Rebellious, Resistant Roots

DSCF5438When my new hoop house was being assembled, the soil to be covered was tilled, evened out with a rotary harrow and then, once the structure was assembled, fluffed again. In spite of this, and without any water, a lone, rebel squash plant has popped up, been trampled flat as we moved rafters and cross-beams into place, and popped back up to thrive, bigger and better than any of the squashes I planted properly — which is a little embarrassing.  Weeds in that area must go, but this plant has my full respect and admiration, and it hDSCF5436as earned its place through sheer determination. Turns out it’s a round zucchini, already producing tasty food for me to share. I almost feel that eating its squashes will make me fierce and resistant too. I will save seeds from this hardy plant at the end of summer, since a tough, heat and drought-resistant plant is truly valuable in our changing climate.

 

It makes me think of my fierce friends who have resisted things that could have flattened and extinguished them: one friend is still overcoming a flesh-eating mystery illness and lost both her mom and her dear old dog in the same year, but held a community open-mic on her porch amid fire-flies this weekend; another friend with stage 4 cancer lost her husband to a police shooting, but has the strength to keep her family together and lead protests against such excess violence; a wonderful woman, who is post-mastectomy and comes to my cooking class for folks facing cancer, joked about shouting at her husband to help her find her “boobs”, the good ones, making the other cancer-resisters at the table laugh out loud.

 

That fierce resistance also reminds me of the families of color who are encouraging their kids to go forward and dream big in spite of the recent resurgence of violence and discrimination, teaching them how to safely respond, how to thrive in spite of it. And the LGBTQ families, steadfast in their right to be who they are and love who they love. While the school-kids who are currently growing up may take acceptance and inclusion for granted now, they may be called in the future to stand and defend their friends and families.

 

I also admire the folks who have cleared incredible obstacles to come to this country, often escaping terrible situations of repression, corruption, violence, domestic abuse, and extreme poverty. Some of my own family came here that way, fleeing violence against Armenians or the poverty of Ireland or religious oppression against Quakers. Not only do such determined people add more to this country than they get back and commit fewer crimes than the general population (as demonstrated in the Washington Post article “Two charts demolish the notion that immigrants here illegally commit more crime,” by Christopher Ingraham), their resolve to work and raise their families safely and decently deserves our support and compassion. Of course, the Indigenous peoples of the continent have demonstrated the most incredible resistance and tenacity right here on their own lands.

 

So, I salute the rebels, the resisters, the ones who make goodness out of the harshest conditions, the folks who take root, blossom beautifully and then are fruitful and giving. You are tough. You are inspiring. You are truly valuable in our changing climate.

 

In honor of the resilient and  prodigious zucchini, I offer this kid-friendly recipe, full of garlic and tomatoes, but without pasta or dough:

 

Pizza Canoes

Ingredients

  • 8 zucchinis cut in half lengthwise
  • Garlic  – at least one clove, more if you like
  • 1 Onion
  • 3 full size tomatoes or 10 oz tomato puree
  • Oregano and Basil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pinch of brown sugar
  • Olive oil
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese or cheese substitute

 

Directions

Mince garlic and onion and sauté in olive oil on medium heat. Flavor to taste with basil, oregano, pinch of sugar (takes the acid/bitter taste off the tomato for kids’ palates), salt and pepper. If using fresh herbs, chop finely.

Chop tomatoes and add to sauté.

Using a grapefruit spoon, hollow out the zucchini to make a “dugout canoe”, leaving a solid 1/4” wall to hold the filling. Add the scooped out zucchini to the sauté mix and let simmer.

On a lightly oiled baking sheet, arrange the “canoes”.

When the filling is cooked, scoop neatly into the canoes. Top with shredded cheese or vegan cheez.

Bake at 375 degrees until the cheese melts and the zucchini is tender, 20-30 minutes (depending on the size of the canoes).

Remove from the baking sheet with a spatula and serve hot.

 

The Lost Art of Barnraising

I remember, when I was a kid visiting Grandma’s farm, that Grandpa and Uncle Tom were volunteer firefighters and a kept a radio in the dining room that once in a while would squawk out a call for help – someone’s house or barn on fire whether from hay combusting in summer heat or old wiring gone wrong – and they would grab their coats and be out the door. While they were out, it seemed Grandma kept her mind on their safety, one ear to the radio. I was wondering too about the poor animals left without shelter and how they would get a new barn. But I was reassured that neighbors would help to build a new one.  Classic barn-raisings were still a given, a kind of community safety net. Over the last couple of weeks, we have been barn-raising at my farm. Not because there was a fire, but because climate change is making it necessary to be more protective of our plants.

