Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'Tis Market Season!

Oh- finally! Market season is back. RFC blogger Natalie will be with Amy's Garden at the Byrd House Market, 17th Street and South of the James. I will be managing the new Market at St. Stephen's. Please, come by and visit!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Listen to Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle

A broadcast of Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle's visit to the forum will be on WCVE Radio, 88.9 FM tonight (4/26) at 6:00 PM. Definitely worth the listen!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mid-week menu!

At my house, slow nights mean big dinners. I enjoyed this meal so much, I hoped you would indulge me in a mini brag-a-thon.

Though I may use recipes more often than the other two in the RFC blogger trio, I occasionally trust myself to create my own meals. Simplicity is the key here, and since I am amazingly lucky enough to have regular access to fresh-picked organic produce, I am all about showing off the inherent flavors and textures of the foods I am cooking, rather than coming up with complicated creations (I don't have the training for that anyway, though I dream of someday going to cooking school). As we ramp up for the farmer's market season, I would like to encourage you to avoid disguising the amazing vegetables you buy at the market, rather just supporting them with delicious fats and wholesome spices. Here was tonight's menu, provided here for your inspiration:

Quick Sauteed Asparagus

Ingredients: just butter, salt and pepper and fresh asparagus. Melt butter in a skillet, toss asparagus in it for 2-3 minutes, season with salt and pepper and serve. I do not recommend doing this with asparagus from the grocery store, as it has been shipped from afar and is guaranteed to have lost some of the sweet, subtle spring flavor and crunchiness you find in fresh asparagus. Head to the Byrd House Market this Tuesday (the 28th) instead and get a bunch from Amy's Garden.

Tatsoi Pasta Toss

1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
as much organic and fresh-picked tatsoi as you can afford or get your hands on, chopped
8 ounces fettucine
olive oil
white wine
parmeggiano reggiano cheese

Cook fettucine and set aside. Saute onion in a generous amount of olive oil. Add garlic and saute for a minute or two more, just until you can smell it cooking. Throw tatsoi in, and as soon as it has wilted enough to be manageable, add a dash or two of white wine. Allow most of the wine to cook off, then add pasta and toss in the hot pan. Put pasta in a nice bowl and top with lots and lots of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

If you aren't in the know, tatsoi is a delicious asian green, a cool-weather plant that could best be described as a cross between pak choi and spinach. The leaves are dark green, spoon-shaped and textured; the flavor is almost citrusy, maybe like a little bit of sorrel added to that dark spinach earthiness. It's my all-time favorite green, and I eat it raw in salads as well as in sautes. Tatsoi is in the mustard family and grows into a big head if you don't pick it regularly! As always, the smaller leaves are the most succulent and flavorful, though I eat it all: big, small and even most of the stem.

Easy Hatteras Tuna

wild-caught hatteras tuna
freshly squeezed orange juice
thyme (fresh is best but I used dried.)
salt and pepper
olive oil

Cut tuna into thin slices (maybe 3/4 inch thick). Marinate in a generous amount of olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper, thyme and olive oil. Other spices are more than welcome here, and the amounts don't have to be specific...just throw some in, it's going to be good no matter what. I usually use basil, oregano and thyme all together if I have them. Then just melt a bit of butter in a hot skillet and pan-fry the steaks. It's really quick. If your tuna is fresh, make sure to just sear it and leave the inside pink and creamy...we were using a frozen cut so we cooked it more. I really know very little about cooking fish, so I was proud of this even though it is incredibly basic.

Wine: Villa Sorono Pino Grigio 2007. If you listen to the podcast, you'll know I'm a total wine novice, but I'll try...Floral and a bit dry, with a little acidity to it...not too sweet. All right.

