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The Gardener and the Cook: Garden Time + SAUERKRAUT recipe

Our cooking instructor, Eva Sziegti, encourages us to take a gardener’s approach to the changing of the season, and shares a delicious sauerkraut recipe that is also zero-waste!

Cycles

It is fall. It is harvest time. For a gardener, the stage is set for the finale. It is the time of fulfillment, maturity, and abundance. Fall in the garden is gratifying. It is the time of ripening and receiving the gifts of nature, and of our yearlong labor. In October, we enjoy the last autumn flowers, and we tend to cherish them even more than the fresh blooms of spring, because of their impending death.

Harvest time brings baskets full of produce, but also withered leaves, bald brown stalks, half empty beds, and decay. The painstakingly cultivated order is turning into chaos. Luckily, Garden Time is a cyclical time. Decay and death might take over, but we know that this phase is only temporary. The life that seems to disappear will in fact reemerge again in the spring.

Although we acknowledge the cycle of the seasons and try to live in harmony with it, our lives unfold in time that we perceive as linear. However, when facing stress or loss of inner equilibrium, we can all benefit from time spent in the garden, on Garden Time.

Garden Time with Children

Children, especially, thrive on Garden Time. Away from technology and engaged in hands-on tasks, their patience, perseverance, and sense of achievement (without instant gratification) are nourished. Especially if a child has their own garden bed or row to work on, they will learn to make decisions, solve problems, and take responsibility. The garden gives a sense of consistency, a sense of purpose.

And in the fall, there is plenty they can help with. Who wouldn’t like to pick the last peppers and tomatoes of the season, dig up some potatoes, carry a large squash to the kitchen, collect seeds of all shapes and sizes, or make seed packets from paper destined for the recycling bin? Children can get some exercise pulling up weeds and dead plants, covering the beds with blankets of straw, raking, or “driving” the wheelbarrow to the compost pile.

Into the Kitchen

Children also tend to be willing to eat vegetables that they have grown themselves. Of course, the taste of homegrown veggies is on another level versus those from the supermarket.  In the camp’s garden, we see the same scenario play out: a child tastes a freshly picked vegetable and exclaims something along the lines: “I didn’t know I liked cucumbers (or tomatoes, peppers etc.)!”

Speaking of eating—there is certainly a lot that needs to be done in the kitchen during this season as well. Kitchen Time has its own rhythm. Children usually enjoy cooking, especially if they like the food being prepared. They can be our helpers when we preserve the gifts of the garden. Ambitious cooks can engage their children in canning vegetables, making jams, jellies and preserves during this season. Other preserving projects, such as making applesauce, herb salt, or sauerkraut are simple enough to be rewarding even for an inexperienced cook and their family.

So, as we enjoy the last warm days of the fall, harvest the bounty from the garden, save the surplus for the winter, and prepare the garden for the next season, let us feel reassured that the circle of the seasons will go around once again.

 

Sauerkraut Recipe

Making sauerkraut is easy. We don’t even have to do too much. Bacteria, fungi, and time will transform the raw cabbage into sauerkraut—full of beneficial probiotics.  All we need is cabbage, salt, a glass or ceramic vessel to hold the fermenting cabbage, and patience.

 

1 gallon wide-mouth glass jar (or ceramic crock)

about 5 pounds of cabbage (white or red), finely chopped

3 tablespoons sea salt

2 teaspoons whole caraway seed (optional)

2 bay leaves (optional)

 

Preparation:

Put the chopped cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Let the salted cabbage sit for at least 20 minutes. The salt will start to pull water out of the cabbage. Take cabbage by the hand-full and squeeze more juice out.  The liquid should be squeezed back into the bowl, this will be the brine for the cabbage. Add caraway seeds and bay leaves. Put a bit of the cabbage into the glass jar. Using your fist, tamp it down. This will force more water out of the cabbage. Continue adding small amounts of cabbage and packing it down. When full, put the jar on a plate or on a shallow bowl. (Some of the liquid will spill out onto this plate as the cabbage starts to ferment.) Cover the filled jar with another clean smaller jar or glass (close in diameter to the mouth of the fermentation jar) filled with water (or crystals or stones). This will serve as a weight, keeping the fermenting cabbage submerged. Cover the whole thing with a piece cheesecloth to keep flies out.

Fermentation:

Keep the jar in the kitchen or in a cooler room for slower fermentation. Occasionally, press down the weight to assure that the level of brine rises and the kraut is safely submerged (our goal is an anaerobic fermentation). Sometimes when the cabbage is not too fresh, it may not release enough liquid. If after 24 hours the kraut isn’t submerged, add some salted water to the jar (mix one cup of water with one tablespoon of salt). Leave to ferment. Check your jar every day. If at any time the kraut is not submerged in liquid, add more salted water. As the process of fermentation starts, grey scum will develop. This is normal. Skim what you can off. Wash the jar used as a weight and put it back.

After few days, start checking on the taste of the kraut. It will start to get tangy. In my kitchen, it usually reaches the right tangy-ness in about a week. If you ferment the kraut in a cooler room the process will be longer. Don’t leave the kraut to ferment for too long or it will become unpleasantly soft. When you are happy with your sauerkraut, take off the jar used as a weight. Cover the kraut jar with a lid and store in the refrigerator.