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A 96 foot long hoop-house is going up, arching rafter by rafter, and not only would it be impossible for me to do alone, it would be hugely expensive if I had to hire more than one professional person to manage this. Paul, the “handyman” in charge came recommended from a friend, which was a huge favor in itself. Honest, hardworking, collaborative people are solid treasure! My wonderful neighbor, Dave tilled and smoothed the site, moved the big pieces of the puzzle into place with his forklift, and has been insightful and invaluable every day.  My cousin Norman, a very think-it-through kind of person (I think he inherited my other grandfather’s engineer mind), moved us quickly and efficiently through assembling the 25 rafters. A college friend, Javier, came all the way from Stockton to help and learn, as his organization will be doing something similar soon, and his positive energy and hard work meant we got nearly ALL the rafters upright and fastened in place in one day. Everyone has worked with respect, good humor and camaraderie, and I mentally step back and envision the kind of barn-raising my relatives attended back in the day and how the family receiving the new barn must have felt… really I am flooded with gratitude, honored to receive these contributions and to have such stupendous human beings supporting my farm! (Incidentally, several studies have shown that gratitude is a key to happiness.)

How is it that we no longer practice this genteel and neighborly custom? I don’t mean it literally. You don’t need a barn to need or give help.  Heck, we don’t even pay the neighbor’s teenager to mow the lawn or weed the garden any more. Are we so isolated and afraid of each other? Is it because we all move around and don’t have lifetime neighbors? Are we so busy or so afraid of owing a favor to a friend that we’d rather pay $40 an hour for simple labor rather than make a project into a party?

A related, gracious custom that ought to be revived is what I call the “casserole ethic”. When a relative, neighbor or friend is sick, has a baby, loses a job, has a death in the family etc., one makes a large and hearty casserole, comfort food with nourishment, drops it off without over-staying, and says, “If you need anything, let me know.”  For example, this Baked Veggie-Ziti:

Baked Veggie-Ziti

Ingredients:

3 cups marinara sauce (organic from a glass jar or homemade) or finely chopped fresh tomato.

  •  1 med. eggplant, diced
  •  1 med yellow onion, diced
  •  1 red pepper, diced
  •  5 cloves garlic, crushed
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  •  Salt, pepper, basil and oregano (remember you need twice as much of an herb if you use fresh rather than dried)
  •  16 oz package ziti or penne pasta, cooked according to instructions, but a little “al dente”.  If you are sharing with gluten-free diners, there are many options, but the best seem to be made of rice and corn. Note they are often in 8 or 12 oz packages, rather 16 oz.
  •  1 cup Vegan ricotta
  •  1 package shredded Vegan mozzarella

Directions:

  •  Warm the oil in a sauté pan on med-low and add in the eggplant. Once the eggplant is softening and glassy, add the rest of the veggies. When they have softened, add the marinara.
  •  Season with salt, pepper, basil and oregano to taste. Let simmer on low heat.
  •  While preparing the pasta, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  •  When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and mix it into the sauce (or vice versa). Then mix in the “ricotta”.
  •  Put the mixture into a medium sized baking dish and cover with the “mozzarella”.
  •  Bake for 40 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melty and a little golden brown.

I’ll be serving this to hungry barn-raising friends later this week, for sure, but you can share it with whoever needs a yummy dish and an act of connection and kindness. This can be gently re-heated, and anything with garlic tastes better the next day anyway.

 

Mental De-tox

I’m not one for diets, but sometimes I do a news fast, take a few days break from reading news stories, to cleanse my system. It’s spring, and I need to lighten up, smell the roses, literally. It’s time to spend more energy on animals and plants, soil and water, as the return is infinitely more positive. Even tracking the weather has a much more direct effect on my daily activities. Sure I check my email and Facebook friends’ vacation/pet/kids pictures, wish them Happy Birthday, maybe check out a funny penguin video. I’m not becoming a digital recluse. But I’ve been watching the news constantly since the Watergate era (small potatoes compared to today’s outrageous meanness and scope of damage), and I suspect that there is a news-viewer’s equivalent of the toxic baggage accumulated from environmental pollutants and junk food.