The fresh asparagus and tatsoi were, naturally, the stars of this meal...all my heating and spicing was just to dress them up. The fish wasn't bad either, though frozen can never compare to fresh-caught! On a final note, I beg you to notice our absolutely lovely new salt and pepper grinders. I had been coveting these for months, and we finally decided to go for them...they are imitations of authentic French Peugeot grinders, but those, at $50 apiece, were out of my price range. Same style though...I had to have something that didn't look like a chess piece! It's amazing how limited the styles are for salt and pepper shakers, and of course it's hard to find a set that has a salt grinder instead of a shaker. Aahh...culinary indulgence. Allow me this one. At least I make my own yogurt...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Red Wiggler Community Farm- A New Inspiration

There are three versions to my 'life in the future' fantasy. One is to have a simple green grocery, a store with fresh veggies and beautiful baked goods, all made and sourced locally, of course. In the back room would be a long table with picnic style benches where I could make dinner for friends once a week, or thereabouts. Doesn't that sound dreamy?

The second fantasy involves breaking up the concrete in the Azalea Mall parking lot, keeping the buildings, (one of which is a library, another a church which used to be a bank, as well as a garden center- all crucial) and planting a food forest/ park. Yes, I am serious. It would be beautiful- hazelnuts, blueberries, apple trees. Some peanuts as ground cover...

Ok, so the third fantasy is an actual farm where people would come to camp out with their families, or get married, or watch movies projected on a barn, and to just be together, outside, with good food. I have even gone so far as to scope out property with my friend Casey. We have had many a fun drive, exploring our native land, dreaming about this life...

This weekend, I met a man who was doing these things, more intentionally and much more nobly than I have let myself dream. Woody Woodruff is the exective director of Red Wiggler Farms in Montgomery County, MD. By 'doing these things', I mean that he has a notion that we are all in this together, so we should make it good. Check out the website- there is a gorgeous (like I needed a new fantasy...) solar powered farm house, a CSA which employs developmentally disabled folks and many other programs devoted to bringing us into the good work. Thanks, Woody for the inspiration.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Victory Farms to be on Virginia Home Grown

This just in from Victory Farms...
Victory Farms will be featured on the April 28th episode of Virginia Home Grown- so tune in to this great local PBS program to see the farm! It airs at 8pm on WCVE on Tuesday, April 28th with a repeat on May 2nd at 5pm on WCVW. Thanks to our friend LJ for letting in on this one.
Victory Farms seems to be one of the most successful local farms and CSAs in terms of CSA member numbers, as well as the quantity and variety of produce available to both members and non-member market shoppers. Hopefully this appearance on Virgina Home Grown will provide even greater insight into just how Gina and Charlie make it happen.

Brushing up on Brussels Sprouts

"Good things come to those who wait..." I don't know if that saying holds true for everything. Sometimes I think you just gotta jump in with both feet and go after something.... but in the case of the lowly brussels sprout, as with most fruits of the garden, patience and understanding of proper timing means everything.
Like a good number of crops, particularly those in the brassica family, brussels sprouts benefit greatly from a good frost to rid them of the bitter taste they may otherwise have. A short article in Horticulture Magazine's May 2008 Mid Atlantic Region addition points out that commercially grown brussels sprouts are often grown in areas that never receive a frost and there for always taste bitter. The article states that brussels sprouts should mature right before the first frost date. And suggest two 90 day varieties, 'Oliver' and 'Jade Cross'. Our frost date here is about April 18th.
So while fall is right time for planting brussels sprouts, spring is the right time for eating them!

A freshly harvested spring sprout is great boiled till tender and served simply with butter and a little salt and pepper. For those who like to mix it up here is one of my favorite recipes for Brussels Sprouts that makes even those bitter sprouts taste great. Between prepping the sprouts and the olives this recipe does take a little bit of time, but it's well worth the effort. Even my husband who previously refused to eat any Brussels sprouts loves this recipe.

Sauteed Brussels Sprout Leaves with Green Olives, Garlic, and Parmesan Cheese.
Makes 4 -6 servings (I'd say 4 servings is closer to the truth because of the yummy factor.)