Meat: An Exploration, Part II

IN PART II OF AN EXPLORATION INTO REDUCING MEAT CONSUMPTION, AYLA DUNN BIEBER DISCUSSES COMMON ROADBLOCKS TO EATING LESS MEAT, AS WELL AS HELPFUL SOLUTIONS AND TIPS…

Camp parent Lianna Levine Reisner writes:

Our family has chosen not to eat any animal products, first for health reasons, but we are really committed to this holistically because animal agriculture contributes to a huge amount of environmental degradation, from CO2 and methane emissions to land overuse and rainforest deforestation, to water use and water pollution. Meat itself is the worst offender, but poultry, dairy, and eggs are significant as well. Exercising responsibility for climate change on a day-to-day basis is very much related to what we eat, and I feel like I can have more integrity as a climate activist when I align our kitchen with our values.

There are a ton of resources about this on the web, but I really like Brighter Green’s research and position papers. I also just came across this report which summarizes the environmental benefits achieved by one school district in California that has dramatically reduced the meat and dairy in their meals. It’s worth reading to see how much the district’s footprint has been reduced by this one, relatively simple change!

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for your input and resources Lianna!

 

Keeping the conversation going from last month’s Dirt

Last night, Emily Selover and I facilitated our first meeting in a three-month series on Sustainability, which we are calling Community Exchange, held at the Hungry Hollow Co-op. This month’s topic was ‘reducing our meat consumption’. We talked about roadblocks, challenges, and hesitations to reducing meat-eating; and then about tools, strategies, and resources to help us moving forward. I wanted to share some of the highlights in hopes they might resonate/help with your own exploration of the topic.

 

Roadblocks/Challenges/Hesitations:

  • Convenience of cooking meat – ‘it’s what I know/what’s easiest’
  • Partners not being on board – the need to cook separate meals
  • Breaking family habits/traditions
  • Time/need to pre-plan
  • Worry that I won’t feel full
  • Not being in touch with the process of meat production on a visceral level (it is easy to buy a clean piece of meat pre-packaged in the store)

Tools/Strategies:

  • Pre-plan your meals for the week and take your meals/recipe lists with you to the store
  • Get inspired to broaden your veggie-based repertoire (use Pinterest, share cookbooks, get together with friends for a recipe exchange)
  • Focus on reducing by creating manageable goals
  • Substitute a percentage of the meat that would normally be in your meal with a meat-free alternative (slowly weaning yourself off the reliance on meat while incorporating new recipes)
  • Work on legislation to tax beef, move subsidies away from the meat industry, etc.
  • Think about learning more about processing road-kill (there’s lots to read about and plenty of great arguments for this mode of meat-consumption—though it might seem wild to think about at first)
  • Join a Zero-Waste community for support/ideas/friends to cook with/people to do activism work with (look no further – Emily and I are starting one! Shoot us your email address if you want to join)

 

Endless thanks for being on this journey together and for all your efforts toward sustainability!

Ayla

 

The Traveler and the Cook: Winter Vacation in the Rockies

OUR COOKING INSTRUCTOR, EVA SZIGETI, TELLS ABOUT HER FAMILY’S WINTER VACATION AND SHARES A DELICIOUS RECIPE THAT’S PERFECT FOR A WINTER BREAK STAY-CATION…

Planning a family vacation often starts with a discussion about the destination. For a winter trip, we might consider two very different types of travel destinations.

Some might want to embrace the season and opt for a ski trip. While those longing for a break from the cold and the darkness, might choose a trip to the sunny tropics.

As my family considered the idea of a family trip, our discussion wasn’t so much about the destination, but about participants. The two experienced snowboarders in the family have been planning to conquer some “real” slopes for a while. The question was whether my daughter (an inexperienced snowboarder) and I would join them on this trip.

I must disclose that winter is not my favorite season, and when it comes to mountains, my feelings are mixed. Growing up in an area where the landscape resembles the flat plains of the Midwest, the most memorable hill of my childhood (and the only hill around) was a small artificial sledding hill on the playground.

From a safe distance, I do like to admire the beauty of mountains, but when experiencing them close-up, my respect for them often borders on fear. As for my skiing skills, they are minimal. Because of the lack of opportunity, my hometown wasn’t exactly a town of ski enthusiasts either. Although I’ve tried skiing, I have never acquired skills beyond a beginner level.

The idea of a family ski/snowboarding trip made me more nervous than excited. For me, skiing and snowboarding come with too much hassle and worries (Does everyone have goggles? Where is my daughter’s left glove? Did we leave the helmets at home? Is the lift safe for the kids? Is the slope too icy?). My worries never seem to end…

After a few discussions, we came to a decision everyone was comfortable with: The boys would travel to Colorado and enjoy the mountains, while the girls would have a special “girl time” at home. The division of our family into two groups happened this time along the gender lines: it was time for some father – son, mother – daughter bonding!

My son and husband packed their bags (so much gear!) and embarked on their adventure. My daughter and I enjoyed our time together at home. We had been getting pictures and news from the boys every day. During our calls with them, the adventures of the day were usually summarized by my son into short sentences—exciting shouts from a high-altitude ski resort.

First day: “We gave up after two hours on the slope. We couldn’t breathe. There was no air! This place gets 11 feet of snow per year!”

