Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ahimsa

I am ready for 2016 to be over. A lingering heartache, the election of a misogynist bully to lead our country, serious injuries and deaths of friends... The start of my 39th lap around the sun yesterday included news that my dear friend, herbal guru, and beloved yoga teacher Tricia had been missing since Christmas, her beaten body found two days later in her car. That her final moments on earth were filled with fear and pain makes me deeply sad and fiercely angry. Why??

In recent years Tricia and I had exchanged favorite new outfits at clothing swaps, watched 4th of July fireworks together in the mist from her balcony, ventured hours away to see my favorite musician in concert whom she had never heard of but instantly loved, camped on the beach and been awoken by curious wild ponies at 4am, eaten our body weight in local seafood, brewed beer, concocted herbal first aid remedies, and shared many hours on the yoga mat. I had just seen her on Friday afternoon, when she'd stopped by to help bottle our first ever batch of hard cider. A regular member of our Sunday Ladies Brewing Club, in spite of her gluten intolerance, Tricia was excited to help with this highly experimental brew that she could actually drink. Then we'd emailed back and forth a few times on Sunday in the late afternoon, excitedly putting pieces in place for her to lead another bitters making class this spring. How long was it between her last email and her last breath? Why did I not hug her longer when I last saw her on Friday? Was the homemade granola I'd given her to celebrate winter solstice the last thing she'd eaten on Sunday, before traveling to the holiday dinner at which she never arrived? I can't stop crying.

One thing that Tricia taught me by her example over the course of our friendship was the principle of Ahimsa, which I understand as the careful cultivation of nonviolence in thought and deed. She was no doormat, mind you, but aspired to always be loving and forgiving and respectful toward herself and others. It was one of the many things I admired about my friend, and I tried to practice it, too. I am really struggling with embodying this principle now, with the lack of it shown Tricia by the person who needlessly took her life. Would this not be the most important time to practice Ahimsa, though, when it is the most difficult? Is this how I can best honor my friend? I wonder.

One thing that Tricia has taught me through her death is to not take things for granted: people, opportunities, life. None of us saw this coming. How could we? Not knowing which day will be our last makes each moment precious -- a good reminder to cultivate joy and love whenever and wherever we can during the time that we have, leaving our mark in the hearts of others.


Farewell, my beautiful, fearless, loving friend. My heart will miss you for a long time, as will the hearts of so many whose lives you have brightened by just being you. Back to the earth you go, to nurture us yet another way.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Star-crossed ale

Well, it had to happen eventually: my first brewing mishap.


Few things are more sad than throwing out a batch of homebrew. A death in the family, of course, or the 2016 election results, say. Thankfully I am not dealing with the former, though I am going to need significantly more beer around to cope with the latter. This batch of psudo-beer, however, went to the worms....

Back in mid-September, my lady friends and I got together to whip up our second-ever all-grain beer: a rhubarb saison. With a fancy Belgian yeast and many pounds of freshly milled grains from 3 Stars, a few pounds of rhubarb from my landlady's garden, and a homemade mashtun inherited from my pal Bobby, we were all set for brewing greatness. With successful batches of pumpkin saison, belgian dark ale, persimmon red ale, scotch ale, and even an all-grain vanilla porter under our belts, we had no reason to expect anything other than delicious results. As recommended by the dude at the 3 Stars shop, I'd even read a homebrewing book cover to cover -- The Joy of Homebrewing, in case you're interested  -- prior to brew day. After a fairly organized brew session that Sunday afternoon, things were smelling good and looking good that first evening as the carboy bubbled away in my kitchen. However, as we were transferring the wort into the fermenter, I had noticed we had barely 3.5 gallons of wort, so I boiled a few more gallons (you never know what's in DC tap water) on the stove. It wasn't nearly cool enough even 3 hours later to add to the carboy, so I left it til the morning -- covered to prevent contamination, of course.

But maybe it wasn't sterile any more, I worried the next morning, so I boiled it again. By lunchtime, the doubly boiled supplemental water was cool enough to pour in, bringing our brew up to the five gallon mark. And then... no more bubbling. I waited another 24 hours. Still no sign of activity. A panicked search through my homebrew book yielded this advice:


WHAT?! You don't just drop this into a little bullet point tucked away in the middle of a chapter! THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN BOLD FONT AND UNDERLINED!!

Maybe the lesson learned here is that I shouldn't have been so greedy for a full five gallons of rhubarb ale. Or maybe it's that I need to be a better note-taker, should have marked that very important point while reading. I teach whole lessons on following directions, for heaven's sake! I shook my fist at the heavens, and then at the carboy, but there was still no bubbling.

A week or so later, my friend Jessica sent me an article on when to dump a batch of homebrew gone amiss. The long and short of it is: pretty much never, unless it tastes bad. Well, it didn't taste like much. We added more yeast -- this one not as fancy, but perfectly acceptable -- a few days later, but in retrospect I think I might have accidentally sanitized the yeast when trying out a new sanitizing solution on the funnel we poured it through. (Was this beer star-crossed from the beginning, I wonder?) More than 24 hours later, still no activity. Did I kill the yeast again? Or, one of my brewing companions suggested, was it possible that maybe we hadn't gotten sufficient sugars from the grain using the mashtun during the initial steeping so there was nothing for the yeast to break down? The measurements we took suggested there was practically no alcohol in there. Hmm. Maybe it needed more time?

Finally, now more than two months later, our moment of truth arrived as the Ladies Sunday Brewing Club gathered to start working on our first batch of hard cider. (That is a WHOLE other tale, with its own misadventures, for another day. It is still bubbling away... at the moment, at least.) We decanted some of the maybe-rhubarb-beer-maybe-not from the carboy and tasted it. I believe the resounding assessment confirmed my suspicion that we'd accidentally made artisanal Bud Light, which in the homebrewing world is tantamount to a felony. (Or if it isn't, it should be.) We looked up how we could use our five gallons of not-beer. No, not this article, this one. After reading about beer-based home distilling (a no-go if it's bad tasting beer to begin with) and culinary uses (I couldn't imagine using 5 GALLONS to braise poultry or make mustard), we stumbled upon the fact that beer provides an excellent boost for microbial activity in the garden. And... done!



R.I.P., Rhubarb Saison. My garden thanks you, even if my fragile homebrewing ego does not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cocinando en Spanglish


A few weeks ago, Ellie at DC Greens kindly invited me to lead a cooking demo at the beautiful new Mary's Center location in Fort Totten. We decided that it would be a hands-on seasonal cooking class, a fun culmination activity for participants in their Fruit and Vegetable Prescription program. (I've written about the innovative program  before, back when I taught similar cooking classes at the Upper Cardozo clinic during Wholesome Wave's pilot year of FVRx in DC. The short version is that doctors at affiliate clinics identify low-income individuals -- often kids -- at high risk for obesity, and the families can opt into the program which includes monthly health checkups, nutrition counseling, an exercise regimen, and, most awesomely, they receive a weekly "prescription" for fruits and vegetables redeemable at area farmers markets. Families get $10 per week *per family member* to spend on local produce, above and beyond any other food assistance they may receive. Talk about making healthy food the easy choice!)

