeseed oil
  • 2/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 3-4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 Tablespoons sriracha
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


Add the oil and 3 popcorn kernels to a large pot with a lid.

Cover and cook over medium-high heat until all 3 kernels pop.

Take the three kernels out of the pot, and pour in the rest of the popcorn kernels.

Cover and take the pot off of the heat. Wait 30 seconds (fun to count with your kids, if you have any).

Put the pot back on the heat. Cook, shaking the pot occasionally until the popping slows down.

After about 2 minutes, and the popping has slowed down, transfer the popcorn to a large bowl.

In the same pot you popped in (I mean, no need to create extra dishes), melt the butter and add the sriracha.

Toss popcorn back in the pot to coat it, then sprinkle on the salt.


I'm pretty sure they make it differently at the bar, but some trial and error has gone into the homemade version of this recipe.

Oh boy, all this writing about it, I think I might have to make myself a big bowl of it right now. (And, still single, I don't have to share it. Ha! Take that, cruel dating world!)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Madam Brewski

A couple of months ago, over a couple of happy hour beers at Glen's, my buddy Josh was telling me about how he and his girlfriend were debating whether or not to host their annual persimmon festival.

"Excuse me? I adore persimmons! How have I not heard of this gathering before??" I spluttered, nearly knocking over my pint of porter. (Probably because I tend to have my head down and focused on teaching during the first few months of each school year, working to get the garden back in order and routines in place. Okay, fine.)

We began to brainstorm things we could make. Persimmon cupcakes... icecream... beer. Yes. Well, as it turned out, the festival never came to pass, but as recently as three weeks ago I remained fixated on the idea of persimmon beer. I happened to mention my idea to my friend Kate, who in turn got very excited, as she has just purchased some basic, used homebrewing equipment. And she had a couple of persimmon trees on her property. And hops -- fresh Cascade hops grown at nearby Wangari Gardens. (Hooray for uber local ingredients!) That settled it: it was time for me to eschew the pre-measured, scripted beer kits and strike out to create a new beer.

Okay, maybe I would see if there was some guide online.... Thankfully, there was. The next step was to gather the ingredients, which involved a series of emails and then trip to one of my favorite local breweries to pick up the remaining supplies: malt, yeast, barley, and a few other odds and ends. I suggested I could hand grind the malted grains at home -- I've had lots of practice grinding wheat into flour with hand-powered mills at school lately -- but the helpful gentleman at the 3 Stars brewshop pulverized a whole pound of grain for me in less than 5 seconds. Oooh. Maybe I need one of these:

Last Sunday afternoon, some of my favorite lady friends gathered to nibble, drink, catch up, and get a 5-gallon batch of persimmon ale started. First, we needed a pound of [persimmon] flesh. Kate got to work:

As the wort began to simmer, we sterilized equipment, nibbled on the persimmon peels, and mashed the pulp. Then it was time to add the malt:

Then we stirred in the persimmon pulp, cinnamon, and freshly grated nutmeg:

And then the hops:

As we were about to kick back and rest on our brewing laurels, the first kink in the plan arose: the wort chiller's end cap wouldn't fit onto my kitchen faucet. Must I revert to my rudimentary wort cooling methods of yesteryear? I wondered. Luckily, Farmer Kate had some irrigation equipment in her truck parked out front:

A bit of fiddling and we were back in business:

I'm going to skip over the splashy pouring of the cooled wort into the glass carboy in my bathtub -- nobody needs to see that -- but suffice to say Madam Brewski has been moved to a nice warm part of my apartment and has been bubbling away in my kitchen ever since:

Kind of looks like she has a bit of Polish heritage, no? Definitely Eastern European.... My people. And my brewing people were all about toasting and grinding the spent grain to make some Mexican wedding cakes to scarf as we finished the last of the beer in my fridge and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done. Check out Jessica presenting her delicious handiwork, mere moments before the vast majority of confection-sugar-dusted mouthfuls were devoured:

One more week til we transfer to the secondary fermenter, then another couple of weeks before bottling. Should have some finished persimmon ale ready right around my birthday. How nice....

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A season of thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! As I get ready to head to my parents' place for this most delicious of national holidays, I have been reflecting on things that I am thankful for. Yes, I know I just ended that sentence with a preposition. One thing I am thankful for is readers who notice such things but are polite enough not to point them out. Ahem.

(For the record, I am not just writing as a means of avoiding the GIANT pile of dishes in my sink. I'm just giving the elves a chance to get started on them is all....)

I am so grateful to have a job that I love, work that allows me to teach what I believe is important, have fun, nourish others, be outside a lot (and in the kitchen even more), and get hugs from kids daily. I'm also grateful for collaborative colleagues, a supportive boss, and fantastic interns who make a pretty challenging job one I look forward to biking to every day.

Though I don't do it for the money or the fame, every so often, it's nice that there's a little acknowledgement of the work I'm doing from the upper muckety mucks. Check out this photo of a group of 5th graders accepting the 2015 Best School Garden Award downtown just a few weeks ago. Note the City Council and Farm to School peeps in attendance:

I am lucky to have a great family and a wonderful group of friends. Whether it's by inviting me out for dinner at a fun new spot in town, being a part of my crazy cooking adventures, patiently listening to an account of the latest failed attempt at romance -- Darn that cute vegan! I deserve better! I'm going to go make a batch of icecream! -- or brewing an experimental persimmon beer together on a chilly Sunday afternoon, you remind me that I am loved and valued.

What's that? Oh, there'll be a post on the beer soon, but meanwhile, here's a little preview of stage 1:

There are lots of other things for which I am grateful, of course -- a fantastic apartment and landlady, my health (arthritis notwithstanding), the ability to support myself, a well-stamped passport, my public library card, my steadfast Ollie, and many more things I meditate on from time to time. Sometimes I get caught up in what's wrong with my life, the world, people's parallel parking skills, etc. Who doesn't, right? But today,and most days, I am thankful for the things, big and small, that make my life joyful. In the immortal words of Phibby Williams, "At this moment, I am happy."

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I love cheese

No, really, I just stopped by my favorite local cheese shop on my way home from work to have a glass of wine, say hello, and catch up on Slow Food stuff for a few minutes with the friendly owner, Gen. How was I to know that the final session of her 3-part chevre making class, beginning an hour from that very moment, was going to be a person short? She asked me to pinch hit for the student in absentia, and take home about three quarters of a pound of freshly made cheese for my troubles. (See, it can be nice to have an open social calendar, one uncluttered with numerous dinner dates with gentlemen callers. That would be a pain, right? Right? Have some more wine, Ibti....)

