Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nephew Jonathan!

After time in the archives and all around California on my own, Justin joined me a few days ago and we traveled to Santa Rosa, CA to meet our new nephew Jonathan! Though Jessica and Jason welcomed him to the family almost four months ago, we just now have had the chance to come out here to visit. It's already been a wonderful couple of days with Jonathan, full of tummy-rubbing and funny voices and baby cooing (and Justin's first try at diaper-changing!). We've also really enjoyed getting to spend time with Jessica and Jason, going to farmer's markets and (soon) wine country, talking about family, and getting to see what their lives are like out here.
We still have three more days of California fun and family before getting back to a Wisconsin spring in April. Happiness all around.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

All I managed to capture of Sacramento, in photo form

Although my three days here mostly looked like this:

I also managed to see (and almost taste!) some of these (who knew oranges grew on trees?!):

And smell some of these:

And do some of this: to this:

All I managed to capture of Portland, in photo form

here's food composting at the airport!

And Powell's has lots and lots of good books (here are their top 25 best sellers in both fiction and nonfiction, for all those reading lists out there):

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Growing Power

Tomorrow I leave for my west coast adventure of the American Society for Environmental History conference in Portland, archival work in Sacramento and Palo Alto, visiting friends in Oakland, and visiting family in Santa Rosa, CA. But before then, I wanted to write a post about an inspiring day we spent at Growing Power in Milwaukee a week ago.

I wrote about Growing Power and the amazing work Will Allen is doing there way back in September but we finally got to see the transformative urban farm for ourselves last week.  And, let me tell you, it was incredible.

Throughout our day of goat-muck raking (the literal kind, not just the Upton Sinclair kind), compost shoveling, soil sifting, removing algal blooms from watercress, and more, we got to see first hand how this group has turned a piece of land smaller than the size of a city block, right smack dab in the middle of a Milwaukee neighborhood, into a food-producing haven.

They grow lots of greens and sprouts throughout the winter, raise tilapia and trout in their self-designed aquaponics system (in which the water flows through watercress, whose roots filter the fish poop out and use it to fertilize their own growth, seen above), raise chickens for eggs, have goats for manure, grow turkeys, and so much more. They also provide a space for education and empowerment, providing jobs to local underserved teenagers and helping to create a culture of healthy eating in Milwaukee schools and neighborhoods.

We feel so lucky to have gotten to visit this site, which has so much potential to revolutionize the way we grow food. In fact, when Michael Pollan was here last September and someone from the 8,000 member audience at his public talk asked a question about how we're supposed to grow our own, local food in northern regions in the middle of winter, Pollan pointed straight to Will Allen's Growing Power. So much power in learning to grow...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Failure Part 2: Mystery Strings

I don't know if anyone's guessed yet what my second big mistake with respect to the cashew cheese ingredients was, but when I opened up our worm compost bin a couple of mornings ago to take a look at our voracious roommates, I also didn't yet know what my mistake had been.

But this is the sight that greeted me (and keep in mind that the last thing we'd put in our bin was a usual mix of vegetable cores, fruit peels, and newspaper more than a week ago):

Now, I don't know how familiar you all are with what a compost bin usually looks like, but let's just say it's usually very dark brown, with lots of wet-looking mostly-decomposed food, soil, and pink worms. Not mounds of long yellow stringy things.

So what could these be?! When I first discovered this, we had friends soon coming over for breakfast, so I had to ignore the problem for the time being. When I returned the next day, I pulled out one of these yellow string things to find this:

Can you tell what it is?!

It's a sprouted wheatberry!

You remember those wheatberries I'd thrown in after my failed cashew cheese attempt? Well, they'd taken root in our fertile and lush compost and had sprouted in the dark and damp worm bin conditions, pulling up all the nutrients from the compost and crowding our poor little worms. I spent the better part of the morning pulling out these shoots, cutting them up, and mixing them back in with newspaper in a new layer of the compost bin (I assume they won't just take root again...) Even as it was kind of a pain, it was also really cool to realize how much growth potential our compost has and to think about these grains we eat as breathing seeds capable of regeneration.

Now I just can't wait for spring and the ability to use this compost in our very own garden!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Failure Part 1: Cashew Cheese

Lest you devoted readers begin to think that my time in the kitchen and in the creative world of cookery is all sunflowers and rainbows, let me share with you a two-part story of failure (Part 2 to come tomorrow, so stay tuned).

