Thursday, April 30, 2009

Let's Have Some Fun

I am tired of the headlines. So, I let my mind wander this morning. It wandered back to past jobs since work is crazy busy. Let's go with it. Not food, but let's have a laugh here.

I never stress over having a "bad" job. And I figure by the time I got here, I've seen enough that not a whole lot is going to surprise me at a desk job anyway. Because my work has been plenty weird over the years, and not just the shark wrangling.

At my first job, I worked at a resthome. We had a little bit of everything schizophrenics, Parkinsons, Alzheimers, and just plain senile. By the tender age of 16, I'd been propositioned by septuagenarians, battled invisible snakes, aborted spontaneous undressing, and queried as to whether or not shaving your head makes the voices go away. The answer is no, just your hair.

The strange trend of nudity and insanity in the work place seems to have marked my early career. Everything from male strippers as models in the studio, to reviewing portfolios and being asked by very attactive men and women both, "Which nude photo of me do you like best?" And getting paid for it. Full. Frontal. Nudity.

This was a common thread for three of my first jobs out of college. But likely the weirdest moment was photographing one of my bosses nude for his wife's birthday.

There is no stranger moment at the office yet, than standing next to your naked boss discussing the lighting. HR managers everywhere are cringing and looking for the number of the legal department at this, I am sure.

Finally, after some detours to saner work wrangling sharks and the like, I landed in a desk job. I don't have to worry as much these days. The only head-shaving is an annual charity event, and so far the only time we've come close to nudity around here is when the kid who works for me got hideously drunk at an office "talent show," ripped off his coat to expose wearing just a pair of "Home of the Whopper" briefs, beat his chest, yelled something drunken, and ran off stage. He won. But it was a close tie with another one doing contortions. I kid you not.

Around here, that makes you a legend. Doesn't get you fired. Or, didn't then. But even those days have mellowed as we gotten larger and more "professional." I have to admit, once in a while, I look across the cube at my coworker and still giggle a bit. He's put up with nine years of me at arms length, poor guy. So far, we've never yet spotted an imaginary snake.

All good. My career must be headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dark Days, Waiting for Some Sun

It's gray and raining. The radio is raining bad news and bad things are happening to good people around me. I hate these weeks. It's hard to post about this or that great ingredient. So, I am going to watch it rain.

While the headlines are pouring in, the main one filling my news lists and RSS feeds would be the possible link between a Smithfield Farms CAFO and the swine flu. It's not a huge stretch of the imagination that a giant, open vat of sewage might lead to serious environmental issues, or be a breeding ground for bad bugs. But, so many industrial practices defy basic logic. Even without the pandemic, it's just wrong.

You just can't fool with Mother Nature like this and win. Enough now. Enough looking back. Let's think ahead.

The CDC web site has good information as far as the flu goes.

Stop blaming, think what can we do for the long term? I never like sitting around worrying.

1. Eat less meat, reduce the number of CAFOs. Less demand, less source. We have control.
2. Try to purchase more sustainably produced meat if you can find it and afford it.
3. Write your reps and the president and request that they hold CAFOs responsible for coming up with a cleaner, safer approach instead of the big vat of sewage. It's not too much to ask for, and maybe, if we all pull together, something good can come of this.

Going to sit and wait for the sun to come out now. But if you need some happy, go over and check out the farmer biographies on the Urban Farm Tour site. Great posts about people who are meeting the needs of low income communities, giving our community more diverse culture, and hard-working farmers who are taking care of the land and growing healthy, sustainable food. Good stuff.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seizing the Moment

This little plant is claytonia, or miner's lettuce. I'd never had it before. Which is kind of amazing to be this old and still trying new vegetables. It's a tender little green that likes cold weather, the brief span of weeks between winter and full on spring. It tastes light and fresh, and I can only get it maybe once or twice a year with our seasons. I've never seen it in the store, and if I did, it would not be as good as it is the day it is cut.

Eating local has taught me a lot. It teaches me to live in this moment and enjoy every bit of what is here before it is gone. It also teaches me that longing for something, missing something, like the first blackberries of the season or a fully ripe peach, is part of the process. When that moment comes, you appreciate it more.

