Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Citrus Salsa

Sorry for the intermittent posting, folks, but I am trying to focus on my literary and personal lives as well as exercise and eating well. No time to blog!

Please accept this salsa recipe from Mark Bittman in today's New York Times - it's made with citrus. Substitute another orange for the grapefruit if you don't have grapefruit trees. There's still plenty of citrus hanging around our neighborhood gardens.

April 8, 2009
Maya Citrus Salsa (Xec)

1 orange

1 small grapefruit

1 large lemon

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 habanero or other chili, seeded and minced, or to taste

Salt to taste

Cut orange in half horizontally and section it as you would a grapefruit; do this over a bowl to capture all its juice. Remove seeds and combine flesh and juice in bowl. Repeat with grapefruit and lemon. Stir in cilantro, habanero and salt.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Compost Happens

One my favorite local newspaper columnists is Adina Sara, who writes "The Imperfect Gardener" over at the MacArthur Metro. She lives about four blocks southeast of me, so that's pretty local (although our neighborhood is rich with writers - Ericka Lutz to the north of me, and Elmaz Abinader maybe a hundred yards south).

Adina has now published a memoir of her garden called "The Imperfect Garden" which you can buy at Laurel Bookstore, Amazon, or through Adina's site linked above.

I was just poking around my back yard and peered into the compost box I started in the summer of 2007, just before I was diagnosed with this latest bout of cancer. I managed to add kitchen scraps and yard trimmings to it for a while. Then last winter I left the lid off because I could see it was way too dry. I also added a few spades of clay from the weed patch in the back.

No matter how lackadaisical you are about compost, your pile will eventually turn into decent mulch. Today the core of the heap is rich black gooey stuff: yum. It's surrounded by undigested dry leaves and weeds though. Some people might stir their compost to get it to rot evenly. Not me. I am probably going to spade up the good stuff from the middle and start adding more kitchen scraps. I'll speak to the gardener again about dumping the grass clippings in as well. And guess what - I let my boys pee on the compost heap. Yes I do. You don't think that's any worse than what the cats, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and roof rats do all over the place, do you?

Compost happens.

Tuna Beans (Tonno e Fagioli)

When the cupboard is looking really bare, make tonno e fagioli for a filling pantry supper.

2-3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 onion, chopped fine
Olive oil
1 can tuna (packed in oil is yummier)
1 14 oz. can of tomatoes - San Marzano best, but any will do in a pinch
1 14 oz. can of white beans (other beans will do; chickpeas make a decent variation)
Chopped parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper

Saute the onion in olive oil over medium heat until it is clear and softened, at least ten minutes; then add garlic and saute until tender but not brown. Add tomatoes with their juice, breaking up fruit if whole. Simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes until tomatoes are cooked. (By the way, this is a marinara sauce - if you have no tuna or beans, you can serve this over pasta). Add dry or fresh basil to taste. Add drained tuna and drained beans, stir all and heat through. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley.

This is really good served with a loaf of crusty bread. It makes a nice topping for toasted bread rounds, too. If it's your main course, then just add a green salad and you have a meal. White wine? Yum!

Written on Monday afternoon, posted Tuesday through the magic of scheduled posting. Yes, I really am offline on weekday mornings and all weekend.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Safeway specials for your emergency kit

I shop Safeway for staples, paper and cleaning supplies, and other household necessities. I also keep an eye on the specials to stock our pantry. Remember I told you to build up your cupboards so that you have two weeks' worth of food stored in case of an emergency? And of course, eat what you store - use the food regularly and replenish.

Well, this week Safeway is running a $.75 cent sale: mix-n-match. I bought lots of Dennisons' Chili and canned tomatoes. If I needed canned green beans or corn I would have bought that, as well. I may go back for more of the chili before the sale runs out - my husband is eating it. I had thought it would be good to have some cans to take camping this summer, but clearly ten cans is not enough chili to keep in storage.

The Fruitvale Safeway across from Dimond Library also stocks an unbelievable value in chickpeas. It's a 29 oz. can sold in the Mexican food section - $1.19 regular price, on sale for $1.09. The cheapest price for a 14 oz. can of chickpeas is usually $1.25 on sale, and right now those 14 oz. cans are around $1.99. So the 29 oz. can is nearly ONE QUARTER the price.

Of course you can always make hummus with one of these cans! Double the linked recipe.