 

One could say that reading the news is everyone’s civic duty as participants in a democracy. If the public doesn’t stay informed, then our voting is pretty silly. Oh wait, lots of people ARE uninformed, don’t think critically, and vote silly. A neighbor once said she just couldn’t vote for John Kerry because she couldn’t stand the idea of two men kissing. Apparently, she thought he was in favor of gay marriage (he wasn’t) and also thought she was empowered, via the presidential election, to decide who kisses whom. And lots of folks voted against Obama because, you know, he’s a Muslim from Kenya. And then 2016 happened, and facts didn’t matter at all.

 

Yet the world still needs informed people to write smart, strongly-worded letters to our representatives, sign fact-based petitions, and join actions to sway the government to serve the public interest, to keep watch. At some point, we’ll have to stand up for our food and water, and we will need compelling arguments, historical facts, and names of stakeholders and influencers. While the story on the trade war with China may seem far off and abstract, our farmers are directly affected. While melting glaciers in Iceland may seem remote, climate change is already affecting oceans, forests, and farms. While EPA, FDA and USDA regulations sound like alphabet soup, the safety of our food and water is in play, as is the future of small farms, farm labor, and animal welfare. We can’t hide from information.

 

I’m just trying to break the habit of being a knee-jerk looky-lou, of socio-political rubber-necking. So after I cleanse my system a bit and get rid of the toxic residue left by years of a heavy news diet, I think I’ll consume more selectively, perhaps counting outrage calories or calculating how good news cholesterol – the kind that moves you to pursue a deep understanding, support a cause or actually take to the streets – can offset the bad news cholesterol, the kind that just drives you nuts. And I’ll try to consume this stuff only once a day.

 

Fortunately, eating 4 sticks of celery may lower blood pressure, and cooking with spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger may reduce inflammation (though I can’t guarantee they will keep your head from feeling like it’s exploding if you watch certain news sources.) Fresh foods such as oranges, tangerines, prunes, strawberries, cherries, grapes, cranberries and blueberries have vitamin K, which acts as a blood thinner (and I’m hoping they have enough to keep me from having an apoplectic stroke over maddening world events.) Chinese medicine makes a connection between anger and the liver, so, as needed, enjoy artichokes, avocados, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy, and daikon, dark leafy greens including dandelion, sea veggies, mushrooms, berries and garlic, which are considered cleansers or support for the liver. Cilantro is famous for its detox capacity, and in some cultures, eggs are said to absorb and remove poisons. Stay hydrated, too, with aguas frescas/fruit or herb infusions to wash away the mental dust and grime. Do whatever it takes to be a well-informed, participating world citizen, without sacrificing your wellness.

 

Pear and Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, sliced in thin shreds
  • 1 carrot shredded
  • 1 large, crisp pear, d’Anjou or Asian, cut into bite size pieces
  • 3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • A handful of chopped cilantro, to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped peanuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Toss cabbage, carrot, onions, cilantro and pear in a bowl.

Add sesame oil, lime juice and salt and pepper – adjust to taste.

Top with chopped peanuts.

 

DSCF5064_1024.jpgLow-sugar Berry Custard

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) non-dairy butter
  • 3/4 cup thick cashew milk (or similar)
  • 3 large eggs (preferably organic and pastured)
  • 1/4 cup stevia plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free or all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond or vanilla extract
  • Dash of cinnamon or nutmeg
  • 2 cups raspberries or blackberries or cherries or cherry-plums pitted  and cut in half

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in a 9-inch pie pan
  3. In a blender, puree milk, eggs, 1/2 cup sugar, flour, salt, and vanilla. Add the warm butter to the mixture as it blends – don’t let hot butter cook everything.
  4. Arrange the berries in the pie plate and pour batter over them. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon brown sugar if you want a sweet, crunchy top.
  5. Bake on a middle rack until the eggs are just set in middle, 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Turn on the broiler and set the pan on the top shelf to broil until top is deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes (don’t take your eyes off it!). Serve warm.
  7. Alternatively, you can make individual servings in a muffin tin, cooking only for 10-12 minutes. You can also use a water bath method to make a more tender version, setting the pie dish in a pan of water that is filled to a little below the edge of the dish.

 

From the Dew on the Grass…

20180301_144902_1024It’s a ridiculous sight, obliterating my feminine mystique I’m sure, as I bring out the chickens’ breakfast and open up the henhouse in my bathrobe and garden clogs. The girls bounce down from the roost and head for their veggies-and-corn breakfast, stopping for a sip of water, tipping their heads back to roll it down their throats. The dew on the grass, which tells me the soil is holding moisture, wets my bare ankles as I pass on my way back to my bubbling coffee pot.  Here we live on well-water, filtered through the ground and stunningly better tasting than the city water where I lived before, and that makes my coffee better.