Oh, did I mention that my class would be taught in Spanish?

I don't use my Spanish much these days outside of salsa club chitchat, but I figured I was somewhat fluent after working in Mexico a decade ago. Should be just like riding a bike, right? Let me just say that the Briya/Mary's Center staff and participants were very kind with their gentle corrections and patience as we chopped cebollas (onions), peeled and grated camote (sweet potatoes), and picked many handfuls of cilantro (cilantro! whew, an easy one). Together, about a dozen of us prepared sweet potato tacos, cilantro lime yogurt, and a cabbage slaw, which we enjoyed at the end of class. The women were so friendly, so gracious with their thanks, and some came up afterwards to tell me they were excited to try the quick, tasty, inexpensive recipe at home. Win!!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Drink to end hunger

This weekend, I ventured back to my old stomping grounds in western Virginia,  where I spent a few sunny days (and chilly nights) cooking, eating, drinking, brewing, and exploring the area with my friends Matt and Amanda. It was good to escape the District for a few days, where I'd been vacillating between anger and despair since Tuesday night....


Though I fear the direction in which our country is heading, I have faith in smaller communities and the inherent good in most people...and the power of having a drink together. If you can sit around and share a frosty beverage with someone, you can work through a lot, no matter your political differences. Yesterday, for instance, I took part in one of the coolest events I've been to in awhile: Homebrew for Hunger. (That's Amanda by the sign.)  Amateur beer brewers from surrounding counties descended on Charlottesville around 11am, with kegs and bottles of their homemade libations that they were donating to raise funds for the Blue Ridge Food Bank. A live band, a few food trucks, and a couple of professional local brewers with seasonal drafts filled out the parking lot. Community folks showed up around 1pm, and for the next four hours we all sampled beer, nibbled on pretzels, and swapped homebrew tips and horror stories.

It was awesome. I had some of the best sour ales and other unusual brews, including a rye-based berlinerweisse based on an 18th century recipe(!), and started brainstorming ideas with Matt about a collaborative beer we could make for next year. I might have to bring along some spent grain goodies as well. I mean, it is Homebrew for *Hunger*...and a woman cannot live on beer and pretzels alone!


Monday, November 7, 2016

The pink pantsuit

Readers, you know I try to leave national politics out of this blog, but after recent comments from a certain presidential candidate I find I can't keep quiet. Not just because one of the contenders for our nation's top job is likely to pave over the White House garden to build a Putin guest house. Our former secretary of state's response to the constant stream of insults and outright harassment was nicer than mine would have been under the circumstances. Heck, even Will Shakespeare might've broken out a line from Alls Well that Ends Well during that last debate, countering,

"A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality."


I love Shakespeare. I also love old friends and tasty cocktails. As fate would have it, my friend and NYC Teaching Fellows mentor Colette was visiting last weekend. As we sat chatting after a great visit and lunch at the new African American museum, I learned that along with a few "nasty woman" buttons, Colette had brought with her a new cocktail recipe from her favorite Brooklyn mixologist.

Of course Jacky and I couldn't wait to have one, so after a quick run to the liquor store and the Whole Foods, Colette got to work:


Tart, strong, and brightly colored like its namesake, I give you...

The Nasty Woman (Or, my rename: The Pink Pantsuit)

Ingredients
150 ml tart cherry juice (preferably cold pressed)
100 ml white tequila
50 ml fresh lime juice
50 ml simple syrup

Directions

Stir all ingredients together, then divide among 3 ice-filled glasses.

It scales up rather well, so you can make a whole pitcher and watch the election results with friends....


Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Memorium

I've been feeling out of sorts for a few days now. I realized why when my eyes started tearing up at the farmers market this morning: I would never again see my friend Tom.

Tom Hubric, retired commercial airline pilot, free-range egg farmer, mentor, activist, and insatiable jokester, has been my friend for nearly a decade. He was raising happy hens on Maryland's Eastern Shore before I had ever even heard of free-range eggs, and was one of the original farmers selling at the now prestigious Dupont market. When I started shopping for eggs at the Waterview Foods stand -- gosh, 10 years ago? -- I remember Tom smiling no matter the weather, telling me silly jokes -- sometimes the same joke for three weeks in a row, but I always looked forward to it. We became friends, and during our market chats and periodic phone calls I learned not only more jokes but also about the changing agricultural landscape and policies in Maryland and DC, about the rewards and challenges of raising chickens outdoors, and different ways to enjoy chicken and duck eggs.

After returning from my round-the-country bike trip in 2010, I began to learn more about Tom's work, including his mentoring of Ned and Eileen, a pair of egg farmers transitioning from a conventional to a free-range operation not far from his place in Nanticoke. After a series of calls and follow-up emails, my friend Jeff and I ventured out to the farms to photograph Tom and his protégés for a feature article in  the sustainable farming journal, Acres, USA. When the print issue came out, I'm not sure who was more proud of the other, Tom or me! He continued to encourage me to write, and despite his declining health in recent years remained a mainstay at the market and a thoughtful friend. In recent weeks, his mentee Ned has been helping at the market stand, and today it was only Ned selling eggs....

Tom died this past Thursday, after a multi year battle with cancer. I know his memory will live on within many of us that he has fed -- both intellectually and literally -- during his lifetime. Still, I will miss our chats terribly.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Feed me!

My teeth hurt on Thursday afternoon as I stirred the cauldron, waiting for 40 CUPS of sugar to dissolve in 20 cups of water. Bubble, bubble, toil and... well, you know. Filling and hauling two big jugs of simple syrup out to the hives was more of a workout than one might expect, especially after a full day of teaching. (For those of you into math and/or weightlifting, it works out to about 3.75 gallons, roughly 40 pounds. Next time I'm getting the wheelbarrow.) This afternoon, when I lifted the lids of the three hives, I couldn't help but smile beneath my veil. Thank you, my busy little friends, for the bountiful honey you've given us to enjoy. It was the least I could do to help them build their stores for the winter, after my mentor and a few other community beekeepers and I harvested nearly 80 pounds earlier this season. (Don't worry, mom, I've got a jar set aside for you.)

Though I've been helping with the hives for about a year now, today was my first time feeding them solo. I'd done a feeding a few weeks ago with Kevin, and everything had gone smoothly, but you never know. (No, I am not allergic to bee stings, but my friend Suzanne was telling me the other week that she suddenly developed an allergy, of the throat-closing variety(!), after 60+ years of no bee sting reactions.) With my insurance card in my pants pocket, and my pants dorkily tucked into my socks, I gathered my tools -- two jugs of syrup, scissors, ziploc baggies, hive tool -- and attempted to light the smoker. After five minutes and three attempts, I threw up my (gloved) hands and gave up on the smoker. Bees don't like the smell of sweat, apparently, and the longer I sat in my beekeeping gear in the 80F sunshine, the more torrential the river of sweat that ran down my back. Sweat = a higher likelihood of getting stung. Forget it, no smoker....

