Sunday, February 22, 2009

SPIN farming

Attended a workshop today on SPIN Farming which is a model for intensive urban farming on small plots of land. Their motto is, “It’s time to bring agriculture back home”.
Many of the techniques that they use are similar to techniques that I have been using for years in our backyard and in friends and clients yards. I did learn about some very helpful looking gardening tools that are available locally from Purple Mountain Organics, some proactive weeding techniques and the financial benefits of buying seeds in bulk.
Most exciting was the gathering of like minded people who believe in community building through locally growing and consuming food.
The presenter Dan Bravin, from Portland Oregon runs a CSA called City Garden Farms, that will produce 50 farm shares this season from several backyards in Portland.

We have already planted our earliest seeds of the season- arugula, beet berries and rapini…this week we will order seeds and start plotting our home garden and the other gardens we are planting this year.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Orchids through Darwin’s Eyes

Lots of Darwin notice these days in honor of the 200 year anniversary of his birth.
Visited and enjoyed the current Smithsonian exhibit, Orchids through Darwin's Eyes which is full of thousands of live orchids. The plants are exhibited with information about how Darwin and thinkers since him use orchids to help investigate theories of natural selection and evolution.
A recent New York Times article, and op-ed piece,
examine Darwin’s life and work and just how right he was about so many different things.
Darwin’s studies also offer fundamental building blocks to one of my favorite books, Michael Pollan’s, The Botany of Desire as well as new theories such as evo-devo. I find all of it difficult to understand but intriguing and clearly related to my everyday practices….I have some reading to do, starting with…
The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin and Endless Forms Most Beautiful, Sean B. Carroll

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

cooking with mid winter herbs

A few notes and the recipes from my 2/10/09 presentation/demonstration, Spring Valley Garden Club

I demonstrated the preparation of some foods using herbs from my city herb garden for the February meeting of the Spring Valley Garden Club. The majority of my perennial herbs are packed in a small plot of soil in front of my row house in downtown Shaw. I decided what to make today based on my herbs and the vegetables that I was able to find at the Sunday Farmers Market.

Herbs available in my garden February 2009
Bay, sorrel, winter savory, salad burnet, parsley, Italian parsley, marjoram, sage and rosemary-

I bake with recipes and when preparing savoy food I just cook tasting things as I go along and not measuring ingredients. This time I measured ingredients, had someone jot down the measurements as I cooked so I could post the recipes here.

The lavender from my garden is available year round and I use it throughout the seasons for cooking and making flower arrangements. It makes a great tisane, flavoring for homemade ice cream and a little bit finely chopped is delicious on many fresh fruits. Today biscotti….These biscotti are rolled in sugar that I dyed with a little purple cabbage juice just for color. Plain sugar would work also.

Lavender Biscotti

Makes about 50 biscotti

1/2 cup tightly packed lavender leaves
1 1/3 cup organic, fair trade sugar
1 3/4 organic all purpose unbleached flour
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 oz non hydrogenated vegetable oil stick, such as smart balance
1/2 cup pureed silken tofu
extra sugar for rolling

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees

2.In a food processor combine the lavender and sugar. Process until the sugar turns green and lavender is pureed, about 1 minute.

3.In a mixer combine sugar, flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and vegetable oil. Mix until thoroughly incorporated. Add tofu and mix until just thoroughly incorporated.

4.Divide dough into 4 pieces and roll each piece into a log with a 3/4 inch diameter. Roll each log in sugar until coated on all sides.

5.Bake the logs for about 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 225 degrees. Slice logs into cookies about 1/4 inch wide each.

6.Place cookies on a baking sheet and place in oven. Cook until biscotti are firm about 15 to 20 additional minutes, or longer if you want very crunchy biscotti.

While cookies baked we made a flatbread with rosemary. Rosemary is another herb that I have available in my garden throughout the year. I particularly appreciate it in the cold months because it pairs so well with fall and winter foods. This year I have been enjoying roasting it with root vegetables, as a flavoring for variety of beans and with apples and pears prepared many different ways.

