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Friday, January 31, 2014

Urban Farm and Urban Food Swaps

Last Saturday, January 25th, I took a ride into Philly and headed over to GreensGrow Farms, in Kennsington.  I'm going to teach a knife skills and knife sharpening class there on February 8th.  12 to 2 pm, $20, bring a dull knife and go home noticeably sharper!  I needed to do a dry run to check out the space.  In the 16-17 years that GreensGrow has been a working urban farm, I've never been to it.  I've wanted to go. I certainly know a lot about their mission all the wonderful things that they do for the surrounding community.  I love that they have taken what was once an urban, industrial "waste-land" and reclaimed the grounds, turning something undesirable into a viable food oasis in a food desert region. 

I've long been a fan of the fine work that the founders, Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Kereduk did and still do.  Seeing the farm in winter didn't diminish its specialness. A fresh coat of snow all over the neighborhood and winter tunnels brought a sparkle of life the the farm.  I visited on a "Winter CSA Day", the main green house store was bustling with people, busily picking out their winter crop shares.  A few vendors are on hand, pouring locally roasted coffees (ReAnimator Coffee Roasters); Girl Scouts were hawking thin mints and doe-see-doe's; local farms had fresh eggs, winter apples for sale and bags of heirloom cracked grits was on special offer to CSA members. I felt like Laura Ingalls Wilder dropped into the General Store after a hard winter on the plains and subsisting on hard-tack biscuits. A bit over-whelming with all that was available while being lovely and amazing.
I'm looking forward to my class with GreensGrow Farms.  It's been a wish of mine for a long while to branch out with my cooking classes.  Expanding the "brand" of The Bicycle-Chef and Collingswood Food Swappers.  I'm keen on having the knife skills class become one of many new ventures with Greensgrow.  
Monday night, January 27th brought me to the Free Library of Philadelphia, for the Philly Swappers winter swap.  Seems so long ago that I first attended one of their events, but it was only last April, a mere 7 months ago! And look at where the past 7 months has taken me!  My own food swap group, with four swaps to our credit; friends with many other swappers and groups; co-sponsor of swaps; attendee and mentor to other swappers just starting out.  How nice to be a part of an underground network of food happenings.
The Philly Swappers winter event was well-attended.  It seemed as though there were about 40 people participating.  Unlike the April event, this one was so calm and quiet.  There wasn't the hyper-kinetic frenzy I witnessed.  Sampling and checking out one another's wares was very civilized - so much so that I had that awkward girl at the school dance feeling again - not sure if anyone would approach me to ask me for a dance…I needn't worry. While the onlookers were subdued in their approach, my swap card quickly became full of potential "buyers" of my wares…Trading time picked up speed but never became a too much of a whirlwind of activity.  More than anything there was a steady and deliberateness that I rather enjoyed.  We all knew why were were here and what we wanted!
There was a wide variety of items: several high-end ice creams; wildly decadent flavored pop corns - I lucked out with a trade for Habanero Caramel Corn! So sweet and fiery! Jars of easy chills; packets of instant oatmeal with exotic mix-ins; artisan breads; organic pies and pie fillings; granola; jams; home-made chocolate hazelnut spread; and my favorite (but not in the luck of my draw this time) a vegan treat called "Millionaire's Bacon", which was coconut chips with a sweet, smokey meaty flavoring.  A taste so good that I can see that it should make the chef a millionaire with the recipe.  
I came home with all of my jars of Balsamic Fig Jam and Apple Cranberry Compote snapped up. In exchange I have two different cranberry chutney's; another fig jam; granola; pumpkin oatmeal cookies - devoured in two days; the oatmeal packets; quick bread; Meyer lemon marmalade; and a wonderful jar of apple pie filing.  There are other goodies here too. The larder is quite full of jars of put up goods.  
As my swaps grow, the ideas do too.  Collingswood Food Swappers next event is scheduled for Saturday, March 8th, early evening.  We'll be doing a "Spirits Swap" which will be infused liqueurs; home brews; cordials, bitters, tonics, etc. Along with a smattering of cocktail nibbles and treats.  Swaps may be all the rage and I intend to keep the interest piqued and lively.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Never Dull always Sharp

I'm delighted to share the news that I'll be teaching a knife sharpening and knife skills class on Saturday, February 8, 12 pm to 2 pm, at Greens Grow Farm in the Kensington/Fishtown area of of Philadelphia.  For only $20 and your dull knife you will go home SHARP!  That is, you will feel as your knife will become, and you will learn the best way to sharpen it, hold it, handle it and keep it in tip top shape.  I'll also teach some basic knife skill cuts.  Registration is now open, check out the link here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Soup! There it is! Lentil Vegetable


I'm really into soups this season.  I can't get enough soup. Chicken. Vegetable. Purees. Matzah Ball. Chili.  I think I'm even ready for some stew too.  I always say I enjoy making soup far more than I enjoy eating it.  I love being able to make something from almost nothing.  That being said, I often feel like soup either isn't satisfying enough (like a sandwich or hamburger might be) or that the soup just lasts forever.  I can't stand left-overs beyond 2 times, and even that's pushing it for me.  Maybe it's the harsh cold winter we are having with this Polar Vortex.  Or it's the need for nourishment and nurturing my body desires from hysterectomy recovery.  Whatever this new-found craving for soup is, I'm loving it.