Before the other students arrived, Gen walked me through the final stages of chevre making that we would be undertaking tonight: unwrapping and weighing the hanging cheeses, then salting, flavoring, packing, and labeling them. We scrubbed in, donned our aprons and fashionable hairnets and got started:

Check out the sweet setup of flavor mix-ins: truffle salt, fresh parsley and dill from my school's garden (we cannot seem to consume enough of either herb in spite of copious use in numerous classes), lemon zest, spicy adobo peppers, cinnamon sugar, black pepper, and -- what came to be the agreed upon new favorite combination -- bacon, scallions, and finely grated cheddar.

Oh, the wine? Um, that was so that after we mixed up our cheeses we could try a few different pairings with the fresh chevre. Hey, I'm a food educator, I need to know which wines work well with which cheeses.

About an hour ago, Ollie and I headed home from Sona with three tasty new cheeses in our panniers:

I'm thinking some kind of baked potato something or other for Thanksgiving with that bacon chevre concoction. Yum, eh? I need to keep an eye out for future classes.

God help me if I become lactose intolerant some day, I will NOT be a happy camper.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The bitter truth

A few weekends ago, I signed up for my first medicinal herb class. Well, sort of. I mean, it did involve quite a lot of information about medicinal tinctures, but it also involved cocktails. One of my favorite people -- my yoga teacher, Tricia, who turns out to be an amazing herbalist -- was offering a class on making bitters at a nearby urban farm. It would be a chance to learn about the basic components, philosophy, and healing properties of bitters. Best of all, participants would have a chance to make our own batch of bitters to take home and age for a couple of weeks.

I learned, for example, that the whole point of bitters, medicinally speaking, is to aid with digestion. Not that I ever need an appetite stimulant -- for heaven's sake, a grumbling tummy is what gets me out of bed in the morning -- but if I did ever feel blase about food, I learned I'd just need to put a drop or two of bitters on my tongue and I'd be ready to eat. Or of course, I could mix it up in an aperetif, or a digestif. (And here I thought the French were just looking for ways to booze it up before and after dîner.)

I learned that there are three main categories of bitters: pure bitters (that are particularly good for digestive help, and are considered to have "cooling" properties), aromatic bitters (more gentle bitters associated with "warming"), and caminatives (the mildest category of the three, and the one that modern cocktail aficionados seem to gravitate towards). I love learning.

We learned about teas (boiling water + bittering agents) vs. tinctures (alcohol + bittering agents), and their approximate concentrations. We also got a primer on the most bitter of the bitters, made from something called gentian root -- which I thought sounded vaguely south Asian, but actually this root that takes around 7 years of growth before harvesting comes from the highlands of central Europe. We had a chance to taste sips of each different type of bitters, from dandelion root and orange peel teas to orange peel, gentian, and calamus tinctures. Wooh! I am disinclined to touch straight gentian tincture to my tongue again, though it would be good for April Fool's Day pranks or a double dog dare some day. Finally, we made our gentian tincture, which I later found out is the main ingredient in angostura bitters...which is conveniently a key ingredient in a rather famous cocktail. Maybe you've heard of an Old Fashioned?

After our discussion and tincture-making session at Common Good City Farm, it was time to walk to nearby El Camino, where Mick let us get up close and personal with many of the locally made bitters he uses in his expertly crafted cocktails. We sniffed lavender bitters, orange bitters, cardamom bitters, and more. Needless to say, 3 cocktails later, I was hooked. (I was also ready for a nap. I'm getting too old for day drinking....)

Though I am hardly an accomplished mixologist, I do like to add my own twist to things. In this case, it was actually my mom who suggested the modification to the classic Old Fashioned as I mixed up a set of trial cocktails for her and dad and I when they came over for dinner last night. Here, I offer you one of my new favorite cocktails:

The New Fashioned


  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3-4 drops homemade gentian root tincture*
  • 1 tsp water
  • ice cubes
  • 1 shot bourbon
  • 2 shots chilled tonic water
  • 1 maraschino cherry, plus a splash of its juice -- optional


Put a sugar cube in a sturdy tumbler, then squirt a few drops of your fancy homemade gentian root tincture onto it.

Sprinkle water over the cube, then use a spoon or pestle to muddle the cube at the bottom of the glass.

Toss in a handful of ice cubes, then add the remaining ingredients. Stir well. Enjoy!

*To make your own gentian tincture: Combine 1 part dried gentian root to 4 parts Everclear, age it for at least 2 weeks, then strain it. Kept sealed in a cool, dark place, your tincture will last for years. And trust me, you don't need to make much. I think the 25g gentian root + 100mL grain alcohol will last me a long, long time. Even with regular consumption of New Fashioneds.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The shank of the evening

Yesterday morning, Farmer Bev handed me a couple of packages of pork shanks, sliced osso bucco style. I meandered through the rest of the market, picking up various odds and ends that might go well with them -- carrots and celery and fennel at New Morning Farm, onions at Twin Springs, leeks at Spring Valley -- and finally wobbled home on a very loaded Ollie. For this first installment of Ibti's Offal Adventures, I offer a recipe I adapted from Epicurious, enjoyed just this evening by my fellow Slow Foodies at our monthly board meeting:

Braised Pork Shank with White Wine and Veggies

  • 1 handful dried mushrooms
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 fresh pork shanks, cut into thirds, skins removed
    (No, I didn't waste the skins, thank you very much, I saved them for my landlady's 3 dogs.)
  • 3 TBSP olive oil + a bit more for the final meat searing
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 handful diced carrots
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 handful diced celery
  • 1 fennel bulb, diced
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry white wine (I had a semi decent pinot grigio on hand)
  • 1 cup broth (Thank you, GrowingSOUL, for my quart of Putting Stock in Your Community artisanal chicken stock!)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh sage (from one of the school gardens I manage)
  • 2 TBSP chopped fresh rosemary (from my front steps -- doesn't get more local than that)
  • 1 handful chopped fresh parsley (also from my school garden)
Preheat oven to 325F. Open the wine and pour yourself a glass. I mean, you've got to be sure it will go well with braised pork.

Pour 1 cup boiling water over the mushrooms and let stand until mushrooms soften. Drain and chop mushrooms, reserving the delicious soaking liquid.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy cast iron pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add pork, in batches if necessary, and brown on all sides, about 15 minutes total. Transfer the browned pork to a rimmed baking sheet or lasagne pan.

Reduce heat to medium. Add onion, carrots, leek, celery, and fennel. Cook until vegetables are soft and beginning to color, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Stir in garlic and chopped mushrooms. Add wine and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Add broth, reserved mushroom soaking liquid, and 1 TBSP each of sage, rosemary, and parsley. It's probably time for another glass of wine as you marvel at how amazing your kitchen is starting to smell.