The morning ahead includes walking the dogs around the back field, where the winter run-off water has finally sunk into the soil and filtered away the muck and micro-life as it went and is finally allowing wildflowers to surface. Across the field, I can see the duck pond formed by winter overflow from the arroyo in the neighbor’s pasture, and I hope the ducks don’t get comfortable and nest there, only to see the water disappear. The beekeeper has brought his hives for their annual visit, but soon it will be too hot and dry here, and he’ll take them to the muggy woods of Oregon.

Tilling or even using a broadfork to turn the soil is suddenly possible again, and I will soon have to set up drip irrigation, laying out hundreds of yards of flat tubes and planting young plants alongside them. Seedlings no longer stay at a healthy humidity as they await planting, so they need proper misting. And then perhaps we will get one more soaking rainstorm…The water all across the farm shifts from too much water in the topsoil to requiring vigilant use, and seeps from the surface down into the ground where roots will have to reach for the moisture.  Though we take it for granted, water touches every part of life, every day, but this is the season of dramatic changes.

There are a number of other sea-changes happening around us these days, changing the flow of our social issues and running deeper into our consciousness. I see more women valuing each other’s company, insight and collaboration and empowering more gender-equitable leadership. I see young people repossessing their role as change agents, energetic challengers to the status quo. I see allies standing with people of color in their quest for peace and justice. I see mean old pundits losing sponsors. I see folks who have stayed away from politics, finding their voice and calling for a more compassionate approach and environmental concerns touching the most mainstream parts of the country, with, for example, heartlanders standing up to oil pipelines in defense of their aquifers. The tide is turning!

The food world is shifting too, from fat, sugar and convenience to health and freshness. Fast food chains are offering lighter fare. Supermarkets are expanding their organic offerings. Cooking skills are being taught to those who forgot them. Even in areas that are food deserts, urban farms like the Yisrael Farm in Oak Park are sprouting up and channeling community together around fresh, delicious food. Just as droplets turn into little streams that feed into rivers and larger watersheds, I hope these storm-surges of positivity turn into a tidal wave of human decency, equitability, respect and mutual support.

This is also a good time to be aware of the water in our bodies, and it is a good time to both revive our good hydration habits and check our filters, so our self-cleaning system works optimally.  Any raw fruit or vegetable is a boost — celery, strawberries, crunchy greens — as are foods with a little bitterness, like artichokes.

Asian Pear and Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, sliced in thin shreds
  • 1 carrot shredded
  • 1 large Asian pear, cut into bite size pieces (in a pinch use a crisp D’Anjou)
  • 3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • A handful of chopped cilantro, to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped peanuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Toss cabbage, carrot, onions, cilantro and pear in a bowl.

Add sesame oil, lime juice and salt and pepper – adjust to taste.

Top with chopped peanuts. (Omit peanuts in case of allergies!)

Artichokes with Green Garlic Aioli

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen baby artichokes or 4-5 large artichokes
  • Juice of a lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1/4c minced green garlic
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Sprinkle of pepper
  • 1 c vegan mayo

Directions:

  • Trim off stems, and ugly outer leaves and the tough tips of the leaves, and scoop out the thistle-like fluff if there is any, and remove any pointy tips using kitchen shears.
  • Set a steamer basket in a large pot and fill with water up to the level of the basket. Squeeze the lemon juice into the water or just throw in slices and add a tbsp of salt.
  • Place artichokes stem-end up in the basket. Cover the pot and steam for 25-30 minutes, until the heart is tender.
  • Place the green garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and vegan in a powerful blender like a “magic bullet” and blend until smooth.
  • Serve the artichokes hot and the aioli in a bowl for dipping.

For more articles, resources and recipes visit https://producewithapurpose.wordpress.com and to keep up with Produce with a Purpose classes and more see https://www.facebook.com/ProducePurposeCSA .

 

Hard weather, soft stewardship

DSCF5341As the weather bounces from spring-like balminess to killing frosts, followed by piercing wind or icy rain, I add extra bedding to insulate the henhouse, cover my young citrus trees with ghostly fabric, put row covers or straw over the spring veggies and hardy greens, and, in spite of my mortification, put little jackets on my short-haired dogs. The crows, jays and magpies get extra peanuts, and the hummingbird feeder gets refilled. The feisty, orange, feral cat gets a little food by the shed where there’s also a blanket for him to sleep in. I worry about the bees who appeared briefly to pollinate the early apricot and pluot trees. I even wonder about the coyote that sometimes naps in my sunny meadow after a cold night. I crack the ice in a water dish and temporarily quit shooing away fat sparrows and doves from the leftover chicken feed. I see my neighbor has put blankets on her two horses, but the pony’s fur is thicker than a 70s shag carpet, so he’s probably warm enough. In summer, the hard, dry weather will require work too — mostly providing shade and water — and I’ll have a new routine to follow, but at either tough extreme, extra care is required.