I was glad to have a full belly and a few mimosas in me -- thanks for brunch, mom and dad! -- just in case things went awry and I ended up in the emergency room. Hospital food. [Shudder.] Nothing like champagne cocktails to steel the nerves. Moving efficiently but not knocking things around -- bees don't like abrupt movements or their home being bumped (rushed movements, loud noises, or banging of equipment = a higher likelihood of getting stung -- I opened each hive and deposited the solution that should last them about a week, then carefully replaced the inner and outer lids. Lots of bees were out foraging, and many more were crawling over the remnants of last week's near empty baggies. A number of them landed on me, and I cursed my failure to pick off the excess propolis still stuck to my gloves from last time. Stay calm....

Twenty minutes after I had arrived, I was locking up the beekeeping shed and peeling off my gear. A quick bike ride home and a nap later, I'm happy to report my first independent bee feeding was a success! Now to start working on my next project: a fun recipe to use my thank-you pound of West End Community Garden honey. Maybe a honey ale?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Soup weather

I've been daydreaming about miso and mushrooms and ginger ever since my friend Jonathan's mushroom-laden dinner party last May, and have been making pretty regular batches of a simple, clear soup using brown rice miso, baby ginger, lotsa garlic, and shiitake mushrooms whenever I get hit with seasonal allergies... which in our nation's tempestuous weather capital is every few weeks. This recipe -- which came about when Robin, who directs the farmers market at 14&U, suggested I make a warming soup at the market this weekend -- is a bit more sophisticated, and is heavily based on one I saw in The NY Times a handful of months ago.

I've not been digging on soy as much lately, so I opted to replace the tofu with some Asian greens and butternut squash, which give it a different flavor and texture. It is still savory, warming, and delicious. Yes, even when you don't have the sniffles. I'm making another batch of the dashi right now and it smells like heaven....

Miso Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

Dashi (aka soup base)
  • 2 4-inch pieces of kombu (available at Whole Foods -- who knew!)
  • 1 handful dried oyster mushrooms, chopped (MYCOlumbia Mushroom has good ones)
  • 3 teaspoons tamari, or soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons mirin
  • 2 Tablespoons sake
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
Soup
  • 1/2 pound fresh oyster mushrooms, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons tamari
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh baby ginger, minced
  •  Salt and pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons white miso
  • 1 bunch bok choy or tatsoi, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small (1/2") pieces
  • optional garnish: a few shallots, thinly sliced and fried
Directions

Make the dashi: Put kombu, dried shiitakes, soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar in a large soup pot. Add 6 cups cold water.

Place over medium heat, allow the liquid to barely reach a boil, then reduce heat to low and let cook at a very slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Skim foam as necessary.

Let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and add salt to taste. (I figured it would be much easier to use dashi at the farmers market if it was pre-made and cooled, and transported to the market in a few tightly sealed quart jars.)

Put the sliced mushrooms in a bowl and drizzle with sesame oil and soy sauce. Add garlic and ginger and season with salt and pepper. Toss and let marinate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, put dashi in a large soup pot over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Stir in bok choy and butternut, and cook for 15 minutes, until butternut is tender.

Add mushroom mixture to soup and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Remove 1/2 cup hot broth from pot and place in a small bowl. Stir in miso to dilute, then return miso-broth mixture to the pot. Taste and adjust seasoning. Once the miso has been added, do not let the soup boil.

Serve warm, with fried shallots on top as an optional -- but delicious -- garnish.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sunday morning

Just a little post farmers' market musing on a sunny Sunday afternoon. This one is in honor of another favorite American poet....

I

Complacencies of the pjs, and late
Espresso and leftovers on the purple couch,
And a Car Talk rerun on the radio
As she scribbles her shopping list with
The holy rush of caffeine in her blood.
She dozes a little, then she feels the slight
Panic that she’s going to be late –
They may be out of eggs or mushrooms soon!
The fragrant melons and luscious tomatoes
Are going to be gone before too long.
Cycling across the city, with panniers.
Ollie zips west on R Street, without fear,
Save for the passing SUVs drifting
Halfway into the bike lane, toward Dupont,
Dominion of the farmers and their wares.


II

Why should she give her paycheck to The Man?
Is it even food if it is grown
Only in giant factories and labs?
Shall she not find at small and  local farmstands
Pungent fruit and bright green kale, some of them
Among the most flavorful of the earth,
Things to be savored like the taste of heaven?
Divinity must be the food she makes herself:
Passion for homemade bread and pickles
– Eaten alone or, better, with a friend –
Elations when the meringues come out fine;
Avgolemono soup on autumn nights;
Many pleasures and a few pains, remembering
That one batch of rhubarb beer that went south.
That last is not the measure of her soul.


III

Scraps in the compost bin return to earth.
No need for a large trashcan, not at all,
To hold such trifling scraps of garbage here.
There is enough among us, let me tell you,
Appalling mounds of packaging and waste,
Until the Styrofoam and ziploc bags,
Piled high to heaven, cause enough distress –
Some of those jerks deserve it, but not yet.
Shall she give up? Or shall it come to be
The way she lives? And shall the earth one day
Become a paradise that we shall know?
The land will be more productive than now,
One part devotion, one part stubbornness,
But most of all a love of Mother Earth,
She will not let our planet go to Hell.


IV

She says, “I am content when slow-cooked onions,
Before they burn, perfume the kitchen
During late morning breakfast, with their sweet aroma;
But when the meal is done, and piles of dishes
Sit in the sink, where, then, is the assistant?”
There is not any sign of a dishwasher,
Nor any elves who wash them in the night,
Neither is there a roommate who will scrub
The plates and forks before she cooks again,
Nor a companion for some time now,
Remote is the chance of one who will endure
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of caramelized onions,
Or her desire for more garlic and red wine,
During the consummation of a meal.


V

She says, “But in contentment I still feel
The need to fill a hunger yet unsated.”
Food shared is the Food of souls; hence from it,
Alone, shall come fulfilment to our bellies
And our desires. Although Food strews the crumbs
Of sure distended tummies on occasion,
The path such gluttony has sometimes taken
When gorging on a hunk of raw milk cheese, or while
Nibbling on charcuterie, for which she has a soft spot,
When spurned by lovers lost the will to cook,
This maiden who was smitten with a vegan
Had considered relinquishing all milk.
It caused her friends to pile more icecream
In a giant bowl. The maiden tasted
And returned at once to the dairy fold.



VI

Is there no chance of a food-loving partner?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the guys around here
Have no standards, no clue what food could be,
Fail to know its pleasures, and ignorant of her,
With quirks like biking compost across town,
Which some have found endearing if a bit weird
Who never save their food scraps to make stock?
Why set the table for more than one diner
Or bother setting cloth napkins today?
Alas, that solitude must settle here amid
The wistful musings of her sunny afternoon!
She flicks the dial back to NPR.
Food is the anchor of all good things, delicious,
Around the table life’s problems we devise
Solutions to as we move toward dessert.


