Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Mead Day!

It is a bit of a meadstravaganza around my apartment these days:

By now you must sense that I love any reason to celebrate food and drink. In fact, I was just talking with some neighbors this weekend about our need to celebrate International Crepe Day. The group agreed that it's too many months away, as is Nutella Day, though felicitously the two are a mere three days apart, so we agreed we needed to make some practice batches between now and then. For research.

While sipping on a little snifter of mead after dinner tonight, I realized that many of you might not know there is a National Mead Day. It was on August 5th this year, and I was fortunate to have my mead making mentor, Tysen (yes, I have a mead mentor!), and my boyfriend  Matt, (yes, I have a boyfriend!) over to celebrate. After a lovely brunch, we got tasting five different varieties.


I'll be writing a full post on the mead making process and results -- Tysen will be editing the excerpts from our planning, brewing, and tasting sessions, and posting the finished podcast in coming months on his site -- but as I decompress from my amazing summer travels and dive back into teaching, I didn't want to miss the chance to share this most important day that you should mark on your calendar so you don't miss Mead Day next year: it's the first Saturday in August. You have almost a whole year to learn about and learn to love mead before then! Those who are around may be invited to taste the by then 18-month-aged varieties pictured here:


Which will you prefer, I wonder? The classic? The quince-infused? The tangerine and thyme variety? What I can say is that there will be no more of this smooth, barrel aged one, hand carried all the way from western Poland:

Take comfort, though, DC-area mead lovers (or those who are mead-curious): you can reference Tysen's awesome website to learn how easy it is to make your own mead. Or you can pick up some of Charm City's latest limited-release meads at many a local grocery. I have a can each of raspberry coconut and orange lavender in the fridge now. For research, you know. Cheers!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

This means war!!

It's not news to me that DC has a rat problem. It's also been known for some time that Ollie has been sharing a storage closet with rats. But until recently, the rodents kept to their corner, and we kept to ours.

Apparently these rodents have gotten a little big for their britches: the other day when I went to take Ollie for a ride I noticed some distinctive chew marks on her right handlebar. I brought my bike helmet inside. (Rat poop on my head? No thank you!) Then a few days later, some chomp evidence on her left handlebar. Then today, a brazenly large chunk was missing. Eating rubber? Really?? Apparently the mild winter meant that rat populations across the city have grown considerably larger than usual, and they're getting aggressive. I hate rats, yet I've generally maintained my distance. Love and let live, you know. But now?

NOBODY chews on my Ollie and gets away with it! This means war!! That exterminator better get here asap or I'm heading in there with the rat poison myself....

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mission: Plumpossible

What a treat it was to see my friend Jenn and spend a few days with her and her husband Eric in the south of France this week! Jenn, who I met a decade ago in French class back in DC, is my kind of crazy: loves good food and wine, has an insatiable interest in learning and exploring new places, and suffers from a similar hatred of wasting things. An avid recycler and compulsive composter, Jenn seemed at many points during this visit to be my long lost twin. (Mon dieu!) This feeling was confirmed when Jenn showed me their glut of fresh red plums on Tuesday, filling containers on every available scrap of kitchen table and counter space, with many more pounds of fruit still hanging from overloaded boughs in the garden, and asked if I could make something to salvage them. Preferably gluten-free.

Challenge accepted, obviously.

When Jenn and Eric set off to work yesterday, I put in a load of laundry, turned on some music, sat down at their kitchen table, and began to chop. An hour and twelve cups of chopped plums later, I assessed what other ingredients were on hand and got cooking: plum bars, plum shrub syrup, and, because I believe I mentioned how both Jenn and I loathe wasting anything, plum fruit leather made from the skins strained out of the shrub base. 

Oh, you have lots of plums, too? Well, I already have a  shrub recipe on the blog, so you don't need that. The fruit leather is still dehydrating in the sun, so I'll hold off on sharing that recipe til I get a positive review from Jenn. For now, here is how to make your own delicious -- and super easy -- tart plum bars. Perfect for a picnic in Paris, btw....