Does it seem like there is a lot of hardness in the world these days? I vaguely sense that increasing violence, callousness, rage, name-calling, injustice, tyranny, greed and self-interest are somehow related to the mean weather and the angry mood swings of climate change. Whatever our politics or causes, sympathies or worldviews, we can all contribute more care-giving as counter-balance. Personally, I find it much easier with plants and animals than with humans, since they are innocent bystanders and don’t insult you on facebook over minor differences, but to each their own.

Many of the world’s origin stories, from the garden of Eden to diverse Native American and African cultures, teach that plants and animals appeared before humans were formed and that our purpose was to take care of the world, not dominate or grab greedily, destroy things and dirty the place up like mean, spoiled brats. What if we take back our original job as stewards? Many people already do this — small farmers, wildlife rescuers, environmental advocates, firefighters facing wildfires, folks re-establishing native plants and creating habitat, beekeepers, those who spend their vacations cleaning up rivers or beaches, and others, including those who kindly care for other humans. Wouldn’t the world be a softer place if we collectively took this job seriously?

asparagus
Fresh asparagus, a springtime health booster!

Even our food choices can be part of this purpose, cultivating gentleness over brutal exploitation. We can support treating our soil carefully, avoiding poison run-off in our water, treating laborers decently and fairly, and raising animals as living beings rather than products. My biggest hen, Eileen, who is an excellent egg-layer, has an infection that requires medication, so after popping a pill in her throat, I sing “Come On Eileen” to her, “Too-ra-loo-ra, too-ra-loo-rye, aye!” She settles down and dozes off for a bit, not holding a grudge. I could go at this in a more efficient way I suppose, but there would be more fear and angry flapping. I’m not asking everyone to go this far for eggs, but we can be kinder stewards.

We can also be better care-givers by eating lower on the food chain, seasonally and locally. As spring, real spring, grants us a gentler season, the plant world rewards our care, reciprocating with nourishment for our bodies through vegetables and fruit that help us clean out the mucky debris of winter. Asparagus and dandelion greens are considered kidney cleaners, while artichokes are thought to cleanse the liver and help with cholesterol, and strawberries may clean out your cardio-vascular plumbing. Try this tender asparagus mousse – springy, subtle, and seasonal.

Note: For best flavor, as well as for animal welfare and environmental concerns, I recommend using pastured eggs, as the hens are outdoors, foraging and living a proper chicken’s life, and their eggs reflect and return that well-being to us .

Asparagus Mousse

Ingredients

  • 1 cup thick cashew milk or other neutral- flavored “cream”
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, steamed with a splash of olive oil and cut into small pieces
  • 3 eggs (ideally pastured, organic eggs)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • Fine bread crumbs (or panko, gluten-free varieties do exist!)
  • Optional: Parmesan-style “cheese”

 

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 355.
  • Place the milk, asparagus, eggs, corn starch in the blender and puree the ingredients until the mix is very fine. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the parmesan if desired. Optionally, you can mix in ¾ of the asparagus and later add the remaining pieces in to add texture.
  • Lightly oil a loaf pan or custard cups, then coat well with the bread crumbs.
  • Pour in the egg mixture.
  • Set the loaf pan or custard cups in a roasting pan and set them on the oven rack. Pour hot water into the pan, avoiding the mousse containers, to come up halfway up the sides of the dish(es).
  • Bake until a knife inserted halfway between edge and center comes out clean, about 45 minutes for the loaf size, less for the smaller cups. The mousse should be firm, with light cracking on the surface, but not dry or hard.
  • When done, remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. You can serve in the custard dishes, slice the flan from the loaf pan, or un-mold the mousse (at your peril) by running a very thin knife around the edge before inverting it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sacramento’s VegFest – Room to Grow

DSCF5254A recent study titled “Top Trends in Prepared Foods in 2017” compiled by research firm Global Data noted a 500% increase in the number of vegans in the United States since 2014. This year’s SacTown VegFest, held January 25th, has continued to grow, filling the ample space at Sacramento Charter High School with 50 vendors, animal rescue activists, environmental and gardening organizations, cooking demonstrations, food innovators, guest speakers, and much more. Visitors reflected the neighborhood’s diversity and included families, students, vegetarian veterans and the veg-curious, and even a pet pig in an adorable sweater. Event organizer_ Glenn Destatte estimated the first Veg Fest attracted about 1,100 people, but this year he expected about over 3,000 people to attend.

