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.