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Archive for June, 2010

It’s Wineberry Time

Herban Lifestyle’s recent post reminded me that this is the time of year when you can forage for wild wineberries in our area.  Wineberries, I learned last year, are of the genus Rubus, the same group as raspberries and blackberries and all manner of delicious little cross-breeds.  If I can’t go home to Washington State and pick rubus ursinus this year, then I may as well go foraging for our local equivalent.  Wineberries are tart and floral (yay) and rather seedy (boo).  I’m also guessing they’re high in natural pectin, as wild blackberries are, because they’re downright sticky to the touch.

I saw some ripe berries last Friday when I was walking through Cleveland Park the other day, and in the spring I saw plenty of wineberry vines all over Rock Creek Park and Glover Park.  It’s an invasive species, though it doesn’t seem to make the dense brambles that those awful Himalayan blackberries make.  Still, I think a nice hike sometime this holiday weekend should produce enough berries to make some jam or syrup or pie.  Yum.

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Vegetable gardening and home canning have had a resurgence, so it was only a matter of time before seed saving became the next new trend (of course, it’s not really new at all).  Seed saving is really easy, at least for certain types of veggies.  Right now all the arugula plants that I let go to seed are now presenting me with their easy-to-open seed pods:

I’ll just need to pop open the dried pods into a little envelope and I’ll have all the arugula seeds I need for my fall crop and beyond.  Likewise with any string beans I let dry on the vine, either accidentally or on purpose.  Cilantro seeds, aka coriander, are even easier to harvest.  Just let the cilantro plant go to seed and dry out, and then pull the little balls off the seed stalk.  I’ve also had great success saving tomato and pepper seeds by just letting some of the fruits dry out on the vine for a few months (or even over the winter) and then prying the seeds out of the leathery remains.  Maybe not the most regimented way to do seed saving, but it works.

There’s also the method of just letting the seeds/fruit/pods fall into the soil and sprout up as volunteers the next year.  One of my more robust-looking tomato plants this year is a volunteer that probably came from a red or orange cherry tomato I had planted in that corner last year.  This year’s plant could have some genetic problems if it’s the parent were from an F1 hybrid – the offspring of hybrids can turn out a bit wonky.   But I like to hope for the best.

If you’d like to learn more about seed saving, I just found out that Ecolocity DC is doing a seed saving workshop later this month.

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All Beans, All The Time

I planted three rows of yellow string beans, each row about four, maybe four and a half feet long.  So we’re not talking a huge plantation of beans here.  But I’ve already gotten at least 4-5 pounds of beans from this little patch, and more are on the way.  It’s a crazy surfeit of beans!  This is my first year growing them, and I already plan to grow them again next year.  They’re really an excellent return on investment, especially given how quickly they’ve grown from seed to harvest.

I’ve been using the beans mostly in salads, like the one above right, where I blanch them in boiling water, shock them in ice water, and then drizzle a vinaigrette over the drained beans.  I think olives and herbs make a nice accompaniment for a string bean salad.

To go a little more upscale, though, I did make an absolutely mind-blowing Salade Niçoise, using some extremely fine (and deliciously fatty) canned tuna from a cannery back home in Washington.  In addition to the usual olives and capers and boiled egg, I used my own beans, salad greens, tomatoes, and wee little potatoes.

I wish I could convey how well all these flavors work together.  Those French, man.  Good stuff.  Of course, another great way to serve up your extra string beans is simply to boil them for a few minutes and then serve them with a big pat of butter on top.  Fabulous and simple.  I made beans this way, along with a bunch of home-grown garlicky kale, the day after I had gone river tubing and eaten nothing but fried chicken and beer all day.  A big plate of simple veggies really hit the spot.

I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten a chance to make pickled beans, but that’s definitely the plan if the supply keeps up.

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Save the date!  July’s food blogger happy hour is at The Passenger, and rumor has it that DC’s finest food trucks will be make an appearance nearby.  Craft cocktails and the best of DC street food?  Sounds pretty awesome to me.  The hostess this month is Sylvie from Thrifty Cook DC!

RSVP here!

