Wednesday, April 25, 2007

No Gardening Today

Oh well, I have plenty of things to take care of around the house...dishes, laundry, sorting through accumulated belongings and getting rid of as much as possible, and making driving CDs for my friend who is getting ready to drive across the country. I've got two done so far, and it looks like the (already pared down!) play list is going to take up at least one more and possibly three. That will get you through at least the first day, huh?

I really wish I would have taken a picture of the gorgeous delicious salad I made for my dinner last night: baby spinach, red leaf and mizuma, tamari roasted almonds, thin slices of red onion, strawberries, and ricotta salata cheese. With a homemade raspberry balsamic vinaigrette. Boy howdy, was that good. There's some leftover for lunch but it's not nearly so photogenic after spending the night in a yogurt container in the fridge. I am really glad that I fed myself well yesterday after being queen crankypants on monday and eating nothing but tofu dogs. I even soaked oats for muesli last night, so I had a super healthy breakfast too! Today is going to be all about cleaning out the fridge. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What a weekend!
It started for me on Thursday evening, when I went to Kaya for happy hour with j*.
We sat at the bar and drank fruity rum drinks and sampled some little plates and gabbed for almost three hours! It was fantastic and a great way to celebrate the coming of the fine weather. You should take a look at the dinner menu of tropas--we had the serrano and romaine salad and then an order of the empanadas and then ANOTHER order of the empanadas because they were SO GOOD and only $5. I drank Dark and Stormys all the way through---j* tried the vodka version but then switched to rum as well. I got a few more little cleaning out the house presents too! Such a nice time.
Friday was a busy day at the restaurant, and then I came home and ate some green chile stew I had made on Thursday, then got ready and we headed up to Polish Hill. We stopped in to visit Donovan and Jennie and then continued on to Gooskis. Anita and Colin were just arriving so we loaded everything in and then started to set up. It was kind of nice to be in the old spot---it had been a REALLY long time for me. I can't even tell you how long. Saw a bunch of friends and met some nice visitors from New York, drank a beer or two and tried to get myself psyched up to play. It worked.
I think we played one of our best sets ever--lots of energy and we busted out some new songs and people loved them. Good times! The Skinks were so so good and it makes me sad that they are no more. It really is a very Beatle-y sound that not too many bands have these days. It's all about the melody, baby! By the end of the night I was drunk enough to become obsessed with cigarettes, so I got a pack out of the machine. Shame on me. Really, you don't need to shame me because I felt like crap on Sunday after smoking most of the pack on Saturday. But man, that first one in the bar with a cold beer was pretty sweet.
We managed to get all packed up and home and fell into the bed. Saturday was rough--I felt pretty icky getting up. Had some toast and coffee and watched the shows and was looking forward to Indian Buffet for lunch. Unfortunately our lunch comapnion bailed, so rebby made me some lunch at her place and then we drove out to McGinnis Dads for supplies for the cookout to come. We got smoked pork chops and amish cheese and goat cheese for the grilled beets and I got some amish chicken for my freezer. Oh--rebby also got some link chorizo--yum! We stopped at my place to pick up some stuff out of my fridge and then headed over to the Bonello compound to prepare. I made german potato salad and a mixed greens salad with the woodstock dressing I cooked up myself. Rebby roasted some potatoes with garlic and rosemary, and we marinated the beets in balsamic vinegar and olive oil and threw them on the grill. I also made some little stuffed jalapeno bombs with the amish colby cheese--they were really yummy! I wrapped them in foil--no breading necessary. Next time maybe I will oil the foil so they don't stick, but otherwise I'm very proud of my brainstorm. Guests started to arrive and the meatfest began---smoked porck chops and burgers and chorizo on buns and mojo chicken and then people brought homemade scotch eggs and other people brought veggies for steaming and veggie dogs for grilling, adn then there were mussels steamed in beer, and later, pie! I had a few beers but really kind of held it in check. I did smoke a lot though. Ugh. I passed out on the couch at about 10:30pm--it felt like 2am! Rebby took me upstairs to bed later.