3Tablespoons Olive Oil

3Brussels Sprout leaves -About 12 Large Brussels sprouts (cut the hard base off the bottom of each sprout so you can remove the outermost leaves, then cut the base again allowing for more leaves to be removed continue this process until all the green leaves have been removed and only a small yellow center remains. You should have about 8 cups worth of leaves. Discard the center portion and rinse the leaves carefully to remove any grit.)

Green Olives ( I use the Krinos brand of Whole Green unpitted olives in a pepperocini brine. I love these olives and their slightly spicy flavor. I also always go for the olives with pits still intact because I find they have much better texture and, perhaps therefore, flavor as well. So I carefully pit and quarter each olive, which doesn't take much time once you get used to it.)
Lemon Juice Approximately the juice of 1 half a lemon squeezed over the leaves while they cook Or 2 tablespoons.
Freshly minced garlic (About 3-4 medium cloves)
Fresh Ground Black Pepper to taste (add while sauteing. )
Parmesan (Freshly grated, finely over the dish and tossed in just before serving. I don't have a measurement for this I just eyeball it and taste it.)
Heat the oil over medium heat. Toss in the greens with olives. Saute about 1 minute. Add the garlic and lemon juice and black pepper and Saute just about 2 minutes more!!! Add the Parmesan, toss well and serve. Those olives and the Parmesan are salty so I advise not salting this dish before serving. I have made that mistake out of habit before.

However you choose to prepare them, early spring is the best time to enjoy them. I regret that I can't give a good local source for brussels sprouts. I grew my first small batch this year at home, but would love to know if there were any out there at markets that I haven't seen.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Michael Pollan Day

Michael Pollan is in town today for his lecture at the Richmond Forum, accompanied by Marion Nestle, author of the books Why We Eat and Food Politics. These two leaders in the local food movement took the time to visit two of Tricycle Gardens' community gardens, the NRC children's garden in Fulton Hill, and the Church Hill community plot garden. Ron and I stopped by the NRC to stalk these great writers and also check out the progress of the garden, where Tricycle Gardens horticulturist Allison, a dedicated group of volunteers, and lots of kids have been working away.

Great garden!

Penny, Lisa, Allison, Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle all check out the NRC's raised beds.

Michael chats.

Impromptu book signing! I told him Omnivore's Dilemma had inspired me to become a locavore, write about local food and work on an organic farm...I'm looking forward to hearing both Michael and Marion speak tonight at the Forum. Inspiration! If you'd like to experience Michael from the comfort of your own home, check out this Bill Moyers interview, recommended by Ron.

Karen Davis at Chop Suey Books

This just in from Krissi at Vegan Action:

UPC President Karen Davis Will Sign Books, Do Live Radio in Richmond, VA
Tune-in to WRIR 97.3 LP-FM and Come to Chop Suey Books, Tuesday April 21
Tuesday, April 21, 12:30-1 p.m. ET. Join Karen Davis and host Rebecca Faris in a live interview about Karen's new book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. The show is IndyMedia Live. People can stream in live 24/7 @
Tuesday, April 21, 5 p.m. Chop Suey Books will host a reading/lecture & book-signing by Karen Davis, PhD from her new book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. Karen will discuss how the living conditions of chickens on industrial farms contribute to human health and environmental problems, and what people can do. She will answer questions and autograph her book for buyers.
To attend this free presentation & book-signing, please come to:
2913 West Cary Street
Richmond, Virginia 23221
(804) 422-8066
Chop Suey Books
We look forward to seeing you!
Karen Davis, PhD is the president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the compassionate treatment of chickens and other domestic fowl. She is the author of several books and numerous articles for the national press and has been featured on National Public Radio and in The Virginian-Pilot and The Washington Post. To learn more about Karen and United Poultry Concerns, please visit and

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tao of Foods Class

Just found out about this one from the flyer section at Ellwood Thompson's.