Return pork and any accumulated juices to pot, arranging in single layer. Place pot in oven and cover with a lid or foil or, if you're a foil conserving loony like me, an inverted stainless steel bowl. Braise pork until very tender, turning over every 30 minutes, for about 90 minutes total. I put the baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven just in case my deep skillet spilled over. (Apparently, this part of the recipe can be made up to 2 days ahead. Simply cook things to this point, then cool slightly, refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Simmer until just warm before continuing.)

Heat oven to 425F. Transfer pork to rimmed baking sheet. Brush with olive oil; sprinkle with remaining sage and rosemary, and a few grinds of black pepper. Roast pork until browned, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, tilt the pan and spoon any fat from surface of sauce. Scoop out the veggies and keep them warm in another pan.Boil your original pot/pan until the sauce lightly coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Divide veggies among serving bowls, top with pork and sauce, and sprinkle with another handful of chopped parsley. If any of that wine remains, go ahead and offer some to your guests. (But if not it's okay, we don't judge here. Just open another bottle.) Enjoy!

I'm thinking some kind of Mexican-inspired chocolate mole sauce for the other shanks I'll be testing out with mom and dad next weekend. But if you have suggestions, readers, please send 'em along!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A modest proposal

A few weeks ago at the Dupont farmers' market, I got to talking with my friend Bev about how much I'd enjoyed the lamb with which he'd supplied me for the Irish stew dinner. At one point, I suggested that more folks would be chasing him down for lamb necks if only they knew what to do with the inexpensive, meaty cuts. I also pointed out that though his meats are consistently stellar, his website was a little lean on content. (Hah. You must've seen that one coming.) Not a lot of recipes or recent blog posts, anyway.

About an hour later, as we sat yapping on the back of the Eco-Friendly Foods truck, a plan had formed: every few weeks, Bev would supply me with some of the less common cuts of meat and I would take them home and fiddle with a few different recipes. If things turned out well, I'd write things up and send along the recipe. If my experiment happened to go horribly amiss, at least then I could offer ways NOT to prepare certain cuts. Either way, it would mean more opportunities to hang out with my carnivorous dad (and mom, who is a good sport), along with some other adventurous cooking friends.

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I have been pretty adamant in recent years about not being wasteful, but until recently I've been focused on things like saving veggie scraps to make stock and composting. I have grappled a few different times during my life with the complicated idea of eating meat and how it fits with my beliefs. During high school and college I was a vegetarian. Many years later on the bikeable feast cross-country trip, as a means of really understanding what gets meat to my plate I participated in the butchering of chickens. I have finally settled on eating very little meat, and when I do eat it, sourcing responsibly raised meat from local farmers and chefs I know and trust. I believe in using the whole animal if it's going to give its life to feed us. And yet, outside of tasting some chili and lime fried pig ear that the chef sent to my table at Barcelona about a year and a half ago I have not really participated in the whole "nose to tail" movement.

Now, in an interesting turn of events, it's looking like coming months may feature pigs feet, jowl, face bacon, and some of the organ meats. (No liver, though -- I can't handle the smell of it, never mind the texture or the fact that it is the organ that absorbs all of the body's poisons. I can't get past that, sorry. I will leave others to enjoy pâté and liverwurst.) From the get go, Bev tried to talk me into making haggis, which I had managed to avoid on my travels through Scotland. If I can cobble together a version without liver I may try that in a few months, but I'm going to need to work up to it. My dad, upon hearing this latest culinary development, was especially excited about the prospect of making traditional Iraqi dishes with harder to find animal parts, and I had to talk him out of the stuffed lamb stomach for Round 1 -- I'm going to need to work up to that one, too. Mom will likely be sending some traditional, meaty Polish recipes my way soon. My friend Kathryn is already talking about smoked pigs feet for Round 2. (Meanwhile, I think I'm starting to fall for a cute vegan. It's going to be an interesting few months coming up....)

Bev's hinting about bringing me some pork shanks next weekend. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 19, 2015

I need some space

Oh, 35 pounds of tomatoes, the problem isn't you, it's me. (Well, actually, it's my limited burner surface area.)

Usually I can manage a rather high level of culinary gymnastics during a big curry night or a personal cheffing session by getting creative: starting some things in the stove and then moving them to the oven, say, or using the plug-in rice cooker for grains. But tonight I found myself with a bit of a math problem: 4 burners, and at least 7 pots that need them. (Where is my favorite math teacher when I need him?)

So riddle me this, culinary mathemagicians: How would you account for

  • 1 burner: pot of applesauce that needs to be kept hot for canning
  • 1 burner: tureen of vegan pho broth that still needs simmering for another 3 hours
  • 1 burner: a large pot of boiling water for scalding tomatoes
  • 1 burner: medium pot of simmering water to keep jar lids sterile
  • 2 burners: the giant canning pot
  • 1 burner: the tamale I was going to warm up for dinner...?

My solution: Work in waves. (This is the kind of problem solving that got me into advanced math classes back in 7th grade, thank you very much.)

BURNERS 1 & 2: giant canning pot to sterilize jars, then process filled jars
BURNER 3: applesauce cooking, then tomato scalding
BURNER 4: 1 pot of simmering water to keep jar lids sterile

As for the pho broth: I boiled and then removed it from the stove and covered it to keep warm, then returned it to BURNER 3 when tomatoes were processing. Oh, and dinner: a tamale steamed in a strainer precariously balanced over the canning pot, along with a spinach salad and a limoncello tonic. (What, BURNER 4 was busy warming some tea to make a batch of kombucha!) Next time when I really get cooking I could also break out the portable propane burner, and maybe even the beercan stove -- how did I only think of those now? And maybe I can rig some kind of solar cooker in my sunny front room....

Friday, October 9, 2015


Have you ever smelled the distinct aroma of propolis -- that sticky stuff that bees make to seal gaps in the hive? It's quite intoxicating: earthy, and a bit sweet. And yesterday, I smelled it for the first time. Ahhhh.

For two months last winter, with Ollie creaking beneath the weight of a pile of textbooks, I biked uphill through the frigid darkness to attend my urban beekeeping class at UDC. After full days of teaching, for two evenings a week I immersed myself in learning about all things apis: types of native honeybees, bee life cycles and behavior, components of home hives, safety equipment, considerations for hive placement, pernicious pests and diseases that commonly attack hives, the mysterious hive collapse phenomenon (I didn't sleep much after class that week), and all kinds of other technical information. By the end of the course, I had a basic academic understanding of how to keep bees. Soon afterwards, in the early spring, I bought a veil and a smoker, a hive tool and gloves. I was ready. Well, sort of. I'd had a chance, at one point during the class, to hold an empty frame; what I hadn't had was any hands-on experience working with an actual bee hive.