But we enjoyed the chickpeas dressed with a lemon-garlic vinaigrette and garnished with chopped parsley, scallions and cumin. I thought I was making a lot of this salad but my family demolished it all in one sitting.

The Safeway on Redwood Road carries Chicken of the Sea solid tuna packed in olive oil that was on special for under $2 a can. It's better quality than the usual sale tuna. I've been eating it dressed with lemon and pepper. Yes you should limit consumption of tuna due to mercury worries, but once or twice a month is fine, and the Omega 3s are so good for you, they make up for the mercury (so claims Erik Peper, Ph.D. and exercise physiologist).

Drink local water

I've been a local water snob since I lived in New York City. My friend David Grinstead, bartender at the Four Seasons and Algonquin, taught me to ask for "a glass of Croton Reservoir," please. Sounds better than just plain old tap water, doesn't it?

Here in the Bay Area I guess we'd have to call it "a glass of Hetch Hetchy", not quite as catchy.

Anyway, the NY Times reports that access to good drinking water in public schools can help fight obesity.

I know people who will claim that you need to filter your water for all kinds of reasons. Look, my brother has a Ph.D. in water quality and is one of the foremost experts on the subject in the state of California. He defined the mercury load for the San Francisco Bay. He told me to go ahead and drink our tap water unfiltered.

And now we see it prevents obesity? Okay!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slow Gardening

The NY Times finally prints a gardening article that totally expresses my philosophy.

Slow Gardening.

I call it Darwinian gardening - if it can't survive my neglect, then it doesn't belong in my garden. Native plants do well in such conditions.

And when I first saw a picture of a bottle tree, I said: I HAVE TO HAVE THAT. But I don't want to risk putting it in the front yard here in Oakland, for fear passing rowdies might be tempted to do the wrong thing.

But the back yard. Now there's an idea... a bottle tree in the back yard! Must start collecting blue bottles (my favorite color).

Meanwhile, look for local gardener and writer Adina Sara's new book, part memoir: The Imperfect Gardener. She's another gardener whose ideas resonate.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mourning on MacArthur

These are sad days for our community. This photo in today's San Francisco Chronicle says it all.

America is plagued with guns, poverty and violence. Rich people kill each other, too, but it seems the vast majority of murders happen among the poor. Saturday's killings were particularly noticed because they took the lives of four police officers as well as that of an ex-convict on parole.

I am very sorry for the dead and their survivors; I am sorry for the living in Oakland who face fear, crime and violence every day.

In these times I remember how bad life was in New York City in the 1970s. I visited there, I moved there and lived in a terrible neighborhood full of drug dealers running amok. (but shootings were rare in those days). I am not about to leave Oakland. In fact, my little area of Oakland is still serene.

Let us mourn our dead, and let us honor their memories by keeping up the struggle to make Oakland livable, lawful and just for all. Food, gardens, community are part of the solution.

Friday, March 13, 2009

We Made Marmalade!

Last Saturday the ladies of the Laurel District canning group got together for our first project: making and canning orange marmalade from foraged citrus.

We also preserved some lemons, Moroccan-style, for good measure. I brought along Claudia Roden cookbooks and we discovered recipes for chicken tagine with green olives and preserved lemon; sweet potato salad with preserved lemon, and artichokes stewed with the salty fruit.

Stella Lamb hosted us in her lovely, well-stocked kitchen. We divided ourselves into three teams, as there were eight of us, making three pots of marmalade: two bitter, with peel, and one sweet, without.

The afternoon was busy and entertaining; several of us remarked on how this activity reminded us of our grandmothers and mothers long ago, putting up preserves and socializing.

Joann Maggiore and MJ Barnes contributed equipment and canning know-how; Molly Stouffer brought scones and dashed out for more pectin; Sally went and got us more knives; Betsy and Katherine pitched in with peeling, chopping and stirring. People who contributed materials included Meg on Pampas and Dina Bedini.

We produced at least thirty jars of orange-lemon marmalade, plus several jars of preserved lemon which are curing in our kitchens right now. This project was lots of fun for me and the other women - we learned how to put up fruit, and we built ties to our neighbors.

There's talk of a sauerkraut party - I am not able to organize it myself at this time, but anybody who wants to move the project forward, feel free. We need a location and our sauerkraut teacher, Helayne, will discuss scheduling.

Thanks everybody for helping us make marmalade!