Second day: “We went down a black diamond! The trail was more than two miles long! The Continental Divide runs through the top of the ridge!”

Third day: “We were really high up. More than 11,000 feet! Can you imagine? Above the tree line!”

Fourth day: “We went to a bar! Really, no kidding… Haha, an oxygen bar.”

Fifth day: “We are coming home tomorrow!”

 

I was glad to hear from them every time. For me, the most important piece of information was that they were well, because to me the majestic Rockies seem a little dangerous even from a great distance.

If being on vacation means, breaking away from the usual daily routines, then my daughter and I had a vacation too. We “camped”, along with our dog, in the guest room, watched movies (something we don’t do too often) during the snowstorm, we stayed up later than usual, enjoyed craft projects, and played lots of board games. I mostly neglected cooking, because this week after all was a departure from our everyday lives. We all had a good time, and we concluded that having a one-on-one parent – child ‘vacation’ experience can be as valuable as a trip involving all members of the family.

Through my son and husband’s experience, I had a taste of their snowboarding trip. It seemed great, but I still don’t long for a winter vacation in the mountains. Perhaps one day I might want to travel to the Rockies in the summertime. I am quite fascinated by the idea of standing in the rain on the imaginary line of the Continental Divide, knowing that the raindrops coming down on the Eastern side of the mountain might one day meet the waters of the Atlantic, while the precipitation trickling down the West slope is destined for the Pacific Ocean.

 

Mushroom Soup for a Winter Day

We eat mostly home-made food. That means lot of time spent in the kitchen. During our unusual vacation-at-home week, I gave myself a little break from cooking. We had mostly salads, sandwiches, and soups. Most soups are not labor intensive and can be made in large batches that last for few days. Many taste even better reheated than fresh.

3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra to garnish
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
salt to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 – 2  teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a large pot heat the butter and oil. On medium heat, sauté onions until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add mushrooms and thyme, cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle mushrooms with flour, mix well, and cook while gently mixing for 2 minutes. Add stock, mix and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low. Add salt and pepper.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add cream and bring back to simmer (not boil). Adjust seasoning if necessary. Mix in parsley and lemon juice.

Garnish with parsley. Serve with toast or fresh bread.

 

 

The Traveler and the Cook: At the Airport

In her new series, our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, writes about airport experiences that went beyond the expected…

At the Airport

For the weary traveler, airports are rarely fun. Usually, we don’t think of airports as places where the real travel experience happens. They are just the unavoidable necessary steps toward our travel destinations, where all the fun and experiencing is supposed to happen. If time spent at an airport becomes memorable, it is usually for the wrong reason: a missed plane, hours of delay, lost luggage…

That being said, I’d like to share two very different airport-related experiences that don’t fit this equation.

One of them happened years ago in Paris Orly Airport. As I was absent-mindedly hurrying through the airport, I suddenly became a witness of a tiny moment in some strangers’ story and felt deeply touched by it.

I had very little time to catch my connecting flight. Navigating the corridors as a little piece of an anonymous moving crowd, the only thing on my mind was to get to the right gate on time. But then, suddenly, I had to stop. We all had to stop, and readjust our minds, our perception of the world—because the following happened: The column of people in front of me stopped moving.  Something was wrong. I could see the escalator at the end of the narrow corridor—the only available exit route in front of us. The escalator was running and there was a crowd of people seemingly waiting to get on, but the steps of the escalator continued their rhythmic ascent without carrying any people.

The group at the very front seemed to be traveling together. Their clothing stood out. They weren’t dressed for the cold Parisian winter day. Rather, some wore short-sleeved T-shirts; others wore traditional African clothing made for a warm climate. They seemed scared and indecisive. The older members of the group were discussing something. Suddenly a teenaged boy stepped out of the group and turned back as if asking for the approval of the elders. He then stepped onto the escalator and went up. Shortly after, the others hesitantly followed the young boy. I realized that escalators were not part of their experience prior to this moment. Confronted with one for the first time, they did not know what to do until the curiosity of the young boy grew stronger than his fear, and he showed the group the way…

I do not know what was to follow for these families after they arrived at the top of the escalator. Perhaps they were on a vacation, or perhaps they were fleeing their homeland. I have often wondered how their lives unfolded since that cold day in Paris. I hope they found their way and their place.

The other very different and cheerful story involves travelling with my children and their perception of a country, based solely on its largest airport. We were changing planes in Zurich, Switzerland. This time, I didn’t have to worry about not making it on time to the connecting flight, as we had a five-hour layover. I was worried about having too much time. Spending hours in transit after an overnight flight is usually not fun.

I had prepared. We had plenty of snacks packed to fight hunger and also serve as a distraction. There were a few small toys, books and activity booklets in my backpack, ready to provide a little entertainment. But, in the end, we never took them out. The children vastly enjoyed the airport. The sleepiness was gone and the boredom was lifted as they looked out of the airport windows and past the runways. As far as the eye could see, there was forest, and only forest. We were at the largest airport in Switzerland and it wasn’t surrounded by an urban or industrial landscape, but rather, endless trees. The children noticed it right away. They pointed it out, and they loved it. They appreciated how clean everything was, too. We enjoyed the view for a while, and then it was time for lunch. We chose a deli that imitated the looks of a rustic small town bakery. The soft pretzels with ham a cheese looked so good and tasted even better. A piece of Swiss chocolate for dessert followed. We learned and experienced that there is such a thing as a good airport food – at least in Switzerland. Of course, one pays the price, as Switzerland is anything but inexpensive.

