Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inspiration for Christmas dinner...

I braved the cold and took the mysterious #9 to pick up a mystery box of veggies outside of Slow Club last night. You hand over $25 dollars in cash and get over 10 pounds of the best the season has to offer from Mariquita Farm. My favorites are their orange cauliflowers...I've never eaten such goodness. The perfect inspiration for my orphan Christmas feast! See more of what we got here.

Photo from Mariquita Farms

I'm still dreaming up ideas for the vegetarian contribution to dinner--lentils and vegetables in a red wine reduction? Something with arugula pesto? Fried polenta with a mushroom infused tomato sauce (I'll try pulling out some of the sauce Edna, Tanya, and I made and froze this summer)?

More photos of the cooking and feasting to's gonna be good.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Getting past that sushi craving...

Sushi is a new thing for me. It started the winter of 2006—I had my first taste of amazing sushi at a little spot on College in Berkeley. Before that moment I didn't know that I would ever crave nigiri or that I would have so much fun actually handling raw fish making homemade rolls with friends.

But I work day in and day out with people trying to save our declining fisheries—the more I learn, the more I realize how difficult it is to eat fish smart. I was on the fence, until I read this article.

I'm about two months into my no fish diet (with admittedly one slip up…couldn't pass up that seared ahi noodle dish at Pomelo) my sushi craving is coming back. Luckily this article from the New York Times about the decline in local fish even at Bay Area locavore havens like Chez Panisse, was a good reminder to take stock:

“We can no longer treat the ocean and its fish and wildlife as an all-you-can eat buffet,” said Kaitilin Gaffney, the Pacific ecosystem program director for the Ocean Conservancy. “But the ocean is pretty resilient. If we allow nature to restore herself, she will.”

There's definitely a way to eat fish sustainably—if you ask the right questions—but for now, I've decided I want to leave all the questions at the door and just focus on deliciously seasonal, local veggie meals.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Awesome Farmers comes to a close & the best thank you gifts ever.

Last Saturday, under dark and stormy clouds, the Awesome Farmers crew harvested the last veggie box for 2009 at Garden for the Environment. Loads of greens, from arugula to dino kale, herbs, and snap peas among other goodies made it through last week's unusual frost to become the basis for a weekly family meal for G house, a youth homeless shelter.

Over the past year, the Awesome Farmers came together to see how many veggies we could really grow in our foggy, sandy spot at Garden for the Environment. A garden so close to Ocean Beach you can see it on a clear day from under the cypress tree. Our group was one of changing faces from the random volunteers who showed up on a Saturday looking to get into the dirt, to a core group of a handful of volunteers and the staff of GFE.

Planting calendars and garden maps were made. Seeds were purchased and started in the greenhouse. The soil was amended and tended. Plants were nurtured and loved. We watched diseases and pests descend and we battled them without the use of chemicals. We problem solved and documented. On the side, we planted fruit trees and tackled sprawling aloe plants, felled dying trees, revived worm bins, turned-chopped-and-watered compost, and rebuilt fences. We shared stories over Arizmendi pizza lunches on sun soaked Saturdays. We huddled in the crumbling greenhouse over hot coffee when the storm clouds rolled in. And it was good.

When we were faced with ultimate success--an overflow of harvest (in particular, a hill covered in summer squashes) we needed to find somewhere for all this food to go. We found out that G house could use our bounty. So, each week we lovingly packaged up a CSA box for them and took more photos than the paparazzi we were so proud. Food Runners solved our distribution problem and a new project was born.

Some weeks the box was light--some mornings as I did my initial walk through the garden I had no idea if we would be able to fill the box. But every week we made a beautiful box--a box tended by so many hands and hearts there are too many to count. That's the beauty of a garden tended by volunteers from all over the Bay Area.

Thank you to the hard core crew Dave (for your vision, heart and wicked mapping/ documentation skills), Thomas (for your tool cleaning, harvesting, good talks, and sheer brawn), Paul (for your inspired plantings, worm compost tea, and unparalleled slug sighting abilities), Blair (for your gorgeous photos, love of answering any bug question, and your excitement over every box) Hillary (for endless good advice, passing along latin plant names, and for pushing us one step farther), Nicole (for your inspired squash hill, compost workouts and mad plant propagation skillz), Suzi (for your guidance, support, diligence and sunshine!) and to so many other GCETP grads and volunteers who lent a hand.

Watch out--I'm an urban farmer!

Beginning in 2010, I'll be able to sleep in on Saturday mornings, just a little bit...because new Gardening and Compost Educator graduates are taking over this great project. I look forward to more garden adventures. But, now I'll be armed with my buttery Felco pruners--gotta break in that holster baby! THANK YOU!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Revelation: Hash brown sandwiches!

Why did it take me so long to go to Art's Cafe for breakfast? It's just a few short blocks away from my front door. Was it that the Koren BBQ sign frightened my vegetarian sensitivities? Was it that I couldn't fathom that a breakfast for $5 could be any good?