Gluten-free Summer Plum Bars
Adapted from the smittenkitchen website's strawberry rhubarb bar recipe.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup all-purpose gluten-free flour
½ cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons butter, 
melted
2 heaping cups fresh plums, pitted and diced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Heat oven to 375°F. For easy removal, line bottom and sides  of an 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

Place oats, flour, 1 cup sugar, and salt in the bottom of your baking pan and mix. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. If the clumps feel soft or look overly damp, add up to 2 more Tablespoons of flour. Set aside ½ cup of the crumble mixture.

Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan. Spread half the diced plums over the crust, then sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1/2 Tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread the remaining plums over this, and top with second 1/2 Tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit.

Bake bars for 30-40 minutes, until plums are bubbly and crumbly portion is golden and smells delicious. Let cool in pan, then put in the fridge to set. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar or a dash of cinnamon sugar before serving. Store leftovers in fridge or freezer.

I think almond meal would be delicious in the crust/crumble part, too -- maybe swap it for 1/4 cup of the flour -- but since Jenn can't eat almonds, I didn't try it this time. Ooh, I can't wait to hear how the fruit leather comes out!

Friday, July 14, 2017

More than goat milk

Finally, in western Poland, I've found the vegetables! Each day this week, along with the ubiquitous meat and boiled potatoes, Jagoda (my relation -- a second cousin, I think?) has been feeding me luscious, from-scratch soups: mushroom, broccoli, zucchini, and, today, creamy tomato. Yummmm. And, with many thanks to her husband Krzysztof, I've also had a chance to work on a small farm in the region. I'm getting back to my roots in more ways than one.

Wednesday night after dinner, my relatives drove me to Kozka -- an organic farm that produces goat milk, cheese, and yogurt. After arriving, I chatted a bit with the farmers, Jolanta and Norbert, over herbal tea then beers, heading to bed around midnight. At the crack of 6:45, it was time to get up to help with morning milking....

I'm not going to be quitting my day job to become a goat milker any time soon, it appears. Norbert and his assistant, Danke, easily milked nearly seventy goats in the half hour it took me to get through two, never mind that about 25% of the milk that came out of my goats ended up on my pants. Luckily I was able to redeem myself with efficient garden tasks later in the morning -- so much so, in fact, that Norbert declared my thorough tomato pruning and pea crop clearing earned us all a two hour siesta after our fava bean and pork belly lunch. (Lord knows I needed the nap after the overzealous rooster outside my window had gotten going at 3am. Jerk.)

I learned so much from Jolanta during my time there, where she farms, makes yogurt and cheeses for sale, and practices acupuncture and Chinese medicine. She has lived in Lubowo since her father gave her a few hectares of land there as a wedding present in 1980. She and her carpenter husband were simply homesteading until about a dozen years after settling there she noticed their second son was allergic to cow's milk. So they got a couple of goats. Jolanta had studied agriculture in college, but she had focused on plants, so they decided to spend a bit of time in Switzerland learning how to care for livestock. They soon acquired a few more goats, and a nearby supermarket asked if they might sell some of their milk there. Then a few more goats joined the herd as demand grew... It turns out that organic agriculture is quite an anomaly in Poland, but there's been a recent uptick in consumers seeking out what is here called "biological" produce, dairy, and meat. There's still a long way to go, Jolanta assured me, but slowly the country is waking up to the ways conventional agriculture is damaging human health and the health of the environment.

As of 2012, the unique organic farm has been hosting field trips for groups of students from schools in nearby Poznan. Kids as young as kindergarteners come for 3 hours at a time to milk goats (and taste the milk), ride ponies, see a wide variety of fruits and veggies growing, and have a cookout. How cool! As far as I can tell, the farm is the only one in the country offering this amazing farm-to-school opportunity. I hope it's the start of a trend -- have I mentioned the general lack of veggie consumption in these parts? 

When Krzysztof came to pick me up from the farm last night, the couple sent me back with big hugs along with a hunk of their aged goat cheese and homemade black currant syrup. These are my people!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

"No risk, no fun"


So said my fearless guide, Kris, on the first day of our week-long bike tour as we scrabbled our way up the hilly roads toward our destination: the ski resort town of Zakopane. Our group of 12 was reduced to 4, including our guide, willing to bike uphill in the pouring rain that first day -- the rest took the van with our bags. (I have to say that I am getting rather used to the idea of organized bike tours, with someone else schlepping my bags, and sleeping in a bed rather than a tent at night. Am I getting soft, I wonder?) After the first somewhat miserable stretch of cold, wet biking -- 50F is not the weather I'd expected in July, as reflected by my choice of packed clothing -- the rain let up and we stopped for a seasonal raspberry beer and to check out a local festival in a small village along our route. About an hour of (mostly uphill) biking later, the sun came out as we came upon another village fair, this time with young men and women in traditional costumes dancing. I'd have totally missed this if I'd taken the van!