Tao of Foods Class -- The Healing Qualities of Food

Are you confused about which diet is the right for you? Have you ever wondered about what gives food the healing properties they have?

In this class you will learn and get an understanding of hte different qualities of life force or chi in our daily diet, which will assist in making better choices in what is right for you and what effect they have on our body and mind. The foundation of hte class is based in Oriental philosophy using yin and yang and the 5 elements.

Instructor: Lili Just Simons certified Shiatsu Therapist and Tai Chi and Chi Kung teacher. Lili has been in the healing field for 30 years and was a head cook in vegetarian restaurants both in Europe and USA and taught cooking classes from a healing perspective.

Date: Thursday, April 23, 5:30-7PM
Place: The Aquarian Bookshop, 3519 Ellwood Ave.
Call 804-257-5573 to register.

Food certainly has a spiritual component. I will not be able to attend this class, but I would be curious to hear from anyone who does, or in fact anyone who has thoughts on the relation between food, eating and spirituality. I have many thoughts on this topic, though I have not really thought about it much in the context of East Asian philosophy and religion. The subject of this class reminds me of that famous Hippocrates quote....“Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Homemade Newspaper Plant Pots!

I love low-budget ideas like this. For those with more money and less time I highly recommend just buying pots (my dad gets compostable peat pots), but if you have the reverse situation these little pots are perfect. And they're fun to make -- a good project for kids. I've made a bunch of them for potting up seedlings out of plug trays, but you could certainly start seeds in them and plant directly into the ground.

Keeping Up With Vilsack

Just in case you haven't been keeping up with the latest on our USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack...

"About the time that Chemical Ag spokespeople were chiding Michelle Obama for promoting home-grown organic food with her White House garden, compost from the Rodale Institute farm was landing on a new organic garden right in front of U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters...

...Vilsack has kept ultimate responsibility for the project in his office, giving the small space a big symbolic role in showing how organic agriculture can benefit the nation. Produce will be donated locally. Maintaining the garden will be USDA staff members who volunteer, backed up by the department’s commercial landscape maintenance firm."

Whole article here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Collective Kitchen Episode II: Dining with Fennel

That's right,'s time for Episode 2 of the Collective Kitchen!

Click here to download Collective Kitchen, Episode 2: Dining with Fennel! Use our RSS feed to subscribe through iTunes or your favorite podcast subscription software.

Early spring is a hard time for locavores. You're running out of everything you put up for the winter, and you're totally sick of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, lentils, curries and other heavy winter foods. Now is the time to get creative, so we decided to have an Iron Chef-style meal in which (almost) every single item included the unique and delicious vegetable fennel.

Natalie, an avid fan of all things anise-flavored, cooked a delicious Creamy Fennel Soup as our main dish. Here are her notes on the meal...

Since I haven't been cooking for too long, I'm always looking up new recipes to try. I admire Shannon's confidence and adventurousness in making up most of her recipes, but I'm still tied to the good old Joy of Cooking and my favorite cooking websites. I got my recipe for the creamy soup from the Food Network website: check out the details here. A recap of how I cooked this dish is as follows:

  • 3-4 bulbs fennel
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
Remove the greens from the fennel stalks, chop them, and reserve. Cut the fennel bulbs and stalks into coarse pieces. Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. I usually just dump olive oil into the pot until it looks like enough, instead of meticulously measuring. You could also add a little bit of butter (as I have learned recently!) to help 'stabilize' the olive oil and prevent it from burning and transforming into those pesky free radicals.

Add the onions and some salt and cook until soft. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until you can smell the garlic -- usually about a minute. Add the chopped fennel and saute for a few minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the fennel is very tender. Allow to cool slightly.

Puree the soup and put it back into the pot. Add the cream, and season with salt and pepper.