I woke up at 7am even though I really could have used another couple hours of sleep--that's just how it goes for me. I sat outside and read some interviews in Rolling Stone in the sunshine while rebby made pancakes and sausages for breakfast! Wow.
We all ate and soaked in the sun for a while, then we decided to visit Home Depot to get our free Earth Day lightbulbs and check out teh gardening scene. It was madness, as you can imagine on Earth Day with a temp of 75 degrees, but we managed to get a hoe and a hand spade and some gardening gloves and mushroom compost, then after stopping at my place for a quick change, we headed to the Benford Shanley estate to start digging the garden.
Boy howdy! Digging the garden is hard work! I must say though, despite the fact taht I am bruised and blistered and burnt and was the most soul satisfying afternoon I've had since I can remember. The dirt in the garden is really great, and I just felt like I was immersing myself in a new world. We started out digging with shovels to turn most of the bed, then eventually I just got right in there with the hand spade to pull out roots and rocks and work the earth. I was without a doubt the DIRTIEST I have been in recent memory, but it was a very clean dirty feeling, you know? We got a few packets of organic seeds---lettuce, cilantro, parsley, chard, and cantaloupes to start, and we plan to get some seedlings from garden dreams too. We worked in a bunch of mushroom compost to the bed and Wednesday we'll go do the first planting, and maybe dig the second bed. I might want to wait for teh weekend---I don't know if I will be recovered enough to dig like that on Wednesday! Rebby is already recovered enough that she rode her bike to work today--ha! I worked in the kitchen and came home to collapse in a heap! But I'm old.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I can't believe the little guy has internet stalkers already!

If you are looking for pictures of Donovan Victor Shanley, please click here.
I'll add more when I get over there for a visit.
Also, in case you were wondering, I got Year Zero yesterday. I can't stop listening to it.
Trent has outdone himself with the groovy danceable tracks about global warming and fascism.
The standout track for me so far is "My Violent Heart" but of course they are all fantastic.
Plus, when you put your cd in the player it is all black. When you take it out it is all white with binary code all over it. Wicked Cool, T REZ.
Thinking Like a Chef

As you may know, my culinary training is pretty much limited to reading a lot of cookbooks and watching a lot of PBS cooking shows and practice practice practice. Oh, and there was that J-term Hare Krishna cooking class back in college. So, I really can't call myself a chef, per se. I feel like to be a chef you have to have some kind of credentials. However, I had an experience on Sunday morning that made me realize I am at the very least THINKING like a chef now.
I was in the kitchen early in the morning prepping for our Celebrating Citrus theme brunch. Jilly had come up with a delightful citrusy menu and I was executing my assigned items. It was all humming along nicely, and I was working at a comfortable pace. I had brewed a pot of coffee, and I think I had even pour myself a travel mug full, but I had yet to take a sip. I remember thinking it was remarkable that I had gotten so much done with no coffee and no music. The silence was sweet.
So there I am slicing red peppers ultra thin for citrus cole slaw, using the new "cartoon" knife when all of a sudden I slice across my right index finger nail. Now, if I was a REAL chef I would have been using proper technique with my finger curled under and there would have been no fingernail exposed to cut...and also, if I had actually drunk some coffee I might have been more alert and not so sloppy...and, I could continue to beat myself up about my knife injury forever. The point is, there I was at 8:20am, bleeding profusely from the right index finger.
And my first thought was not "I wonder if I need stitches?" or "I hope it doesn't get infected" or even "OW!". No, my first thought was "I do not have fucking TIME to bleed right now!" I went on to swear a blue streak for about 10 minutes as I ran it under cold water and went through a few paper towels trying to contain the bleeding enough so that I could GET BACK TO WORK.
It really didn't hurt, or at least I didn't notice it hurting. I was too ANNOYED.
And that, my friends, is the true mark of a chef.