VII

Subtle and fragrant, a bouquet of basil
Shall be nibbled upon tomatoes ripe,
With bursting juices running down her chin,
This is her god, as much as any might be,
Here in this life it fills her, like a pitcher.
A quiet belch, and then a soft “excuse me,”
Beside the breakfast table can be heard;
And in this moment she thinks, “I am happy,”
Surrounded by a kitchen of delights,
The cutting boards, knife rack, and mess of herbs
That oft infuse her sauces, soups, and stews.
Few men know her heavenly chicken marsala
Or the rich perfume of her ratatouille.
But her friends have tasted and asked for seconds –
The dishes in the sink to that attest.


VIII

She hears, sometimes a whisper, breathless, soft,
A voice that cries, “Just cook a little less food,
It’s not like you’ve got large armies to feed.
You know you live alone, for heaven’s sake!
Besides, we live in a huge fast food nation,
And folks depend on large factory farms,
And we eat happy meals while on our phones,
Just face that fact, it’s inescapable.”
She walks across the kitchen to the fridge
And rummages about to find more jars;
She brews another batch of tart kombucha;
And, in the quiet Sunday afternoon,
Sings softly, as she minces up a shallot
And gets to work to plan another dinner,
Considers which friends this time to invite.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Pucker up

I'm not bitter, I just like drinks that are.

These days, I've found myself dabbling more in cocktails than beer -- not just because of the ill-fated rhubarb sour ale (R.I.P.), mind you, but because there are so many elements to play with, so many variations. One recent discovery was the leftovers from the sour cherry bitters I made this past July. I mean, I was NOT about to toss the quart of not inexpensive, organic, local sour cherries from the farmers market into the compost bin once they'd done their work. Turns out the spiked cherries left at the end perfectly balance what I thought had already been the perfect cocktail: a limoncello tonic. I love this kind of kitchen kismet.

What's that? You'd like to make your own? Well, you're going to have to do some serious work to find some of these ingredients, let me tell you. Even my friend who is a professional herbalist didn't have two of them on hand, and hadn't even heard of one of the ingredients.

Well, okay, readers, I like you, so I'll tell you about the source I discovered for all things herbal. What? No, not THAT kind of herbal... though it is legal in the District. I mean my buddy at Blue Nile Botanicals, in a basement shop tucked away where you'd never expect it on Georgia Avenue, who sells every herb and spice you can think of, including those some herbalists have never heard of.

(Goodness, I'm so excited I just ended a sentence with a preposition!) Before I digress even further, possibly sliding further down a slippery poor grammatical slope, here's the recipe, adapted from a recipe on the Serious Eats blog:

Sour Cherry Bitters



Ingredients

1 1/2 cups sour cherries, halved and pitted
1 whole star anise, crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3" stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in small pieces
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 teaspoon gentian root
1 teaspoon quassia chips
1 cup Bulleit rye whiskey

Directions

Put the cherries in a glass quart jar with 1/2 cup of Everclear. Shake. This is your cherry flavoring.

Put the anise, fennel, lemongrass, vanilla, and cardamom in a glass pint jar with remaining 1/2 cup Everclear. Shake. This is your spice mix.

Put the gentian root and quassia chips in yet another glass pint jar with the rye. Shake. This is your bittering mix.

Set all jars aside in a dark place at room temperature for 10 days.

Strain the spice mix and bittering mix through a fine-mesh sieve, removing solids, and into the cherry flavoring jar. Do not remove the cherries. Shake. You now have one jar that contains the strained spice mix and bittering mix along with the steeping cherries and alcohol.

Let this steep for an additional 2 weeks.

Strain out the cherries through a fine-mesh sieve, and then strain the rest through a coffee filter into the quart jar. (Save those cherries in the fridge for months, in a tight-lidded jar, and drop a couple in your limoncello tonics or any other cocktail that could use a bitter accent.)

Store your homemade sour cherry bitters in a dark place, at room temperature, for up to one year. It just might last that long, since you only use a couple drops in a cocktail. Oh, yeah, you'll want to buy an eyedropper for that because you're on your way to becoming an amateur mixologist. You're welcome.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Local honey is the bees knees

Today marked my first ever opportunity to participate in a honey harvest! I can think of few things that would cause me to happily bike through the hellacious traffic that is DC rush hour, but local honey is one of them. Some small part of me felt bad smoking the bees earlier today and stealing their food. But just a small part.

Amazed that I hadn't been run off the road during my commute from Chinatown to Foggy Bottom in 5pm traffic, I arrived to find Toni and Kevin -- my beekeeping teacher and mentor, respectively -- just getting the smoker going and pulling on safety gear at the West End Community Garden. We got right to work, checking the frames for honey and estimating how many boxes we could safely take so that the bees would have enough remaining stores to get them through the cold months. (It was strange to be thinking of winter as I stood there sweating in my veil, long sleeved shirt, long pans, and socks in the late afternoon sun.) Each box we harvested had to be bee-free, so Toni applied her special menthol-and-almond-extract-soaked hive lid to each of the chosen hive boxes. This cleared out about 90 percent of the little buzzers, leaving us to gently brush any remaining bees off the individual frames. It's funny that bees don't like the almond odor -- I thought it smelled delicious! -- but it totally worked. I think we only had 5 or 6 hangers on by the time we got to the processing stage.

You will notice that there are no photos of us working with the hives -- I know some of you would love to see me in my orange pants tucked into grey stripey socks and my oh-so-fashionable bee veil. No time for photo ops, people, there was much to be done in the short time: we had to get four hives checked, bees evacuated, and boxes into the back of Toni's car.


Here we are set up for honey extraction at the Boys and Girls Club in Georgetown where, for the price of a few bottles of our honey, the staff kindly let us use one of their classrooms. We got right to work, using some crazy tools to upcap the honey frames: two of us worked with a "scratchers" (glorified metal picks) while the third person attempted to use the "cold knife" (which we later determined was more useful as a spatula):


Here are Toni, Kevin, and Tom trying to figure out how best to balance the 9 frames we would be spinning at a time.


I spent most of my time working with Annie at the upcapping station, using the scratchers to scrape off the outer layer of wax so the honey would be able to flow freely in the frame spinner.


Here's our team pouring our beautiful, freshly spun honey through a strainer.


Straining removes the little bits of dead bees, honeycomb, and other detritus. Not that I am a total purist -- I actually quite enjoyed chomping on some of the honey-coated comb when we sampled some from a blown out hive frame -- but a nice, clear bottle of honey is pretty special.


80 pounds of strained honey later, we were done!


Now it's time for a quick dinner and change of clothes before heading out for a night of salsa dancing. I wonder if I still smell like propolis....