That all changed yesterday. Decked out in pants and a long-sleeve shirt on a sunny afternoon, I showed up at the community garden abutting one of my schools to find Kevin -- an experienced beekeeper to whom I have recently apprenticed myself -- waiting for me with a loaner veil and hive tools. As he got into his gear, I was tasked with getting the smoker going. (I think he was rather impressed at my fire-starting skills. I stuffed newspaper, twigs, sticks, and finally dried pine needles into the lit smoker to get it really billowing.) After donning some gloves and checking our equipment, it was time to calmly make our way to check and feed the three hives. Kevin talked me through how best to approach the hives, and warned against making loud noises or unnecessary vibrations. They also don't like being checked on too often. Or quick movements. Many sentences ended with, "They hate that, and you're more likely to get stung." Noted.

After examining a couple of them jointly, I used my hive tool to remove the lids and then a couple of frames all by myself, with my mentor patiently talking me through each step. Bees were humming and crawling all over the place, including me, and particularly near my inadvertently exposed wrists, but they seemed mellow enough after a couple puffs from the smoker. I was mesmerized. Slowly, slowly, I pried the first frame loose from the clots of propolis, lifted it straight up, then tilted it first on one side and then the other to check for nectar/honey development. Everything looked the way it should, in terms of store laying, it seemed. We squished a few hive beetles, then tucked in the supplemental feeding bags: gallon ziplocs half filled with a 2:1 sugar water solution. (This helps to make sure the bees stockpile enough honey to get them through the long winter.)

Calmly and slowly -- but not too slowly lest the bees get annoyed -- I replaced each frame, tapped it back in place, and then returned the inner and outer lids before Kevin secured everything with cement blocks to keep the wind from blowing the tops off. (I doubt with that much putty-like propolis that those lids were going anywhere, but I trust my mentor implicitly on these sorts of things.) I can't wait to help winterize the hives in a few weeks!

Saturday, October 3, 2015


My dad loves to recount our days of living in Saudi Arabia, when he would come pick me up from preschool during drizzly lunch breaks, swerving the car all over the road to hit maximum puddles on our ride home, smiling as I squealed with joy when we drove through a particularly splashy one.

(I don't want you to get the wrong idea about my dad: he's actually a very good driver. It's just that 4-year-old-daughter delighting trumped road rules sometimes. And who are we kidding here, there were not "rules" so much as "guidelines" where automobiles are involved in that part of the world. In Kuwait, just a few years later, I saw my first sedan in a tree near a highway exit ramp. Kinda puts drivers in our nation's capital into perspective.)

I remember dashing outside with my mom in our bathing suits while traveling through Spain during fall break my junior year of college to take outdoor showers, giggling maniacally as we passed the soap and shampoo bottles back and forth as the pounding rain nearly blinded us. Even now, in my late 30s, I love splashing around in puddles during afternoon thunderstorms that often characterize our DC summer months -- umbrellas be damned. And so long as I'm not tent camping, I love falling asleep to the sound of rain.

Really, I like rain. I just don't enjoy *cold* rain, especially when biking is involved. I mean, seriously, I have decent waterproof gear, but how am I supposed to show up at the salsa clubs looking remotely cute when I look like a drowned cat shivering in rainpants and boots? Ollie's been squeaking her discontent all week as well. I'm ready for a break from this Seattle-like weather.

At least the celery and brassicas are enjoying it. So there's that....

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Our food rocks the palate

How do I keep getting talked into things that begin early on a Saturday, across town? (Because I'm a sucker? It's possible.) Yet once again I was glad I hauled myself out of bed at the crack of 7:30am yesterday to get myself to the WIC Get Fresh Festival, where I was competing on a team with my friend and fellow food educator, Vera, in a farmers' market cook-off.

(I see you looking at the computer screen, eyebrow raised. Fine, I didn't actually get myself to RFK Stadium until closer to 10am. But I did get up before 8. I just move more slowly on the weekends.)

As Ollie and I rolled up, my team was in the midst of shopping for our three dishes. I locked her up and we jumped right in. We had to come up with an appetizer, main dish, and dessert heavily sourced from the RFK Open Air Farmers' Market. We'd have 90 minutes to cook, then present our dishes to the 5 judges, a mix of local chefs and Dept of Health folks. Oh, and part of the challenge was that our only heat source was a grill. I love a challenge.

Laden with bowls and bags of fresh produce, we headed to our cooking station. First, we began chopping the ingredients for a spicy tomato and watermelon salad with jalapenos and fresh mint, inspired by my teammate Levita. Beautiful presentation, no?

The juice at the bottom, after we'd served the salad itself to judges and market shoppers, might have been my favorite part. (I think the spicy, minty watermelon juice would've been even better with a splash of tequila, but that was not entirely appropriate for a family-friendly, Department of Health-sponsored event, so I tucked away that little bit of knowledge for later.) Next, I joined the main course team, skewering our veggie and paneer kabobs. The Indian cheese chunks were marinated in a delectable marinade of yogurt, garlic, ginger, and garam masala, and the aromatic, grilled kabobs attracted eager tasters like nobody's business. Props to Niraj for the ingenious recipe.

I was actually fairly removed from our dessert offering -- a fresh fruit salad with yogurt and cinnamon -- though I did chop some market peaches for it at one point. To be honest, I was busy near the end, scarfing grilled paneer that had fallen off some of the skewers. (You know, quality control.) As 12:30 rolled around, we presented our offerings to the panel and waited...and waited... It turned out there was a tie between my team -- Our Food Rocks the Palate -- and a lovely group from a vegetarian catering company. The judges decided we'd have to answer a food trivia question to determine the winner of the competition. Apparently having two teams in first place was not an option.

The million dollar question was: In one minute, list as many foods as you can that came from the New World. (Turns out that what WE did not know previously was that the emcee was a food history buff. But what SHE did not know was that I teach a series of lessons on food origins to 5th graders. Heh.) We won.

In case you're wondering, no, there was no million dollar prize. In fact, the prize was a small box with plastic vegetables in it and a plaque mounted on the side proclaiming, "Get Fresh Festival -- Grill Chef Competition -- First Place," that will live at nearby J. O. Wilson High School, where a few of my teammates work. And a sense of pride, of course. Go team!!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Setting boundaries

It is quite something to get me out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday, but the 60-mile fundraising ride for Phoenix Bikes (, sponsored by my favorite bar in the city, on one of the nicest days of the year decidedly fit the bill.