Mind you, biking in Poland is NO JOKE. I learned from our guide that the country is second to Russia in terms of annual car crashes. Being on the road in Poland, whether on a bicycle or in a car, frankly, you are taking your life in your hands. With cars blowing through red lights, stray dogs roaming the towns, and vodka being cheaper than bottled water, I was definitely glad to be part of a larger group rather than a lone cyclist. I stayed somewhere in the middle of the group as we wound our way through the majestic Carpathian Mountains, tracing the Dunjanec River as it crossed into Slovakia and back. Some bits of the tour were quite challenging, and even I had to walk my bike part way up a couple of the hills. But it was worth it. Crumbling castles, stunning vistas, beautiful open skies....

Kris was to cheerfully repeat his mantra throughout the week and we all took note. Luckily there were plenty of opportunities each day to take a nerve-calming ice cream break:

I could not resist any opportunity to try new foods, though, from mystery ice cream flavors to artisanal pastries with names I couldn't pronounce.The lunch food options were as daring as the biking in some cases, from traditional goulash one day to sauerkraut soup and honey vodka another. Sometimes the English menu translations were indecipherable or altogether missing, and I'm not quite sure about some of the meats I consumed. One afternoon we ventured into a shack that was making oscypek, southern Poland's traditional smoky sheep's milk cheese. It was undoubtedly smoky. The cheese and the air in the shack. The kind cheesemaker offered us tastes of the raw and smoked cheeses as he explained the painstaking process. At least I think that's what he was gesturing about -- I don't speak much Polish. I'm pretty sure it wasn't pasturized. I'm definitely sure it was delicious.

At one point, during our last full day of cycling, Kris picked up a bottle of plum vodka so our group could taste the regional specialty. (We finished the bottle at dinner that night. Our guide found it endlessly funny to refill my glass when I wasn't looking. I think the lining of my esophagus is still recovering.) But no risk, no fun, right? Many thanks to Kris and my cycling companions for a fun week!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Pigwa

So it turns out that quince is much more popular in Europe than in the States. Before Jacky gifted me a half dozen of the hard yellow fruits with an intoxicating aroma last year, I'd only encountered quince in the form of membrillo paste on Spanish cheese plates in fancy restaurants.Thus far in my summer travels, I've seen it infused in gin while visiting Ghent, then my relatives offered me some preserved quince in tea yesterday morning and poured me homemade quince vodka after dinner in Warsaw last night. I've heard rumors of quince mead, too, so I'll be on the lookout as I head through southern and western Poland....

I suspect this will not be my last run in with quince. At least I hope not, and not *just* because it's fun to say in Polish: pigwa!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Shukran

About a month ago, my friend Vera (from our, ahem, award-winning WIC challenge team) contacted me about doing a middle eastern cooking class for her cultural exchange program, Oye Palaver Hut. "Sure," I said, "but the person you really want to lead this thing and talk about Iraqi food and Middle Eastern culture is my dad. Can he come, too?" If only Vera knew ahead of time that she'd be meeting her storytelling match....

A couple of weeks ago, dad and I started brainstorming recipes we could make with the group of 6-8 families in an hour or so. Dolma? Too complicated. Baklava? Too stressful. Even though technically the national dish of Iraq is probably bamja (okra stew with meat), shalgham (turnip curry) has always been my favorite traditional Iraqi dish.