Rosemary, Walnut, Spelt Flatbread

Makes about 2 sheet pan sized flatbreads

3 cups water
2 tablespoons fresh compressed yeast
2 tablespoons organic fair trade sugar
2 tablespoons finely ground sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary
4 cups spelt flour
4 1/2 cups organic all purpose unbleached flour (exact amount determined when making)
1 cup toasted pieces, walnuts
Olive oil for pan
Approximately 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt for top

1.Preheat oven to 425. In a large bowl combine water, yeast, sugar, salt and rosemary. Mix until somewhat smooth. Gradually add flour, about 2 cups at a time, switching back and forth between the spelt and the all purpose unbleached. Knead in flour after each addition.

2.When the dough can stick together as a ball take the dough out of the bowl and place on a clean surface. Knead the dough adding more flower until it stops sticking to your hands. Knead dough vigorously for about 2 minutes.

3.Split the dough in half. Coat a sheet tray with olive oil. Place one piece of the bread on the sheet tray and pat out with palms and fingertips until the bread is about 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle the top of the bread with a coarse salt.

4.Bake the bread until it is a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.

While the bread was baking we made a squash puree with sage and winter sage. Both of these herbs can be harvested throughout the year. I have my winter savory planted near my thyme and summer savory. In the summer the thyme and summer savory take over and the savory dies back and vice a versa in the winter. Sage sometimes does not look its most beautiful in the winter but it still tastes fantastic. It is another one of those herbs that compliments fall and winter produce. Try using it with roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, with braised fennel or mashed celery root.

Winter Squash Spread

2 cups roasted winter squash puree (we used the varieties amber cup and kabocha)
1 onion chopped
1 tablespoon sage
1 tablespoon winter savory
2 teaspoons walnut oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used a French sea salt for this dish)
grapeseed oil approximately 2 teaspoons

1.Preheat oven to 375. Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Lightly coat squash with grapeseed oil and place on sheet pan cut side down. Coat onion with oil as well and place on sheet tray beside the squash.

2.Cook until the squash is tender and the onions are golden brown.

3.When the squash is cool enough to touch remove the meat and discard the skin.

4.Place all ingredients in the food processor and processor until smooth, about one minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Before preparing the next dish we removed the biscotti from the oven, sliced them and returned them to the lower temperature oven. The salad we prepared had parsley and Italian parsley as well as sorrel and salad burnet. For a long time I stopped using traditional parsley I am not sure why but now I am really enjoying it in vegetable salads, bean salads, pureed as a sauce or dressing….Sorrel has always been a favorite herb of mine. The fresh lemony flavor is great with anything that would taste good with a touch of citrus, many things! I have found that it is sometimes difficult to start a sorrel plant either from seed or seedling but once established it will thrive. I cannot cut sorrel all winter from my garden but anytime there are a few nice days in a row I am happily able to gather several leaves. Salad burnet is rarely available unless you grow it. The good news is it is easy to grow and versatile in use. The light cucumbery taste is a good addition to a wide variety of foods. Try individual leaves in salads or pureed with a little olive oil salt and pepper as a sauce.

Winter Vegetable Salad
2 cups total chopped herbs including- parsley, Italian parsley, salad burnet and sorrel
1 fennel bulb
2 radishes
1 large or two medium Jerusalem artichokes
1 kohlrabi, peeled
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste (I used a block of Himalayan salt with a hand grater)

1.Using a mandoline, food processor or a knife thinly slice the vegetables.