This soup was really easy, and it had a great aroma as it cooked. Fennel bulbs can be expensive, so I wouldn't consider this a casual weeknight recipe, but it would be a great side dish for a weekend early spring dinner party. If you want to be fancy, you can include the second part of the recipe, which is toasted bread with fennel fronds on top. Here are the instructions:


  • 1/8 teaspoon finely ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 diagonal-cut slices baguette (you could use any bread you have on hand. I had homemade oatmeal flax-seed bread, and honestly I didn't mind the slight thickness at all, though if you're a purist just head out and grab a fresh baguette...yum.)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil andh lemon juice. Add the reserved fennel greens from the soup and parsley, toss to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Set the herb salad aside.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the ground fennel seeds and stir for 30 seconds. Add the baguette slices in a single layer, and cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes total. Season with salt, to taste. Remove the baguette slices from the pan.

I admit at this time of year, it's hard to be a locavore. I got most of the ingredients for this meal from Ellwood Thompson's, though my vegetable stock was homemade. Ellwood's has a pretty reliable supply of fennel.

Shannon, salad expert extraordinaire, fills us in on her side dish, the roasted fennel salad, and then discusses her local wine list...

Arugula Salad with Roasted Fennel

I came up with this salad on the fly at 6 a.m the morning of our podcast dinner. Nevertheless, it is a very straightforward salad, using classic combinations so I wasn't worried about how it would turn out. I thought it turned out to be a great match with Natalie's wonderfully rich and creamy soup...oh, and that bread! So good. Anyway, on to the recipe...

A word on the measurements...very often I do not measure. This salad and the accompanying dressing is one of those times. All measurements are estimations.

The arugula came from my garden, and so all I can tell you is that I had a pile of freshly cut arugula that filled a larger-size colander...or enough to fill 6 salad plates. The mead came from my father-in-law who home-brews. I love mead, and this particular batch was not too sweet and had hints of anise and orange. I added the mead as a way to smooth out the vinegariness of the balsamic, and to add very light touch of sweetness as well as flavor.

The honey tangelos came from Florida ( I do encourage purchasing as much fresh citrus as you like in the winter months when we can get it from Florida). I had considered blood oranges, but decided that the sweetness of the honey tangelos would be needed. For the goat cheese I recommend the plain Chevre from Goats R Us sold at various farmers markets and Ellwood Thompson's. I got my fennel bulbs from Ukrops and while now is a great time to try fennel, in March it is not local. Local fennel has been extremely hard to come by regardless of season. Last year my I was only able to find fennel available through the Victory Farms CSA. They did not have enough to sell outside of their CSA. Hopefully the increased market for local fennel will encourage others to start growing this amazingly nutritious and tasty vegetable. With the USA label above the fennel I purchased, I am assuming it came from California.

For creating this salad without specific measurements etc. there are a couple basics that in my opinion you should keep in mind. First, you want to have more oranges than walnuts or fennel. The the fresh, juicy sweetness of the orange is needed to balance out the buttery, earthiness of the walnuts. Second, you could replace some of the arugula with baby lettuces or other fresh greens, but the spiciness and bite of the arugula is of great benefit to this salad. In the end however, my suggestion is to simply follow your own taste buds...

Ingredients: (serves 6)

1 large bunch of arugula2-3 small fennel bulbs (cored, chopped and roasted)

11/2 cups toasted walnuts

4tblsps crumbly goat cheese

4 tblsps crumbly goat cheese

3 honey tangelos

For the Dressing

1/2 cup or so of quality extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup or so of good balsamic vinegar

11/2-2 tblsps mead (a semi-dry white wine with undertones of peach or citrus would work great too)

1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/2 tsp salt

Wine Notes

To select the wine for this meal I turned to Tommi at Once Upon A Vine off of Forest Hill Ave. I described the meal we would be having and told him I was looking for 3 different Virginia Wines to complement things. He helped me select The 2005 Prince Michelle Vineyard Cabernet Franc to get us started off. Again it was emphasised that the Cabernet Franc grape is one of the best grapes grown in Virginia.