At the end of winter, I still have a couple pumpkins left, still good. Some sweet potatoes. It amazes me how nature provides. I mean, we didn't always have refrigerators. I'm pretty sure settlers were really sick of pumpkin by spring, but they didn't go without. Nature makes a lot more sense than we do sometimes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Exciting Travel FREE! Sort of ...

After watching my retirement plan tank recently, I am guessing I will have to revise my lofty goals of only having to work part time so I can eat still with some travel to ... well, could be full time sacking groceries til I'm 95.

Thankfully, I stumbled onto a cool program called WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Now, I know I can stay and eat free in lots of countries in exchange for being farm labor. Glamorous travel to places like Europe and even Malaysia and Tonga can be mine in exchange for just hard physical labor, weed pulling, compost spreading. Hey, whatever works.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Chill: Lamburgers

Sometimes what I like best about holidays is that everything is closed. This forces me to take it easy, which I don't do often. So, instead of staying in the Sunday best and having the formal gathering around the old honey-glazed ham, how about a mellower meal off the grill?

Not a bad idea since I already have to handle the kiddo cranked up on Easter chocolate.

Lamburgers in Pita
1 lb. ground lamb
2 tbs. chopped mint
2 tbs. chopped parsley
1 tbs. thyme leaves
1 tbs. oregano
1 tsp. fennel seed
1 shallot, diced fine
1 egg
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
3 oz. feta crumbles
salt and pepper to taste

1 cup watercress greens
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
4 tsp. olive oil
Kalamata olives
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
4 whole wheat pitas, cut in half

Mix the first ingredients well and shape patties. Grill to medium. Toss the watercress with vinegar and oil. Place in pita with a lamburger, olives and drizzle of yogurt.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Thenthuk Soup Kitchen

Last weekend, I was rolling in the dough —150 pounds of it.

Thanks to a Buddhist friend at work, we found ourselves at a local soup kitchen, preparing Thenthuk noodle soup with visiting Tibetan monks from the Drepung Gomang monastery. The monastery was first established in Tibet in 1416. When China took over Tibet almost exactly 50 years ago, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. The monastery was reestablished there in the 1960s by the few surviving monks.

It was unique to get a lesson in this history from the monks and their translator — while we were chopping 25 lbs. of onions.

Oddly enough, our experience being "honorary Brazilians" involved much onion chopping. This skill must be my diplomatic gift, and I do wonder just who I'll end up chopping onions with next. But I can only hope the conversation is as interesting as how Dalai Lamas are recognized, reincarnation, and what life is like in Tibet.

The chopping was the easy part of the cooking. What I really wanted to do was learn to make noodles. It took a couple monks to carry out the massive ball of dough. It took six people to knead the thing. And, well, I got plenty of time learning to make noodles. I never knew it was possible to get sore muscles from using a rolling pin. Next year, I am packing the marble one.

I am happy to report that my dough-rolling got the nod from a holy man. One of the monks thanked me for how easy my dough was to work with. Since they usually cook for 1500 at a time, I am taking this to be a compliment.

For this particular soup, the dough is rolled out and cut into strips, then you flatten a strip with your fingers, pinching it by pieces into the boiling water. The technique is characteristic of a given region of Tibet, and gives the soup its name, "then" meaning pull and "thuk" for noodle.

The evening ran late, and we had a kid to pick up. Thus, after cooking for 350, we left the soup kitchen hungry. When we got to our friends' house to pick up the kiddo, they were just sitting down to eat. Funny the way things go in circles in life. Dinner was some of the very fejioada we had helped prepare, defrosted and hot on the table. We pulled up a chair and ate Brazilian soup, taken in by friends and fed when we were hungry. I feel such great fortune, often, to have good friends, an open mind to all the cultures of this world, and an understanding of the importance of a shared meal.

I cut the recipe down a bit since most of us don't cook for 350 at a time. Besides, where would I keep 125 pounds of flour and two dozen eggs? I also made the tomato optional. Tomatoes are not really known in Tibet, and not a traditional part of the dish.