My preserved lemons aren't ready yet, but I'm going to adapt the recipe using regular Meyer lemons from our abundant crop; I'll also put it in the slow cooker - America's answer to the tagine. Note that any traditional tagine recipe works in a slow cooker.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cabbage Salad for Helayne

Today I met Helayne Waldman in person, a Laurel resident and nutritionist who leads workshops and counsels clients. One of her specialties is nutrition for breast cancer. She spent a very productive hour with me, going over research on diet and the disease. I'm so fortunate to have met her - she is warm, dynamic, and very knowledgeable!

Helayne sent me home with copious notes, Meyer lemons, and ideas buzzing in my head. For dinner tonight I adapted a traditional Arabic cabbage salad recipe, adding certain ingredients based on Helayne's recommendations.

Cabbage Salad

1 pound Napa, Savoy or regular cabbage (500 grams)
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 or 3 green onions, white parts finely minced (optional)
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 lemon, preferably unsprayed, organic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (75 ml)
1 cup parsley, minced (60 ml)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional, in season)

Chop cabbage finely, combine with carrots in large, non-reactive bowl.

Finely mince garlic or put through garlic press. Zest lemon peel onto cabbage mixture.

In a small, non-reactive bowl, juice lemon and add minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, then slowly stir in olive oil until well emulsified. (If using a mortar and pestle or molcajete, then pound garlic with salt, add lemon juice, pounding, then use mortar and pestle to stir in olive oil. Add pepper to taste). Pour lemon-olive oil sauce over cabbage and toss well. Let sit for at least thirty minutes to blend flavors and soften cabbage.

Just before serving, add minced parsley and mix thoroughly. Correct seasonings. You add the parsley at the last minute to keep it from wilting, whereas the cabbage improves with a bit of time in the lemon vinaigrette.

Pomegranate seeds make a nice garnish in late autumn. In summer, use diced red or green sweet peppers (or both).

Recipe by Leila Abu-Saba

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing Workshop at Laurel Books

Readers Write, Writers Read

A writing workshop for book lovers; a book group for writers

Leila Abu-Saba, MFA, leads a unique writing experience at the Laurel Bookstore in which writers at all levels of skill will revel in our love of fiction while creating new work together. For six weeks we will read three great modern novels, let them inspire our own writing, and share our insights and efforts in class. If you love to read and long to write, or you are an experienced writer who wants to integrate love of literature into your practice, this workshop is for you.

Class activities will include writing exercises and book discussion. This is not a critique group: emphasis is on first-draft inspiration and exploring fiction for its pleasures. Be prepared to read three novels over the course of six weeks (one book every two weeks); get ready to find new depths and explore strange territory in your writing; and enjoy listening to fresh writing from your classmates and teacher!

Who: Leila Abu-Saba, MFA Creative Writing, English instructor College of Alameda (2007)
What: Six week writing workshop using unique teaching method geared to booklovers and writers at all levels

When: March 30-May 4 2009; Mondays, 7-9 pm. Final reading, May 11, 7 pm.

Where: Laurel Books, 4100 MacArthur Boulevard, Oakland, CA

Why: Spark writers' creativity under the influence of literary masters.

Class reading list:
The Bear, William Faulkner
Age of Orphans, Laleh Khadivi (Bloomsbury, March 2009)
Gilead Marilynn Robinson

Sunday, March 1, 2009

My Grandmother's Bulghur and Tomatoes

Last night my husband thought there was "nothing to eat" in the fridge because he saw no meat. Hah! I had just shopped at the farmer's market, and the pantry is full of grains and canned beans.

I made him this bulghur pilaf with tomatoes that my cousin taught me. She calls it "Sitteh's bulghur" because it was our grandmother's favorite dish. (Sitteh means grandmother in Arabic). For extra protein I added a can of chickpeas at the last. Instead of just black pepper, I used Spanish smoked paprika.

A head of cauliflower from the farmer's market got the steam/sautee treatment, using cumin, ginger, turmeric, allspice and garlic. Yum.

Hubby calls this "hippie food." Since he grew up in Berkeley, he doesn't mean this in a kind way, but he has had to acknowledge his secret inner hippie in recent years. He likes Harbin Hot Springs, he likes quinoa salad, he likes this pilaf. He is finally tired of Atkins and has begun eating high fiber whole grains: hippie food.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Laurel Farmers Market

I just got back from the Laurel Farmers Market.

The take, all organic: rainbow chard ($1.50 a bunch) broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes ($1 each) potatoes (3 for $1), kale, honey and organic eggs ($5 a dozen). I had to read the honey labels carefully for the local California stuff - some of it was from Brazil.