Mom and dad came over last night so we could pre-make the shalgham and hummus. Dad also brought along ingredients for a few of my favorite traditional Iraqi veggie dishes -- fassoulia (stewed white beans in tomato sauce) and khedra (stewed green beans) -- and plenty of basmati rice, all of which we would be making during the class itself. My gentleman friend Matt and landlady Jacky were also in attendance, and jumped right in to help with chopping and keeping wine glasses filled -- both key tasks during a Vincent cooking session. Things went pretty smoothly until I sliced by thumb with an impressively sharp knife. No biggie, I put on a band-aid and we kept working. Then after a few glasses of wine, we realized that the fancy halal lamb meant to fill out the shalgham was still sitting in my parents' fridge in Northern Virginia, so there was a little side trip to my local Whole Foods. A little after 9pm, which, incidentally, is not overly late in the Arab dining world, we sat down to a delicious meal, followed by a platter of baked goodies and coffee. Not a bad Friday night.

This morning, dad swung by around 9:45 to whisk me and the ingredients and equipment for our Iraqi feast to Northeast DC, where we'd be teaching. Slowly kiddos and their parents trickled in, beginning around 11:00. By noon, things were in full swing, with dad talking it up to a rapt audience while 4 pots simmered on the gas burners and cameras and microphones captured his every word. The kids, to their credit, jumped right in, eager to help with the chopping and stirring, the adding of spices and tasting of things along the way. At the end, we all enjoyed our feast together, then dad wrote out everyone's name in Arabic calligraphy. I helped to wash up while dad led the group in a little Arabic line dancing. He was in his element, as mom would say.


I think a girl and her dad could get used to this. Well, maybe without the filming -- I get a little shy.

Anyway, it's high time I included my favorite dish of dad's on this blog. Seems fitting just a few weeks before Father's Day. Maybe you can make a pot of this for your dad....

Turnips (shalgham) with Lamb
This recipe makes enough for 10 people. Also delicious made with chicken or pork.

Ingredients
5-6 medium size turnips (tennis ball size)
2 lbs boneless lamb, cubed (leg or shoulder of lamb)
1 small can tomato paste
3-4 tomatoes, chopped (or 1 can stewed tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 dried red chili peppers (or 1 tsp crushed red pepper)
1 TBSP date syrup (or molasses or maple syrup)
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions
In a large pot, heat 3 TBS olive oil. Saute garlic and onions 3 or 4 minutes.

Add lamb and cook 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add turnips and cook an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add tomato paste and follow with chopped tomatoes. Add 1 cup water, or more, as needed and stir.

Add syrup and follow with lemon juice and red peppers.

Bring to boil, lower heat to medium and cook for at least 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

After one hour, taste, and if necessary, add any of the ingredients as necessary to get the right balance of sweet, spicy, sour, and bitter. Salt and pepper to round up flavor.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A changing climate


What a treat it was to host my dear friend Mark and his son Emmett this weekend! Too bad it took a visceral fear of our planet going down the toilet to get one of my favorite people on the planet and his oldest son down to visit me in DC, but I'll take what I can get...

As we wandered around the city after dinner on Friday night -- the guys wanted to stretch their legs after 12 hours of bus transit from Burlington -- we chatted about the various neighborhoods we walked through and their complicated racial histories, about the old days of teaching in Brooklyn (which is where I originally met Mark), about where our nation might be headed in these tumultuous times and what we were doing to be a force for good. Though there was a good bit of ranting along the way, by the time we returned home for a beer I was feeling less hopeless.

Though I am daily outraged by the stuff coming out of the Executive Office -- seriously, I shake my fist every morning at the radio as I have breakfast and listen to WAMU -- Mark reminded me that as teachers we have a real chance to foster an atmosphere of hope, kindness, intelligence, and activism. It's up to us adults who care -- because, let's face it, we are all teachers in one way or another -- to help ensure that the next generation will be made up of good people. We've got to stick together, and stick up for what's right for everyone. I am regularly heartened by the banding together of many people against hatred, racism, bigotry, and ignorance, and this was in full effect yesterday during the Climate March.

Right on. I wish Mark visited more often!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Buried treasure

I love Easter. It continues to be my favorite holiday: it's basically Thanksgiving with better weather and less football. This year, there were a few changes to the usual routine:

1. Instead of me (almost 40) and my brother (in his mid-30s) and I knocking each other out of the way to find the usual peanut m&m filled plastic eggs that mom stashed around the back yard, dad and I giggled maniacally as we pointed the world's cutest 2-year-old niece toward jelly belly filled eggs scattered about in the grass. We spent much of the rest of the afternoon chasing the dog away from the jelly beans when Elena inevitably spilled the opened eggs all over the back deck. She was so proud of herself it was hard to be annoyed. Also, the jelly beans were delicious.