8 oz of flour (by weight not volume)
2 eggs
1/2 cup water

Some recipes do not use egg in the dough. Make a well in the center of the flour, add the egg and water, mixing to form a thick dough. Knead well until smooth and flexible, stretchy and not sticky. Let the dough rest for a half an hour. Then roll it out to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into long strips, about 1 inch wide.
1 tomato, chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 green onions, chopped, white and green parts
3 cups spinach, chopped
1 small daikon radish, peeled and sliced thinly, soak in saltwater, then rinse
1/2 pound thinly sliced beef roast, not cooked
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbs. fresh ginger, chopped
3 tbs. canola oil
1 tbs. soy sauce
32 oz. water or vegetable broth

Heat the oil. Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and tomato. Add the meat and brown it. Add the soy sauce. Add the water or broth. Bring to a boil. Add the daikon and cook for a few minutes. With the soup boiling, take a strip of dough and flatten it with your fingers, laying the long end over your wrist, feed the dough to your thumbs and pinch off 1/2-inch sections into the boiling broth. Cook for about three minutes, then add the spinach and green onions. When the noodles float up, about 6-8 minutes, the soup is ready.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Baby Kale Salad, Pea Shoots with Sheep's Milk Cheeese

Last weekend we went to the farmers expo, an annual event where community residents can find local farms and food, CSA memberships, local meat sources, grain, honey, soap, plants ... and a first taste of spring with fresh greens and kale, and a new ingredient I had not tried yet — pea shoots.

These are the first growth of pea plants, the leaves and vines. I never thought to eat them before, but now I doubt my pea plants will keep theirs when they show up! I'll be out there with clippers waiting.

We had some fresh salads over the weekend, the flavor was made even more incredible when you are eating and watching six inches of unexpected spring snow fall — "snow peas."

I paired the pea shoots with fresh goat cheese from Green Dirt Farm, and a blackberry balsamic vinaigrette. By substituting the "flavor" ingredient you can make a wide variety of salad dressings.

Blackberry Balsamic
2 tbs. blackberry preserves (flavor)
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil (for a less tangy blend, use 2/3 cup oil)
black pepper to taste and salt

This same dressing can be made with stone ground mustard for the kale. You can change out the flavor using other mustards, or other kinds of preserves, or just honey. You can also swap out for the same amount of a different vinegar like red wine, champagne, or white balsamic; or oil like walnut, sesame. You'll never buy store-bought dressing again.

Garlic Mustard Dressing
2 cloves garlic chopped (flavor)
2 tbs. stone ground mustard (flavor)
1/3 cup balsamic
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Wash the baby kale, spin dry. Then lightly saute it in a bit of olive oil. Two minutes only. It's too good to overcook! Toss with dressing.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Food Not Lawns, Food in the Lawn?

Man, how many of these have you pulled, and you could have sold them to Whole Foods for almost $3.00 a bunch?

I am thinking we should give it up on the lawn mower and start blowing those fuzzy seed ball tops like crazy. Bumper crop, baby.

Well, if you haven't sprayed your lawn, that is. Which in this case, herbicide would really cut down the yield.

We quit spraying anything except compost tea a couple years ago. I love the smell of compost in the morning.

This year I may eat the view, or at least eat the weeds before the neighbors complain — about the weeds and the odor.

Humor aside, we "green" types spend a lot of time talking about agribusiness and conventional versus organic and sustainable with regard to how we grow food and how that impacts the environment.

Nearly 400 million acres are farmed in the US for crop land. Only about four percent of this is fruit and vegetable production. So that is 16 million acres, approximately. Our lawns are 50 million acres.

Now, on this 50 million acres, we dump many of the same chemicals and fertilizers that are used in conventional agriculture, some $40 billion worth (including sod and seed). Chemicals that cause pollution in ground water among other issues. To grow these lawns, we use 270 billion gallons of water per week.

Get this, we do it so that we can spend an hour each week mowing all that grass we just used water and chemicals on to grow. And we don't even eat the dandelions. They're sprayed.

If our lawns were used for fruit and vegetable gardens instead of grass, they would take about half the amount of water as our grass and we would increase our nation's fruit and vegetable acreage by over 300 percent.

Kinda crazy when you think about it. So, if you've taken the step of eating more sustainable and organic, maybe it's time to grow some of that instead of grass. Or at least, go green with lawn care. But don't eat the hydrangeas. They're poisonous.