For lunch we had steam-sauteed chard with garlic and lemon juice; leftover lentil soup.

Stay tuned for Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes for our seasonal greens. I want to try cauliflower with tahini/garlic sauce. Also beets with yogurt sauce, and stuffed artichokes.

The dry goods counter is part of the information booth - they're selling dried beans, popcorn, and spices.

Adina Sara, the Imperfect Gardener of the MacArthur Metro newspaper, was buying greens too, and told me she has a memoir coming out this week! Titled, The Imperfect Gardener - life and the garden. I love her column - gardening for those of us who are NOT Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Farmers Markets by Bus

The Grand Lake farmer's market is only a few freeway exits away from me, but it's such a hassle to park there that I don't go very often. Lucky friends who can walk to it on Saturdays!

Sometimes I have walked the four miles there, shopped, and then carried my groceries home on the bus. AC Transit 57 and N will get you back to our neighborhood.

You could take the N to downtown Oakland, get out at Broadway, and walk eleven blocks - the Friday Old Oakland farmer's market has organic foods, Asian produce, bamboo plants, a chicken roasting truck and tamales stand. And before you load up on goodies to take home, walk down the street to the Friends of the Public Library store and get a used book to read over lunch! The 14 bus will get you to 12th and Broadway, leaving from the heart of our neighborhood.

The 54 bus goes to Fruitvale BART, where the Thursday afternoon market has a few stalls; Sunday has been looking pretty sparse these days, but it may get better in the summer. I like to go to the area for the Chavez library branch, tacos, and hand made ice cream in the Fruitvale Public Market. More on this in a separate post.

The 18 bus goes up Park Boulevard to Montclair - I wouldn't call it convenient for a Sunday farmer's market visit, but if you live near the 18, why not? 20 minutes from Park Blvd. and MacArthur up to Medau Place. You won't have to find parking!

Marmalade Party

We now have two houses for the marmalade-making party in the Laurel on March 7, 2009. Check the Yahoo newsgroup for information, and join if you want to be a part of this neighborhood effort.

Or start your own canning and preserve-making group in your area! I find I am more likely to do something if I have help and a structure - I am just not going to make plum jam this year unless I get people to join me. Turns out a lot of other people in my neighborhood feel the same way.

We're working on a location and date for sauerkraut next; ten people want to do it already so we are hoping we can get a church kitchen.

Meanwhile - I see in the local food magazine, Edible East Bay, that three women have marmalade businesses and are selling the product at thirteen dollars a jar. No wonder everybody wants to learn to make the stuff with foraged fruit!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Lebanese Fusion Chard Tortilla

I needed a decent, vegetable-heavy snack today, with some protein. Little of interest lurked in the fridge: cabbage, carrots, celery, and a large bunch of chard that really needed cooking. The weather is cold and rainy here and I didn't want to eat a raw slaw - I wanted hot food. I was also busy and did not want to prep chard and cook it in laborious stages the way I usually do, carefully cutting out the ribs and sauteeing them first.

Pamela Anderson gives this formula for "Steam/Sauteed Vegetables": prep a pound of veg, add 1/3 cup of water, a tablespoon of fat, salt, and optional aromatics. Bring it all to the boil in a heavy pot (my All-clad big saucepan works fine; she suggests a Dutch oven or heavy skillet with a lid.) Cover and steam over medium-high heat until the vegetable is brightly colored and just tender, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on vegetable size.

Remove the lid and continue to cook until the liquid evaporates, 1 to 2 minutes longer, adding optional fresh herbs and other flavorings at this point. Saute to intensify flavors, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Adjust seasonings, including pepper to taste, and serve.

I did this with the chard sliced crosswise, not bothering to separate the ribs; minced garlic (3 cloves!) water and lemon juice, olive oil and salt. At the end I added pine nuts (ideally toasted but I hadn't thought ahead - next time). Then I heated a whole-wheat and corn tortilla, piled half the chard on it, and covered with a dollop of plain yogurt.

OMG that was so good and it took so little time. It's Lebanese-style chard because of the flavorings - tastes just like the fillings used in spinach or chard pies. The whole-wheat tortilla is pure California.

I'm choosing "low-glycemic" foods more often now, and working hard to eat more vegetables and less white flour and cheese. When I'm hungry for a snack I pick a protein, veg or fruit, and only whole grains. This "snack" fit the bill. I'm making it again.