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On Friday after work I zipped out to my garden, hoping to do a little weeding before the sun went down (and to avoid going out there in this weekend’s oppressive heat and humidity).   I ended up spending most of the time harvesting a huge amount of produce that was absolutely ready to be picked/dug/thinned/etc.  My yellow string beans, in particular, are insane!  Last weekend I got about a pound and a half, and this weekend I probably got about three pounds!  I also got new potatoes, Swiss chard, salad greens, baby carrots, little shallots, basil, dill, rosemary, and a whole mess of mint.

Not pictured: my first cherry tomatoes of the season, which I ate along with some more beans, potatoes, and salad greens in a salade Niçoise as soon as I got home.  Still, can you believe all this?  In total, I brought home 6.5 pounds of vegetables from my garden – I know, because I sneakily weighed my sack of produce at the Wisconsin Avenue Giant before I headed home.  Good thing I can bring a lot of it to my friend’s birthday picnic tomorrow, or else I’d have way too much food on my hands.  My garden is definitely more productive this year.  I wasn’t getting heavy harvests like this until much later in the season last year.

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Save Keswick Creamery!

I subscribe to the DC Food For All email list, and recently Michele Levy sent out a call to lend a hand a family-owned dairy farm that many of us know and love.  Keswick Creamery, which makes the most wonderful cheeses (and yogurt and pudding), is in a bit of a sticky situation right now – see below.  So they’re starting a CSA-style program to raise funds and add a bit of stability to their business.  If you’ve never had their cheeses, you really must.  These days I’m a particular fan of the Italian Herb Feta, which I used on a home-made pizza just this week.  CSAs aren’t for everyone, I know, but if you think it might fit into your lifestyle and you like awesome cheese, check it out.  I’m reprinting Michele’s email with the link and details:

Dear Friends,

Many of you in the DC and Central PA areas know of Keswick Creamery– if not by name, then by their yogurt, their infamous Dragons Breath pepperjack, or by their seemingly endless buffet of samples at their stands at the Dupont Circle, Takoma Park, Bloomingdale, FreshFarm White House, H St. NE, and Carlisle farmers markets. Like so many small family farmers and dairy farmers across the country, Mel and Mark Dietrich Cochran are on the verge of losing their farm. But it’s not that business has been slow– they’re actually growing and getting lots of great press– but Mel’s parents are divorcing, and her father is looking to quickly cash out his half of the farm. If Mel and Mark don’t raise $300,000 by September 1st to buy out their share, the cows, machinery, and land will be put up for auction, meaning that not only would Mel and Mark lose their livelihood, but that the family would be forced off the land that’s been their home for 40 years.
I’ve had the joy of working for Mel and Mark at farmers markets in the DC area for the past two years, in which time they’ve become both close friends and mentors as I’ve pursued my own career in food access and sustainable ag. Not only do they run an inspiring business model and make the best chocolate pudding around, but Mark and Mel are also passionate activists working literally around the clock to up the quotient of sustainable deliciousness throughout the Mid-Atlantic area. For years, they’ve been active members and board members of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Takoma Park Farmers Market, and recently founded a thriving cooperative called Natural Newburg to help bring goods from six neighboring sustainable family farms to the Philadelphia area.
So many of us work to promote sustainable agriculture, effectively working to increase numbers of thriving small family farms. This is an opportunity to come together to save one particular family farm that has given so much to our communities. Mel and Mark have decided to fundraise through the principles of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). By participating in this program, you wouldn’t just be helping them out, but you’d also be guaranteed years of incredible cheese for yourself or as gifts. Pretty win-win.

Please check out their website for details, and forward widely!

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As of this weekend, tomatoes were winning my poll by one vote, followed closely by peppers and eggplants.  You people really love your nightshades, don’t you?

So this means I will add an eleventh tomato plant to my garden!  I originally had eight, four of which I started from seed and another four of which I bought as seedlings.  There were also two “volunteer” tomatoes that sprouted up in my garden from fallen fruit seeds – it’ll be fun to see which of last year’s types they turn out to be.  So that’s 10.  Then yesterday morning I heeded your call and went to the seedling guy at the Dupont farmers market and asked him what his favorite varieties were.  He said Cherokee Purple (which I’ve already planted) and German Johnson Pink.  So I got one of the latter and put it on my windowsill – I will plant it in the garden later this week.  And if I see an eggplant or pepper variety that looks really awesome, I’ll get one of those too.  🙂  Thanks for voting!

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