It's looking much better now, but I think if I leave the bandaid off for any length of time I am going to lose half of the nail. I am not psyched about that (it would certainly slow me down in the kitchen!) so I am keeping it bandaged for most of the time, letting it out for peroxide soaks and air whenever I am home for a period of time. This poor finger is going to be so frankenstein-y between this new scar and the bump from when I cut the knuckle two years ago on Mother's Day. But from what I hear even the best chefs have mangled fingers. It's part of the job, and a badge of honor.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

RIP Kurt

Kurt had the unfortunate bad luck to die in the middle of the Don Imus controversy and the who's Dannilynn's dad controversy and the Sanjaya is still on American Idol controversy and the Duke Lacrosse players controversy, so you may not have seen any
news coverage of the death of one of the greatest American writers we've had.
I was really sort of sickened at how much news I had to watch this morning to see even a mention. RIP, American culture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hi there!
I have a new best friend. Yep, Sansa has been replaced in my heart by Isi. I was having an email conversation with a nice fellow about bottled water, and mentioned to him that I have a sparkling water PROBLEM. He said that he and his wife got a soda siphon for Xmas and just love it. So, when I found myself in the strip yesterday buying food protection gloves (more on that later) I impetuously stopped into what was until recently Balcolny Cookware (it's being taken over by In the Kitchen from Wexford) and just got one. I just put it together about an hour ago and made my first batch. Wow. It's like science! And no more plastic bottles cluttering up my life. I am so psyched. Plus, damn...isn't she sexy? I am pretty sure that Isi is a she. SO now I have to come up with some clever uses for the used chargers. I'll bet someone out there in internet land has done some cool things with them.

Please do not ask me if you can come over and do whippits. The answer will be no. Isi is civilised.

So, other than buying a soda siphon, I have been busy being tossed and turned by the tides of life. Just found out today that the super secret thing is NOT going happen. Bummer. I am pretty sad about it, but there are plenty of ways in which it is just as well. I am still being a little cagey I know but until all the angles have been figured out I don't want to say anything concrete. Maybe tomorrow.
Also, I finally got to meet my new nephew on Friday when rebby and I went to dad's for good friday steak. We are the most blasphemous family of all time, no? It was a really nice evening with just dad and the sibs and the sibs offspring. Brady, the new nephew, is indeed a bruiser. But he is a bouncy smiling baby. I had a great time hanging out with him. Tristan is getting to be very communicative. The moms are both looking great. Dad made some awesome steaks and we feasted, drank wine, and talked about various things. It was a good way to spend the "holiday." Ha.
Before that, my almost-nephew was born, about three weeks early. I figure I might as well just claim him as a nephew too since I plan to lean heavily on him in my old age. Donovan Victor Shanley is a tiny little dude, but he has some pipes on him. Of course, he was born on Sebastian Bach's birthday. I was so excited to tell his parents that I practically ran to the hospital. He developed a little jaundice so he had to hang out on a glowing blue pillow for his first few was pretty cool to walk into the room and see a soft blue light emanating from the crib. Everyone seems to be settling in well. I can't wait to go and check him out again now that he doesn't have to be plugged in. :)
Lets see...what else? Oh yeah...the food protection gloves. Last Friday we got a surprise visit from the health department. Bummer. We really do run a pretty clean operation, and in general we have very good habits, but there are some little nitpicky things that are health department requirements that we must do even if they don't really make sense. Like, wearing the gloves all the time. The health dept dude even admitted to me that PUTTING THE GLOVES ON contaminates them, but these days everyone has to act like each piece of spinach could potentially be diseased. The last time we were reviewed we were exempted from the gloves because we are a vegetarian operation, but things have gotten more stringent since all the vegetable based food poisoning epidemics of late. I have opinions on that, you know, but I kept them to myself. We also have to keep a chart of calibrating the thermometers every day. Grr. These are little annoyances, but it's like insurance against getting sued, apparently. Whatever it takes.
I'm really excited for my day off tomorrow. I just had two days off (though I did have a meeting on Sunday) but for some reason the weekend just tired me out. I am looking forward to some cleaning, laundry, and perhaps RELAXING. woohoo.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

So. Farm to Table.