Sunday, August 21, 2016

A community of gardeners

So it's August. It's hot as heck. And there's not much going on in my home garden. What can I say, the veg plants are the only things in town that seem to dislike the shaded plot out back this summer.


Aside from the ever-robust compost bin, it's pretty sad back there. But that doesn't mean the plants aren't lush in other parts of my life. Check out the growlab residents, all started from seed in my living room last month:


Those little lettuces, beets, and flowers were just transplanted to their new home in my newest FoodPrints garden during this weekend's School Beautification Day. Oooh, the kids are going to be so thrilled to see the thriving plants when they return to school tomorrow. I bet they'll be especially excited to see the 3 Sisters Garden plot, with heirloom popcorn grown taller than the parents who came to help me with garden cleanup on Saturday:


Many thanks to my former intern Jessica for plantsitting while I was visiting friends in Vermont and Connecticut for a couple of weeks, to the volunteers who have helped to water the garden daily through these hot summer months, and to the parents and community volunteers who came to help me dig up the grass between the raised beds, mulch paths, weed, water, and transplant this weekend!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy farmers market week!

Did you know this week is National Farmers Market Week? It may not have a Hallmark card section yet, but it's something to celebrate. Hug a farmer! Show up at a friend's house with a local watermelon! Try a new seasonal recipe!

You might imagine my elation when a colleague of mine asked me to do a chef demo at the market earlier today. I was especially honored as the market was to be visited by the undersecretary of the USDA. (That is quite a celebrity in my line of work.) He even stopped by for a bite of my raw zucchini noodle salad -- a brief visit as he was learning all about the Foggy Bottom market's awesome farmers and food benefits initiatives in action.

Here I am, all packed up after a successful demo. Note the trendy "I heart farmers markets" temporary tattoo. (It may be hard to see quite how overloaded Ollie was after the first market visit in two weeks -- my kitchen was quite bare when I returned from Connecticut on Monday night. That situation has been fixed.)

See, mom, I occasionally have a picture of myself on here.... in motion, as usual.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Vermonster

Goodness, I believe I haven't been to Burlington for a summertime visit since biking through on the Bikeable Feast in 2009. Now, this wasn't just an excuse to escape DC's heat and humidity -- I was heading up north to Vermont to visit friends, and then just a bit further south to Connecticut for my dear friend Felicity's wedding -- but fleeing DC summer weather for a week and a half was not a tough sell.

I love this place. Not even an hour after collecting me and my little rolling suitcase at the Burlington airport on Thursday afternoon, my old teaching pal Mark whisked me off to the Intervale, where we picked up a double farm share -- he knew I was coming, so wanted to be fully prepared with ample produce. After harvesting armloads of string beans and basil, cutting floral bouquets, and shuttling piles of fresh corn and tomatoes and greens into and out of the minivan, it was time for a dip in the lake followed by an outdoor concert and picnic (featuring seasonal fruit, local cheese, and the classic wine in a water bottle). Friday was a cooking extravaganza, with Mark and I sampling local beers and ciders while whipping up at least a half dozen dishes for an evening barbecue with friends. If I didn't know better, I would think Mark and Susan were trying to lure me into moving to Vermont. Hmm.

Saturday afternoon, I met up with my best friend Becky. She and her family had driven down from Montreal to hang out at Burlington's annual Festival of Fools. There was some good eating along the way, before her family let her come spend a few days of much-needed quality girl time with me. After a stop by one of my favorite co-ops in the country -- City Market -- to pick up dinner and some snacks for the next day's anticipated long hike, we were off to Waterbury.  It took us 5 hours on Sunday to make the rather steep hike up to the summit of Camel's Hump and back, and Becky and I were a bit ravenous afterwards. Oh, we had hiking snacks, sure, but did I mention it was a challenging, 5-hour hike? There was no choice but to head directly to the Ben & Jerry's factory. Forget the tour, we dove directly into a Vermonster:


Okay, technically it was a Mini Vermonster. That's Becky proudly showing off the sundae as big as her head. Don't shake your head at me, we split the four enormous scoops of ice cream, 2 bananas, and a brownie slathered with hot fudge, whipped cream, and nuts. Good thing it was a few more hours before dinner. It was amazing. I wonder if Becky is also trying to lure me north. Hmm. It is awfully good ice cream....

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Finally, a decent gluten-free cupcake!


A few weeks ago, I volunteered to make desserts for my friend Felicity's wedding shower. As she and I are both trying to cut down on our gluten intake, I decided to take another run at gluten-free baking. I mean, it's not like a wedding shower is a high pressure situation, suitable for a first attempt at a new recipe, right? ;) So I decided to make a few dozen mini peach tartlets and a couple dozen carrot cupcakes -- all gluten-free. And much to my delight, both came out deliciously. Things turned out so well, that I actually am whipping up another batch of cupcakes right now, which I'll be bringing to a pool party after work tomorrow. Just a dozen this time around.

Here, for your gluten-free recipe box, is a little something I adapted from the Divas Can Cook blog. I think even the decidedly un-diva-like Bugs Bunny would approve of these....

Gluten-free Carrot Cupcakes
Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients

CUPCAKES
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (or milk + a splash of white wine vinegar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups carrots, finely shredded (I used a little over 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, finely shredded
FROSTING
  • 4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 TBSP butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (may need more to thicken if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F. (Or if it's my not-so-great electric oven, 375F. Don't ask.)

Prep a dozen muffin tins with paper liners (or grease with a thin layer of butter, then dust with flour.)

In a large bowl beat oil, both sugars, and eggs. Set aside.

In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

Gradually add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk. Mix just until just combined.

Fold in shredded carrots, coconut flakes, and vanilla.

Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. (I used a 1/4 cup measure.)
Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, then cool in baking pan on a wire rack on the counter.


Prepare the frosting by first creaming together the butter and cream cheese.

Add in the confectioners sugar and vanilla.

Mix until silky and creamy. Add more sugar if a thicker texture is needed.

When cupcakes, are cooled remove them from pans and frost.

Note: Unfrosted cupcakes will keep on the counter for 1-2 days, or in the fridge for a handful of days. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored in the freezer for a couple of months.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A recipe for venison

For years I have listened to gardeners and farmers in rural areas complain about deer eating their crops (or in the case of my ex-boyfriend's mom, their hostas). Seems people try all kinds of things, from scattering powdered wildcat urine -- I can't help but wonder what the job must be like to gather said urine -- to draping human hair around the perimeter to hanging bars of Irish Spring soap nearby, to deter the gentle but hungry ruminants.

I never had to deal with deer myself until I started working with a school garden within long-range spitting distance of Rock Creek Park this past fall. One day in mid-October, students and I planted a 3-foot by 20-foot block of kale seedlings; the next day half of them were chomped down to about 2 inches above the soil. Now, that's just rude. A mass planting of garlic around the perimeter of the single long garden bed seemed to help, but I didn't want to take chances with the other half of my crop so I invested in a few rolls of deer netting. (Really, though, they should call it human netting, since more often than not students and I got ourselves tangled in it during the harvesting process.)