Well, I ducked in from the rain, squeezed into a seat along the counter and came upon a revelation. A veggie hash brown sandwich: mushrooms, spinach, onions, bell peppers cheese and Korean barbecue sauce wrapped in a hash brown pancake with two eggs (over easy) and toast. Plus coffee & a tip = $8. Damn, it was good. Not to mention the conversation with the regulars, the watching them cook it all up on the grill just two feet in front of me and the post cards sent from every part of the globe blanketing the counter top.

I'm going back next week for their specialty Tofu Bi Bim Bop topped with a fried egg!

Friday, December 11, 2009

To become a veggie gardener and holiday gift ideas

A friend of mine asked what to get an aspiring veggie gardener for the holidays. Here's my short list...

First you need books for knowledge and inspiration:
Rodale's Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. otherwise known as my bible. Then see if there's any gardening books for where the budding gardener lives--the bay area is blessed with the tome Golden Gate Gardening Both This Organic Life and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle are books that will inspire garden and kitchen adventures. And Edible Estates is good for inspiration on radical garden design.

Then you need compost...
websites and classes are good for learning how to make your own black gold, for the uber technical Rodale's book of composting is ridiculously exhaustive but good.

Then you need good seeds:
Get some good heritage, organic seeds here Seed Savers Exchange -- I got to spend a few days at the Seed Savers Heritage Farm and it is the most magical place! But also look for local, organic seed companies in your region--they'll have the best stuff for your particular climate.

And finally, here's the essential gardening equipment--I'm still pining for Felco pruners with these radical little holsters that become this beautiful worn leather over time...sigh.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vegetarian restaurant love...

I celebrated a pilgrimage to Oakland today with a stop at one of my favorite vegetarian spots in the Bay - Golden Lotus. I want to try everything on the menu. But since it was freezing cold I had the Veggie Chowfun soup with a surprise of three different kinds of veggie-meat deliciousness in addition to veggies and noodles. Yum.

And I'm looking forward to checking out this brand spankin new vegan taqueria with a bias for all things local in the Mission. I know...vegan taqueria? My interested is peaked.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

We waste 40% of our food: An indicator of how we value food?

A new study was just published in the journal PLoS ONE announcing that Americans throw away 40% of their food. A heartbreaking juxtaposition to the recent alarm that US food security is rapidly declining.

Not enough food is getting to the people who need it, and those who have enough are wasting too much.

Admittedly, I used to be the queen of wasting food--I've always been a finicky eater and my parents never enforced the clean plate rule. Two things changed that: the green compost bin next to my trash can and becoming a gardener.

Compost is the law in San Francisco--places like Britain and Quebec are also taking the steps to ban food waste from landfills. Food waste and other biodegradables can't decompose in the anaerobic environments that are our landfills so instead, they begin to emit methane, a potent contributor to climate change. I don't have to do much in my city to help combat this--merely separate my food and paper scraps from my trash just as I do with recycling. Then the city takes it to a massive composting facility where they breakdown the scraps into amazing soil amendments for local farms. If only it were this easy everywhere.

But becoming a gardener was the way I began to start putting less food into that compost bin in the first place. There's something about nurturing a plant from seed to harvest that invests you in it in a completely different way. After harvesting a bowl full of green and purple beans I had once known as flowers I wanted to use them all. After waiting months for my one surviving beet in my community garden plot, there's no way I would let even the greens wilt, I used them along with the ruby root for my next meal.

To begin to waste less as a country, we need to begin to value more--value the food on our plates and tucked away in our fridges. And, we'll need that compost revolution to take root in every city!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Stamps now feed 1 in 8 americans

Food stamps are on the rise -- check out this interactive map to see what food stamp usage looks like throughout the US.

As under secretary of Agriculture tells it straight:“It’s time for us to face up to the fact that in this country of plenty, there are hungry people.”

But what can you actually buy with money from the supplemental nutrition assistance program? (or SNAP as food stamps are now called) I was happy to see it's a lot of whole foods and your typical veggies and meats--I was ecstatic to see that you can purchase plants and seeds to feed your family too!

I'll have to do some research to see how the complementary farmers market nutrition program is working out these days...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Not to be missed articles on urban greening and beer!

This week was a powerhouse of articles -- first the new issue of Edible San Francisco was released, featuring our own guest blogger Rich Higgins and his perspective on brewing beer and the art of pairing it with food.

Then there was the incredibly inspiring front page spread in the Bay Guardian about the urban greening collective Rebar. Think Parking Day, Victory Gardens, and Pavement to Parks--taking our unused roadway spaces to make way for human spaces. Many of Rebar's projects are temporary, ephemeral--yet they are making a lasting impression on how San Franciscans think and move and inhabit our city. Read more here to get inspirations about how you can reclaim your streets and make your own hood more livable.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Why did it take me so long to open up Barbara Kingsolver's gem of a book: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? There's something in it for everyone, local food warriors and people who have never heard of an heirloom vegetable alike.

On this cold and rainy night Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and its stories of cooking has sparked my interest in the kitchen again after a long, dry spell. Out with the miso that was hiding in the back of the fridge! In goes chopped bok choy (stems and leaves and all), ginger, carrot, baby broccoli, tofu, red chili flakes, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and some green onions. I don't know where this is going, but hopefully its somewhere good! Oops, almost forgot the soba noodles...