Saturday morning rebby and I woke up oh so early (especially considering we rocked out at the Garfield Artworks the night before) and got ourselves ready to go to the conference. We made a pit stop at Einsteins because I wasn't prepared with coffee or travel mugs and honestly, I just couldn't get my mind around making coffee without first drinking coffee that morning. That's how it goes sometimes. So we got some bagels and coffees and headed for the north side. It was a little tricky finding the place because the building at the end of the street had a decoy sign on it, but we did eventually make our way down to the proper place. The Bidwell Training Center looks to me like a highschool built in the 1970s--which for all I know it could have been. Anyway, we managed to get street parking right across from the place. Score. Got in and got registered and the first thing I saw was a table for Table magazine. I was very impressed with this magazine from the copy I picked up at the Michael Pollan lecture(oh yeah, I never wrote about that either, did I?) and I had actually learned about the conference from the magazine, so I wanted to chat with the editor and thank her. I ended up getting a subscription and one of the very last copies of the first issue, which I still haven't completely digested. It looks great.
The co-op was there with a leaflet listing all the local products available at the store---I thought that was really nice. Mung Dynasty was there with some wheat grass and a juicer and later in the day a kinda freaky lookin dude playing guitar and singing about the virtures of sprouting. There were several tables of people selling various kinds of supplements....I usually just glaze over when I am confronted with that stuff. I go to a FARM conference to learn about whole foods, not weird extracts and little plastic bottles of expensive stuff. That's just me.
Out on the patio under a big tent were most of the farmers....the Penn's Corner Farm Alliance, Blackberry Meadows Farm, Marburger Dairy, Wil-Den, the Amish Dude (more on him later) the goat farmer and the raw milk people (I can't remember their names now--should have done this last week....) and some woman pushing a service where sustainably fished salmon and halibut can be flown right to your door. You can find info on most of these farms (and a bunch of others in the area) on
Search for farms around pittsburgh.
Anyhow, down the hallway were some other exhibitors...more of the weird supplement people, plus Maggie's Mercantile, the chef from the convention center serving a special local tomato bruschetta, WYEP/Allegheny Front with a Cd compilation of the shows they've done on sustainable agriculture (free!) various agricultural/farming associations, some yoga people, a chiropractor giving free massages(yay!), Slow Food Pittsburgh, The Pampered Chef(what?) and the Weston Price people. I could write an entire essay about my ambivalence about these people and their ideas, but I have to say there is at least a kernel of truth in what they are all about. It does resonate with me on a certain level. They advocate for pure clean food, which I can certainly support. Wholeheartedly. I can buy that a lot of the ills of modern American society are brought on by our chemicalized and unnatural food supply, for sure. But I can't quite make the leap to the assertion that the best thing for Americans is to eat tons of animal products all the time. And they also seem to have something against soy foods, which suggests to me that they were very selective in which indiginous populations they chose to study. I haven't really done any research or read any source materials, so I am kind of speaking out of my ass about them based on what I picked up from their displays (and the raw milk lecture I attended at the end of the day) Also, the phrase "nourishing traditions" freaks me out a little bit. It feels a little cult-y. BUT--I did get a couple of books from their table: The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Katz which I am already devouring and loving, and Full Moon Feast which I have just glanced at but looks interesting, if a little hippiedippy. I'll report back.
So after taking our tour of the vendors and getting a feel for the lay of the land, so to speak, rebby and I parted ways to go to our first sessions. She attended a workshop on rain barrels and backyard composting, from which she got lots of ideas and pages of notes. I attended the Farmer's Panel Discussion, from which I got no notes but lots of inspiration and gazing with worshipful admiration upon Don Kretschmann, Barb Kline and Ron Gargasz. I think the piece of information that stuck with me the most is that most Americans spend less than 10% of their income on food, whereas Italians spend around 40% and in some European countries it's even more. That was sort of astonishing. I know that since I've been going for the local/organic wherever possible, I've been spending a lot more. But knowing that my food dollars are going to people who at least in part share my outlook on the world, and barring that at least are going to people who are going to reinvest those dollars in my local economy---it's easy. I'd rather eat less food that is good, than more food that is garbage. Of course, I'm not perfect (witness the great Hostess Outlet Massacre of a few weekends back) but I'm working on it. And soon it will be a whole lot easier, what with spring coming and the farmer's markets starting back up and our own garden.