The first part begins with an e-conversation I had with our friend Kroy, who had been living in India at this awesome sustainable community Sadhana Forest, where he'd participated in this vegan cooking workshop that he told me about. In the workshop, they'd made a cashew cheese, which he raved about. And so I thought I'd try it. The recipe was very straightforward:

Vegan Cashew Cheese spread
This recipe makes a healthy cholesterol free cheese which tastes amazingly like cheese. It needs to be made before hand as it takes 2 days to get the mature cheese.


½ cup wheat berries (whole wheat grains that have not been milled)
1 cup whole or broken raw cashews (or any other nut)
Salt, pepper and herbs to taste


Wash the wheat berries and soak them in a jar in 1 cup drinking water. Leave this jar open for 24 hours in a cupboard or keep it lightly covered. In case of very cold temperatures it could be left a little longer.

The water will turn a little yellowish or serum colored and will have a sweet fermented smell after 24 hours. (This is called Rejeuvelac and is supposed to be a very healthy drink, which you can make and drink everyday.) Pour this rejeuvelac into a glass. If desired another cup of water make be added to the wheat berries to produce more rejeuvelac after another 24 hours. It can be drunk or used to make still more cheese. After 2 such uses the wheat berries are usually thrown away.

Grind the raw cashews to form a powder (it does not need to be absolutely fine) and then put this into a jar, which has at least twice the volume of the cashews. Pour Rejeuvelac over the cashews so that they are covered with it. There may be some extra rejeuvelac, which can be drunk or thrown away. The whole mixture will now ferment and grow so if the jar is too small it can overflow. Do not cover the jar or cover lightly.

After about 6 – 8 hours the cheese is ready. Add salt, pepper and herbs or other seasonings. Serve.

So, I soaked the wheatberries:
Ground the cashews:
And combined the cashews and the wheatberry juice:
Although everything seemed to be in order, the cheese somehow never really set and so I ended up leaving it out a little longer before refrigerating it. After another day or so in the fridge, it began to have a ricotta-like consistency and definitely took on a flavor all its own. I thought I might have gotten it to work (!), but within an hour of that potentially-successful tasting, I tried it again only to find that it had totally soured. The whole thing tasting more like sour milk than cheese and it only increased in sour-ness over the next couple of hours. I was a little sad to have had my experiment fail, but I sucked it up, washed the cheese down the sink, threw the wheatberries in the compost bin, and went on my merry way.

What did I do wrong? Any ideas?

(And any ideas on what the second part of my failure might be?...)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Youth Grow Local

I've been meaning to write for over a week now about the conference I helped plan and that went off swimmingly two weekends ago, February 20. I thought I'd wait until I got to see some of the photos from the conference, but still no photos. So, a few words instead!

As some of you know, I've been involved with a local organization for the past 8 months or so, Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens, that has really changed my outlook on how I spend my time now and into the future. It's been a wonderful relationship, full of kid gardeners, outdoor cooking, hand-blended pesto, a fundraising campaign for an outdoor kids' kitchen, and lots of Madison community and people who care about kids and good food.

So, the purpose of this conference was to bring together all the people around the region who are working on youth gardening in its various forms. Over 150 people signed up! So many that we had to add another session to fit everyone in. There were workshops on seed starting, on hands-on garden activities, on cooking in the garden (led by me and two others!), on nutrition and health, on local resources for garden supplies, on garden-based school curricula, and more! (Check out the full schedule on the quick-and-dirty website I made for the conference.) Chef Tory Miller, a local celebrity chef from L'Etoile restaurant gave a keynote address and IronWorks Cafe, led by Undergound Food Collective's Ben Hunter, served a lunch of amazing sourdough bread; a potato and oyster mushroom soup; and a confit of local organic chicken, celeriac, and kale. There was so much energy throughout the event.

One of the most exciting aspects of the conference was just hearing where all of these people were coming from, and learning that there were over a hundred different jobs in the Madison area employing people to work on issues around youth gardening! It made me feel much more hopeful about the possibility of incorporating something like that into my future career--whether primarily or extra-curricular-ly. Madison is an amazing place because of all its enthusiasm for ethical and sustainable approaches to food and agriculture. Hooray!

(click on the image above to open a pdf of this awesome Garden
Toolkit put together as a resource by the Wisconsin Department
of Health Services and by Community GroundWorks)