I've botched miso soup before and swooned over a killer walnut-miso dressing for soba noodles Check out a solid miso soup foundation here. I look forward to finding the bottom of this miso container BEFORE it goes bad this time (note, it takes months for miso to go, I've got no excuses).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Inspired by: Jim Denevan

I love it when my passions for all things art and food come together. This amazing sand artist Jim Denevan keeps popping up in my life lately--I was inspired to see that he's also the mastermind behind the Outstanding in the Field farm events. Gorgeous outdoor meals with seasonal local foods. Check out photos of these beautiful events here.

These events are ridiculously popular and equally as expensive...I'd love to find a way of doing these sorts of meals in an affordable way. Everyone should have the gift of a eating a beautiful meal outside with friends sitting on the soil that nourished it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My pride & joy: a huge compost workshop

Go here to see photos of last weekend's compost workshop! A huge piece of organizing composting at my community garden is going to be education--composting isn't one of those traditions that get handed down any more. So we brought together the amazing educators at Garden for the Environment, just across a pumpkin patch from White Crane Community Garden, and held a workshop all about the basics of composting from worm bins to big piles. The workshop included both members from the garden and interested citizens of SF. And it was huge.

And it is a beginning. It all starts with the soil.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Compost revolution continues...

The compost revolution continues at my community garden, White Crane -- look at this beautiful new 3-bin system! Dreamed and planned and built and suffered over by a special group of gardeners, I can't wait to see the soil that we get out of this beauty. With over 60 plots in the garden I think we'll be able to transform our garden waste and sandy pacific soils into something amazing!

Special props (and soon heaping bowls of soup) go out to my comrade Susan Kuehn for her valiant compost efforts--she incurred a broken arm during the building of this bin, but she still can't stop laughing about it. Her spirit is truely inspirational.

Also, the photo credits here go to my favorite apiarist Robert MacKimmie.

More posts to follow that show how we actually use this thing--rot on!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A guest post on great beer & good food...

By Rich Higgins
Americans are finally waking up to the experience of great beer paired with great food. In this country, we have a wealth of amazing agriculture and artistic freedom, and they have combined into a unique artisanry of craft beer and slow food. Other cultures of beer and food may enjoy more celebrated terroir or deeper rootstock, but it is in America where creativity, quality, and openness have crafted a fresh-faced newcomer to the Slow Food and Slow Beer arena. The late British beer writer, Michael Jackson, continually praised America as the best beer country in the world, shocking old world brewers while enlightening them about the passion of American craft brewers’ ability to brew faithful interpretations of classic beer styles and to pioneer new flavors.

Americans’ ability to harness unique terroir and attitude is proving to be infectious, and in a very flattering nod, breweries all over the world are forging new beer traditions as well. A great beer cultures is emerging, and the proof is in the pudding of great chefs and restaurants all over the country. Just in the last week in San Francisco, celebrity chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto has cooked a four-course meal at the Haight’s Magnolia Pub and Brewery, chef Eric Tucker of Millenium Restaurant has served a five-course Chile Dinner with beer pairings (including two of SOMA’s ThirstyBear Brewing Co.’s organic beers). In New York City this month, Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant served a seven-course dinner paired with Brooklyn Brewing Co. beers (price tag: $350 before tax and tip).

It has never been a better time to drink and eat local in America. This is a pretty incredible about-face from the bleak beer scene just a quarter-century ago. A great craft brewing revolution has rushed in on the heels of pioneers like Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco, New Albion Brewing Co. in Sonoma, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, CA. These brewers, and their thirsty supporters, made a statement against the status quo of bland American beer.

For much of the twentieth century, American beer was on a depressing decline into characterless oblivion. Breweries emerged from Prohibition in poor financial health, and in the turmoil the the weak began to devour the weaker. Industry consolidation caused breweries to get larger in size and fewer in number, and success became defined by the ability to eke out efficiency. The millennia-old processes of making great beer do not lend themselves to efficiency. Fermentation times shortened. New enzymes were employed to alter protein and sugar types. Beer flavor and body thinned out when government-subsidized corn and rice made their way into the grist. Breweries shifted more and more money from the brewhouse to the marketing department, and by the 1980s, Americans had inherited a beer arms race of tasteless commercials promoting tasteless beer.

Beer is an agricultural product, a celebration of malt and mash, hops and heritage. Allowing brewer’s yeast and natural enzymes free reign in a beer creates the deeply satisfying flavors of real beer. These flavors and processes cannot be forced or substituted, they can only be nurtured. And, fortunately, there are now hundreds of bold, passionate American breweries who care to nurture beer the slow way. Each of these brewers will tell you, too, that they work for the yeast, and not the other way around. With the yeast in charge, and throngs of thirstyLink fans in support, real beer has gained a permanent foothold in America, both at the bar and on the dinner table.

Rich Higgins is a foodie, brewer, and Cicerone in San Francisco, and he pairs great beer and great food wherever he goes. Contact him at

Monday, November 2, 2009

A garden homecoming & compost revolution

After three weeks away from gardening, this Saturday was a welcoming homecoming. It was so fabulous to see my fellow urban farmers both at Garden for the Environment & White Crane Community Garden. As one friend put it, at GFE we're all working in the garden collaboratively--fertilizing, watering, mulching, harvesting, doing what the plants need without words--it's like we're all doing this beautiful dance together.

