15 minutes on… incidental wonders

11:54 p.m.
Wild strawberries

Wild strawberries: one of the small, sweet pleasures of my home town. These berries shine from patches of grass and forest without any cultivation or any say-so by any human.

Black caps

Black raspberries, aka black caps (they are a deep purple when ripe. The pictured berries aren’t quite there). Yet another serendipitous find. When I was a kid, they were curly wigs on my imagined finger people, or crowns or coins or cakes.  Unfortunately, they love to grow near poison ivy. Almost every summer, those insidious oils found me and laid me out with oatmeal compresses on the backs of my legs or calamine lotion covering one swollen eye. Even the plumpest of these berries won’t fit on my finger anymore, but I still savor them whenever I’m willing to hunt — and court itchy disaster.

Mulberry close-up

Mulberries. I still feel a smile every time I walk by a mulberry tree. Whether it’s in someone’s back yard, or along the exhaust-laden sidewalks of 16th Street, I’ll halt my purposeful D.C. walk to pick them. The older trees give you the sweetest berries, my dad used to tell me. I know people who have special shirts just for picking mulberries because of the stains, my mother said.

Perennial wild berries: You could walk by and not even notice them. Or you could notice them.

12:09 a.m.

Americans go to market


Working at the farmers’ market yesterday, I reveled in the questions. “Have you ever made pesto with the purple basil?” Asked one woman. “What could I substitute for spinach?” Asked another gal – or was it twelve of them? “How do you eat radishes?” Asked an untold number of market-goers. They eyed the purple versions of what should be green, and the bumpy versions of what they recalled as smooth, and the spicy-smelling versions of what they’d always known as mild.

I loved answering these, and asking my own. “Are you making sauce with those?” “What did you do with last week’s potatoes?”

It then occurred to me that you could pick up these scenes and no matter where in the world you plopped them down, you couldn’t fool anyone. They’re quintessentially American. Continue reading

Oh bubbles for change

My Partner in Fermentation and I have embarked on yet another sauerkraut adventure. After trying it with too much salt, too little salt, not enough packing down of the shredded cabbage, and letting it ferment in a place that we now know was too warm, we may have gotten all the variables to line up in our favor.

It’s been three days, during which time Rosh Hashana came and went, and I just opened one of the two quart jars. It had been sitting in my bedroom, the one place in the apartment that’s consistently 70 to 72 degrees — the preferred temp for those lactobacilli that make it all happen. The cabbage looked well covered in liquid, thanks to the innovation of pounding it with the salt before packing it into jars. The opening of the metal cap was accompanied by a slight slurp and a few bubbles. Then more bubbles. Then more, percolating up to the surface so fast I speed walked it to the kitchen sink,  visions of shaken up seltzer bottles sputtering before me.

This was a good sign. Continue reading

Food for People

I forgot an important concept in the post about the NOFA conference–the idea of growing food for people. Both of the conference keynoters mentioned it, saying that farmers and farms have drifted away from the people they feed. Some farmers won’t eat what they grow, tainted as it is with the knowledge of what they’ve done to it.

 The fact is, though, that they’re growing food for other living, breathing, upright-walking and nutrient-craving human beings. Perhaps the disconnected nature grew out of our hyper-connected lives. Just as it’s easier to slander someone who’s just connected to you by a nebulous internet, so can you ignore decent growing practices when your link to consumers stretches over highways and national borders, and ends up in some air conditioned supermarket you will never see.

 Phew – said it!

Travelogue Part I: Mass Movement

Last weekend, I was in Massachusetts for the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s annual conference.

What did I see? Well, first we made a stop at Ellen’s parents’ farm. The conference springs forth pretty much entirely from an office just above the basement greenhouse where the seedlings come to life each year. Outside the control room, family photos, country wall paper, and the smell of the wood stove that cooks the food and heats the water…


Continue reading

People Come and Go, But Coffee is Forever

A feature of my past and current kitchen is a beautifully illuminated and framed post about coffee. A reader and friend was inspired by the piece and thus made it my one and only post to achieve that kind of immortality.

I realized today that it’s been exactly a year since I wrote that.

In that year, I’ve had 2 apartments, taken my first 4 graduate classes, traveled to the other side of the globe and back, changed my cooking priorities, moved out of a relationship and into singlehood, and grown closer to some friends while others have become more distant. And one friend has left this Earth. But I’m still sipping that life-giving cup o’ joe each day. Funny how things change, but vices remain the same.

Pick Your Own Way

Skimming recent issues of Elle, you can find plenty of interviews with iconic women doing their own iconoclastic thing. And reading along, you can see one defining experience usually pushed them out to uncharted waters. Mary Kate Olsen was surrounded by kooky show biz people from the age of nine months. After a series of admittedly corny kids’ movies, she now pulls off what some people call “bag-lady chic,” is artsy and smart, and chose to talk to her interviewer at a trapeze lesson.

For Liz Phair, it was Oberlin College, where she saw the social system turned on its ear. She was amazed, she told Elle, to find “lesbians were on the top and the mainstream athletes were on the bottom.” It “knocked my socks off.” From there, the unsocked Phair went on to record tough and clever albums, never catering to Joe or Jane Jock. Continue reading

The Relocation Diet

The Relocation Diet — it’s simple, it’s sad, it’s full of revelation.  A meal that makes me feel full at the end usually begins with a cast iron pan and lots of canola oil. I plunk it down, heat it up, and hunt for something to fry. Or I start with a brilliant idea–sweet potato croquettes! A garlic, white wine, and wilted mache pasta topping!–and find that this idea leads me back to the pan and oil.

Now I’m living on the lean, mean Passover edition of the kind of eating that must accompany a move. All my implements for heating and slicing and simmering are packed away, and there’s no room on the counter or the stove if some of them were recovered. I’m down to matzah with hummus and stuffed grape leaves, or leftover charoset and a hard boiled egg. It doesn’t sound too shabby, but I always finish unsatisfied. I’ll sometimes think of something I’d like to make with the ingredients in the fridge, and then realize some essential element is missing or would take too long to find and unwrap and rinse, and then decide where it should go in the empty cabinets. So I hold back.

This is probably the closest I’ve come to being on a Diet. (Vegetarianism doesn’t count, for a number of reasons). This diet thing sucks, as most readers probably know. It sucks and I’m sorry that people go through this.

Maybe being rich wouldn’t be so bad…

Oh, YaD! How neglected you must feel! (Not to mention my dedicated readers, who are no doubt checking in every night and crying themselves to sleep when they see no new posts!)

I’m doing a quick check in from 42 stories above the Big Easy. I have only about 48 hours to meet, network with, and suck the wisdom out of a few hundred higher ed magazine editors at this conference, so I’d better get to the point.

My message for today: staying on the Club Floor of the Sheraton with complimentary brie, roasted veggies, mini spanakopitas, and tasty beverages (Hurricanes extra) every day from 5-8 is not bad at all. It makes you think: would it really be so evil, so bad, so wrong… to be a little rich?

Everybody sing! If I were a rich man, yidle didle didle didle deedle dum…