The natural question for my children to ask was: “Why don’t we live in Switzerland?” This country, experienced only through its airport, somehow made so much sense to them. My children now often talk about Switzerland. Since spending five hours at the airport in Zurich, this country has become one of their dream destinations. My daughter started learning Italian, and explained her decision among others things with: “It could be useful in Switzerland”.

So we keep saving for a ‘real’ trip to the country of the majestic Alps, delicious chocolate, and yummy airport sandwiches.

Airport Pretzel Sandwiches

This is a recipe for the sandwiches we enjoyed at the airport in Zurich. Butter, ham, and cheese are a combination typical for Germany and German speaking regions of Europe.

If you are in the mood, you can start with baking soft pretzels from scratch. Pretzel dough is basically yeasted bread dough with a bit of butter in it. The Internet is a good source for pretzel recipes and instructions on how to properly form them. Compared to baking bread or rolls, making pretzels involves an extra step: immersing the formed pretzels in boiling water before baking. This process creates the typical chewy texture of pretzels (and bagels too).

Making pretzels from scratch at home requires some time and a bit of patience, but it can be done, especially if you have helpers interested in playing with dough.

  • For each person/eater, you will need:
  • 1 soft pretzel
  • some butter
  • 1 slice of good quality ham
  • 1 slice of Gruyere cheese

Slice your pretzel in half. Butter both sides. On the bottom part, layer the cheese and ham. Cover with the top half on the pretzel. Enjoy for lunch or pack for your next road trip.

The Traveler and The Cook: Visiting Familiar Places

In her new series, our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, writes about visiting her childhood hometown with her children, and about the fruitful discoveries they make along the way…

Traveling with children usually results in a very different experience than getting on the road with adult company. It is not only that when children come along we adjust the pace and the activities to meet their needs and interests. What is truly unique is that we get to see our travel destinations from a different angle, with the refreshing eye of a child. The whole travel experience takes on one more extra layer when we decide to take our kids to places that have a special place in our personal history; when hometowns, college towns, broader areas of our childhood become destinations. We are hoping to include the children in our story, one that is the precursor to their own.

We traveled to Central Europe last fall to visit family, friends, and participate in a harvest in the vineyard (the first one ever for my children). On most of our day trips, we kept crossing paths with the Danube. For me, the Danube is ‘The River’. I was born in a town on the Danube, learned to swim in its waters, and I spent my college years in two cities on the Danube. The river had been part of everyday life, just as it was part of those moments that stood out. There was no New Year’s Day during my childhood without a family walk to the Danube. I always saw it as a New Year’s pilgrimage to experience the cleansing effect of chilling wind carried by the river.  So naturally, encounters with the Danube were part of our recent trip.

With the children, we strolled on the banks of the river; they threw pebbles, watched ships. We talked about history: times when these parts of the world were the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. “Wait, what? Romans here?” the children wondered. So we went to a museum to see some artifacts and to learn more. Turkish invasion was the next subject….

From my hometown, we walked through a bridge over the Danube and crossed to another country. As history has redefined borders, one town has turned into two: one on each side of the Danube and each in a different country. Luckily, both countries are now part of the European Union, so we were able to enjoy ice cream on the other side of the river without needing a passport.

During our trip we stood on several castle hills, all overlooking the Danube. The children imagined themselves to be knights watching the approach of the enemy. They felt lucky to be strategically well positioned and protected in their castles. They were enjoying themselves. But I kept wondering during the whole trip: Are they unimpressed? Does this experience really sink in? Or are these only fleeting moments of fun that will be soon forgotten?

After many day trips came the long anticipated day of the harvest in the vineyard.  The harvest of vine grapes has a special place in my personal mythology for a simple reason: I was born on the day of harvest in my grandfather’s old vineyard.

The bulk of the grape harvest in that area happens around Saint Michael’s Day (September 29th). The exact time is determined by the skilled eye and taste buds of the grower/vintner. The right levels of sugar, tannin, and acid are the first step to a good wine.

On the day of the harvest, the grapes were plump, ripe, and ready. Probably like my mother’s belly on that day many harvests ago. I was happy that we were there, that my children get to see the vineyard in its full autumn beauty, that they will savor the many tastes of different grape types, all of them so distant from the supermarket varieties.

Grape harvest is quite a sensory experience. It is not only the smell and taste of the berries, but how aware we become of our hands. The super ripe berries are no longer able to contain their juices. With each picked cluster, the hands of a picker get more and more sticky from the sweet juice that, like a magnet, attracts dirt, resulting in a gray sugary second skin.

Like everything else, grape harvest has its traditions. As for lunch, we had the traditional: roasted duck prepared on the day before (because who has time to cook on a harvest day?) with pickles and bread, and sweet bread for dessert—the perfect food to eat while sitting in the grass at the edge of the vineyard or under one of the peach trees dotting the rows of wine grapes.

The life span of grape vines is 50-100 years. Although the vineyard where harvest took place on the day of my birth no longer exists, we went to visit the place where it oncegrew. We looked around in the trees, and there they were: old, woody vines climbing up the tree trunks in search of light, and still bearing grapes. We picked a basketful of this surprise fruit for my grandparents, so they could taste and remember their lost vineyard.