And the veggies are responding -- there was a big harvest including beautiful chard, herbs, raspberries, lettuce, carrots and more.

The tree dahlia and it's annual Halloween coming out...

And finally, the White Crane compost crew put together the beginnings of a new three-bin compost system at the garden. I hope to do a future post that breaks down how you build one of these beauties step by step--it's a big learning process for crew and I can't wait to see where it goes!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Introducing blogger Rich Higgins - because it's the Year of the Beer.

Rich Higgins is a SF based local brewer, food lover and a great writer. Since I'm newbie to the world of homebrewing, not to mention pairing food and beer--I'm excited to have Rich contribute to Root to Fruit about all things beer and food. Here's a quick interview to introduce Rich, be on the lookout for a new post by him this week!

How did you get started as a home-brewer?

I started homebrewing because I loved beer and wanted to figure out how to make it myself. My first few batches were horrendous, but after seeking info from different sources, my beer got better and better.

How did you make the jump to brewing as a day job?

After five years of homebrewing, I moved to San Francisco without a job and looking for a dream to chase. I spent my first few months here sitting in brewpubs, loving the fresh beer, and wondering what I was going to do with myself. Then it hit me: someone’s got to brew this stuff!

What is your first food memory?

The sound of the Shawerma Man sharpening his knives at the shawerma stand near where I grew up.

What are you cooking these days?

I’m pickling and jarring a lot of the last vestiges of summer. Basically, a lot of tomato sauce and spiced fruit jams.

You are a certified Cicerone--what is a Cicerone?

A Cicerone is a certified beer sommelier; someone who is an expert in beer history, styles, and brewing technique, who has an expert palate, and who has a passion about pairing great beer with great food. Draft system maintenance is key knowledge, too.

What are you the most excited by in the food/beer world right now?

The real excitement of pairing beer and food is how it can be an “a-ha!” moment for people, allowing the beautiful flavors and textures of beer to be appreciated in a new context. There are too many people who think that beer doesn’t have a place at the table. Beer is such a versatile partner with food, and, unlike how wine has difficult-to-pair foods, there really is a beer for every food and a food for every beer.

When was the last time you had a bud light?

At the Kentucky Derby a couple years ago at a bachelor party. It’s five seconds of my life I’ll never get back.

Last meal?

My last meal will be a ripe Warren pear from Frog Hollow Farm, sliced with a sprinkle of freshly cracked pepper, and a bottle of Old Stock from North Coast Brewing Co. Try it, and you’ll understand.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Heading East....

Fall colors, friends & family back east--here I come! From Philly to Jersey to NYC and back again.

I'm looking forward to finishing NYT Magazine Food Issue on the plane - so far, I especially love the article on the revolution of fresh produce in food banks.

When I get back I hope to have many photos of good food and I'm excited to be able to expand my guest posts to some on the craft beer + local foods world!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Latest food inspirations

Had a great weekend with friends visiting from my desert homeland, AZ. Cooking and eating with my old friends brought up lots of good food memories and a reminder of my own eating evolution.

From my fast food fueled high school years to my first attempts at college vegetarianism involving an aversion to vegetables and a dedication to veggie paddies and bean & cheese burritos. To my long, slow move to, well, slow food--it started when I was a CSA coordinator with no clue how to cook the veggie bounty and continues through today as I try and figure out how to learn to love the fennel and cook the pumpkin in my CSA share.

Each step of the way I get inspired by eating and cooking with my friends. So here's just some of the things I'm finding inspiration from lately...
  1. 101 cookbooks (as always) with it's beautiful photos & seasonal, whole food recipes--I'm especially excited when she shares those who inspire her, like this new blog focused on Asian cooking.
  2. Spicy noodle Mie Tek Tek soup from my new favorite Borobudur, a great Indonesian restaurant.
  3. Cauliflower is my fall vegetable of the moment.
  4. Vegetarian sushi @ Cha-Ya
  5. Dinners involving a tasting: this weekend=a mushroom tasting inspired by the farmers' market. Lobster, Chantrelle, Fried chicken, and so many others! So delicious.
  6. Finally...whatever comes out of the garden--here's a big old bucket of veggies harvested from Garden for the Environment. Even those radishes look good!

Friday, October 9, 2009

A do not miss farmer-writer event 10/17

Two of my favorite farmer writers - Andy Griffin & Novella Carpenter - are coming together for Litquake's Litcrawl next Saturday @ 18 reasons. More info here. Andy grows my beautiful CSA veggies and writes inspiring newsletters while Novella is an urban farmer superstar and the author of Farm City.  

I'll be on the east coast during the event—so, please go. Brave the crowds. Eat street food. Take profuse notes, let it infuse your soul and inspire. And tell me and my blog all about it. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Local food revolution continues to storm Washington

Thanks to my friend Katie for pointing out this NPR story about the local food revolution making waves in Washington.