2.Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Bread came out of oven and everything was ready to sample. I was very appreciative for the many questions that came up while cooking and eating about- salt, growing herbs, finding ingredients, feeding kids, cooking with little time…..they will all inform my future talks, writing and daily practice!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

the Obamas at Alvin Ailey

Went to the Kennedy Center last night to see Alvin Ailey. They perform at the Kennedy Center every year around this time and in New York around Christmas and most years we catch a performance in DC or NY. When we got a couple of miles from the Kennedy Center last night the traffic was heavy and there were huge amounts of police cars. Inside the Kennedy Center there were metal detectors, dogs, secret service, police and lots of excitement.
We walked into the opera house and everyone was facing away from the stage looking up to the first balcony which was empty except for the presidential seal….
When Barack, Michelle (wearing black leather, looking amazing) and the girls walked in everyone stood facing the balcony and gave them a standing, screaming, clapping ovation. Looking around I saw that others besides me had tears in their eyes.
The atmosphere throughout the performance was charged. The dancers were extraordinary but the presence of the first family took it to a whole other level. There were two intermissions and after each there was lots of cheering when Obama returned to his seat. In the box with him and his family were Attorney General, Eric Holder and DC mayor Adrian Fenty. The performance ended with a famous Ailey piece called Revelations. After the dancers took their bows and Judith Jamison took a bow and did a memorable hand movement, the audience was still going crazy. They danced and encore with everyone (including the president) on their feet clapping the entire time. After the encore the company stood in a line bowed, clapped, threw kisses and clasped their hands to their hearts to the Obamas.
The night was memorable. Not sure what all this means…. The expectations that each of us have for the new president are intense. I feel fortunate he is in office…and excited he is a DC resident!!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

notes from 1/29/09 talk, Sulgrave Club, DC

notes and video from my recent talk...

Incorporating sustainable practices or as I like to call them practices of vitality into the practice of everyday living …

Set up:
(slides that are linked to this post (see video above)- were projected for talk)
The slides are not for the purpose of literal interpretation more to provide a feeling of this practice that I refer to that integrates aesthetics, nutrition, pleasure and results in vitality.

Hand out:
side one-
seed, sustain, conscious, vitality, comfort, local, soil, source, element,
pleasure, essential, community, connection, bare, root, nourish

side two- lots of links many of which can be found on my website

My Background
I come from a family where cooking and eating was central. Memories are centered around family meals and entertaining.
My father worked in international nutrition. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel with him to many countries. Looking back I realize that this exposure influenced my perspective about the importance of food and the privilege of plenty. My mother was a teacher. She returned to work after my brother and I were older and became involved in early stages of SOS, a national organization whose mission is to try to let no child in America be hungry.

After brief careers as an attorney and a documentary filmmaker I opened a restaurant in DC with my husband and brother called Rupperts. Looking back Rupperts became a physical space to explore and develop a variety of practices that had always been essential to me. Since we closed the restaurant about 6 years ago I have been fortunate to be involved in a variety of projects that have allowed me to continue to discuss and develop these practices. Today I have a cut flower business, I design and plant small urban and potted gardens that incorporate edible elements and I continue to do a variety of work with food. I recently wrote a cookbook for Bob Greene, Oprah's trainer called the Best Life Cookbook, I also work with him on his Best Life Website, write for a few different publications, do some restaurant and other food related consulting and of course cooking and eating for myself, family and friends…. I am also a mom of an amazing 9 year old daughter who is an integral part of all these projects.

As an aside the choosing of the bolded words on the hand out which are also incorporated into the slides was somewhat of a random process. It is difficult to concisely express a practice that is incorporated into all aspects of daily living. The words seemed to be good points of entry.

My favorite way of speaking is having a discussion so my idea today is to give an overview of thoughts and ideas and then hopefully have a lively conversation fueled by your questions which I believe will be much more lively…and vital.

Essential to all aspects my practice is the idea that the best food for you is the most delicious, most healthful and is best for the environment. Much to the chagrin of food writers while we had our restaurant was our inability to answer the question, “what type of food do you cook?” My answer was, “we gather the best possible ingredients and then do as little as possible to them, more pairing and enhancing and then get out of the way……”

This is my same concept I use in flower arranging, gardening and pretty much everything else I do.