My grandfather is fond of grape vines. He made sure his descendants would have no lack of them in the decades to come.  At the age of 90, he decided the time had come to plant a new vineyard. And that’s what he did.

There is one single grape vine growing in my garden as a fill-in for a vineyard. I bought the plant four years ago in an Italian gardening center without being aware of its variety.  The plant bore fruit for the first time this season. With great expectations, I picked a plump berry, and to my surprise, I tasted something very familiar. I recognized the cultivar right away: sweet, aromatic with a thick slip skin. Isabella: one of the varieties that had grown in grandfather’s old vineyard.

Eva’s Recipe for Traditional Braised Cabbage

On the day of the harvest in the vineyard, roasted duck is eaten picnic-style with only bread and pickles. When served properly on the dining table for a fall Sunday lunch, roasted duck and goose are often accompanied with a side of braised cabbage. Braised cabbage is also a nice side dish to be served with pot roast, roasted ribs or any other roasted meat, including game.

1 head of cabbage (3-4 pound), shredded
1 medium onion, sliced
3 tablespoons canola oil or lard
3 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ cup water

 

Sprinkle the shredded cabbage with 1 ½ teaspoon of salt and let it stand for 30 minutes. Squeeze out the cabbage and discard the liquid.

Using a large heavy-bottomed casserole, heat the oil or lard and sauté the onion until limp. Add the sugar, stir and let it lightly caramelize. Add the cabbage and seasonings. Pour on the water, bring to a simmer, and cover. Gently simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours or until tender. Great fresh, and even better reheated the next day.

 

 

 

The Traveler and the Cook

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, introduces her new series in The Dirt, writes about a breathtaking blueberry farm, and shares a recipe for a frozen blueberry treat…

Who doesn’t sometimes dream about faraway places, thrilling escapes, change and new experiences, about being a stranger in a welcoming place?

Most of us probably do here and there. Although partly for different reasons, the idea of travel excites children as well. And that is why we travel, and why we take our kids along. We cultivate their curiosity; we want them to see and experience; we give them the possibility for learning, for transformation and for reevaluating their self-concept. Travel suggests hope, things to discover and find, change, and a new perspective.

As we say farewell to summer, we are also leaving behind the season of vacation and travel. Wanderlust might stick around though, and we have to cope with it. Having good food is always helpful and comforting. Enjoying food that evokes faraway destinations is an even better remedy for a traveler who must stay put! The traveler can become a cook. With a little imagination, the cook (and their helpers) can go places without ever leaving their kitchen. The traveler/cook may know the desired destination and reach it, or they might be on a wonderful journey without ever arriving…

In the upcoming issues of The Dirt, we will travel through cooking. The road will take us to countries, towns, and villages that I have visited or that I, along with my children, dream to see someday.

The Traveler and the Cook in Maine

It took us more than eight hours to get to Downeast Maine. It was a long car drive – uneventful in a good way. A flight of a similar length could have taken us to Rome, Italy; Helsinki, Finland; or Lima, Peru. But we didn’t leave our continent, our time zone, and not even the country. We did, however, leave behind some of the summer heat and our everyday life.

Not too much planning went into this trip. We wanted to take the children to Acadia National Park, to see some friends, to visit a goat farm we have been to once before (because their cheese was simply unforgettable), to relax and do whatever felt best on a particular day.  The minimalistic plan seemed to work well. The children were the most happy engaging in unplanned simple activities like seeing a harbor seal (well, just its head) or a starfish, collecting shells on the beach, looking for sea glass, jumping the cold waves, petting goats and kittens on the farm, harvesting blueberries with an old-fashioned blueberry rake, or watching fisherman unloading their catch. They enjoyed the beach, which was so different from their idea of a beach or the familiar Jersey Shore: rocks instead of sand; no palm trees or grasses, but tall, dark conifers. These were not the balmy waters of the Caribbean but the rough and raw northern coastline. The space seemed so big, so stretched out. Even in the midst of the tourist season, it wasn’t hard to find a beautiful beach that we could have just for ourselves.

It was mid-August, and it was blueberry season in Maine. We couldn’t miss a visit to a blueberry farm. Our journey took us to a quite unusual one. The farmer was a former New Yorker who, I suspect, decided to trade the unpredictability of markets and corporate life for the unpredictability of nature and its elements. He was not only a farmer but also a sculptor. He cultivated his fields, and gave form and meaning to enormous pieces of basalt rock. After all, in both capacities, he was taming the nature.

Even more unusual than this man was his field of organic wild blueberries. I would have never identified that piece of landscape as a cultivated land. I saw a mild slope full of rock and some boulders. In a way it looked ordinary, but there was something breathtaking in it: a feel of sacred space. I imagined a place of ancient rituals, not a crop producing field. This was land formed by a receding glacier, the farmer explained. That made sense, but the explanation did not fully satisfy me – there was something there that simply could not be explained…

We left the farm with several pounds of wild blueberries. Some got eaten fresh and we froze the rest. The frozen ones made the trip back to New York with us and became part of our winter provision.

Every time we will take some out of the freezer to make a sweet treat, they will remind us of Maine and the mysterious field that gives life to wild blueberries.