Yesterday I went on my first long haul in a long time, joining my fellow cyclists in the 3rd annual Boundary Stone bike ride: an all-day, hill-laden tour of the District's original boundary stones. From the southernmost stone to the west, north, and east, the ride took me to parts of DC, MD, and VA that I'd never explored during my many years of living -- and a handful of years biking -- here. There were hills, parks, and bike paths I never knew were there, and many dozens of fun cyclists I'd never met before but hope to encounter again. We even had ride mascots: Chrissi's two chihuahuas, Chili and Queso, who lazed in her bike basket, adorably, the whole time. It was awesome.

Even though my knees were aching by mile 20, I made it about 50 miles, to all four corners of the original DC boundary, ending up at Bloomingdale's great Boundary Stone public house for my complimentary pint around 7pm. Boy did that beer taste amazing. And boy did my bed feel like the best place ever last night: I slept like a Viking.

For next year's ride, my new friends Melissa and Chrissi are talking about configuring a beer cooler and solar pizza warming bike rack contraption so we can have readily available snacks on hand. I'd better start working on brewing a batch of bike tour appropriate beer....

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rotten Tomatoes

Okay, Mr. Irate SUV Driver, I think I understand why you're so angry.

  1. You spend a lot at the pump to keep your gas guzzler rolling. 
  2. It's hard to find parking for that big honkin' thing in the city. 
  3. There's always traffic in DC, and you're stuck in it. 
  4. Pedestrians don't cross the street quickly enough for your taste. They pay no attention to whether the light says they should be walking or not. And it's worse on Sundays. (I have to deal with them, too, by the way.)
  5. There's a good chance you were not loved as a child... or frankly, with that mouth, as an adult.
It must suck to be you. But do you really need to lean out the window and yell at a cyclist for being on the road? (Legally, we cyclists actually are supposed to be on the road, rather than the sidewalk. but somehow I doubt you are up on modern urban transportation policy.) Let me ask you: is it appropriate to yell and curse at a total stranger across the street because you didn't make it through a barely yellow light, where you'd have to wait at the imminent red light on the next block? No.

Did you bother to notice that it was not the cyclist but the dawdling automobile driver in front of you on his cell phone who was probably the reason the line of cars didn't move quickly? It was not the cyclist who even held you up, sir. (Okay, let's be real, sir is a stretch.) No, again.

Is the world a better place, are you happier, feeling more fulfilled having made a young woman feel anxious and frustrated on her way to the farmers' market this morning? She tried to explain that it was the car in front of her as she was trying to make a left turn, but did you listen, or even care? Once again, no.

Why do so many drivers seem to actively hate bikers? Though I do have a "Cars Are Coffins" bike water bottle, I actually am not a universal hater of cars or their drivers. I have friends who drive. (Ha ha.) But seriously, I've been trying to cultivate better driver-biker relations in my own small way since becoming a cyclist back in 2009 -- moving out of the way so cars can make right turns on red lights, taking my allotted turn at stop signs, signaling when I'm going to change lanes or turn, not going the wrong way down one way streets. Even so, some people like you, mister, really make me want to throw a rotten tomato at your windshield. Except I wouldn't want to waste the tomato: it would do more good in the compost.

(Incidentally, that's the same reason cars double-parked in a bike lane RIGHT NEXT TO AN OPEN PARKING SPOT don't get tomatoed. That, and the fact that I don't usually bike around with a satchel of rotten tomatoes.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On the Lamb

(Yeah, it's a pun, folks.... I'm not actually on the lam.)

So there are three things my dad asks me practically every time we speak:

  1. Are you okay financially? Yes, dad. (Did you just slip a $20 in my handbag??)
  2. Are you seeing anyone? *Sigh* No, dad.
  3. Are you eating meat? You're looking too thin! Actually...
While traveling through Ireland and Scotland for a month this summer, I must say that I ate probably an Ibti-year's worth of meat. How can you resist ordering a steak or a lamb shank after seeing field upon lush, open field of Scottish Highland steers and fluffy sheep cavorting around? I couldn't. I came home exactly 7 pounds heavier -- which, admittedly, may just as well be attributed to the omnipresence of Guinness and potatoes as to the lack of vegetables -- and with a craving for Irish food. Maybe with a bit more wine and veggies mixed in.

Conveniently, I had some Irish friends who were in need of a thank-you dinner from me: the perfect chance to test out an Irish stew recipe in the gorgeous My Irish Table cookbook. The result was roundly lauded by my dinner guests, who all demanded seconds on both the stew and its corresponding homemade piccalilli. (No, that's not a typo, it's a condiment.)

One day, if I either win the lottery or date a sugar daddy, I want to get myself to Restaurant Eve to try out the real thing, but for now I can definitely recommend the cookbook's version of this simple country dish...with a few minor modifications I made: wine and stock in place of water, double the carrots and potatoes and garlic, and a different cut of meat.

Irish Stew (serves 6)


  • 3 meaty lamb necks, split in half length-wise (recommended by my friend Bev of Eco-Friendly Foods for it's flavorful meat, thickening marrow, and low price point -- hey, free-range stuff gets expensive, and Cathal was calling for shoulder chops...for stew!)
  • olive oil
  • 3 onions, peeled and diced
  • 4-5 carrots, cut into 1" chunks
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
  • 3 cups veggie stock
  • 1 cup red wine (I think a small bottle of Guinness would also work well here. I'm just sayin'.)
  • 1 small handful fresh thyme sprigs
  • salt and pepper


Pour a few glugs of oil into a large, cast-iron pot and heat to medium.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on all sides of the lamb necks, then brown in the pot. Move the browned lamb to a plate.

Add onions, carrots, garlic, and bay leaf to the pot. Top this with the lamb, and then layer on the potatoes. Pour in the stock and wine, and bring the pot to a boil.

Turn down the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours.

Stir in the thyme and serve immediately or, if you have a full day of work before a Monday night dinner party, say, make the stew the night before, keep it in the fridge overnight, and then rewarm it with the fresh thyme stirred in (in the oven for 30 minutes at 300F).

Serve alongside homemade piccallili. (Oh, you want that recipe, too? Drop me an email.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Lemon lover

So my family, and frankly anyone who has ever been to a restaurant with me and/or dated me, knows that I love fresh lemon in my water. But recently my love of lemons has expanded...

On my last day kicking around Edinburgh this summer, I stopped for lunch at The Scran and Scallie -- a fabulous gastropub suggested by my local hostess. I got a little carried away with the ordering, and after filling my belly with a sizable Sunday roast, mound of seasonal veggies, and hunks of bread to mop everything up, I waddled to the bar with the remainder of my flight of Scottish beers. As I chatted with the friendly barkeeper, he began to wax lyrical about some of the homemade cocktail concoctions he'd been experimenting with lately, mainly featuring local ingredients. Among them, limoncello.

