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


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
  • 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

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....


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.