Frozen Blueberry Treat

Recipes will be the maps on our imagined journeys. With the addition of common sense and a little bit of imagination the

results will surely be yummy.

This is a quick frozen (or almost frozen) dessert for a warm autumn day.

The recipe is so simple, even your six-year-old could prepare a treat for the family.

For 4 servings:
2 cups frozen wild blueberries
1 cup vanilla yogurt
nuts , fresh fruit or whipped cream (optional)

In a mixing bowl, combine the frozen blueberries with vanilla yogurt. Work fast and make sure the berries get covered in yogurt. (The yogurt will freeze over the blueberries.) Fill four small dessert bowls with the mixture. Decorate with fresh fruit, nuts, or whipped cream. Serve and enjoy immediately before the blueberries get defrosted.

 

For the Love of Lovage

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, muses about lovage and what’s in a name…

As parents, we make many important decisions. Among the first is the naming
of a child.  Finding the right name for a new baby is often a long process full of careful considerations. Many factors play a role: our origin, cultural and religious background, education, and our hopes regarding the future of our offspring. Finding a name for a newly born baby means naming without knowing who that baby really is as a person. We can only imagine the personality or ‘grown-up looks’ of our newborn. We hope that the name will be a good fit for the child’s personality and a good fit within our family and society (regardless of whether our priority is  “to fit in” or distinguish our child from the crowd).

The Latin proverb “Nomen est omen” captures he predictive power of a name, and is certainly at least partly true. A name puts a person in a social and cultural context. Unfortunately, it can result in stereotyping people, and can lead to assumptions, not only about our origin or social status, but also about our behavior.

I was walking in my garden admiring the newly emerged plants when these thoughts about naming began to occupy my mind. It was because some lovage had caught my eye. A lovely plant with an even lovelier name. Lovage is an old European herb widely used in medieval kitchens and herb gardens, but largely forgotten today. So forgotten, that the word didn’t even make it into the spell-check dictionary on my computer. As I was writing this text, the spell-check constantly indicated that there is an error in the word lovage.

My mind kept wondering about the origin of this strange word and whether “Nomen est omen” applies to plants.  Lovage looks little like a celery (although unlike celery, it can grow up to 5 feet tall). Its flavor also reminds most people of celery, but it is stronger, more complex, and more aromatic. Personally, I like it a lot. Beneficial insects like it too.  If lovage were widely known, my guess is that its strong flavor would generate either a “love it” or “hate it” response in most people; nothing in between.

The plant belongs to the same family as carrots, parsley, and dill.  Its leaves, stalks, seeds, and roots are all edible. In the past, candied stalks and roots were used as a remedy. Leaves work well in salads, soups, and stews. Ancient Greeks chewed the leaves to improve digestion. Hildegard von Binden used lovage as a culinary herb, and recommended it as a remedy for colds, heart problems, and abdominal pain.

Thanks to its name, lovage also has a reputation as a love potion. I am not sure about the effectiveness ofthe potion, because it turns out the name of the herb is the r

esult of a semantic mix-up.  As I have learned, the original Latin name of the plant was Ligusticum, meaning ‘from Liguria’ (a region in north-western Italy). Ligusticum somehow later morphed into Levisticum. Subsequently, the plant was called loveche in Old French and loveache in Middle English. The non-poetic truth is that modern English ended up with the word lovage due to a distortion of the plant’s Latin name, and not because it had anything to do with love. Folk etymology was wrong, but regardless I still love lovage…

Spring Potato Soup Recipe

This soup gets its unique flavor from lovage leaves. If you can’t find lovage, use parsley or celery instead. Your soup will be tasty in a very different way.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 quart vegetable stock
5 whole leaves of lovage
2 finely chopped leaves of lovage for garnish
1 tablespoon dill, finely chopped
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream, optional

In a soup pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and gently cook until translucent. Add the potatoes and stir well. Add the vegetable stock and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the whole lovage leaves and simmer for 5 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Take the soup off the heat. Remove the lovage leaves and use a hand blender to puree to soup. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Add dill and vinegar, and return the soup to the heat for a few minutes. Do not boil.  Put soup into serving bowls and garnish with chopped lovage. Serve with a dollop of sour cream if desired.

Nature’s Palette

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, paints an extraordinary picture of the changing colors in nature’s palette and includes fascinating notes on using plant dyes, including a DIY how-to…

After what felt like an almost never-ending winter, it is a great joy to finally enter the season of budding colors. Snowdrops, violets, and skunk cabbage might be the first signs of spring, but they never quite convince me that the winter is gone for good. It is when the leaves on the trees emerge that I feel assured: there is no way back to winter-land. The change of scenery is usually sudden. With it, nature bursts into color. We leave behind the lifeless shades of grey and brown and celebrate the   soft colors of spring. Shades of fresh green, with occasional dots of color, dominate the landscape. Comforting and calming colors of early spring slowly mature and change. Plants soak up the sunshine and richer colors come to life. The color palette of nature reaches near perfection on a wild flower meadow in June or on a field of wild lupine in July.

As the year progresses, the colors of nature become even more full and rich. The warm shades of the fall landscape bring another visual highlight of the year. The reds, golden yellows, oranges, and rusty browns radiate back the energy of the sun as if to charge us with energy before the world around us fades again into the greyish-brown realm of early winter.