"Er, that's not really Scottish, sir," I volunteered.

"No. But it is mighty good, miss, and we make it right here," he responded. And then poured me a glass of it. Then he raved about how simple it was to make. It only took four days, some vodka, and a few lemons. Easy peasy.

Well, after a couple of weeks of being home and missing the nightly cocktails of my traveling month, I decided to make a batch. I looked up a number of recipes, finally settling on one from Imbibe magazine. Admittedly, this recipe took more than 3 weeks from start to finish, with daily shaking of the vodka-zest solution, but based on the reviews from my friends at a recent dinner party, who each requested a second digestif, I'd say it's worth it. In fact, I am starting another batch right now....

Homemade Limoncello


  • 2 (750ml) bottles vodka
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 12-15 lemons


Rinse and then plunge lemons into boiling water for a couple of seconds. (This removes the wax on most store-bought lemons.)

Gently rinse the lemons in cool water and pat dry.

Zest the lemons,* taking care to avoid the bitter white pith. (I use a microplane. Mostly because I love any excuse to use a microplane.)

Place the zest in the glass jar and add one bottle of vodka.

Seal tightly and let the mixture steep. Shake it daily, until the liquid turns bright yellow. I'd say shaking daily for two weeks should do it. This is best accomplished by leaving the jar on your countertop, near the coffee maker, for instance, so you see and shake it each morning. (You can taste it now and again. Just for quality testing. No, not in the morning with your coffee. Geez', some of us have jobs....)

Strain the infused vodka through a double layer of moistened cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle, being sure to squeeze the last drops of intensely flavored liquid from the peel. (Use spoonfuls of the vodka-spiked zest in a few vodka tonics -- delish!)

Add the second bottle of vodka.

Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup just comes to a boil. This should only take a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add the syrup to the infused vodka.

Pour your limoncello back into your two empty vodka bottles.

Seal bottles and let rest at least one week. Additional aging will result in a smoother limoncello. (Seriously, it's worth it to wait at least another week.)

*I know, you will find yourself with at least a dozen zested lemons here. Might I recommend making a batch of lemon sorbet? It's tasty on its own, or stirred into a vodka tonic. I'm just sayin'....

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Melon mania

Thanks to the Crossroads team for having me at their market yesterday and letting me play with such delicious, fresh ingredients during the Farmers Market Week celebration! In case folks would like the recipe for the mixed melon salad I was handing out....

Best of Summer Mixed Melon Salad


  • 1/2 red watermelon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 yellow watermelon, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cantaloupe, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 peaches or a pint of berries, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 handful fresh basil and mint leaves, chopped into thin ribbons
  • 1 block feta cheese, crumbled or chopped
  • 1 tsp honey
  • zest and juice from 1 lime
  • 2-3 tsp olive oil
  • fresh pepper, to taste

Whisk dressing ingredients together, then toss with salad. Enjoy!

Now, this recipe is just meant to offer some basic guidelines. I should confess that a few peaches made their way into the salad as well. Berries would have been a nice addition, too, if they were around. Same with honeydew.

What's that? Why, yes, this marked my third farmers market visit in five days. I can't help myself in this time of bounty, and I had some catching up to do with farmers, and eating to do after the general lack of fresh fruits and veggies represented in the otherwise amazing food I devoured during my month-long trip around Ireland and Scotland. I'd better have lots of friends over for dinners soon: my fridge and countertops are exploding with fresh produce....

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sine metu

So, if you're a whiskey drinker, you might recognize this phrase from your bottle of Jameson. (If you're me, you learned it during a tour of the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin a few weeks ago, and have adopted it as your mantra of the trip.) "Sine Metu," you see, is Gaelic for "Without Fear"... and to be on the roads in the Emerald Isle -- and, let's be honest here, on the Black Isle as well -- this must be your motto.

Even as a passenger on a bus or in a car I probably gasped during near collisions at least 3 or 4 times daily as vehicles careened at top speed around blind curves on one-lane, shoulderless roads during my first two weeks kicking around Ireland. And yet, for my third week around Ireland, I was on a bicycle. (Shhh, don't tell Ollie!) Luckily, I had a fabulous guide and great company on my first ever group/supported bike tour, so I wasn't riding with my heart in my mouth the whole time. It was actually really nice to have someone else map out the routes and book places to stay and schlep my bags. In fact, I found myself offering thanks rather than pleas to the heavens as 16 of us chatted and cycled through the beautiful Connemara hills and later along the Inishmore waterfront, stopping frequently to snap photos and scarf twix bars. (Shh, don't tell my students!) I hardly minded most of the time that my gears didn't work properly, so good was the company and the scenery. (Many thanks to my friend, Ronn, for suggesting Cycling Safaris!)

Admittedly, ours was a slower, more scenic route, which meant less vehicles than on the bigger roads, but there were still periodic cars, occasional tour buses, and (the bane of my biking existence since my ride down the Pacific Coast Highway five years ago) camper vans. I was only almost hit once, thankfully, and have since continued my travels safely on through Scotland. But my new motto has stuck with me beyond the biking.

I've been thinking about it a lot this trip. So many of the kind folks I've encountered along the way, especially the women, have marveled at "the courage it must take to travel alone." I don't find traveling alone scary most of the time. In fact, except for the awkwardness of dinner dining solo, it's quite exciting and liberating, and I said as much. What's much, much harder is sharing your life adventure with another person. Opening your heart up to someone else, allowing yourself to love and possibly lose them. Maybe things fall apart. Maybe you find each other again, maybe you don't. Maybe everything's changed, but maybe it hasn't. There's only one way to find out....

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

For the birds

Ultan Walsh took one look at my floral print rolling suitcase when picking me up at the bus stop in Belgooley last Saturday and shook his head. "This country is not made for bags like that, you know. Did you not have a backpack? Oh, you have one of those, too." Thus began the good natured teasing that would characterize the next few days.

(You'd think I'd be a better packer after the original, self-supported bikeable feast, but no.)

During my first afternoon at Gort Na Nain farm, I hand weeded asparagus beds with a local carpenter doing a weekly work share, spent the next rainy morning with a digging fork ripping up grass and prickly weeds in one of the tomato high tunnels, then chatted away the afternoon with a Romanian cook visiting from nearby Cork City as we meticulously cleared everything but the Tuscan kale and onions in another of the eight high tunnels. No pesticides or even black plastic here, which means the real deal organic farm constantly has lots to weed. Fortunately, weeding is one of my specialties.

Though he swears he doesn't have time for inexperienced help in the form of traditional WWOOFers -- I managed to talk my way into being working on the farm through connections with mutual friends -- Ultan and his partner Lucy have loads to teach. And not just about farming. During my non-weeding time, as we shared beers and meals in the gorgeous vegetarian guesthouse, I got a primer on creative cooking, the subtleties of potato varieties, local sports and politics, music, history, the troubled economy....