Other vegetable ideas in "How To Cook Without a Book": asparagus with garlic, basil and soy; broccoli with garlic and green pepper; green beans with onions and thyme; cabbage with butter and caraway; and carrots with cumin. These are not cordon bleu recipes, granted. However, they create flavor quickly with whole ingredients. This recipe meant I ate hot chard and yogurt on that tortilla instead of melted cheese.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ice Cream Expedition

Tomorrow is my husband's birthday and we're celebrating tonight with a family dinner with my mother-in-law, after which he and I will go to Mills College for a concert.

This afternoon I needed to walk for exercise and my husband needed a break from the kids. Come on guys, I said, let's walk to Loard's and buy ice cream for Daddy's birthday dinner! They scrambled to put on their shoes.

We live about a mile away, since Loard's is technically in the Bret Harte neighborhood. Junior high students from our area walk there daily to the school across the street. In my childhood, everybody above the age of five was expected to walk such distances as a matter of course, to go to school, to visit friends or the library. Now we think it's "too far for the kids," but if we were on a family hike we would expect them to walk two miles. We took side streets, avoiding MacArthur Boulevard almost entirely.

If you're local, you know Loard's. The MacArthur @ Coolidge location is funky, even ratty-looking, and quite bare in decor at this point. But the ice cream... mmmmmm. Some Yelp reviewers claim it's better than Fenton's. I don't know, but it's good.

If you are in Orinda, you can enjoy your ice cream in a more refined atmosphere - the Loard's there has kept its 50s pink-and-white decor spiffy; it's probably what the Oakland location looked like fifty years ago. Whatever. We burned some calories and got some fresh air on our walk, and my kids enjoyed the time with me.

When you walk through the neighborhood you see the flowers in bloom: daffodils, plum and magnolia trees, irises. One neighbor's snow peas are heavy with pods that hang out of the fence over the sidewalk; many neighbors are blessed with abundant orange, lemon and even kumquat trees.

Also, more benefits of walking to the store - we met two children selling candy bars for the Laurel School, and ended up springing for three chocolate bars. I figure the kids deserve some chocolate at the end of such a hike. They each got a square on the walk, a square at home, and we're saving the rest for another day. I'm glad to contribute to the Laurel School's playground equipment fund.

Community happens when you take a walk.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Frugal Cassoulet

Mark Bittman used to be a far-leftist community organizer. He's a top food writer and personality now, but he still holds onto his communitarian values. This week he cooked with kids at a charity event in New York, and published his recipe for a cassoulet that has less meat, more vegetables, and is good for the planet as well as your purse.

Farmer Joe's carries smoked pork chops sometimes, and always has smoked turkey legs. You could use any sausage in this recipe. Bittman further gives you the option to use cabbage instead of zucchini - a good thing, since cabbage is in season and local.

This recipe is similar to the supper soup I posted yesterday, although mine was more about kale than beans or meat - one starving sausage in the whole pot.

Hungry in the 'Hood?

The New York Times reports that food pantries nationwide are swamped with new faces, people who have recently lost jobs and don't have a good system yet for keeping the cupboards and bellies full.

Read the article and consider what you would do if suddenly unemployed. How long would your savings hold out? Storing food you eat anyway, in quantities enough to last you two weeks to a month, is another way to protect yourself against economic trouble.

Our own Fruitvale Presbyterian Church gives away free food as part of the Community Outreach Pantry Emergency (COPE). Second and fourth Saturdays each month, from 11 a.m. to 12 noon.

On the last Thursday of the month, another local church (pardon me about the name, I'll update when I get out there and check) gives away free food from a storefront on 38th Avenue, just in from MacArthur Boulevard.

My child's school is running a "Pennies for Peace" fundraiser to benefit children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. We contributed already but had found more pennies. I am thinking of giving those, the daily change jar, plus the freshly-laundered dollar bills my children leave in their pockets, to either Fruitvale Presbyterian or the Alameda County Food Bank. It's very nice to send pennies to Afghanistan but our neighbors' children are hungry, too.

And remember, what goes around, comes around. Give now if you can spare it. You never know when the empty belly might be your own.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Best Foods You Aren't Eating

The NY Times published a list of "Eleven Best Foods You Aren't Eating" last year that's still bouncing around the internet. I only saw it this week, and I love it.

The list made me think of two favorite obsessions: our local produce, and what to keep in the pantry.