The NPR story talks about two important issues of the local food scene: the cost of local food & public education coming from the top.

Public education campaign from the top: The USDA has created a new program focused on connecting eaters and producers for the first time: Know Your Farmer. Promoting local food AND creating economic sustainability for rural communities. This is a critical first step to ensuring access to fresh, healthy, organic food for all Americans.

When NPR turned to tell the story of the cost of local foods they started with the fact that at the White House Farmers' Market, food stamps and WIC are worth twice as much if used at farmers' markets. An unparralleled improvement in access to local foods for low income communities. But then the conservatives from the Cato Institute chimed into to say that the real solution is to bring WalMart into inner-cities.

Yes, inner-cities suffer from a lack of access to fresh, whole foods--corner stores and fast food chains are your best bet for an affortable meal. But perhaps the best tack is to look at innovative policies that create inscentives for small buisness owners to provide fresh, whole foods---even local foods--to low-income communities. Read more about these efforts in NYC and Philadelphia.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

David Byrne Turns Bike Advocate.

Byrne loves the way the world looks from a bicycle. He's been talking about it lately in SF and on NPR. He's weaves stories about biking with the politics of being a biker in a way that only Byrne could pull off. He turned an author lecture into a bike advocacy panel---just one example of how the Talking Heads front man is beginning to reach audiences that would never consider the realities of getting on your bike in a car dominated world.  

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fall: in the soil and on my table

Fall is my favorite season. Autumn evenings. Crisp air. End of summer tomatoes appearing with winter's squashes. Pears, apples, and pomegranates are just hitting their stride.

In the kitchen I'm experimenting with cauliflower (because Mariquita farms has the most exquisite cauliflower!) and cabbages. Making pestos, roasting beets, and I'm threatening to buy up mounds of melons and boxes of tomatoes before they go out of season.

In the garden: I just put in my first fall SF garden!
I'm trying out onions, peas, greens, lettuces, broccolini and more. Here they are sprouting up!
Apple & berry picking for Garden for the Environment's CSA box!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trial to improve Market Street goes well...

As I mentioned in an earlier post SF's main artery, Market Street, isn't working for anyone--walkers, bikers, bus riders, or car divers. Today was the first day of a pilot project to change that reality. Cars headed downtown on Market street were required to turn right on 8th and 6th streets, leaving Market congestion free for faster bike and bus commutes! Initial reports indicate that the world did not come to a halt, nor did traffic on other streets. And in fact, everyone seems to be excited about it. Looking forward to seeing how this trial plays out.

Last Chance: Become Slow Food USA member at any $$

Join Slow Food USA at any price until Oct. 1! I've always wanted to support SFUSA at the membership level, but it's always been a little too pricey--this is a great opportunity to support a good cause.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Park(ing) Day 2009: a missive from Thomas

A welcome post by my friend, fellow urban farmer & We Walk to Work organizer, Thomas Vogl:

5 of us ventured out on Park(ing) Day morning to find a nice metered parking spot on Haight Street. Yes, we had in mind to feed the meter, but not to park a car. Park(ing) Day, a worldwide phenomena, is about re-thinking the use of public space, specifically street parking spaces. If you legally lease a space (by feeding the meter), why couldn't you put it to a different, better use?

In our case, we decided to create a little cozy living room and invite friends and whoever would pass by. Right on Haight Street (and Clayton). We decorated everything nicely with plenty of plants, put down some blankets, rugs, and cushions, and sat down to relax, and were curious to see what would happen.

Lots of people seemingly had no idea what to think about us. But almost everyone was curious enough to stop and investigate. One of the most wonderful things about that day - was that some people stopped in their tracks, and started talking. Some people took the time to take their shoes off and sit down with us.

On a physical level, sitting on the street gives you a really different perspective. Cars, and especially trucks, feel even more intimidating and dangerous. And you're even closer to the noise and exhaust fumes they are emitting. Oh, time to get up, and feed the meter again (let's keep it legal :) ). One of the best moments this morning - when a group of hippies stopped, and we told them what we were doing. their immediate reaction: "Sitting on the street? you must be joking? We so do that!" Could that be the first humble beginnings of turning Haight Street into a pedestrian area?

After lunch Adam and I ventured out to check out some other places on Valencia Street. Several 'parks' spread out along 10 blocks. Everything from a simple sitting area, to real grass with deck chairs and trees. The Bicycle Coalition took the opportunity to test bicycle on-street parking (bicycle racks on a parking spot rather than on the side walk). And everywhere the same playful and neighborhoodly atmosphere of chatting and having fun together.

Adam and I at one point got cocky, grabbed our chairs, and sat down right in the center lane of Valencia Street. 2 very interesting observations:
  1. a street occupies a lot of space.
  2. almost immediately cars slowed down! I guess they didn't know what to expect from us. Another way of traffic calming :)

An almost perfect day, and I can't wait for the next Park(ing) Day! But why wait until next year? Everyone of us can 'park' her/himself, on any day! Happy Park(ing)! :)

A White House Farmers' Market?!