Because my body is low in iron (I'm recovering from a severe bout of anemia, not helped by the blood loss I experienced during my surgery.  I had 2 transfusions!) I crave red meat and anything that has iron in it.  Look out! I might start licking the cast iron skillets next! I made a batch of hearty lentil vegetable soup, rich in iron and full of healthy nutrients from a variety of veggies.  I added in diced tomatoes and spinach too, upping the lycopene and iron stores.  Working from nothing, I made a decent pot of soup that is not only satisfying but it was a small enough batch that I won't be looking at the left-overs for too long.

Lentil Vegetable Soup Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • 1 Small-Medium Onion (about 1 Cup) - Small Dice
  • 2 Medium Carrots (about 1 cup) - Small Dice
  • 2 Celery Stalks (about 3/4 to 1 Cup) - Small Dice
  • 1 Small-Medium Red, Yellow or Orange Bell Pepper - Small Dice
  • 2-3 Garlic Cloves (about 1 Tablespoon) - Minced
  • 3/4 Cup Dried Small Green Lentils, or Brown Lentils - Picked over and Rinsed
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons Dried Thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley
  • 4 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 - 14 to 16 ounce can NO SALT Diced Tomatoes (w/or without seasoning)
  • 1 Cup Frozen Chopped Spinach
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
Directions:
  1. Wash and prep all the vegetables. Keep each separated.
  2. Use a 4 quart sauce pot, and heat the oil in the pan over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add in the diced onions, carrots and celery and sweat for 5 to 10 minutes. As the vegetables begin to release their liquid, you want the water to evaporate and the vegetables to start to take on some colour. The onions and carrots should begin to slightly caramelize.
  3. Add in the diced bell peppers and sauté another 5 minutes, then add in the minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute more.
  4. Next, add in the lentils and stir in the dried thyme and parsley; then pour in 4 cups of cold water (or more to cover the vegetables by 1 inch).  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat down to a simmer.
  5. Simmer the soup for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender but not mushy and the water has been almost but not compleley absorbed.  If there isn't enough liquid in the pot, add in more by 1/2 cup at a time.  If it's too watery, let the mixture cook a bit longer at a higher heat to evaporate some of the water.  
  6. After the lentils are tender, add in the can of diced tomatoes and their juices and the chopped frozen spinach.  Stir to incorporate and bring the soup back to a low boil.  Cook the soup for another 10 to 15 minutes.
  7. Season the soup with salt and freshly ground pepper and a tablespoon or more of the balsamic vinegar. Adjust the seasonings as needed, being cautious to not add in too much salt or oil.
  8. The soup will taste best once it's had a chance to sit; it will be dynamite the next day, after it's cooled and all the flavors have married and melded.
  9. Serve hot.  Serves 4-6. Will hold for up to 4 days tightly covered and refrigerated, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2013 Year in Review: So glad it's over!


A few weeks late with this, but here it is, my annual, Year In Review.  I love this 30-some question and answer format as it gets me writing, ruminating and appreciating the life I lived during the previous year.  

1. What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before? Well, the major thing I did, or rather, had done to me, was to have a hysterectomy.  Friday, December 13th.  Let's not discuss the superstition of that date...

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? No. Never do, never will.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Another year of round 2 & 3 with our friend's having babies.  Twins, Vivian and Zachary; Harper; Maggie.  And lots of other friends and acquaintances.  Now that we are in several Mom's Groups in Collingswood, our circle of kids is ever growing.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Yes.  Oh, so sadly, yes.  A few lovely people I know from my workplace - members of the congregation.  But the biggest loss I experienced was the very sudden passing of my dear friend, Fabrizio, our former neighbor from South Philly.  

5. What countries did you visit? I've got to change this one - countries, no.  Places, yes.  Downashore - to Sea Isle City, NJ for two weeks, and a trip out to the Southwest to Colorado, with a 24 hour excursion to Sante Fe, New Mexico during our visit in Pueblo, Colorado.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?  BETTER HEALTH! Besides having to have a hysterectomy this past year, I also had some major back issues that sidelined me from biking since the end of June.

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? The two dates of the two Dinner in White/Diner en Blanc parties we attended - in Late August and Early September.  My first and second food swap events in May and June. The May event was my inaugural swap, and the June event established the Collingswood Food Swappers as an official group.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Starting the Collingswood Food Swappers group. It started out as a whim, an idea of wanting to do a food swap sooner than waiting for another event to be organized by someone else.  My first swap was so successful that I actually got media coverage several times!

9. What was your biggest failure? Not a failure per se, but I did not attempt to do healthy things for myself, culminating in my complete body breakdown - the back, a pressed nerve and spine injury; the fibroids that made it necessary to have a hysterectomy; loosing muscle and strength from not exercising...