DSCF5263While local entrepreneur Ilsa Hess, owner of Sacramento business Nacheez passed out samples of her latest delicious dairy-free cheeses, other vendors had come from as far away as Southern California (yes, there was carpooling!). Patrick Burwell of Cowhugger.com, a mostly online boutique featuring men’s and women’s non-leather shoes, wallets, purses, said that Sacramento needs more of these events, that the restaurant and shopping options were limited, compared to Southern California. ”Getting more exposure to the vegetarian and vegan community, being able to showcase products like ours and the other vendors out here – I think it’s awesome. It definitely needs more of this kind of events.” Asked what he would say to other businesses regarding vegan and vegetarian options, he responded, “There’s a demand for it out there! There are a lot of people out there looking to go cruelty free, plant-based, save the animals… It’s about your health, about the environment. We really need to start protecting all those things, not just the one area people think about.”

Stina Va, volunteer at Vegan Outreach in Davis: “I love living a compassionate lifestyle and the idea of not harming creatures and people.” Asked if Sacramento was a good place to be a vegan, she said, “Yes! I just moved here last   summer, and partly the vegan-friendly atmosphere of the restaurants was a big factor in why I decided to move here.” Asked for advice for folks transitioning to a more plant-based diet, she suggested the many meat-substitutes, “Just because you don’t want to make a huge, radical shift.” She emphasized that vegans don’t eat just salads and suggested trying an easy, plant-based “chorizo” taco.

DSCF5260Outside in the garden, Edible Sac High student Sade Rogers: Explained that the students cook healthy food from their garden and that their vegan pizzas have been very popular, so they decided to sell them at the VegFest. The pizzas featured caramelized onions and fresh greens , and were very reasonably priced. The student cooks and their mentors prepped them and baked them in their brick oven, barely keeping up with orders. Asked if she thought this kind of cooking could be a career future for any of the students, she said, “I do, I really do. I did my first vegan festival last year, and when Miss Karen [the program’s teacher] told me, I said, ‘I don’t know. I never heard of vegan before. I don’t think it’s gonna sell.’ Then when we got the hang of it, and it started to really come in, we actually made a lot of money last year. And everything we do is a fundraiser, we put money back into the program…I definitely think it does open up more business opportunities. There definitely need to be restaurants that are actually healthy, that don’t just promote it and lie about it…Some of my family has had bad experiences with some restaurants.”

Not every group tabling at the event was committed to a plant-based lifestyle, but overlapping interests brought in groups concerned with the environment, reducing plastic waste, and even generating energy right at the gym. Jamaar and Julian Powe and Mwangi Staley were promoting their organization, Green Tech, which has the youth building gardens and planting vegetables like cabbage and peas. They are learning about hydroponics, and Mwangi talked about their system’s fish: “They eat up the food and poop, and it’s actually good for the plants!” Asked what they think about eating more produce, Mwangi replied hesitantly, “Me, myself, I’m a meat-lover a little bit. But occasionally I would eat vegetables. We made a lot of stuff [at Green Tech] and it was good…We made our own kale chips and those were pretty amazing.” What does it take to get these young men to eat a vegetable based meal? “I’ll eat a salad,” the Powe brothers concurred. How about a vegetarian lasagna? The three colleagues agreed, “If it tastes good I’ll eat it.” Mwangi said he “tried an organic wheat cupcake with tomato and no sugar and it wasn’t too bad. It was new to me, though.” Is it just that this doesn’t taste like Mom’s cooking? Yes, they all admit. “It’s still good though!”

DSCF5257Certainly, plenty of people were trying new flavors, from non-dairy ice creams to Ethiopian food, to Vegan fried “chicken” and non-dairy Mac and Cheese, special croutons, kombucha, hummus, and non-dairy butter – and the lines were long at each food location. What more can a Veg Fest ask for than folks who are willing to try new options?

As Glenn Destatte pointed out, the plant-based diet promoted at Veg Fest interconnects with Sacramento’s Farm to Fork movement and concerns for the environment and climate change, local eating and vegetable gardening, farm workers’ well-being, health, and animal welfare. By informing Sacramento about the benefits, he hopes to inspire “More people adopting a whole food, plant-based lifestyle, which is healthier for everybody.” It looks like there’s room for this movement and this event to grow!