It isn't just a farmers' market. It is healthy food, low carbon farming, local economies and community. Learn more about this historic event and see how a movement gains speed here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More food preservation in action

In addition to the buckets of tomatoes--I also tried out preserving my favorite summer herb basil. I had 10 bunches to deal with. Day one I decided to freeze some of the little ones that wouldn't make it through the night. I had no clue what I was doing and chopped them up in a food processor with tons of olive oil. It actually worked! My pesto making adventures the next night didn't go so was the victim of massive freezer burn!

This will be perfect for winter soups!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Food Firsts: Freezing Summer's Harvest

Every winter as I open can after can of organic tomatoes, I think back to summer's unparalleled fresh tomatoes. Every winter I promise to preserve the summer's bounty. Since I've declared this year as my year of doing not talking, I've been trying it out....

I started with a canning class at the Studio for Urban Projects and followed up with big tomato orders from Mariquita's Ladybug Buying Club. I love the Ladybug Buying Club--you can pick up bulk orders of your favorite things like Padron peppers, basil, and of course, tomatoes!

My friend Edna and I jumped in with a first order of 20 lbs of San Marzano romas. Then upped it to 40 lbs of Early Girls and added another preservation newbie, Tanya.

Instead of investing in canning equipment, we invested in freezer bags and tried both food milling some sauce and roasting up individual tomatoes. While we don't have enough tomatoes to last us through the winter, we learned a lot and had more fun than I imagined. And tomato season isn't over yet...

Here's a step-by-step to get you through. BTW make sure you have a full afternoon ahead of you as this can take a few hours!

Cooked tomatoes: a good base for sauce and substitute for canned tomatoes.
  1. Wash & coarsely chop your tomatoes
  2. Put a tiny bit of water in the bottom of a large stock pot, add the tomatoes and cook for about 30-45 minutes until they begin to breakdown
  3. Process through a food mill--the tinier the setting the less skin and seeds you get, but the more watery your sauce.
  4. Cook processed tomatoes for another 45-1hour Add a bit of basil, salt and pepper--just to give it a good base to make a great sauce later on.
  5. Let it cool completely.
  6. Fill freezer bags with the sauce--make sure to get all the air out or else you'll become a victim of freezer burn! From 20 lbs of tomatoes we ended up with about 4 large freezer bags full of sauce.
Perfect twin tomatoes.

First attempt at roasting didn't go well. We didn't de-seed them.
I'm still experimenting.
The food mill in action!

Sauce in full effect. Just imagine the smells....

Edna's beautiful pizzas that got us through the sauce making. Roasted peppers + carmelized onion. Yum.

  • Food preservation is best done in the company of good friends, with some good wine and delicious snacks along the way.
  • Before choosing your technique, carefully consider your tomato. This is what I've found to work so far: Roma=roasting or cook into sauce, Early Girl or other deliciously juicy variety=cook into sauce or can whole.
  • Next time I'm going to try peeling and freezing them whole--I think this may take less time...we'll see.
  • If you're canning -- just peel and can the whole ones, it's just too much work otherwise.
  • To save $$ find a local, organic pick-your-own spot. It turns food preservation into
  • Be prepared to have your dreams overwhelmed by tomatoes. It's true.
  • Any advice from other tomato preservationists? I'm battling a bit of freezer burn--would love some tips on that front!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Gardening gets political

With food policy reform hitting the national scene big these past couple of weeks--from the national Time for Lunch campaign about making school food good to Micheal Pollan's wildly popular NYT article connecting the dots between health care reform and food policy--I decided it was a great time to dust off these photos I took in DC in June and post them.

Urban community gardens are becoming part of the landscape at our most important public buildings. There are raised veggie beds on the White House south lawn. And Tom Vilsack has put a community garden front and center at the USDA's headquarters.

I stumbled this special garden when I visited our nation's capital a couple of months ago in the late afternoon sun. While these photos may not be my best, they capture a special moment of excitement for me when I felt that my own passion for urban community gardens is connected to a larger movement.

It is a mistake to place too much value on these new gardens in and of themselves--but they are not merely a green facade either. These gardens will sow new food policy and usher in a new culture of slow food traditions. They are a symbol that a message has reached the highest level of our halls of government--people want to reinvest in our soil, to begin to connect to good, healthy food again.

For a food advocate like me, it offers up a glimmer of hope. I see an opening. If healthy veggie gardens greet our decision makers, it's the first tool in educating them about good food and growing it yourself. I'd love to see these community gardens in front of all of our public buildings. If it can be done at the White House it can be done at your City Hall.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Making good on Transit First: A Market St. Pilot

Market street isn't working well for anyone--bikes and pedestrians have to dodge cars and buses, while buses get slowed down by traffic. A group of diverse stakeholders are working together to make Market street better--a place to be.

Starting September 29th a series of pilot projects will be aimed at reducing traffic on Market street in the downtown corridor coupled with street improvements like turning sidewalks into plazas and having more music on the street.

I can't wait. Read more about it here.

Pollan connects the dots: Health care & food policy

Check out Micheal Pollan's latest NYT article on the linkages between food policy and health care reform here. It's all connected...

A notable quote:

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.

We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cook Food: A book I want to buy by the box-load

I picked up Cook Food, a manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating the other day and experienced something completely unprecedented: I had the desire to purchase this little gem by the box-load and give it away to all my friends, maybe even to strangers on the street corner.