None of this is possible without excellent ingredients. I cook exclusively with seasonal ingredients. In DC the options are descent…in the last several years there have been many new farmers markets introduced throughout the city and metropolitan area. The availability of local ingredients is very different today than it was in 1994 when we opened Rupperts. Today there is a vibrant year round farmers market and mid growing season there are markets that you can visit every day….which I often do. In addition there are lots of options for CSA’s including the one that we belong to called Clagett Farm which is part of the Capital Area Community Food Bank. And there is a nice long growing season in this area that allows for each of us to try our hand at a little farming even if it is just a couple of pots squeezed out on a sunny window ledge or fire escape…..
Pretty much everything that I talk about comes back to planting something that you can eat since it is the most direct way that I know of to nourish, feel part of community, experience pleasure and feel vitality!

My definition of community is broad. I start with self expand to family, neighbors, others that you come in contact with from colleagues to someone you pass on the street, others in the world all the way to ecosystem……

My restaurant Rupperts …helped me refine my current definition of community. Pleasure continues to come from the wide variety of farmers, neighbors, thinkers and friends is endless…not to mention the worms that live in my worm composting system!

There are the many relationships started in our kitchen, my assistant, who initially came in to work as a dishwasher and who works with me daily with flowers, gardens and food… that I could not do anything that I do without. A 15 year old kid started working in the kitchen looking for somewhere to go after school and came to the restaurant every afternoon and weekend. Today he collaborates with me on nearly every project that I do. There is also a “kid” whose parents were regulars at our restaurant who helped me plant my first truly productive kitchen garden when he was 13 years old. The day before inauguration we spent the day with him picking up trash as part of a viral litter free inauguration media campaign he initiated.... There is the cooperative of Amish farmers whose produce I have been enjoying for years. Just this past summer I had the amazing opportunity to meet and see their farms. I have always appreciated their support. The outstanding produce they have supplied over the years has been ultimately valuable and it was exciting to learn that in return they felt supported by the long term relationship as well.

Recently I have been fortunate to get involved in the Best Life community. Most of my professional cooking career has been making and serving precious food…the type I consume regularly. Up to now I have primarily fed a well-fed, nutritionally savvy, well-exercised, affluent community.

I became involved in Best Life because an old friend of mine who is a nutritionist was working for Bob Greene and contacted me ….she expressed her frustration with “diet food”. She suggested that my food would work well with her nutritional agenda because it was, “healthy, delicious, conscious in respect to origin and environment etc….”. She asked me if I would like to work on some recipes with her. Initially I assumed that I was totally unqualified…knowing about the various truffle seasons and where to purchase them and which expensive variety of salt I thought was ideal for which specific application…. Despite these initial reservations I decided to give it a go.
I had to take into account time people were willing to devote to cooking a meal, money, availability of ingredients in non costal urban centers, fears of the unfamiliar, severe salt restrictions and needed to incorporate products that endorsed the diet. Ultimately I found it was not too difficult to adhere to these restrictions and incredibly gratifying. All of a sudden I was able to communicate with a huge “Oprah audience” about practices that are essential to me! Not only through recipes throughout the book and website, I was also able to insert ideas about seasonality, farm markets, sustainable fish….Not to mention hopefully sharing the pleasure that I get from food. Totally exciting!

The ancient philosopher Epicurus defines pleasure as the absence of pain …this definition pretty much excludes the idea that an overindulgence in foie gras or anything else is pleasure…many things that we think of as pleasure give a moment of elation but ultimately result in pain….

For most humans sustained pleasure is quite different that indulgences that are often labeled pleasure.

Taken a little further...
Can a rose that is grown with pesticides and harvested by abused laborers bring you pleasure? For me the comfort or pleasure associated with knowledge of source of my food and other products that I consume and enjoy brings pleasure.