Winter Slow-down

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We are deep into the foggy, bare-trees season when bears and lizards seem to have the right idea: hibernate! Days are sleepy-gray and uninspiring. Fields are mushy with mud, akin to quicksand, except that our hardpan is not far down, stopping further descent — not before my boots are trapped by mud-suction.  The 2018 seed catalog pictures radiate with luscious fruits and veggies, while my winter plants grow unenthusiastically, lacking sun and warmth, and feeling soggy. The cows in the neighbor’s field dawdle over the inch-high grass. Crows gather to beat the blahs. My hens detest the rain, but enjoy the bugs and worms that become accessible in wet soil, so they leave too much of their corn feed to the patient sparrows and doves. Indoors, the 3 dogs fit themselves into one bed like puzzle pieces, and the cats stake out their hushed, soft spots around the house wrapped in their tails. Looking at them, how is a person supposed to resist a good nap?

This time of year is full of missed appointments, postponed classes, broken resolutions and anti-diet outbursts, as we settle into the season’s groove. Tax paperwork waits. The tractor needs a key-assembly replaced. The fruit trees’ pruning requires a few dry days. It is tempting to get back under the covers and wait until daylight is longer and warmer.

In this slow quietude, it’s an opportune time, a wise time, to listen. Listen to the rain. Listen to some good stories over coffee. Listen to music you haven’t heard in a long time on decent speakers (not your laptop’s, okay?). Listen to some voices from outside your comfort zone, perhaps even from worldviews that challenge your perspective. Don’t listen to the news for a couple of days. And then try listening to your own insides. How are things going in there? Isn’t this slow-down nice? Admit it.

Perhaps, like Robert Frost’s pony in the famous winter poem, your conscience feels restless about a contemplative pause, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep / But I have promises to keep, / And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep.” Don’t listen to that pony! The Danish have their “hygge”, a concept of coziness, and the Dutch appreciate “niksen”, doing nothing in purpose, so why do we fuss and resist the season? Perhaps you feel guilty, but dormant trees don’t feel lazy for their winter pace. They are dreaming their vision of spring and collecting the wherewithal to burst into bloom.

What is the wherewithal we humans need to collect now so we can burst into bloom later? Winter squashes, dried beans, root veggies, leafy greens, cabbages and broccoli, herbs, lemons, mushrooms and spices like cinnamon, ginger, cumin or curry that warm us from the inside out…  Spring foods like strawberries, asparagus and artichokes will clear away our winter stuffiness, but ‘til then, winter foods have their own time. I made the mistake of eating a sugary cinnamon roll today, my food-tantrum after being stood up for a meeting. Pretty soon, I felt that overwhelming stupor, like the fence lizard I found half-buried in a planter, completely zombi-fied by the cold — in my case, by the sugar.  I really needed some bright-colored, bold flavored dishes, something vibrant for my insides to contrast with the gray fuzziness outside. Try this bright and crunchy winter salad and this creamy borscht that will bring you back from that suspended animation state. They’ll liven you up enough to get a few things accomplished before your next nap.

Asian Pear and Cabbage Slaw

Ingredients:

  • 1 small head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 carrot shredded
  • 1 large Asian pear, cut into bite size pieces (D’Anjou in a pinch)
  • 3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • A handful of chopped cilantro, to taste
  • 2 tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 – 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped peanuts (roasted almonds if youa re allergic to peanuts)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Toss cabbage, carrot, onions, cilantro and pear in a bowl.

Add sesame oil, lime juice and salt and pepper – adjust to taste.

Top with chopped peanuts.

Creamy Borscht

Ingredients:

1 Bunch of red beets

1 Red onion

1/2 head of Red (purple) cabbage

1 red potato

Non-dairy butter or a cooking oil without a strong taste

Dill

Water or broth (low-sodium veggie)

Yogurt, sour cream, or a non-dairy substitute

Directions:

Chop potato, onion, beets and cabbage into dice-sized cubes

Sauté in oil/butter the onion and dill first, then add in the remaining veggies and continue to sauté until all look glassy and a bit softened.

Cover with water or broth and cook at a low boil until the veggies are soft enough to blend (10-15 minutes). Don’t cook too long as beets’ nutrients diminish with too much cooking.

Blend with a stick blender or pour into a blender, puree and then return to the pot.

Stir in the yogurt or sour cream. It also looks spectacular if you just swirl the white stuff in each dark pink bowlful as you serve. Sprinkle with a bit more dill for a garnish.