Prince Michel Vineyard: Located about 40 minutes north of Charlottesville. We had their 2005 Cabernet Franc. It was delicious. A wonderful full flavor that kept us all happy while we waited for our meal to meet the table. Their 2006 Cabernet Franc is described as having "Rich fruit flavors of dark cherry complement the subtle hints of roasted coffee bean and black pepper. Less tannic than most reds, this is a wine with broad appeal."

To serve with the main course of soup and salad Tommi selected the Veritas Viognier. The Viognier is considered to be one of the two best grapes grown in Virginia, along with the Cabernet franc. The weight and fresh fruit flavors of this wine was a great match for the buttery, earthy, and citrus flavors of the food. The Veritas Vineyard and Winery is West of Charlottesville in Afton VA. They have a full restaurant and give tours, but also allow you to bring your own picnic to eat outside. They describe their 2007 Viognier as having "lush fruit flavors and heady aromas."

Finally we finished off the night with Erin's Rosemary Fennel Seed Shortbread dessert and the Barboursville Vineyards Brut. This sparkling wine was a nice balance to the savory sweet shortbread and the Blackberry Lime Ice cream. This time Tommi had tried to convince me to go with a more traditional, sweet dessert wine. Selecting a Virginia Dessert wine was going to run me about $30 a bottle. I had hoped to keep all of the wine selections under $20 a piece, and I find dessert wines too sweet to sip alongside dessert itself. Once It was clear I was not going to follow that route Tommi selected the Brut. The Barboursville Brut was just over $20, but less than the dessert wines and in my opinion the dry fizzy wine is a far better match to an already sweet dessert. Also, I think we all felt a little extravagant sipping our bubbly! All in all we got to try three great Virginia Wines from three of Virginia's best Vineyards. Not bad for a night in!

Erin's recipe for the dessert follows...we all know Erin is an amazing baker!

Rosemary Fennel Shortbread
I used this recipe from, adjusted for 12 servings. I added an amount of fennel seed equivalent to the chopped rosemary.

Blackberry Lime Ice Cream
After surveying my freezer, I found about a cup of blackberry coulis that I had made and frozen in the summer. A coulis is a thick juice--great for making sauces. I just pressed the fresh blackberries through a strainer, and was left with the juice and not the bitter stems or pesky seeds.

This recipe is adapted from my favorite ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop.

Makes a little over 1 quart

1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups strained blackberries
1 TBS fresh lime juice

Warm half and half, pour over egg yolks, whisking constantly. In saucepan over medium heat, stir until custard coats the spatula. Pour custard through strainer over cream. Mix in blackberries and lime juice, and cool in refrigerator. Follow instructions for your ice cream maker.

We hope you enjoyed this month's episode of Collective Kitchen! Check back next month for some tips on that first and most delicious spring vegetable: asparagus!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Quail Spring Farm CSA

My friend Laura filled me in this week on a new CSA operated by her long time friends at Quail Spring Farm In Louisa Virginia. (This is not to be confused with the "natural" food CSA Quail Cove Farms which supplies food to several states in our region.) Some of you may be familiar with Quail Spring Farm for the healthy,beautiful plants and cut flowers they previously sold at area plant sales. They have since switched to all vegetables and started up a 20 week CSA.
Their website indicates that they do not use pesticides or herbicides and that they use organic fertilizers. They also produce their own compost.
Half shares are $325 and Full shares are $600. Drop off locations in the Richmond area are at Elwood Thompson's on Tuesdays and at the new West End Market on Saturdays.
Their website has information on other related aspects of their life including links to articles written by the "lady of the farm" on .
Check 'em out.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Natural Dye for Easter Eggs

This just in from my Joy of Cooking Day Calendar...!
Today's Tidbit of info from the calendar is a short list of food based dyes you can use to color Easter eggs. Knowing now what I have learned about chickens and egg laying (which isn't all that much) I can really appreciate the role that eggs play at Easter. Chicken's egg laying ability is diminished in cold weather, and increases as the weather warms. In addition, their feed during the cold seasons must rely on grain without the levels of fresh grass and bugs from the lush pasture that that make their spring eggs so nutritious.
Some of these ingredients, like the onion skins might be available scraps if your cooking for Easter brunch or dinner anyway.