Most especially, I learned about birds, on the farm itself and during a stunning hike to Barry's Head before dinner on my final night there. Who knew that city pigeons actually descended from cliff-dwelling doves? Both Ultan and Lucy are avid birders. So much so that their farm's name translates to something like "Field of the Birds." (Please pardon any mistranslation there: the only thing worse than my packing skills may be my mastery of Gaelic.)

Like Eoin, Ultan hadn't planned to be a farmer. He, too, had been in a PhD program, in his case finishing a doctorate in microbiology and then deciding after a few years of being pigeonholed into grant writing that it wasn't his bag. He'd met Lucy, lured her from England to Cork, and somewhere along the line they came upon the big field that now houses a beautiful B&B and burgeoning organic farm that the two built and manage mostly on their own, complete with bird-friendly hedgerows and trees that act as both habitat and windbreaks amid the blustery landscape.

I hope to make it back to this amazing place some day...partly to see if my take on (vegetarian) chestnut sausages turns out half as good as Lucy's. Because I'm kind of obsessed with them now, and discovered her recipe is now available in one of Denis Cotter's cookbooks.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Eco-farming in Cork

I continue to be inspired by small farmers, including ones I worked with during my travels through County Cork. (Yes, I am technically on vacation, but that's hardly going to keep me from seeking out cool food producers in Ireland.) When he collected me from the bus stop in the small town of Carrigaline last Thursday, I had no idea yet what an amazingly kind person and thoughtful farmer Eoin was -- all I knew then was that he farmed about an acre of organic vegetables and had some great pics on Instagram.

Over the course of a couple of days, I worked alongside this young farmer to harvest and deliver produce for his box scheme operation -- kind of a variation on a CSA, where clients get a list of what will be available for the week and opt for whichever items strike their fancy, which that week ranged from freshly dug potatoes and carrots to all kinds of greens and alliums. Plus a few special requests from long-time customers or family friends for beets and the season's very first cherry tomatoes. (Well, the pint of sungolds I managed not to eat while digging up the nearby garlic, that is.) Next season, they may be treated to some new varieties, including an Ark of Taste lettuce that I am growing myself back home. I'm sure the heads growing here will be larger and more lush, as everything seems to be in these parts. Is it the soil? The rainfall? The gentle souls of the land stewards? My garlic and carrots pale in comparison....

As we worked and cooked up meals together -- including beet burgers, inspired by one of his customers who'd made them three times with Eoin's beets the previous week (recipe to come later) -- Eoin shared a bit of his story. Here was yet another example of someone who never expected to become a farmer, but is damn good at it. Part way through a PhD program in ecology, Eoin had become disillusioned with the research process. While finishing up a Master's degree and publishing a paper on the discovery of a rare water beetle, he stumbled upon a certification program in permaculture. He and his then girlfriend happened upon Moloney's Cottage not long afterwards, and now, less than 3 years later, he raises laying hens and vegetables enough on the 1-acre leased plot to support himself and a couple dozen customers. Like many farmers, he supplements his income, in this case with teaching at the nearby college in Kinsale. If his formal classes are as thoughtful and practical as his conversations were with me, those are some lucky students. Though I'd think local restaurants would be just as lucky if Eoin devoted himself fully to farming so he could supply a few of them. I'll be interested to see where things go...perhaps when I return for a visit in coming years.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Thanking my lucky stars

Sometimes in these busy, busy times it's important to pause and give thanks. I am grateful for the chance -- and the freedom -- to be able to take a month to explore what I may in Ireland and Scotland. I am thankful for the enthusiasm of friends and friends-of-friends who have helped me get ready (and get really excited) about my upcoming trip, from the loan of an international cell phone to recommendations of towns, hikes, pubs, and more.

Thank you, Zach, for linking me up with some awesome local farmers in southern Ireland. Thank you, Vanessa and Kathryn, for helping me connect with friendly folk across the pond. Thank you to Bernie for giving me the gorgeous Irish cookbook that has my mouth watering for much more than potatoes and Guinness (though I am excited for those, too). Thank you, Ronn, for recommending an awesome bike touring company with whom I'll be exploring western Ireland. (Shhh, don't tell Ollie! Though she might have suspected something when I packed my bike lights.) Thank you to my awesome intern, Jordan, for tending the school garden while I'm away.

Thank you, Katie and Joey, for cooking up a delicious, traditional American farewell dinner for me tonight -- I have a funny feeling I might not be eating stewed greens or hamsteak or corn on the cob for the next month, so it was good to have a giant plateful, with good red wine and homemade ice cream to round things out. Thank you to Mike, the friendly stranger who surprised me by treating me to a really nice whiskey when I stopped into Southern Efficiency for a little pre-packing farewell drink and last-minute single malt education  on my way home from dinner. And thank you to mom and dad for taking me to the airport tomorrow...even though it's totally metro-accessible and I just have a little rolling suitcase. Gotta love parents.

Dad, I know you're petrified that I'll fall in love with the Emerald Isle (land of vibrant greens, good storytellers, and deep history) -- and/or an Irishman -- but there are worse fates. If my travels around Ireland are nearly as wonderful as the excitement and joy leading up to them, well....

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Minding our peas and queues

So I've been a teacher in some official capacity on and off since the early 2000s, initially working with high schoolers, then middle schoolers, and finally a handful of years ago I began to focus on elementary school aged kiddos. The past year has been my first foray into working with preK students and let me tell you that while I was initially a little nervous about my ability to create and teach meaningful lessons to kiddos who still can't tie their shoelaces, I've found that 3 and 4-year-olds are a LOT of fun. I find that there is a lot more singing and dancing and hand holding (literally) when I work with my youngest garden stewards and cooks at Tyler Elementary. They are definitely the best students in the school at making a straight line to go outside to the garden, but that's not all....

We've had lessons where we imagined we were seeds sprouting in the soil, soaking up the sun through our leafy hands and water through our rooted feet. We've pretended we were tender lettuce and hardy kale growing out in the garden beds -- which one do you think enjoyed our long, cold winter? We've shaken up our own homemade ranch dressing and devoured it drizzled over salads the size of our respective heads. We've made seed balls with native flower seeds. We've dug up a bed of potatoes....

I must say, more than any other group I've worked with, they are the best at patiently looking for camouflaged snap peas, helping to schlep plant bits to the compost bin, and being willing to taste just about anything in the garden. I can't wait to see how they (and our garden) continue to thrive in coming years!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

How does our garden grow?