Nature has everything we need, including color. In fact, there were no synthetic dyes until the mid 19th century.  Still, the world of humans had not been colorless. Until then, dyes and pigments came exclusively from nature. Think of old masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Bosch…. They painted with the colors of nature. The fibers of traditional oriental rugs and renaissance tapestries were all dyed with natural materials. So were the luxurious dresses of emperors and empresses of the past. Fabrics of rich colors symbolized status, and their cost was high. Lower classes dressed in browns and grays, shades that were the easiest and cheapest to create.

Dyeing is not unlike cooking. It involves applying heat to extract, in this case, not flavor but color. A large pot is utilized to make a dye bath. The plant material gets simmered in water in order to extract pigments. Then fabric or fiber is immersed in the (warm or cold) colored liquid to absorb the dye. Some dye material might be hiding in your kitchen. Tea, coffee, turmeric, or onion skin all contain pigments that get easily absorbed by natural fiber or fabric. Henna used for tattooing and dyeing hair also creates beautiful rusty reds on fabric.

The process is fun and satisfying. We can start by collecting plant material suitable for dyeing (marigold, goldenrod, black walnut etc.), then we cook the colored brew. If our goal is to create a solid color fabric, we just need to put the textile into the dye bath. Otherwise, we apply our artistic imagination and prepare the fabric by folding it to create pattern. I like to get inspired by the techniques of ancient Japanese Shibori.

When working with plant dyes, we get the satisfaction of knowing that the colors come from renewable resources rather than petroleum.  Natural material such as silk, wool and cotton absorb the dyes well. Although the use of mordants (solutions that act as binding agents) usually results in richer colors, for safety and environmental reasons, I prefer not to use them.

Feel free to experiment. Nature is forgiving. Even unexpected results have their beauty. Sometimes we end up with a color or pattern that is much more beautiful than anything we could have planned. Mother Earth provides everything we need.


Dyeing Cotton Fabric with Annatto

Annatto seeds come from Central and South America. Traditionally, they were used as body paint. Annatto is widely used today as a food coloring.  The orange color of the supermarket cheddar comes from these seeds!

Annatto dye bath produces yellow, golden yellow, orange-yellow, or orange hues, depending on the amount of seeds used, and the weave and thickness of the fabric. Silk and wool can also be successfully dyed with annatto seeds.

  • 1 cup annatto seeds
  • medium piece of cotton fabric or 2-4 cotton bandanas
  • pot and stirring spoon (used exclusively for dyeing)
  • iron for ironing the fabric, rubber bands, string, thread and needle (you may only need one of these, depending on the folding technique you choose)
  • plastic gloves to protect your hands

Choose white or off-white fabric/bandanas for your project. Unbleached fabric will produce deeper color.

Gently simmer the annatto seeds in about a gallon of water for one hour. In the meantime, fold the fabric using one of the Shibori techniques. This is a link to one of many videos showing how to use the Shibori folding techniques. In this video synthetic dyes are used, so please disregard their dyeing instructions.

Gently rinse the folded fabric in lukewarm water, making sure that it is wet throughout. This will assure even absorption of the dye liquid.

Turn off the heat under the pot. The dye liquid can be strained, but leaving seeds in the dye bath during the whole dyeing process will produce richer color.  Put the fabric into the dye bath and let it steep for at least 4 hours or overnight. Take the fabric out of the pot. Rinse under running water and squeeze out excess water. Unfold the fabric and be ready to be surprised! Put out your fabric to dry. Before further use, hand-wash the dyed fabric.

Garbage Can Challenge – March Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber sparks some spring-time momentum in the realm of sustainability and calls us all to join in the fun…

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone!! Spring is [sort of?] in the air and I am beginning to feel it. I don’t know about you, but spring is always an exciting time of year for me. I often feel invigorated and inspired to try new things. This includes a Garbage Can Challenge project I wanted to share. Before writing to you next I plan on trying, and hopefully perfecting, making my own tortilla chips. I have noticed lately this is an item I buy way more often than I’d like to and – you guessed it – the bag is not recyclable (in your average recycling program, at least; there are some programs out there that do recycle these bags). Regardless, as we’ve been talking about: if you can make something from scratch with ingredients that are packaged sustainably (i.e. bought in bulk), rather than buy the product in packaging (even if that packaging can be recycled), the former is the more sustainable choice!

From what I have read, to make tortilla chips you need to start by making homemade tortillas. Once you’ve got the tortillas, making the chips is quite simple. Most recipes I found started with store bought tortillas packaged in plastic, which for me defeats the purpose.

Here is a basic tortilla recipe I am going to try. The one change I’m planning to make is to wrap the dough in beeswax paper rather than plastic wrap while it rests. Hoping this will work!

Then, here is the tortilla chip recipe I am going to try. Planning on using avocado oil (a good high heat oil) to fry with.

Have any of you ventured into chip making? I’d love to hear your successes and/or challenges!

Another way to *spring* into sustainability is to connect with others and create some momentum together. Keep America Beautiful, an organization started in 1953 to bring awareness to waste and recycling, launched their annual clean up season today–the first day of spring. Its called the Great American Clean Up:

“The Great American Cleanup, which marks its 20th year in 2018, engages more than 5 million volunteers and participants, on average, every year to create a positive and lasting impact. At Keep America Beautiful, we work to inspire people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment through programs like the Great American Cleanup.”