Makes 4 cups...

Place in a pot:
4 cups water
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Add one of the following dyeing agents:
4 cups chopped beets for pink
4 cups boiled red cabbage for blue (it makes a nice bright blue)
3 tablespoons turmeric powder for yellow (be careful it can stain anything it touches!)
Skins from 12 red onions for burnt orange to orange
Skins from 12 large yellow onions for brown

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 min.
Strain each dye through a sieve lined with a coffee filter into a bowl or cup.
Add hard-boiled eggs to the dye and soak until they have reached the color you desire.
Air-dry on a rack lined with paper towels.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dr. Bug

A few years ago at the Heritage Harvest Festival my mother-in-law got see Dr. Richard C. McDonald speak on the use of beneficial bugs and strategic plantings to organically protect your garden from some of the most troublesome garden pest. Going only by the name "Dr. Bug" McDonald uses beneficials in conjunction with a system that uses both sacrificial plants to lure bugs away from your precious crops and plants that repel various bugs.
His website is full of information, including links to countless works on growing organic broccoli.
My mother-in-law loves this guy and has a lot of fun plotting out her organic garden using some of his techniques. Check out the Farmscaping link on his site for information on what protective crops to grow where and in what season, as well as the top beneficials and the insects they go after.

Amy Stewart

For those of you who haven't picked up one of Amy Stewart's bestselling garden books It might be time to reconsider. If you haven't heard of Amy Stewart she is a garden writer with several articles and four books under her belt.
--Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers
This work poses some of the same questions about flower production books like Plenty and The Omnivores Dilemma do about food production. Should we be concerned about genetically engineering flowers to be free of pollen, or to be blue? Should we care that flowers are grown with thousands of gallons of pesticides, and then flown thousands of miles on chilled cargo plans to provide us with summers beauty year round? Which makes her January 2007 op ed piece for NPR all the more perplexing.... A response to the word "locavore" making word of the year, Stewart's response was "It's Time for 'Locavores to Shut up and Eat." Locavores beware! One note, Stewart's (lets say snarky) comments for this NPR piece were more than two years ago. All signs seem to indicate that plenty of other people recognize the importance of preserving agricultural land, the environment, natural resources, our health, and our connection to the land as well as the wonder that major improvements in all these areas can be accomplished through what she calls "just grocery shopping".

--The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms
An excerpt from her website says, quote: The New York Times called it "a completely original combination of science and passion." This is a fascinating exploration of the underground world and one of its most amazing denizens. The earthworm may be small, spineless, and blind, but its role in the ecosystem is profound. It tills the soil, destroys microscopic organisms that cause plant disease, breaks down toxins, and turns the ground into rich compost, creating the most fertile areas on earth. In her witty and offbeat style, Amy Stewart shows just how much depends on the humble worm.

-- From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden This was Stewart's first book and it tells the story of her own gardens evolution, pitfalls and all.

Now, she's added to her list of accomplishments with her newest work called Wicked Plants: A Book of Botanical Atrocities. This new work tells the tales of many a poisonous and dangerous plant, the disastrous results of our ignorance of these plants and the maniacal ways in which some of them have been used .
Please Click Here to check out her fabulous video promotion for Wicked Plants.

Click Here to check out Amy Stewart's blog, called simply Dirt. There you'll find easy links to her website and her books page.