Fresh in season right now and available at Farmer Joe's, House of Produce, Food Mill, and the Laurel Farmer's Market:
Beets - lower blood pressure
Cabbage - strong anticancer properties
Swiss Chard

Pomegranates went out of season a couple of months ago, but the fruits grow locally, and of course you can still buy bottled pomegranate juice. I want to plant a bush in my garden.

Dried plums - if you have a dehydrator, you could harvest plums for free in late June and make your own. Or buy them.

Frozen blueberries - not local at all, but of course Farmer Joe's and Food Mill have them, organic natch.

Pumpkin seeds - available in the Hispanic spices rack as well as in the bulk nuts and seeds departments. Look for pepitas.

Canned goods: Pumpkin and sardines. Don't leave home without 'em! Remember my pumpkin tahini recipe? And there's always pumpkin pie, and pumpkin muffins or pancakes. Pumpkin soup! I also like sardines and use them for fast protein.

Spices: cinnamon and turmeric. Look for Ramos brand spices at Farmer Joe's; they also stock various organic and non-irradiated brands for good prices. I like Food Mill for bulk spices and tea as well.

So scan this list and see what you aren't eating. If you eat all of these already, then congratulate yourself for making good healthy choices. Then notice that you can buy everything in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What's for dinner: supper soup

Years ago I learned to make supper soups from Pamela Anderson's "How to Cook Without a Book." This is a terrific collection of recipes using rules of thumb for every dish, like stir fry, or pan-seared proteins, or supper soup. She offers a basic recipe, variations, and memory aids so you don't have to crack open the cookbook. You can also look in your pantry and see what you have, adapting the recipes accordingly.

Supper soups include a pound of veg, a starch, a pound of protein, a quart of stock, a can of tomatoes, an onion and other flavorings.

Today I didn't have a pound of protein - I had one Polish sausage. I didn't have a quart of chicken broth so I threw in a Knorr bouillon cube. I used a bunch of kale and lots of garlic - we were out of onions! (horrors. How can I say I'm ready for the Big One if there are no onions in the house?)

Saute garlic and peeled diced carrot in olive oil. Add a 14 oz. can of tomatoes, half pound of green beans, snapped, and a bunch of kale with ribs removed, chopped. Add water to cover, bring to boil, then simmer until the greens are tender. This is going to take a while. Towards the end I sliced the sausage and drained a can of garbanzo beans and added those. Tasted the broth, decided to add the chicken cube.

Hubby says he really liked it - he sprinkled parmesan cheese on it, which added a fillip of flavor and mouth-feel.

I wouldn't serve this to company but on the other hand, it was flavorful and warming on a rainy winter's night. I also made a couple of quesadillas to fill the children's hungry bellies, while I scarfed down a couple of homemade wheat rolls left over from last night.

Organizing against foreclosures

ACORN is organizing families to fight evictions arising from foreclosure. It seems to be a national movement - sheriffs in Michigan and Chicago are suspending evictions, while this housing group feels that homeowners themselves deserve help, not just the banks who made the loans.

The article includes Oakland among cities where ACORN has found supporters for this effort.

I don't know where I stand on it - I will wait and see. But I admire the energy and organization, the collective action.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Urban Bees

Gotta love UC Berkeley. Our neighbor John Donivan posted this link to the UC Berkeley Urban Bees project.

Lots of bees live around the Laurel; I know of at least two beekeepers who sell honey. Scientists at Cal noticed the bees in the Oakland and Berkeley hills and decided to study them nearly a decade ago. Now they are cultivating a bee garden over on Oxford Street (see above). Since my mother-in-law lives nearby, I pass the garden all the time, but had no idea what they were up to.

Look out for Mr. Bruno's honey at Farmer Joe's - I don't know if he is selling it this year, but I've bought jars of it in years past to give as Christmas gifts. The other beekeeper advertises with a sign posted in a yard on 39th Avenue, on the steep slope, with email and phone number.

You can't get more local than Laurel District honey.

Pantry Cooking

I want my neighbors to lay in a good supply of emergency food in their pantries, but I want it to be fun and useful and tasty, not a dreary slog of dried milk and Spam. Therefore I'm going to post a series on cooking out of your pantry.

Why should you do it?
  • The earthquake - ok obvious, but remote in time (or not!)
  • Save money - when you have a well-stocked pantry and know how to use it, you don't HAVE to order takeout.
  • Eat healthier. Out of the pantry? Yes. Learn to cook with beans and whole grains and you've got a good dinner instead of KFC.
  • Stay tuned for a list of healthy pantry foods everybody needs more of.