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?  Um, ah, see above. Too many illnesses and injuries. I truly feel middle-aged.

11. What was the best thing you bought? A Kindle.  It's gotten me back to reading.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?  This question is annoying to me. SKIP!

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? It wasn't any good in 2012, and it wasn't any better in 2013: Congress, the Senate, the gun lobby, and all of the Media. Next...

14. Where did most of your money go?  Doctors, co-pays, medicine and baby sitters.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?  Food Swaps! I discovered this phenomenon in April and quickly became addicted to this interesting hobby-way of life.

16. What song will always remind you of 2013? Why, the song of the Summer of course - Blurred Lines by Marvin Gaye Robin Thicke...
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? about the same, mostly happier
b) thinner or fatter? fatter, less muscle tone, but working on it...
c) richer or poorer? Hmm, financially speaking, about the same, but w/less disposable or net income.  In spirit, richer. In friendship, richer.  In love and family, richer!
18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Loving and biking

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Visiting Doctors.

20. How did you spend Christmas? Recuperating.  It was a week and a half post-surgery and I was still taking pain pills.  I slept a lot and sat, under blankets most of the day. It was the first Holiday Season in decades where I didn't cook, clean, organize or orchestrate a thing and it was glorious.

21. What was your favorite TV program? Sherlock, the BBC Version; Elementary (the USA TV Version of The Sherlock Holmes stories); House of Cards.

22. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? OH YES. And that's about all I can say about that.  Well, I'll say this. I am extremely disillusioned and disappointed in friendships that I thought were more than they are in reality. 

23. What was the best book you read? Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman; Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery? Macklemore.

25. What did you want and get? No more menstrual cycles.  Hey, if a gal has to have a hysterectomy, at least there's an upside to it.

26. What did you want and not get? A pain-free year.

27. What was your favorite film of this year? I can barely think of any movies that we watched, old or new. I guess, ARGO.  We bought it on DVD as soon as it was released, before the OSCARS.  It was taught, well directed, and suspenseful, even though you know exactly what is going to happen.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 46 in 2013. We had dinner with our good friends, Roger and Astrid, and Jen Check.  Astrid made me a scrumptious chocolate raspberry cake. We went to Zeppolli, the best restaurant in Collingswood (or anywhere in the area frankly); Nate woke me up in the morning singing "the birthday song" to me. It was a lovely day.

29.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Health; time; chances to do more family things.
30. What kept you sane? Cooking. Teaching. Writing. Family.

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Another question I need to nix. Moving on… OOH, wait! The Pope, Pope Francis.  If he's the real deal, living up to his Saint  namesake, then I might consider admitting I was once Catholic.

32. What political issue stirred you the most? Gay Marriage.  It's marriage, period.

33. Who did you miss? Fabrizio.  I think of him every time I get behind the wheel to drive, especially on highways and on long-distance drives.

34. Who was the best new person you met?  It's not just one person, it's many.  Two years of living in Collingswood and we have formed some good friendships.  Playdates abound.  As of this writing, and I know I'm skipping way too many important people here, but one person stands out - a woman we met through some other friends, named Lori McCleer.  She has come to a few food swaps and while I was recuperating from the surgery, she (amoung so many people) brought us platters of food.  I don't know Lori well, nor have I known her long.  But she went above and beyond and out of her way to bring us homemade Pirogues, Kielbasa, and the world's best pound cake from Stock's Bakery in Kensington. And then, she organized a Christmas Carol sing.  She rented a trolley, and got over 40 people to go all around Collingswood, singing Christmas Carols at people's house and at local businesses.  The trolly stopped at our house and it was one of the most heart-warming, spirited events I've been privileged to experience.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2013. It's similar to 2012. Last year I said, TRY. This year it's DO.

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. Can't Hold Us by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Smoothie Queen: Food Gadget Finds


I might now be able to go out and go galavanting just yet, but I sure am enjoying making smoothies. For Christmas I received a Magic Bullet blender.  
Now I know many of you are thinking that I may have watched one too many infomercials (and you'd be correct!). However, my trusty Waring blender died recently and I've been wanting one of these for years. So, justified in allowing myself another kitchen appliance I asked Liz to get one for me. It's just as much fun to use and as easy as seen on tv!  

No, this is not a paid endorsement (though I'd gladly accept payment or other tv gadgets); I'm happy to report it's easy to make healthy smoothies and other chopped or purred goodies. The smoothies we've been making are chockablock full of frozen fruit, spinach, yogurt and or almond milk, coconut flakes, and flax seed.  I need all the iron and fiber I can get these days. 

There's not a recipe to share here, more like ideas and inspiration. I've been filling the large container with yogurt then fruit and the coconut and flax seeds, the add  a generous handful of fresh spinach and a splash of skim or almond milk. Blend, remove and shake, blend again until everything is thoroughly whizzed. Enjoy! 

So, what cool cooking of foodie things did you get for the holiday gifts? And have any of you used the Magic Bullet? I'm curious to know about other's experiences.