So. I sat next to Randa Shannon (who is the co-owner of Mildreds' Daughters with Barb) at the talk---I always seem to sit next to her! I congratulated her on the cover story in the CP about her son Bill, and spoke to her about the Wednesday morning volunteer days at the farm. Rebby and I are very excited to do this. Then I made my way down to the cafeteria to look for rebby. I ended up speaking with Don K for a little while, and he told me that I have a beautiful smile and he appreciated my attentive listening. Swoon. I have come to believe that farmers deserve all the adulation of rock stars, and I swear my heart skipped a beat. "he noticed me!" hee hee.
I had a delicious taste of lacto-fermented kimchi from a Sandor Katz recipe---the whole fermented foods thing is another one I'm not entirely sold on, but I do enjoy them when I try them. I found rebby and she was very excited about her workshop too. We decided to go ahead and get lunch...and here's where I had a big cognitive disconnect. The wraps from Mung Dynasty were presented in plastic shells. The soup from the Green Chef Deli was served with plastic spoons in styrofoam cups. There were plastic cups for cider, and bottles of Dasani water. Eeek. We sat in a fully functioning cafeteria with a dishroom to eat this meal. Sure, it was tasty, and made with local ingredients, etc....but. Watching the workers bringing in plastic bag after plastic bag of plastic containers just made me twitchy. Could they not have wrapped the wraps in butcher paper(like we do at the Storm)? Could they not have arranged to turn on the dish machine and use the plates and bowls and silverware from the cafeteria? I don't know what the logistics were, but I can't be the only person who was unnerved by so much waste being produced by a conference on sustainable agriculture. (in fact, I know I wasn't.)
We got over our heebeegeebees and went on to find our next workshops...rebby went to a talk by another farmer about farming in Pennsylvania, and I went to the Chef's Panel. It was kind of interesting, and kind of entertaining, and the little nibbles they ended up producing were yummy. But, I gotta say that as much as I consider farmers to be rock stars, I get a little put off by chefs who ACT like rock stars. I'm of course very impressed and heartened by Bill at Big Burrito and Chris at Six Penn and Doug at Bona Terra, and their commitment to sourcing locally wherever possible. But there was a real clique-y vibe, and Bill's whole celebrity chef thing turned me off. He knows what he is talking about though, and for the most part walks the walk, and I respect that. I guess it was just in contrast to the humility of the farmers that the bravado of the chefs rubbed me the wrong way. Eh. I was impressed by his diatribe about bottled water happened just as I was making my way out of the room and I am glad I didn't manage to get out before it started.
I found rebby again and after we ate the second half of our wraps from lunch, we took a little tour around the tables in the back. She chatted with a farmer at one of the agriculture association booths, and I got my free massage. Yay. Then we made our way up to the Raw Milk lecture.
I'm really psyched about raw milk...I don't necessarily believe the hype about how it will cure diseases and all that, but I spent enough time on a farm as a kid to know what milk is supposed to taste like, and the idea that I can actually drive out to a farm and get milk like that turns me on. The dairy farmers who participated in the talk were great and the milk was amazing. The Westin Price Foundation lady who was giving the talk impressed me less, and as with all their stuff, I found it to be a little unbelievable. But if the practical application of their beliefs is making raw milk more available for the people, I'm all for it.