What inspires such a feeling? This cookbook epitomizes all that is central to my cooking and eating style in a simple, concise way all for the low price of $10. It is about real, local, fresh food. It is not about elitism. It doesn't shy away from politics. It tells you what you need in your kitchen arsenal, everything from the raw materials to the hardware. It's funny. It can practically fit in your back pocket. It has simple suggestions for how to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, (yes sometimes we all need a reminder on how to make these three meals great).

But really, when I saw that the first three recipes are different versions of greens & beans, I was head over heels.

This book makes cooking accessible and approachable for even the most novice of cooks--and has simple recipes to learn from even if you've been cooking for years. Go Cook Food!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fog city gardening celebrating the end of August

Saturday's volunteer day at Garden for the Environment: a bountiful CSA harvest in the hot sun highlighted by gorgeous strawberries and beautiful blooms. Followed by building free standing compost piles, a composition of sculptures to decomposition.
Arugula is getting a healthy start!

This week at my community garden plot, that blushing tomato turned full-on red, and two more are on the way to ripening!

Onion blossoms are my new inspiration.

Grand opening: EAT Mondays @ Minna

I don't do happy hour without food, really, no one should. But this leaves so many great spots, like the art gallery/bar 111 Minna out of my usual range. Starting tonight, EAT on Mondays at 111 Minna there will be a beautiful menu of sustainable seasonal eats at good prices ($4-10), $5 cover starting next week. Art/music/food & libations=a good way to start the week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another beautiful GFE harvest

I spent my Saturday morning in the company of friends new and old harvesting these beautiful veggies for a local housing service for youth!

What's in the GFE box?
Pink pearl apples (they're pink inside!), kale, swiss chard, a bouquet of herbs, carrots (from Thomas the wonder-volunteer's garden), mixed string beans, ornamental squash and loads of eating squash--just look at that patty pan beauty!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tell all your friends: the time for healthy school food is Now.

I was inspired by a movement gaining ground at an evening talk last night--a movement to return healthy, good food to our schools.

One of the many tendrils of the local food movement is school food--it's one that never really caught my eye--maybe it was because I'm not a teacher or a parent--but last night, a panel of thoughtful speakers and at the latest installment of Kitchen Table Talks brought the issue home. School food is a community issue.

I realized that school food is suffering from the same problems facing our national food system: the commodification of the food that nourishes us and the conglomeration of those who produce, prepare and distribute our food.

Two points of the talk resonated with me: In San Francisco, the meals that kids receive at school--lunch and for some, breakfast plus an after-school snack, usually served in a black pre-packaged bag--may be the only meals they have all day. And secondly, kids who eat healthy, good food do better academically. When our school systems begin to recognize this fundamental need to nourish students, real transformation can happen.

The speakers, which included Colleen Kavanaugh Executive Director, Campaign for Better Nutrition, Lena Brook, grassroots parent advocate, and Ed Wilkins, Director of Student Nutrition Services for SF Public Schools--reiterated that the time is now to change the way we feed children at school. The Child Nutrition Act is undergoing reauthorization this year. For the first time in decades, a President is actually talking about the need for school food reform. The local food movement is gaining political will and know-how. And communities are beginning to organize around healthy food.

What can you do?
  • Attend one of the 272 Time for Lunch Eat-In's across the nation on Labor Day (or organize one in your community). It is a national day of action to get real food in schools
  • Call your representatives and let them know you want more $$ for school food. Call them, don't send a letter or sign a petition. All that counts is a personal call or note. For more info on what to say check out this guide.
  • Get educated about school food and make it a priority in your community.
Do you know any great examples of good school food? Please share them!

Life in the garden: the miracle of a blushing tomato

Summer is turning to fall even in fog city. Here's a few photos from my community garden plot at White Crane...

A zucchini plant goes out in style - another victim of powdery mildew.

Tomatoes are looking good--one, hiding in this photo, is even beginning to blush! I was already getting jealous of my Missionista friends with beautiful reds and was looking up pickled green tomato recipes. There may be hope yet...
GFE is full of fall blooms.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SF comes out in support of street food...

From the huge crowds at this weekend's SF street food fair, you can tell SF is ready for some serious street food. Food that's affordable, well made, unique, fast, and preferably served out of something on wheels. (I just think there's something about that potential transience, the mystery of such creativity and goodness coming out of pocket sized kitchens that speaks to the urban dweller)

But unfortunately, by 3pm the lines crowding Folsom between 25th and 26th were too long for me and my friends to brave...and the spicy eggplant pocket pie that I craved was already sold out. I had expected more street food vendors, but instead found the likes of Pizzeria Delfina, Poleng, and Aziza. To be fair there were a few illegal street vendors that were made legal for the day, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

As an event that highlighted the great work of the community kitchen La Cocina I couldn't be happier about the success of the event.