2. Instead of the standard chemical tablet dyes, we dipped our hard boiled eggs in all-natural solutions made from beet juice, turmeric, and chili powder. Though in the end the eggs didn't stain, neither did my hands, so there's that. More research required before next Easter.

3. We only had 2 large meat dishes + 4 or 5 veggie dishes for 6 adults and 1 hungry toddler. Win!

4. Instead of the chocolate bunny mom normally gives me, I had another Easter surprise. Dad took me down to the basement to look through some miscellaneous bags and boxes of things he thought might be mine, and lo and behold I was reunited with some long lost cooking equipment:


For YEARS dad had insisted that I never gave him these objects on the day of my bike trip departure, at the C&O canal picnic gathering in April of 2009. And though I distinctly recall someone snapping a photo of me handing him the whisk, since I couldn't produce photographic evidence I had started to question my memory. Yesterday, almost exactly EIGHT YEARS LATER, there it was, beneath a bag of spare bike tire tubes and other "might need" items dad had kept handy at the Northern Virginia Bikeable Feast home base during my trip. And apparently for another 6 1/2 years. Nestled next to it was the missing pepper grinder, swiped from a terrible NYC restaurant back in 2004, and missing in action since that fateful day in April 2009 -- I loved that pepper grinder. And it still works! I think I'm going to put freshly ground pepper on everything for the next week....

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Loving life

My life isn't perfect -- whose is, really? -- but on days like today I feel lucky to lead the life I do.

I was reflecting on this while roaming around the C&O canal earlier today with 45 members of my school's Student Sustainability Corps -- a group made up of elementary and middle school students and an amazing special education teacher who continue to lead the school's recycling, gardening, and general sustainability efforts. They're pretty awesome, but usually I only get to spend about 45 minutes a week with a subgroup of these kids, so getting to spend more time talking and exploring together was quite a treat. The weather was perfect, and on this all-day field trip I couldn't help but smile as young people pointed excitedly at blue herons and turtles, snapped photos of wildflowers, fiddled with binoculars, marveled at rapids, and listened intently as our guide described the various forms pre-leafing poison ivy could take. (I noticed that nobody touched ANY sticks, vines, or branches for the remainder of the morning -- nicely done, ranger.)

I also noted that today's hike started at the very same spot where, almost exactly eight years ago, Ollie and I headed out on our cross-country journey. Where a group of friends and family picnicked with me the afternoon of the Bikeable Feast kickoff, where my mom told me she was proud of me, where my dad hugged me and agreed to take home the whisk and two paperbacks I decided fifteen miles into my ride were too heavy, where friends waved as I biked off into the great unknown around our country.

I got a little misty eyed that day. And today as well. Friends and family have supported and encouraged me then, and they still do. Each day was an adventure, and it still is.... Thank you, Universe, for letting me live this life!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The spent grain baker

I love everything about brewing beer. The way it perfumes my kitchen. The happy memories of my first experiences homebrewing with a former partner in his tiny little Brooklyn apartment. The excuse to gather friends together to make a 5-gallon batch, and the sitting around and laughing and cooking and eating it always entails. (The cleanup can sometimes be a pain, especially when a stovetop boilover happens, but it's a small price to pay. Plus I already spend half of my professional life washing, drying, and organizing dishes, so what's another few hours on the weekend?)


In recent years, I've found one of my favorite parts of brewing is figuring out what to do with the spent grain after it comes out of the wort. Sure, I could compost it -- a perfectly acceptable means of disposing of it -- but instead I save up my gluten chits (yes, I am still trying to cut down on it) for brewing days because I know there is going to be some spent grain baking involved. Even since my favorite spent grain recipe source -- the Brooklyn Mash -- took down their website, I have not been deterred. Just had to get more creative on my own. This time around, we made some spent grain biscotti that was, according to various taste testers, pretty stellar. So much so that one of my foodie brewing friends asked for the recipe! So, here it is....

Lemon Almond Biscotti
Adapted from Country Living Magazine. Though it might seem like an unusual flavor combination, the mix of bright citrus and smooth, grassy olive oil works incredibly well in these classic Italian cookies. Makes 48 biscotti, or so. Best dunked in your morning coffee.