The SF Chronicle did a pantry cooking article last year that focused on higher-end ingredients like dark chocolate, mirin sauce, and top-quality honey. Recipes included. Read it and stock some yummy delicacies to jazz up your emergency supplies.

Vegetarian ideas for the pantry from the Chronicle.

Cook unplugged - useful for planning to cook under earthquake or power outage conditions. The SF Chronicle published this during our energy crisis of 2001 - remember rolling blackouts?

List of my recipes that work with the pantry:

Bulghur and Tomatoes
Pumpkin Tahini
Rice Pilaf
Egyptian Red Lentil Soup
Basic Lentil Soup with variations
Mjaddarah - lentils and rice with caramelized onions

I will post tonno e fagioli soon, another pantry dish I love. My current pantry recipe list is incomplete online so stay tuned for more.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Store Food For a Crisis

What will you do when the Big One hits? The Red Cross and the government say they can't handle a really big crisis. In case of an earthquake, we are on our own, folks. Last fall after Hurricane Ike in Texas, Houston spent two weeks with bare supermarket shelves.

Your cash may lose value or get swallowed up in the bank these days. Some people have asked - with banks teetering, why shouldn't we just store our money in the mattress?

I say, if you seriously think your money is better off in the mattress, then consider putting some of it into durable goods and food staples which you can use, now and in case of emergency. Keep a bit of your "savings" in useful or edible goods, not just cash. Here are some suggestions for how to prepare:

Food storage 101 from Sharon Astyk

Food storage 102 - "Two weeks is not enough!"

Her weekly "baby step" storage and emergency preparedness posts, here and here.

Stock up on water, too. Consider getting a 55 gallon food grade water barrel.

Sharon points out that storing food is a way of life. Learn to cook regular meals out of your pantry, to save money, but also to get everybody used to such food. If your kids learn to love pumpkin bread, beans and rice, or pasta with tuna marinara sauce now, then if the Big Disaster hits and they HAVE to eat these dishes every night, they won't complain.

Consider what tools and implements you might need in a long term crisis. Gardening tools. Bicycles. Flashlights. Camp stove. Solar oven for when the municipal power and gas are out.

Look, you buy insurance on your property and your life which you hope you never use. Buy this stuff as insurance and you can use it anyway. Learn to cook out of your pantry and you've reduced your food bills, acquired a skill, and maybe added healthier meals to your rotation. Meanwhile, you have emergency supplies to fend off hurricanes, power outages, transportation stoppages, and sudden unemployment.

Do I have all these items stored? No. We add them as we get to it. But we have enough food for a bunch of indigent relatives and neighbors to get fed for quite some time...

These measures are largely intended as insurance against some weather or other natural disaster which disrupts food supplies for a time. They also make sense as a cushion against economic hard times. If you lose your job all of a sudden and run out of cash, you know you have food in your "bank" as well as cash.

I'm not going to buy a whole bunch of weird equipment and MREs that I wouldn't use or eat otherwise. I try to buy and store only what we will actually eat. Then I cook it and eat it, and replenish the stores.

Stocking up on all that emergency equipment recommended by the Red Cross is a good idea, too. We came home one night to find a neighbor's house completely burned up, with firefighters crawling over the roof amidst klieg lights, hacking at the attic to put out the last smoldering embers. A car on the street had caught fire and the house went up, too.

"Honey, we have to buy emergency ladders for the bedrooms," I said as we pulled into our garage. We and our small sons sleep on the second floor. What if our exit were blocked? And the $100 we'd spent might not gain much interest in our account this year anyway. Invest in equipment we hope never to use - as insurance.

Oh yes, in earthquake country you're supposed to keep a crowbar in the bedroom, too, in case you have to pry yourself out of the house.

Don't run out and buy everything you might want all at once. Take it in small bits. Keep your eyes open for garage sale and Craig's List finds; buy staples when they go on sale. I will be posting soon about shopping for the necessaries in the Laurel: your local drugstore, hardware store and 99 Cent store as well Farmer Joe's and Food Mill.

My Food Files Online

I have been hanging out on the internet a very long time, and have published more than a few of my favorite Lebanese, Palestinian, Sephardic, Egyptian and miscellaneous recipes.

Baba Ghannoush - roasted eggplant dip

Baba Ghannoush Souffle - roasted eggplant souffle

Black-eyed Peas and Spinach

Bulghur and Tomatoes - Sitteh's recipe

Carrot Salads - Two Moroccan Recipes from Claudia Roden

Chicken in a pot

Dried figs preserved in geranium syrup

Egyptian Red Lentil Soup. The most famous red lentil soup on the internet. Sometimes.