Well, it's looking like another one of those bipolar DC summers: 93 and sunny one day, 62 and rainy the next. (I am not such a huge fan of the torrential downpours like the one Ollie and I biked home in yesterday afternoon, but I suppose it's good training for Ireland and Scotland, where I'll be kicking around in about a month.)

The plants are LOVING it. The snap peas and broccoli are exploding in the garden beds, potatoes are blooming, the herbs are going bonkers, and the spinach is experiencing some kind of miracle extended season now that I've won the battle with the leaf miners (and maybe the coverage from the volunteer sunflowers is helping the shade-loving greens), and even the kale is thriving.

How does our garden grow? Like a weed. (Not many of those, thankfully, since I've also managed to train an avid bunch of recess-time weeders. Nice.)

Every time I am in the school garden, there are about a dozen kids who stop to pick and eat mint, and I've been showing every kid who walks by how to harvest and eat lettuce and peas. Even with kids "accidentally" pulling up radishes and eating underripe strawberries, there is almost too much produce for us to utilize in FoodPrints classes. I'm going to have to start sending home kids with bags of vegetables again....

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Luck be a ladybug

Yesterday I got a phone call from a fellow FoodPrints teacher that went something like this:

"One of the teachers accidentally ordered too many ladybugs for our garden. Want some?"

"Sure. It'd be great to knock down the aphid population over here."

"Great. There's about 5,000 of them. One of the parents will drop off the box in the main office. Put them in the fridge for a week if you aren't ready to release them yet."

"Oh. Okay." (Who orders five thousand too many? And is it normal to keep live beetles in the fridge on purpose? I wondered. But I am not one to look a giftbug in the mouth.)

I've ordered worms in the mail before -- three times, actually (and, no, not because I killed the first two batches, thank you very much) -- so I consider myself pretty experienced when it comes to the creepy crawly package opening. I could not have prepared myself for the tickly joy that was the release of thousands of ladybugs in the garden that afternoon. And since I had opted not to refrigerate them back into hibernation, they were ready to go as soon as I opened the two little baggies they were packed into. I was fortunate to have many dedicated garden assistants to help gently spread them around the 15 raised garden beds at Tyler.

Go get 'em, ladybugs!!

They are the coolest, cutest aphid devouring machines EVER.

Monday, May 18, 2015


It's been awhile since I've written. Lest you think I've been sitting around eating bonbons for the past month, let me assure you that this is not the case. It's springtime at last, and I've been up to my elbows in teaching, gardening, lesson planning, cooking, spring cleaning, watching the Nats, and watching the garden like a hawk for any pests that might get the misguided impression that I am growing food for them. Apparently the leaf miners in my spinach and chard patches are slow learners. And it seems he squirrels eyeing my strawberries were not deterred by my incessant swearing at them last summer. They're back.

I recently learned from a naturalist friend of mine that rodents don't take a big bite out of my homegrown, hard won cherry tomatoes and strawberries purely because they are jerks, but because they are seeking moisture during dry times. So I'm doing a little -- admittedly high-risk -- experiment to see if tonight's thunderstorms tide them over for a day or two. Otherwise I may have to break out the grilled squirrel recipe....

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Well, hello, little flower

Coinciding almost exactly with the birth of my niece, the garden is starting to flower.... It's my favorite time of year.

I know! I'm an aunt!!! Can't wait to meet our newest family member.

I wonder when I can bring over some of my homegrown strawberries. Hopefully soon. I mean, you don't need teeth to eat 'em. (Squirrels, if you're reading this, back off: no taking berries from a baby!)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The sweet life

Though I knew a gluten-induced backache would result, I could not resist the chance to make a batch of sweet potato gnocchi with my cousin's family while visiting Charlottesville for a few days. Lord, do I adore gnocchi. The tender, pillowy deliciousness.... Ohhhh....

The recipe is actually one that my lovely Foodprints intern, Emily, passed along recently. (I am not too proud a supervisor to turn down the offer of a taste when offered during our lunch break, and after that I simply *had* to try making it myself.) It didn't sound too complicated, but gnocchi are notoriously finicky and labor intensive, what with the boiling and mashing, and most experienced cooks know that there is a very thin line between light & delicious vs. dense & floury pasta.

Thankfully, Jenna was game, and young Lukas even helped to grate the cheese (and make some cookies, a few of which made it to dessert). Cousin Laith helped with the dishes and pouring me a glass of wine -- always welcome contributions. It was a great group recipe, and easier than we'd feared. Nice when things work out that way, eh?

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
It's adapted from this recipe, but with less microwaving and pointless ricotta straining.... (Oh, we did strain the ricotta for 2 hours, which yielded a total of about 4 drops of liquid. Not worth it, but it gave me a chance to slow-roast the spuds.) The irresistible brown butter, sage, and balsamic sauce remains intact, however.


2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 2 medium) 
1 (12-oz.) container fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 handful of loosely packed fresh sage leaves (got some in your garden??)
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Additional parmesan cheese, for serving


Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub and dry the sweet potatoes, then prick them all over with a fork. Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast until fork-tender (about 1 hour). Cool, then peel and mash potatoes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour. You'll want this near your work surface when you start making the gnocchi.

Transfer 3 cups of the mashed sweet potatoes to a large bowl. Add the ricotta, stirring until thoroughly combined, then stir in 1 cup parmesan cheese and 2 tsp salt.

Start adding the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with your hands until a soft dough forms. Shape the dough into a large ball.

Lightly flour your work surface and divide the dough into six equal portions. Take one portion and gently roll and stretch it on your work surface or between your hands until it's about 20 inches in length (about the length of a standard cookie sheet).

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces to form each gnocchi (each "rope" should yield about 20 gnocchi). Using the back of a fork, press each gnocchi into the tines to form indentations (which will soak up the delicious sauce you're about to make), then transfer them to the floured baking sheet. Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining five pieces of dough.

Prior to cooking the gnocchi, make the brown butter sauce... Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook the butter until the foam subsides and it begins to turn a golden brown color, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the sage leaves, allowing them to cook for 1 minute. Remove the brown butter from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

When you're ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a portion of the gnocchi to the boiling water, stir, and then let the gnocchi cook until they float back up to the top, about 1 minute.

Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl. Repeat the cooking process with the remaining gnocchi and toss your delicious little orange morsels with the prepared brown butter sauce. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Note: uncooked gnocchi will keep in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months. If you can resist eating them all that first meal, that is.

Oh those? Well, since we were having a glutenous extravaganza, I figured I might as well make some ice cream sandwiches -- featuring cinnamon ice cream from nearby Kirt's Ice Cream and freshly baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies -- for dessert. Not a bad way to end a wonderful visit with family and friends!