After writting this I found two interesting responses to Stewart's comments on NPR. (a whole host of good comments to keep things in perspective)

Working with Nature, a book review and musing

As we head out into our gardens this spring I feel the need to lament the combative perspective so many good people take when it comes to life in the garden.
Some good friends of mine moved out to the country. Land was cleared, a house was built, then a garden, followed by a small pond. The garden attracts rabbits and birds and mice to which vast amounts of netting and cages are engaged in battle. The pond attracts frogs, hungry for clean water in which to lay their eggs. The eggs are unwelcome because the frogs make too much noise.
I live in the city, where apparently even the bees that pollinate our plants are considered technically a "nuisance." That first year in my yard I walked the mostly unmowed space only to have a startled snake scare the breath into me. Now the yard is mowed and I haven't seen, what was probably a very helpful snake, in the five years since. I also have rabbits (perhaps because I no longer have snakes). I enjoy seeing them hop around the yard eating the clover that covers my "lawn." The clover keeps my rabbits happy, butt the lettuces and fresh spring vegetables are always in danger, raised beds and hardware cloth have become my means of defense. Thankfully, I don't have a problem with deer, but what about the slugs, snails, squirrels, raccoons and mice? In my work, I hear complaints about everything from crocus stealing chipmunks to berry stealing Robins.
The life in your soil, is the most valuable resource a gardener has, and it also depends upon all that other 'irritating' life above ground. Earthworms, nematodes, protozoa, arachnids, bacteria, fungus, mollusks and even mammals are all important parts of "the soil food web." Yes, I have been reading a lot about soil lately and the more I read the more I understand just how invaluable each and every life is to our natural environment, including the garden.
One of the two books I am reading right now is Teaming With Microbes by By Jeff Lowenfels, Wayne Lewis, and Elaine Ingham. This book will grab any gardener who dares just to read the preface! With amazing photographs and well written, story like chapters on each of the lifeforms that makes the soil-plant relationship sustainable this book will have you rethinking how you treat your soil and probably cause you to tread a little more lightly. The first half of the book dedicated to filling you in on all that life and all of the very important work it must do. The second half of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to best support that life, via compost, compost teas and much more. Click Here to read on Google Books.

The second book I am finally getting to is Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery. I will refrain from writing too much here since Natalie has already written a wonderful review of this work. I was afraid this book would be too daunting and depressing, but instead I have found it to be so full of amazing information and powerful stories I can hardly put it down. In the midst of developing his main message about the importance of protecting soil as one of our primary life sustaining resources, Montgomery engages you with information on Charles Darwin and the last book of his life (it's on earthworms), why the soil in the worlds tropical regions doesn't support agriculture, what caused the dust bowl of the 1930s, or the interesting question he poses concerning the Mayan, Roman, and Greek civilizations all lasting approximately 1,000 years. Click Here to check it out on Google Books.

For most of us, gardening is a bonus. The loss of a lettuce or summer squash is frustrating for sure, and when times are tight it is even more upsetting, but it is my opinion that finding ways to live with all the other life out there is more important than the loss of your ornamental holly berries, or the occasional tomato. As angry as it makes us to see that fruit with just one bite taken out, how many of those fruits do we to often let rot on the vine or on the ground below? Perhaps on some sunny day, we can pause to enjoy the garden and a good book, take a break from our garden warfare and pause to think about how to better live in harmony with all those 'pests,' and to nurture the soil life, and garden life that in the end nurtures all of us.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Market at St. Stephen's to open in May

It seems like Richmond will soon have a farmers' market close to every neighborhood in the city- just the way we like it. I have had the incredible opportunity to bring a new market to the corner of Three Chopt and Grove Avenues this season. The Market at St. Stephen's will be a food focused, producer's only market, taking place every Saturday morning from May until October, expanding the ministry of stewardship. There are many new farms involved, and some that were previously traveling from Richmond to Williamsburg that have now found a place in Richmond. There are about 15 vendors committed right now- everything from coffee and granola to eggs to hungarian pastries to veggies, meat and honey will be represented. I'll be happy to provide a vendor list closer to the starting date. One thing you should know is that Frog Bottom Farm, one of our vegetable producers, is still accepting members for their CSA. Check out their website on our resource page for more information.

See you there!