I have already spoken about source and food but the same goes with flowers and plants…
Flowers that you arrange cut from your own garden will always be the most beautiful but there are other conscious sources for flowers. In addition to growing some of the flowers and herbs that I use for flower arrangements during the growing season I work with several local farmers. At other times of the year I buy flowers directly from the Dutch auction where all products are grown with conscious environmental and labor practices. I also buy from a South American broker that gets roses and other flowers from farms that are partially or completely worker owned.

Comfort which to me intersects with true pleasure can be found in nourishing ourselves and the ecosystem rather than through a cycle of consumption and waste…..
We are not talking about deprivation but conscious alternatives which include considering portions and making decisions about what we really need and want. Just by being aware the question can become, "what do I want?"......Although this seems so basic I find it often gets confusing in a busy environment saturated by media.

Modern conveniences have done away with the need for us to actually do many things. These conveniences are often welcome but sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than making your own bread…particularly with the knowledge that you have the option to buy bread. Making bread is just something that works for me…but I guess that for everyone there is a similar pleasure giving act.

As an aside this leads me to a problem with the word sustainability which inherently suggests inertia. In my mind a better solution is to utilize everything available including conveniences and technology while incorporating the most basic of practices. For example planting a seed that you research and buy on the electronically, watching a plant grow, nurturing and harvesting. Or meeting a farmer who has grown your food…instead of always choosing to purchase the exotic imported vegetable.

Vitality- my final word
Defined as germinating power or life force of animals and plants. In my mind the essence of what each of our daily practices should supports, no?

Vitality through composting, growing something edible even more so with a child helping you, meeting a farmer who grew your food, planting a flower that attracts butterflies, eating less meat or choosing to eat no meat, walking somewhere habitually instead of driving somewhere habitually.
These are just a few examples that nourish vitality…that in my everyday practice is the ultimate goal.

Before questions I would like to read a quote from Michael Pollan that I find right on point…not to mention beautifully said,
"...reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen."

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Manuka Honey- what is it?

Recently my friend Allison brought me some New Zealand, Manuka Honey from one of her favorite LA stores Erewhon Natural Foods. I did not know much about this honey.

In recent years I have used less honey since it is technically non-vegan and since agave nectar, which can often be used in place of honey, became so readily available. I have continued to use honey in specific instances where I am looking for a honey flavor or for medicinal purposes. I choose specific types of honey depending on how I plan to use it since both taste and consistency are so varied. One of my favorites over the years has been from a Baltimore based company called, Really Raw Honey. Their honey is produced from a community of many small beekeeping operations that practice and advocate environmentally sound beekeeping.

I have read about and witnessed the health benefits of honey including a positive effect on digestion, ulcers, allergies and respiratory problems. Based on my recent reading, it seems Manuka honey provides all of the benefits of standard unprocessed honey plus many more.

Manuka is a raw, un-pasteurized organic honey which is collected from the bees that gather nectar from the flowers that grow on wild Manuka (also known as the Tea Tree Bush). For years I have used tea tree oil for all sorts of cuts and scrapes because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties. The tea tree is indigenous to New Zealand and it seems that the properties of the tea tree combined with the natural antibacterial properties of honey make for an extraordinary variety of honey.

The taste is unique, complex and somewhat earthy and can be used in for a variety of culinary purposes. The few Manuka honeys I have recently tried have all been delicious but it seems that its healing properties are what distinguish it from all other types of honey.

With a little online research I found….

Studies indicate that Manuka honey contains very powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, making it extremely effective in treating a wide variety of health conditions. There are testimonials that the honey taken internally and used externally has been a successful treatment to all sorts of infections and other ailments, some that are resistant to antibiotics.

Standard honey and Manuka honey contain hydrogen peroxide which is a known antiseptic. However standard honey looses most of its healing properties when it comes in contact with certain conditions such as light, heat or dilution. Active Manuka (a specific form of the honey) is stable so it is able to maintain its potency and healing properties.

The Benefits of Manuka Honey Website
sells the honey and gives details about how and when to use as a remedy.