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January

That huge, blood-orange moon rising behind the skeletal trees, lighting up dark fields where dry grasses give way to green and frost is sparkling on the icy fabric that protects tender winter row-crops… almost makes these chilly temperatures picturesque and charming. The chickens get extra insulation in the henhouse. The citrus trees get covered to keep them from dying of frostbite. Tender young plants are nibbled by hungry sparrows. The cabbages and broccoli, tough as they are, stop and wait for a warmer day to get back to growing.

Indoors, seed catalogs cover the kitchen table, a perennial sign of absurd optimism and renewed ingenuity. After last year’s extreme summer, where the number of days over 104 degrees overwhelmed many plants and the UV rays were at 10 on a scale of 10 far too often – enough to scorch my nylon clothesline to glittery powder at times – “extreme” has become the new “normal”. So seed selection now focuses on heat tolerant, disease resistant, and drought tolerant tough-guy plants. A row of wind-blocking plants has been started to reduce erosion and evaporation. Shade cloth made some difference in plant survival last summer, so a couple of rolls are in the shed at the ready, and seed starting will be farmed out to a friend’s greenhouse for babysitting until the plants are fierce enough for whatever comes along weather-wise.

Small, agile farms can respond this way to dramatic, unpredictable climate change or “global weirding” (and if anybody still doubts the seriousness of it, just ask a farmer.) Large, mono-cropping farms face a harder and more expensive challenge. In Florida, where citrus trees were hit by hurricane Irma and now freezing temperatures, growers are expecting the lowest harvest in decades and a loss of trees for future crops. In an article by Kevin Hecteman in the Daily Democrat, last year’s tomato crop in Yolo County yielded about 10.5 million tons, much lower than the 2016 crop of 12.5 million tons, and farmers were paid a lower price as well. What a rotten deal!

Where will our food come from in the future and what will it cost? Will it take more energy to grow food – for example hothouses in winter and shade structures with fans in the summer? We’ll need more renewable energy! What forms of farming should we be supporting, as consumers, to ensure we have affordable, fresh and delicious produce in the future? How do our food choices affect climate change? I am shamelessly biased when I recommend we eat locally and seasonally, and that we support small and diversified farms. But in 2013, the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) consulted with 60 experts who recommended small, sustainable, natural and organic systems as more able to feed the world while decreasing farming’s contribution to climate change.

So, as I spend extra time babying my plants this winter, rolling with the weather drama as we go, adjusting my chores to the quirky wetness or temperature changes, I expect 2018 will be a year of resilience and determination, and hopefully a few wise or lucky choices. As the days get a little longer and brighter, that inexplicable optimism rises again…

What can we cook with seasonal veggies to fortify us, to make us feel resilient, determined, wise or lucky and maybe even a little optimistic?  Black eyed peas turn up in many new year’s dishes, reputed to bring good luck, and we all need some fresh greens at this time of year, so…

 

Black-eyed peas, Fresh Greens, and Pasta

Why this is healthy Beans bring the fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6 but also keep your colon clean. The protein-fiber balance is a big help for regulating sugars too. Leeks and garlic offer allicin, great for your cardio-vascular system, has anti-microbial power, and may fight both cancer and the common cold. Greens are loaded with anti-oxidants, calcium and iron.
Why this tastes great Garlicky taste balances the mellow beans and fresh greens.
Why this is easy One pot, a little chopping, stir, serve.
Featured ingredients Black eyed peas

Leek and garlic

Greens

Secondary benefits High in protein, low in fat!
Season Fall – Winter
Note If you have trouble with beans causing gassiness, add one leaf of the mexican herb Epazote – it’s nature’s beano.

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large leek, quartered, white and light green parts chopped (2 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • a pinch each of parsley, sage, rosemary and oregano
  • 8 oz. kale or collards, tough stems removed, leaves cut into 2-inch pieces (4 cups)
  • 4cups diced tomatoes
  • diced green chiles to taste
  • ¾ cup dried black-eyed peas  (soaked over night)
  • 1 qt. low-sodium vegetable broth
  • ¾ cup farfalle pasta
  • optional (vegan) Parmesan cheez

Directions

  1. Heat oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leek, and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and herbs, and sauté 1 minute more. Stir in kale, and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until leaves are wilted, tossing occasionally.
  2. Add diced tomatoes, diced chiles, black-eyed peas, vegetable broth, and 7 cups water; season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in pasta, and cook 7 to 10 minutes more, or until pasta is al dente and black-eyed peas are tender.