Ingredients
1 cup spent grain flour
1½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup plain almonds, chopped
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup olive oil
Zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 bar dark chocolate, melted, for drizzling
sea salt for sprinkling

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Stir together eggs, sugar, olive oil, lemon zest, and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until dough just begins to come together. Do not overmix. Stir in nuts.

Divide dough into 2 equal pieces and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using damp hands, shape each piece into a 12" long log, 1/2" high.

Bake logs until firm, about 28 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through. Reduce oven temperature to 250F. Cool logs on baking sheet for 12-15 minutes.

Transfer logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, slice cooled logs into 1/2" thick biscotti. Place biscotti back on parchment-lined baking sheets, with a tiny bit of space between each slice, and bake until until slightly crisp, about 14 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Drizzle with melted chocolate, then sprinkle with sea salt. Refrigerate to set chocolate.

Will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for... well, the record for not eating them is two days, so at least that long.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Shiny

It's the time of year when I treat my dear, steely Ollie to some TLC. Yes, winter means it's tune-up time. And after the chain breaking debacle of 2014, I know to ask the professionals when things like chains and chain rings need replacing. Some new cables and bartape, some deep cleaning, and a few other adjustments later, my dear partner is riding more smoothly than ever. We've also converted from regular to friction shifting -- it sounds pretty technical and badass, but really it just means I feel for when the gears shift rather than clicking in between them. Okay, maybe it's a little bit badass.

You know you've found the right bike shop when the mechanic refers to your bicycle by her proper name. "Ollie is all fixed up and ready for pickup," I heard on my voicemail, while lounging in the park and doing some lesson planning earlier this afternoon. Finally, a man who respects my partner of nearly nine years. He sounded cute. I wonder if he's single....

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Food and philanthropy

The last weekend of January marked the ninth annual Sips & Suppers fundraiser here in our nation's capital. Talented chefs and mixologists, mostly from around DC, donate their time, homeowners donate their space, and people of means buy tickets to happy hours or fancy small group dinners around town. All funds raised go to two awesome local nonprofits -- DC Central Kitchen and Martha's Table. I usually miss the boat on such things, and read about them in the Post Food Section after the fact, but this year I managed to hear about a call for volunteers about a month beforehand. By sheer coincidence, I ended up as a waitress at a dinner in my neighborhood led by a pair of vegan chefs from Philadelphia. Between serving courses, volunteers got to taste some of the goodies, too, and I was privy to some of the best butter-free dishes I've ever come across. Not that having a vegan repertoire is a particular point of interest these days, but I do appreciate plant-based foods and folks who make them well.


At the end of the evening, as well fed neighbors tottered back to their homes or their waiting Ubers, I leaned back against the counter and smiled to myself. THIS warm fuzzy feeling was only slightly attributable to the grappa our host poured at the end of the night, and mostly due to the realization that we, as community members, CAN do good things when we come together over food.

Flash forward a couple of weeks. A daily stream of horrific White House actions and cabinet appointments found me again lapsing into anger and frustration. Then my new friends Amy and Liz had a BRILLIANT idea: cook a bunch of food, get a case of wine, invite a bunch of friends over, and raise money for a charity that is working to address some of the fears and concerns we have about what's going on in this country. We don't need to be restaurant chefs or wealthy people. We can cook. We have friends who are conscientious, like good food, and can kick in a little. Every little bit helps.

The hostesses decided to prepare a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern feast. (Take that, Muslim ban!) And because it was looking like almost two dozen people might show up last night, and I know a thing or two about food from that part of the world, I offered to help cook.... Hummus. Tabbouleh. And I think I counted four other salads. Peppers stuffed with lamb and spices. Carrot and chickpea tajine. Roast chicken with fennel and tangerines. I could barely pedal my way to the salsa club after not one but TWO dessert courses. But I did, of course. (I saw the concern on your face just then.)