I've just worked with volunteers to build and plant a few more garden beds at the school, but without a protective garlic border around each of the 8 new beds I fear I might need to do something to supplement the deer netting loosely covering the tender young veggies growing in them. Perhaps I should prominently post a recipe for venison stew... and get it translated into deerspeak?


Sunday, July 3, 2016

A german feast!

I was sad to have my friend Tinka head home to Munich earlier today, after our fun week of biking and dancing and exploring the city together and feasting. What a special treat it was to have my friend here for her birthday, when we cooked up a feast based on some recipes from the Bavarian cookbook she kindly brought me. (Seems I'm not the only one who gives other people gifts on their own birthday.)

Last weekend as we perused the farmers market, the two of us picked up fixin's to make chicken schnitzel and spaetzle. And of course since I had an extra sherpa with me at market, I went a little crazy again with the produce acquisition... which is funny, since my fridge was already stuffed with homebrew, and produce from both of my school gardens, as well as about 6 pounds of rhubarb from my landlady, but luckily I am an excellent fridge packer. Anyway, when Wednesday evening rolled around we got to work on a proper German meal, paying no mind to the fact that I was woefully underprepared for proper German cooking. How do I not yet own a spaetzle press?? At least I had a solid tenderizer:


Each of us playing to her strengths, Tinka took care of the chicken pounding and cheesy spaetzle making, while I got cracking on some veggies to make sure we didn't die of heart attacks right at the end of the meal.


It was SO delicious. But the highlight of the cooking was perhaps earlier that day, with our improbably successful German rhubarb cake, which we baked and then enjoyed with a few cocktails midday for a birthday "lunch." (I think the last time I counted drinks and dessert as a meal was some time during my senior year of college. Though at that time I didn't need a 2 1/2 hour nap right afterwards.) I say improbable because, dear readers, the recipe was the most bizarre thing I had ever read, and having never tasted -- nor even seen -- a rhubarb cake in my life, I had no idea if my interpretation of the less-than-clear directions would even come to an edible conclusion. Clearly it did, as less than half of the 10" pastry remained after lunch:

If you want to try making it yourself, here's the recipe we found online for the rhubarb topping and for the base. (Forget the meringue layer -- it's way too humid to mess with it these days.) Beware, though, as my landlady tried to recreate it twice to no avail. Let's just say the instructions are not up to the stereotypical German standards of precision. I'm thinking I need to head to Bavaria sometime soon to research this recipe further....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Herbal first aid

I have always been fascinated by idea that plants have medicinal properties. The power of plants to affect us, positively or negatively, to heal us, to alter our perception of reality, is something I've been ruminating about more than usual, having just finished reading Michael Pollan's brilliant Botany of Desire during my flight back from California last week. And wouldn't you know it, mere days after my return my friend and local herbalist, Tricia*, sent an email advertising her class on herbal first-aid remedies. A class on identifying and local plants to alleviate common maladies? Sign me up!

Actually, I signed myself up as well as my dear friend Tinka, who is visiting from Germany for the week. As usual, it was both enjoyable and informative -- Tricia's such a great teacher. During the first segment of the class, we learned how to identify, cultivate, and take advantage of the basic medicinal properties of some culinary herbs as well as plants often considered weeds (like wild plantain, no relation to the banana). Talk about practical: Tinka immediately chewed up a couple of plantain leaves to create a "spit poultice" that immediately reduced the irritation from some recently acquired mosquito bites. The technical term for this property is anti-pruritic, which means it stops things from itching. And two days later, when I found myself with a scratchy throat, chocking down a mug of freshly boiled oregano tea knocked whatever was breeding in my respiratory system RIGHT out of there. (It is quite an intense concoction, with 1 cup of hot water to 1 packed teaspoon of fresh oregano leaves. Not a remedy for the faint of heart. Or rather, the faint of tastebuds.) It turns out that both oregano and thyme are not only delicious but also naturally antibacterial. We also learned about the medicinal uses of plants that were vulnerary (heal tissue damage), anti-inflammatory (reduce swelling), and anti-microbial (kill germs). Suddenly I felt like a shaman-in-training. Well, without the drums or animal bones.

After Tricia talked the group through harvesting and storing everything from thyme and yarrow branches to comfrey and chamomile flowers, we headed into the fire station for some hands-on work making infused oils, salves, and balms. (What's that? Oh yes, I should mention that the class took place at one of the local firehouses, which partners with a cool local nonprofit called Everybody Grows. Two guys from the EG team manage the on-site demonstration garden out front, and were as excited as I was to learn more cool things to do with the stuff growing out there.) Together, we proceeded to make a batch of calendula-infused olive oil. Tricia explained that it needed to steep for anywhere from 4 hours (in a warm water bath) to 2 weeks (in a hot car -- no, really), so she did a TV-style quick change and whipped out a second jar of already steeped calendula oil.


We used the herbalist's medieval torture-style mini press to extract as much infused oil from the soaked flowers, stirred in some natural beeswax, and warmed the viscous mixture. The result was now considered a salve. We removed it from the heat and added a few drops of lavender essential oil. What we had now was a balm, which Tricia carefully poured into cute little tins that we labeled and brought home.


Pretty awesome, no? I can't wait for Tricia's next class....

(*You may remember reading about Tricia in an earlier post on making homemade bitters. I learn so much from this lady! Incidentally, a blogpost on other cocktail-related bitters I've been concocting since then is currently under development...)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You may be a food educator if...

1. You regularly ride public transit with a backpack overstuffed with garden produce.


2. You end up having a lengthy conversation with the woman behind the counter at the liquor store about her favorite way to cook leafy greens. (What? I was buying some supplies to make more bitters!)

3. You proudly show strangers photos of your seedlings on your phone.


4. You take photos of amusing food-related things while on vacation.

5. You save your old laundry detergent bottles to make watering cans. These are especially handy since nobody wants to steal 'em.



Friday, June 17, 2016

Kale-aboration


Only in Berkeley can you find a brassica-themed Vanilla Ice reference. Oy. This town is too hip for me....

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The (incr)edible schoolyard

Welcome to Day 1 of my week-long California adventure. This morning found me back at Alice Waters' original Edible Schoolyard project. It was amazing to revisit this most beautiful and extensive school garden, tucked away in Berkeley. Having worked in the field for nearly six years since Ollie and I passed through here on our cross-country bike tour, I was even more impressed than I was the first time around. Imagine that!