After the milk talk we went out to the farmers tables to start collecting some souvenirs in the form of food. I got a loaf of raisin bread from the Amish dude, and a bar of goat milk soap from the goat lady. Rebby got us a $25 sampler pack from Wil-Den farms of pastured pork. Oh boy. We got a pound of bacon and two pork chops and two kinds of sausage and a half rack of ribs. Wow. The pork chops and bacon we've already gotten into-both are possibly the most delicious ever. Of course, as I always say, there is a psychological component to their deliciousness, but I'll bet if someone put those chops in front of me and didn't tell me they were from a happy pig I would still be able to tell. Yes, that good.
So, the Amish Dude. Apparently the Amish Dude follows the Westin Price people around, and apparently the Amish Dude can get away with selling things like raw milk butter and cheese because he's an Amish Dude and therefore the regulatory people don't come down on him as hard. Whatever it takes is what I say, because the amish butter ROCKS. Seriously. The Amish Dude's raisin bread cost me $5.50, but boy oh boy was it good. Not something I would spend $5.50 on every day, but I think it was totally worth the expense.
And that was that. We have been plowing through our literature whenever possible, and as I said I am really digging Sandor's book. And just yesterday when we were at the Benford Shanley house trying to decide what to eat for lunch....rebby stared at a pizza delivery menu for about 10 minutes before deciding that she just couldn't bring herself to eat any of that. That's the way we're headed, a little at a time.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Today was a really good day.
Rebby and I woke up and made some (equal exchange) coffee and breakfast. Our breakfast was sunnysideup eggs from Champion Chicks, cooked in amish butter; hickory smoked bacon from Wil-den farms; and amish-made raisin toast. Not only was everything more delicious than I can really even begin to describe to you, it felt good to eat, knowing exactly where almost every component of the meal came from. I often struggle with my perceptions about food...does it really taste better, or do I just think it's better because I feel better about it? I guess in the end it doesn't really matter. I'm convinced.
So we got dressed and headed up to Polish Hill to do some work around the Benford-Shanley estate. Because, as some of you may know--they had a baby somewhat out of the blue on Tuesday! It wasn't a total shock--I mean, they knew they were having one and everything--but he came about three weeks early. So there were some things around the house that needed doing and I had a day off so I went to do some of them. Rebby tackled baby furniture assembly while I tackled kitchen duties. It was nice to do something useful for a friend. We found this item a little bizarre, but I love my papasan so who's to say that Donovan won't love his? The family should be coming home tomorrow--hopefully I can get over there to help put together his room and get them aclimated. If you want to see some pictures of a very tiny very new born baby, look at my flickr.
Another thing we did while we were over there was do some measurements for the garden. I really hadn't taken a good hard look at the back yard over there--it's kind of enormous! I had all sorts of wonderful visions while I was washing dishes. Earlier in the morning for some reason I had remembered the garden book I had when I put the garden in at 525 Melwood Culture and Horticulture by Wolf-Dieter Storl. Look it up---he's a trip. Anyway, I'm going to try to order a new copy of that book, and pick up the new one by the Organic Gardner folks from the radio. We're looking at seed catalogs, but I am fully prepared to get some seedlings from Garden Dreams And not just because the woman who runs it is smokin hot. :)
On my way home I stopped in the Big Idea to see if they had any gardening books--they didn't really, but I did get a cool new anarcho-punk vegan cookbook. One can never have too many of those. I continued on my way home and did my own dishes and swept the floor and got the trash and recycling ready to go out, and then I got inspired to recreate the annie's woodstock dressing I think I came pretty close, though mine is pinker and a little more tart. I didn't put any sesame seeds in, but I did add sesame oil. I used salad vinegar and olive oil, and of course---no xanthan gum. My tahini is a little old too which made the flavor stronger than it needs to be, but overall, I did a good job. It was the first task of my new food processor and it worked like a champ. To celebrate I made myself a dinner of roasted broccoli, carrots, and tofu over brown rice with this yummy as hell dressing on top.
See? I told you today was a good day.
As is typical, I have a big thing I really want to write about (the Farm to Table conference) but I just don't have the energy to do it right now. I definitely will though, because it was pretty life changing. If you thought I was somewhat annoying in my local food activism before....just wait. Ha.