I think the event was equally successful in bringing awareness about the gaps in our local laws to create a thriving street food cart scene like Portland. If you love street food and want to help change our laws check out the petition here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Good Eats: Il Cane Rosso

I was craving soup on yesterday's foggy day and decided to explore a new spot in the SF Ferry Building: Il Cane Rosso. It's all about seasonal local fare---I got a sweet corn soup with pickled green tomatoes. Mmmmm. And at $6 this bowl of soul-warming soup only cost .70 more than the lentil soup I almost went for at the SF Soup Company.

Everything is presented with care and beauty at this sliver of a restaurant--from the hand lettered signs letting you know where their produce is grown, to the displays of fresh produce and flowers.

The Straus soft-serve on tap could prove to be my downfall...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bike-In Movies and a Memorial to the Culture Bus

I'm nostalgic for Drive-In movie theaters. I'm ecstatic for the new bike-in theater events in SF, complete with street food carts! Check out the article here to read more about creating community out of concrete.

In other things urban and transportation, let's all take a moment of silence for the death of SF's most useless bus line, the Culture Bus. The Culture Bus was a good idea in theory that just never worked in practice--create a bus line, a bright yellow one at that, connecting SF's best tourist spots, but it was so expensive and unknown that no one ever actually rode it. Maximum capacity I witnessed: 4 people.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Urban homestead classes take root

Canning, pickling, starting a sourdough starter, beer brewing, cheese making, fermenting, meal planning, gardening--as summer hits its' stride and the slow food movement begins to take root people are making these old skills new again.

Classes are popping up everywhere I look. I just participated in a canning and preserving class at the Studio for Urban Projects taught by chef Nicole LoBue. Good takeaways: always can with a posse, it cuts down on the time, creativity blossoms, and it's just more fun that way; follow your recipe (important for a recipe infidel like myself) and the Ball Blue Book of Preserving is a great place to start; and finally, there are never-ending ways of to can -- the hot water bath method is a great way to go (unless you're canning meat, which..... I just can't even begin to think about.)

Other great spots to check out classes in SF are Urban Peasant and Urban Kitchen. SF's community kitchen space La Cocina is also holding Yes We Can events this summer where you are able to buy community canned local produce and if you're interested, learn how to do it in the process.

Are classes like this popping up all over? Let me know if you've found other interesting urban homesteading classes!

A Tomato Scarce Summer for the Northeast

The Northeastern US is suffering from a huge tomato crop loss this year. This great op-ed by Dan Barber does a good job of outlining the causes and consequences of the tomato blight.

There's a lot of lessons to be learned here but one huge takeaway for me is to be conscientious about where you get those seeds and seedlings you're planting in your backyard garden. Some quick tips:
  • Try going to your local farmers' market for seedlings sown by local farmers, they'll probably be the ones that work best in your micro climate too!
  • Next stop should be your local nursery--if they don't have veggie starts ask them to start carrying them, a lot of nurseries are just getting started with this. (for Bay Area gardeners I've found good starts at SF's Sloat, Three Bees, Hortica on Castro may have them too. Berkeley's Spiral Gardens is a superstar.)
  • Buy seeds from local sources that have organic and heirloom seed varieties. I still need to work on finding more sources in my area but here are a few I've found: Sustainable Seed Company based in CA and Territorial Seed based in OR
  • If you can't get them there, try places like Seed Saver's Exchange and Native Seed/SEARCH.
  • Learn how to save your own seed!
  • Make your garden a diverse one.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A week in Portland (part I)

Portland is...local food heaven, artisan coffee all day long, local breweries on every corner, patio paradise, street cart dining, user-friendly public transit, corn and zucchini growing where lawns would normally be and good peeps.

Here's a few highlights from my week in Portland...

The discovery of North Portland gems: Por que no: ceviche is not to be missed. the ReBuilding Center, Pistils Nursery your nonstop shop for urban chicken raising and terrariums, the patio and the pitchers at Amnesia brewery, Mississippi Studios the spot for shows and fresh baked bread.

Besaws: is old wicker chairs, breakfast till 3, ball jars filled with homemade pickles and preserves & a menu of local foods at recession prices.

I'm a complete Stumptown convert--so many varieties and
what can I say, I'm a french press junkie.
But Coffeehouse Northwest takes it to another level, their iced coffee is unparalleled.

Pine State Biscuits is unreal: mushroom gravy, quarts of sweet tea, a side of hash browns and collard greens you can barely finish. Pictured above is the star of the show, the Reggie delux, yup that's fried chicken, bacon, egg, cheese and gravy.

Fresh currants!

I could spend an entire summer exploring PDX's street cart food extravaganza. Here's a little spinach cheese wonderland from Ziba's Bosnian food cart.

Hops growing strong at Lucky Lab brewery.

The tea garden.

My first berry picking adventure! Marionberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and peaches were on tap at this spot on Sauvie Island.

Pok pok's killer papaya salad -- went well with the tofu noodle soup.
Otherwise, stay away from the veggie options!

One of the best street food stops was at Lickity Split on NW 10th & Hoyt.
Vegan Meatballs (you can get happy pork too), fire roasted green chili sauce, heirloom tomato polenta, cheese and a little spice. So. Good.

Other Portland recommendations:
Thank you friends for all your recommendations--keep them coming!
Portland Part II = a special visit to Gaining Ground farm...