I picked up my visitor's badge in the school's main office a bit after 11am, then wandered out to the garden to poke around. When I asked them a couple of questions about their interaction with the green space, two middle school girls hanging out at the garden's long picnic table proceeded to give me one of the best garden tours I've ever had. After tasting some delicate yellow raspberries growing near the entrance, the girls walked me past the espaliered apple orchard and excitedly told me about pressing the fruit into cider the previous autumn. We strolled past the in-ground beds of swiss chard and brassicas, with a stop to admire the gorgeous dahlias (my new favorites) as we made our way to see the chickens cavorting around the straw fort students had helped to construct in the far corner of the outdoor space. We continued on to the chicken coop to check for eggs, admired the orderly tools around the shed, and then explored the greenhouse, where I examined the remnants of last week's seedling sale on tables that students had built.



My impromptu guides led me next to the bee hive, apologizing that the usual veil and gloves were not around for me to borrow so I could take a closer peek. (Yes, kids are invited to check out the honeybees on their own. Pretty awesome!) After that, we meandered to the school-built outdoor prep tables and stone pizza oven, where eighth graders annually prepare and bake their own pizzas. The young people have become much more involved in garden work and construction than seemed to be the case during my last time through, and they sure are proud of this... as they should be!



As if I wasn't enamored enough, my teenage guides led me next through a tunnel of grape, kiwi berry, and passion fruit vines. "Certainly more prolific than my own school garden's vining fruit," I muttered, mostly to myself. California weather and four garden teachers certainly help things thrive around here. Still: impressive. We ended our loop back near the entrance, where I admired the outdoor worm bins and rustic kitchen setup.



With a friendly wave, my guides were off to class, and I was left wondering if one of my own gardens might be as impressive one day. Something to ponder during lunch tomorrow at Chez Panisse with my friend (and kind local host) Colin....

Sunday, June 5, 2016

So, I may have gone a little crazy at the farmers market

Ollie was definitely creaking on the ride home. Good thing I ate the half dozen dumplings I purchased on the spot, and a few strawberries, else everything might not have fit in my panniers.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Strawberry fields for a few weeks

What a cold and rainy early summer we've had here in the District, eh? I thought strawberry season might never happen. About three weeks ago, I finally started seeing strawberries at the farmers' market. Sadly, they were pretty bland. All that water. Meh. Two weeks ago, I tried again. Bah. Disappointing. And then I tasted a berry at the Twin Springs stand at the Dupont farmers' market last Sunday. I walked away with a whole quart for myself. Then I foolishly stopped to pick up a few more things on my way out of the market, and found myself with yet another quart of strawberries from Spring Valley's farmstand. Darn my lack of resistance. But I'm supporting local farmers, right? Right??

Right.

I ate probably about a pint of berries while I was rinsing and storing them Sunday afternoon. (What's that? Yes, I learned a new berry keeping trick from my gentleman friend, Harlan, recently. You rinse the berries in a solution that's 1 cup white vinegar and 2 cups cool water, blot the berries dry, and store them in a tupperware with a clean towel at the bottom. Rinse them with plain water just before you eat them. They last for a week. If you don't eat them all before then. My record since learning this trick is four days. So, about that lack of resistance....) I decided I would share this berry bounty with friends, so set to making some strawberry ice cream for a Monday night dinner party.

When mom called me on Sunday evening, mid-icecream-project, the following conversation ensued:
Me: I'm making a custard base for a roasted strawberry balsamic ice cream.
Mom: Sounds weird. I'm sure you'll love it.
True story. And I do love it. Mom's so smart.

At the request of my lovely interns, who tasted a bit of the creamy berry bounty on Tuesday afternoon, and my dear friend Kathryn, with whom I enjoyed the remainder of the quart of ice cream after dinner last night, I offer you the recipe here. It's based partly on a Driscoll's recipe, but then my teeth started to pre-hurt when I dumped in all of the sugar in that recipe so I switched recipes to one on the Serious Eats website mid-stream. And then I strained out and cooked down the post-roasting balsamic-strawberry liquid, stirred in some chocolate, and made a sauce. Okay, well, it started with actual recipes....

Roasted Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulls removed
  • 2/3 cup + 2 TBSP sugar
  • 1 generous drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F.

Chop strawberries into bite-sized chunks, then toss with 2/3 cup sugar. Spread in a pie dish, drizzle with balsamic, and roast for 8-10 minutes until berries are soft and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then strain liquid. (Save this liquid for later use in a reduction sauce OR an amazing salad dressing base. Trust me.)

Puree half of the roasted berries in a food processor or blender , then store in the fridge. Store the chunky remaining roasted berries in another container in the fridge. (I am NOT just creating dishes here, there is a reason for separate storage, that you will discover later.)

In a medium saucepan, simmer cream, milk, and remaining sugar until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream mixture into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the cream. Return saucepan to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Strain your custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cool mixture to room temperature -- I like to set my custard bowl inside a larger bowl that has ice water in it.

Cover and chill overnight. The ice cream base, too. ;)

The next day, start churning your ice cream base in the pre-frozen bowl of your ice cream maker.

With the motor running, drizzle in your roasted strawberry puree, then the buttermilk.

When the ice cream is frozen to a soft-serve consistency, with the motor still running, add your roasted strawberry chunks. Allow the ice cream machine to continue until the ice cream has reached the proper consistency.

Transfer your irresistible ice cream to a container with a tight-fitting lid and place in the freezer until it is firm (at least 4 hours). Devour.

Oh, that balsamic sauce? I just had the balsamic-strawberry liquid simmering in a small saucepan on low for a few hours while I worked on lesson plans -- Memorial Day doesn't mean I'm not working, people -- then stirred in a handful of chocolate chips during the last 20 minutes and whisked it every few minutes. Delish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It's that kind of day

Cold. Grey. Rainy. And after a long day of teaching and biking and dog walking, I'm glad to be at the end of it.

Time for a hot toddy, methinks.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Using our collective noodles

I've been really struggling with this low-gluten diet, readers. It seems at every turn there are delicious breads and croissants and beers to consume in recent weeks, and my arthritis is flaring up as a result. Yes, I've been indulging -- thank goodness I don't have celiac or a gluten allergy -- including last week, when my 5th grade classes had a chance to make pasta at the hip and delicious Urbana restaurant in Dupont Circle. The butter and herb smothered fettuccine and spinach/kale/ricotta stuffed ravioli almost brought tears to my eyes.

Pasta, how I've missed you!

I know that gluten-free variations are heretical to some (including me, up until about two years ago, and just about every Italian person I've ever met), but there must be something good out there. I have yet to find it. Readers, this is where I do a little crowd sourcing: anyone know of good gluten-free pasta recipes? (Or at this point, I'd even be open to buying pre-made gluten-free pasta. God, I miss noodles....)



[This is actually a photo from a post I wrote for the FoodPrints blog last week. See? I have not been neglecting writing altogether. Just here, apparently. You can read the post on making pasta with 5th graders and an awesome local chef here.]

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mycelium rumbling

There are few things as delicious as a good mushroom. Last week, I was honored to be a part of my friend Jonathan's "test kitchen" dinner party, which featured some of the most delicious fungi I have ever sampled. That's not just the prosecco talking, either (though there was plenty of that, chilled, on hand.)