“The Great American Cleanup social media theme – #cleanYOURblock – is a call-to-action to engage more volunteers and participants in public space cleanup, beautification and recycling events conducted by Keep America Beautiful affiliates nationwide. Once an individual becomes a Great American Cleanup volunteer with their local Keep America Beautiful affiliate or partner, our goal is that they will be inspired to take that experience home to organize a similar, smaller-scale event in their own neighborhood … even on their own block.”

Cleanups are taking place across the country in the coming weeks! Here in Rockland, Keep Rockland Beautiful is hosting many cleanups within the county.

You can find contact information for your closest affiliate here and, most of the time, anyone who wants to participate can just show up to a cleanup–or start your own in your neighborhood. It’s spring! Let’s get out together and make some movement!

One last thing I wanted to share was an article I read a few months back by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. Published in the NYTimes, it’s called My Year of No Shopping. This is certainly another way at it! Just stop consuming altogether. Easier said than done, but boy did I find this article intriguing. Maybe next year? Anyone in?

By the way, Daniel, Odelia and I are holding pretty steady with our garbage goal this month (with possibly a bit of room for improvement). Chip bags–you’ve got to go!

Happy SPRINGing into action everyone!

Until next time,

Ayla

Emergency Sandwiches

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, ponders our recent storm and finds the bright side of a darkened home…

We were already getting ready for the spring when a late season snowstorm struck. First, there was light snow for hours with little accumulation. Then, suddenly, the snow started coming down fast. In just a couple of hours, our backyard turned into a winter wonderland. It was a beautiful sight. The trees frosted with freshly fallen snow looked majestic. Then there was more snow, and still more. Under the weight of the heavy, wet snow, the branches bowed and came closed to the earth; then, some gave up and met the ground. Large branches, one after another, were coming down. Then a large tree fell. The old mulberry tree was suddenly gone and, with it, the prospect of an early summer day mulberry feast. We will miss that tree, and so will the birds and deer passing through our backyard.

Like many others, we lost power. We were in the dark for two days and two nights. Considering all that can go wrong in extreme weather, we were just fine. No one was hurt, there was no damage to the house. We were a little uncomfortable, but safe. A room temperature of 50 F is not desirable, but again it is not a tragedy either.

The first night without electricity was even fun. The children were running around with flashlights preparing extra blankets for the night. They built a hideout under the table and moved in, flashlights and all. The house suddenly seemed to them much more interested and exiting. It felt like a campground. No screens, or devices, not even books. The goodnight story was told, not read.  My son promptly suggested that we should have a night without electricity every week. Well–a night without lights and devices, but with the heating and the refrigerator running.

The second night without power was harder. The novelty of the situation had worn off, and the house no longer felt cozy. It was cold. We fantasized about our old house and its wood burning stove that had, in similar situations, provided not only comforting heat, but also light entering the room through its glass door. It had even provided a surface for cooking. And now here we were with no heat, no lights, no internet service, no power to operate appliances and gadgets.

Do we rely on electricity too much? ‘Yes’, is certainly the answer. We can, for sure, implement measures that would lessen our dependence on electrical power. However, to what extent these measures would be possible and practical varies household to household. To eliminate the need for electricity entirely does not seem like a realistic solution at all. We can certainly be better prepared for the next short-term power outage like the one we just had, but there is little we can do as individuals in case of a long-term power outage, which would very likely cause significant distress to the fabric of our society.

While having these scary thoughts, and feeling helpless, I found some comfort in the idea of making a chicken soup to warm us. Luckily, the stove in our kitchen is a gas one, so the burners were working. I just needed a match to light them.

While I was putting up the big pot of chicken soup to simmer for our evening meal, the kids opted for grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. We sliced the bread, prepared the cheese and took out the panini press. Everything was ready to go. Oops! Not the panini press. It needs electricity. It was time to improvise. That day, we made grilled cheese sandwiches in a cast iron skillet on the stove-top. Although emergency-situation meals are often a far cry from their regular selves, these sandwiches actually tasted much better then their panini press relatives. Snowstorm or not, we will surely make them again.

As it often happens, there are tiny crumbs of something good lurking even in unpleasant or difficult situations.

 

Stove-top Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

For 4 sandwiches:

8 slices of bread
1 cup grated cheese (you may need more or less depending on the size of your bread slices)
2-3 tablespoons finely minced onions or green onions
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
some cream cheese or mayo
2-3 tablespoons olive oil for the skillet

Use good-quality stale bread. Soft fresh bread will absorb too much of the oil, resulting in greasy sandwiches. This is a perfect recipe to use up bread that is no longer fresh.

For the cheese: cheddar, jack, Swiss, fontina, or muenster can be used (or a combination of these/whatever cheese your fridge has to offer).

Mix the grated cheese with minced onions and garlic, if using. Spread a thin layer of cream cheese or mayo on all the bread slices. Spread grated cheese mixture on four of the slices. Use the other four slices to cover the sandwiches.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a cast-iron skillet.  Place the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip, add more olive oil if needed. Cook until golden.

For a full meal, serve the sandwiches with a salad and an egg sunny-side-up.