In the end, eleven dinner guests left with full bellies and happy hearts, and, bolstered by an additional eight or nine contributors in absentia, we raised a thousand dollars for the ACLU. That warm glow resurfaced, and this time it was only slightly due to the champagne. We can help each other, and save this country, one meal at a time. We might just need to make this a regular thing!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Part of the solution

Almost exactly eight years ago, I decided to leave behind a job that was making me miserable to seek a more joyful and fulfilling life in food education. I had no idea what my new life would look like, but on the eve of the inauguration of our first African American president, my heart swelled with pride that my countrymen (and women) had elected such a thoughtful and articulate leader, I was filled with hope. Fourteen months and over 8,000 miles later, I was home and filled with new knowledge and connections to new friends across the country. I was still hopeful, and my friends and family, though concerned, were encouraging. It still took a couple of years to carve out a stable job doing work that I love, but patience and hard work and determination and luck combined to get me there eventually. Anything was possible. The White House had an organic garden, for heaven's sake, and kids and families across the country were starting to love eating kale!

Flash forward eight years. Though my work, family, and community of friends these days warm my heart daily, I've been in a mild state of depression since the most recent presidential election. Apparently anything is still possible... but not in a good way this time.  Did we really elect this ding dong?? (By "we" I certainly do not mean "me." Good god, no.) With an ignorant bully at the helm, how could I hope to teach my students about community, about thoughtful questioning, about making good choices for themselves and the planet? How could I bring myself to encourage them to recycle at school when our whole COUNTRY was heading directly into a landfill? I stress baked, but it didn't make me feel much better. I lost my appetite for weeks -- good thing I cook and eat with kids a few times a day or I might've given up food altogether.


This weekend, at last I was again hopeful, again proud of my fellow citizens. Together, we marched. Together, we stood up -- peacefully -- and stood together. As we marched, I reflected on how we each have our role to play in these tumultuous times, to keep our spirits up and our elected officials accountable. As my visiting friend Jenn so eloquently put it during our post-march meal this weekend, quoting one of her social work professors, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

My question now is: how can we each use our passions and skills to make an even bigger difference? Letter writing isn't so helpful when one only has a shadow Senator (though those in other states would do well to regularly contact their Representatives and Congressmen). And there are concrete ways to help those in danger of being marginalized by the imminent policy changes: donating time, money, or supplies to groups working to settle refugees, improve voter turnout, nurture children and the elderly, help veterans and the homeless, stand up for gender/sexual equality, foster better relations with those across the aisle so we don't end up in this mess again in four years.... We're going to need all of our collective good will channeled into something constructive beyond the march. Where does the need overlap with my skillset? Do I make muffins for protesters? Volunteer to help with local elections in a nearby state that in two years may improve the balance of power in Congress? Start a weekly cooking group that then donates to a local soup kitchen? I wonder.

How can YOU be part of the solution?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The winter ale of our discontent

You may recall that the weekend after the election I headed out to visit my friends Matt and Amanda near Charlottesville, VA. While I was officially there for the Homebrew for Hunger event, we also got to brewing our first collaborative ale. When planning our first co-brewed beer in the months leading up to the election, we'd thought to call it Across the Aisle Ale or somesuch. You see, though Matt is a card-carrying Republican, and I am obviously not one, we could agree on a few things:
1) Trump is a jerk
2) Beer is awesome
3) After a handful of years of friendship and beer drinking it was about time we brewed something together

By the time I arrived in Barboursville in early November, we had decided to rename the beer: The Winter Ale of our Discontent was born. It was to be a winter warmer-style beer, with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla bean, and featuring honey from both DC and VA. Yum, eh?

It was a lot of fun, and marked my first time getting to play with tools that are part of the next level of homebrewing. First, we got our wort going on a serious propane stove on the back deck:


Once cooled, we added yeast and aerated our brew with a stirring spoon drill attachment:


I totally want one of those now. Then we waited a couple of months for it to ferment to perfection.

The cold and rainy Saturday before the inauguration of He Who is Orange and Shall Not Be Named, Matt and Amanda came for a visit, with TWAOOD in tow:


After a few beers and some snacks, it was time to break out the bottling equipment. Things went quickly, thanks to Jess and Ben who joined us for bottling... and dinner and cocktails out, but who's keeping track?:



It's going to be a rough winter -- who am I kidding, it's going to be a rough FOUR YEARS -- but at least I've got a few 6-packs of homebrewed winter warmer to get me through the first bit. Cheers to collaboration beers!!