I've known Jonathan -- local cookbook author and lover of all things farmers market -- for a handful of years now. He's the real deal: a man who talks to farmers in detail about their crops, who talks at length with market shoppers in search of new recipe ideas or cooking tips, who talks to me for hours about making food more fun and accessible to everyone. My people, this one. For years I've known he hosts regular recipe testing gatherings at his house, yet last Tuesday night was the first one I'd joined. I'm wondering why the heck it took me so long. I have no good answer to this question. What I do have is another great recipe, courtesy of Jonathan and the good folks at Mycolumbia Mushrooms -- James and Natalia were our culinary co-conspirators for the evening, as we brainstormed, chopped, and tasted our way through the evening, along with my gentleman friend, Harlan.

Actually, we made a few different recipes -- chicken and mushroom dumplings with three trial dipping sauces (all delicious), a spinach salad with oven fried mushrooms, a seared steak with sauteed oyster mushrooms and bleu cheese (who knew I liked bleu cheese that much?), and, the one I begged the recipe for afterwards, a hearty mushroom and barley soup. My tummy was rumbling for it for days. This weekend I'll be picking up ingredients to make more....

Mushroom barley soup
Recipe notes courtesy of Jonathan Bardzik

Ingredients

Soup
  • 3 oz dried oyster mushrooms soaked in 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 TBSP butter -- I'd brought some leftover from the day's classes, handshaken by 1st graders
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup uncooked pearled barley, rinsed
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 TBSP yellow miso -- I'm obsessed with this stuff, be warned
  • Rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 lb fresh pea tendrils, tough stems removed
Miso butter: 
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP yellow miso -- see what I mean?
Directions

Place dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water. Let rest for 20-30 minutes to reconstitute. Drain mushrooms through cheese cloth, reserving both mushrooms and liquid.

Melt 2 TBSP butter with 2 TBSP olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add barley and cook an additional 5 minutes to toast, stirring occasionally.

Add mushroom liquid and cook approximately 1 hour until barley is tender. 

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400F. Separate reconstituted mushroom stems and caps. Shred caps  with a knife and thinly slice stems. Toss with remaining 2 TBSP olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and roast until mushrooms are deep brown and crisp. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Add mushroom stock and miso to the barley mixture and simmer for 5 minutes longer allowing flavors to blend.

Remove soup from heat and stir in pea tendrils. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of rice wine vinegar.

Make miso butter: Melt butter and yellow miso in a small pan over medium heat. Whisk together.

Serve soup garnished with miso butter and toasted mushrooms. OMG, so good!!


This spring is so wonky lately, it's actually, strangely, soup weather again. So get yourself out to the farmers' market to get your oyster mushrooms and get cooking! (What's that? Oh! Mycolumbia will be at the 14&U market and the Bloomingdale market on alternating Saturdays and Sundays this season... starting this weekend!)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Hive beetles, beware

So I may mutter unkind words as I swerve around cars double parked in the Q Street bike lane -- ahem, bike lane, not parking spot! And I have been known to let certain gentleman callers know about my propensity for headbutting lest they get any funny ideas about putting a hand somewhere inappropriate on a first date. But overall, I'm a lover, not a hater. I love people, and plants, and animals. Even bugs, so long as they are not cockroaches. (Ick.) And yet there are some critters that have been getting a little too comfy in the beehives I've been helping to tend this year.... I'll give you a hint: it's not the bees that have gotten into my bonnet.

My beekeeping mentor, Kevin, suggested this past fall that we keep an eye on the hive beetle numbers, and squish any of these pernicious pests that we came across while inspecting hives. We also periodically refilled the hive beetle traps with baby oil. (Weird, right? But it works. Drowning in baby oil, what a way to go.) The beetle numbers dropped somewhat, but after finding one hive significantly weakened this spring, Kevin decided we needed to take more aggressive steps. Enter nematodes -- my kindergarten students would be SO excited, but these are different than the nematodes we found in class -- and diatomaceous earth.

I am learning so much about organic pest management this year, I tell you. A key piece of managing pests is understanding their life cycle. (Wow, that sounded very professional. Don't be fooled: I'm still a total novice at this.) Anyway, I learned from Kevin that hive beetle pupae -- the stage after those little jerks hatch -- need soil to burrow into so they can grow into adults, and messing with the soil underneath the hive, where pupae drop down after feasting on honey and bee brood, is the best place to take them out of commission. First, we cleared all debris from around the hives. Then we sloshed a solution with millions of microscopic assassins -- yep, the beneficial nematodes -- all around the base of the hives. Any hive beetle pupae foolish enough to drop down out of THESE hives would die a horrible death. (I won't describe it here in great detail lest I give my readers nightmares, but the short version is that the nematodes enter the pupae, release toxic bacteria, and the pupae turn to goo inside of about 48 hours, at which point the nematodes eat the goo and lay eggs in the corpse. Okay, that was maybe a little detailed. Sorry. Read the comics or something before bed tonight.)

Of course, in order to even get to the soil, the loathsome beetle pupae need to make it past the diatumaceous earth we scattered around the hive. What's that? You haven't ever heard of diatumaceous earth? Basically, it's ground up, fossilized phytoplankton. But the important thing to know about it is that, according to one fairly graphic source I discovered, "When sprinkled on a bug that has an exoskeleton" -- or, like the hive beetle pupae, without a skeleton -- "it compromises their waxy coating so that their innards into teeny tiny bug jerky." Take THAT, hive beetles. And if you make it through, well, we've got some nematodes dying to meet you....


And you thought The Sopranos was violent? Try beekeeping.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Chocolate Rabbit Torte

I came home from work the a few days ago to find a little easter treat from my landlady, left for me on the steps up to my apartment:


One is never too old to enjoy a chocolate bunny and jelly beans. And tulips -- I adore tulips. (I do think I'm a little old for easter egg hunts, so I'm glad mom hasn't planned one for this year. My brother and I almost injured ourselves and each other the time she organized one in the back yard a few years ago....)

As I explained to a friend recently, Easter is everything I love about Thanksgiving, but with better weather and no football. It just might be the perfect holiday. Now, home from the annual easter festivities, I have a 7oz bunny to attend to. In what delectable form will he be eaten? I'm thinking a variation on the classic chocolate torte... nibbled on with a bottle of the recently ready coffee bourbon porter homebrew.

Chocolate Rabbit Torte

Ingredients

  • 7 oz milk or dark chocolate rabbit -- I'd break it into pieces
  • 12 TBSP butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • a splash of vanilla
  • 5 large farm fresh eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Brush an 8 or 9-inch cake pan with butter and dust with flour. Alternately, you can use parchment paper in place of butter/flour coating.

Melt chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla.

Let cool for about 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until thick (6 minutes or so) with an electric mixer.

Gently fold chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until just mixed (uniform color).

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes.

Cool in pan, run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen if needed, and then turn out on a wire rack or plate to slice.

Now, which grown up kids-at-heart can I invite over for dessert?