Grape leaves

Hummous - chickpea and tahini dip

Heshwah - spiced meat and nut mixture for rice pilaf or stuffed vegetables

Kafta in a tray with potatoes - roasted spiced ground meat

Kibbeh - ground meat & cracked wheat with onions and pine nuts, baked

Kusa bi Jibneh - Arab or Sephardic zucchini and cheese gratin

Lentil Soup with variations

Lebanese Mezze 101 - tips for putting on a basic Lebanese appetizer meal

Lubia Matbookha - Green beans and meat stew

Mjaddarah - lentils and rice with caramelized onions

Pumpkin Tahini - from Clifford Wright

Roz bi shaghria - Rice pilaf with vermicelli. Pictured here, covered with heshwah.

Spiced baked chicken - Moroccan flavors, American recipe

Stuffed cabbage

Tabbouli - parsley and bulghur wheat salad

Preserving fruits and vegetables with friends

We are organizing a neighborhood party - or series of parties - to make fruit preserves from our extensive trees, and pickle sauerkraut and possibly lemons.

This district is blessed with so much fruit that goes unharvested. In summer there are too many plums - the fruit falls off and goes sticky on the ground. I often think it would be good for the environment and my purse to turn some of the windfall into preserves we can eat or share.

I posted about it on the neighborhood email list and got replies from twenty people who like the idea. Some of us don't know how to make jam or marmalade, others of us would prefer company in the kitchen. So we are organizing dates for beginning of March, April and then late June.

Post a comment if you would like to join us.

UPDATE: I was browsing Robert Van Der Walle's blog (Sustainability, out of North Oakland). He just hosted a sauerkraut party not long ago! I know I read about it then but I forgot. Chemo brain. (For those of you who don't know, I was in chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer from November '07 to September '08, still recovering, have mental blanks sometimes).

Clearly I got the idea for the food preservation parties from permaculture blogger and activist Bob Van Der Walle. Thank you, Bob!

More food links: Oakland, justice, environment

The Oakland Institute papers on food, food security and social justice.
Urban Agriculture and Food Insecurity: West Oakland People's Grocery. (PDF file)
Oakland Food System Assessment

What's keeping me up at night.

Three things I told my husband we could do to fight back:
Compost toilet
Greywater recycling
Rainspouts into cisterns.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Think Global, Eat Laurel

You may know the old slogan: Think global, act local. It drives the work of many in the Laurel, those who: build community gardens, work on behalf of the schools, shop local, ride their bicycles or take public transit, install solar panels, and more.

Our local choices affect global issues. Food choices in particular affect climate, pollution, the environment, social justice and culture.

This blog's motto reflects the concept of think global, act local. I aim to post about not just eating in the Laurel, but many other actions we take in our daily lives here that affect us in our homes but also affect our society and even the planet. It's a big topic, sure.

Foraging for food at this blog will mean going to Walgreen's as well as Farmer Joe's, visiting the Food Mill, the farmers' markets, and Lucky's. I plan to go to International and Foothill Boulevards and other areas of Oakland, looking for good food and signs of community and sustainable living.

Merritt College
up the hill from us has a distinguished horticulture program, with many classes on permaculture. Check this blog for news of plant sales and other events.

I will post on earthquake preparedness and food security, solar ovens, and plenty of other issues that seem related to living sustainably here in the Laurel. Please check in regularly, and post your comments below.

Welcome to Forage Laurel!

Think global, eat Laurel

Welcome to Think Global, Eat Laurel, a blog devoted to food, gardening, food preservation and more in Oakland's Laurel District.

We live in an urban neighborhood full of gardens; our bus lines can take us to San Francisco, our email lists are full of "lost chicken" notices. Gardeners, beekeepers, poultry ranchers, permaculturists, bicycle activists, high tech workers, artists, writers, musicians, tradespeople, teachers, civil servants, laborers and scientists live in our neighborhood. We are one of the most diverse zip codes in the country. Our weather is terrific, a Mediterranean climate, and our yards are full of trees and plants that bear fruit year-round.

This blog will be a gathering place for Laurel District foodies: people who want to can produce, people who garden, people who like trying new restaurants and want to gossip about the latest, people who forage for food and people who forage for information on how to live a sustainable, pleasurable life here in 94619.