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Archive for January, 2011


Today (starting last night) is an obscure Jewish agricultural holiday called Tu B’Shevat. It’s literally the New Year for Trees. Way-back-when, people needed a date to restart the agricultural calendar each year, and this date was chosen, being around the time of year the almond trees were in bloom.

A lot of modern sustainability-focused Jews celebrate Tu B’Shevat as an ecological holiday, a chance to talk about issues like land use, climate change, forest preservation, or sustainable food. For the last two years, I’ve hosted a seder and meal focusing on local foods.

The traditional seder includes the seven species of Israel, as well as fruits with small and large seeds, to represent the usefulness of different kinds of deeds. For our seder, we added the (very traditional, dating back to as long as a year ago!) seven species of the Pacific Northwest: salmon, huckleberries, nuts, greens, apples, honey and wild mushrooms. You could certainly argue for other items to be included on that list, but it IS January.

Oy, January. There are, of course, no almond trees in bloom in Seattle. This is a cold, wet time of year, when local vegetables make themselves scarce and local residents hibernate. If anything, that almost makes it a better time of year to have a local foods feast. Everyone knows the Northwest grows a lot of great produce in July, but there’s an assumption that eating local foods in January means basically gnawing miserably on an old, wrinkled turnip.

But instead, with a little help from frozen, preserved, and non-local ingredients (some spices, olive oil, a little grain, a little lemon, etc), we managed to produce: Broiled salmon, mushroom-bean cassoulet, leek-mushroom quiche, roasted brussels sprouts, salad with pears and hazelnuts, cabbage salad, potato-onion gratin, butternut-apple soup, apple-cranberry cake, mixed berry crisp.  I think that’s it. A bunch of wine too, of course. The meal had to be vegetarian/fish only for kosher rules, or the menu could have been even larger with the addition of red meat and poultry.

So, hooray for an agricultural holiday giving us an excuse to enjoy some of the best things possible: the company of friends, the food of the place we live, the chance to reflect, the delight of leftovers.

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Friends and blog readers may remember that my grandmother was braving pancreatic cancer these last few months. She left us last Thursday. My heart is pretty torn up about this, even if my mind knows all the right things: that I’m so lucky to have had such a wonderful grandmother, that it is better she is no longer in pain, that she went the way she wanted (at home, in full control), that she’ll always be a part of me.

What can I say? I’m human; I wanted her here forever. I wanted her here for every rite of passage I go through, every meal I cook, every moment I feel a need to call and cheer her up or be cheered or find out what amazing foreign film she’s discovered that I need to see. I’ll always grieve her, and I’ll always remember her. And I’ll do my best to keep her alive as part of who I am. To honor her generosity, her honesty, her love, her passion for living, for justice and arts and reading and learning and ideas…

My grandmother was never interested in doing things half-assed. Her most treasured recipes reflect this. Her recipe for blintzes is a fine example, with detailed instructions that, she always said, most people wouldn’t bother to follow, but must be followed for the end result to be perfect. You have to press the cheese, for instance, through a wire sieve/strainer with holes larger than is found on those typically made these days. Otherwise the consistency is wrong.

My grandmother believed in sharing recipes. I posted this one a long time ago (on the old blog), but I’m sharing it again to honor her memory. Here are very detailed instructions on how to make the world’s most delicious blintzes. If you make and enjoy them, think of the remarkable woman who took the time to create this recipe, who loved feeding and nurturing others, who knew that living life means being engaged with it fully, learning as much as possible, and trying to do the right thing.

I’m spending the week with family and old friends as my own version of sitting shiva, or mourning.  As I travel, her wide-holed strainer and her blintz pan are in my suitcase.

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Grandma’s Extraordinary Blintzes

Leaves/Wrappers:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup flour* (Note: I usually present gluten-free recipes.  This recipe follows her original instructions, but soon I’ll be working on a gluten-free version.  I’m guessing that a fine-ground rice flour, such as sweet rice flour, with a tablespoon of arrowroot powder will work.  For low-carb/low-grain eaters, each blintz actually has very little flour). *UPDATE 6/7/11: substitute 2/3 cup tapioca flour and 1/3 cup fine white rice flour for a gluten-free version. It works beautifully!
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup skim milk or water (Note: You probably know I think skim milk is a terrible idea, but she said they’re too heavy if it’s all whole milk.)
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter

.

FILLING:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • about 1/2 – 3/4 lb farmer cheese
  • about 3/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • generous pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

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Make the batter for the leaves/wrappers in advance and let it sit overnight.

1. In the blender, combine dry wrapper/leaf ingredients and eggs. Add milk. Do not add melted butter yet; you don’t want it to sit overnight. You’ll add it in when you’ve taken the batter out of the fridge to use, and let it turn to room temperature.  Cover batter and refrigerate.

2. For the filling, you want to find a way to fluff up the farmer cheese and cream cheese. My grandmother took a wire strainer with larger spaces between the wires, rather than the normal fine-mesh kind, and smushed first the farmer cheese and then the cream cheese through the strainer with a wooden spatula. It takes a while, but it actually makes the cheese the right consistency. Where you’ll find a strainer like that, I have no idea. I just work here.

3. Mix together the fluffed cheeses. Add the eggs, salt, and sugar and stir.

4. To make the leaves, heat a small, thick crepe pan – hers is about 6” wide. Melt butter into it and leave the flame at medium-low. Pour in some of your batter, swirl it around, and immediately pour the excess back into your container. Wait a moment, and run a butter knife around the edges, then turn out the leaf onto an overturned shallow bowl. Do not cook the other side. Repeat for all of your crepes.

5. To assemble, place each leaf cooked side up on your work surface. Add a few tablespoons of filling, and fold them into squares with the uncooked side of the crepe on the outside, and
each of the four edges folded in. “Like pocketbooks,” my grandmother explained several times. I’m still not sure what that means.

NOTE: If you want to freeze them, this is the ideal stage to do so. Wrap them flat (not layered) in aluminum foil, and freeze them until you’re ready to fry them. This recipe makes about 20 blintzes, so it’s enough to freeze if you’re not feeding a group.

6. When it comes time to fry them, defrost your packets if you froze them. Heat butter in a heavy frying pan until the butter is golden brown and tiny bubbles appear. Turn the heat down to low or medium-low and place the blintzes folded side down (because that side is thicker) in the pan for about five minutes.

7. When the bottoms are nice and brown, turn the blintzes over for a few more minutes. They should be browned on both sides. Work gently with a spatula, because they tear easily. When they’re done, gently place them on plates. It’s traditional to serve blintzes with sour cream, and also with some fruit.

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This was my grandmother making blintzes a few years ago:

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[Okay, so technically food justice starts with "fo" but this looks like a fantastic event for a good cause.  Details below!]

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Food Justice Starts with Us! — A benefit event for Clean Greens Farm & Market

Saturday January 29th 2011, doors open at 5:30pm
@ Garfield Community Center, 2323 East Cherry St. Seattle, WA 98122
Tickets $35, can be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/25870

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From the organization:

“Clean Greens Farm and Market is happy to announce our first annual ‘Food Justice Starts with Us’ Dinner Event, taking place on Saturday, January 29, 2011. The goal of this event is to raise funds for Clean Greens’ food justice projects, as well as to raise awareness of the food access issues that our local communities face.

For our first-ever fundraising event, we will be serving a meal cooked with local, seasonal foods by members of the Clean Greens community. Clean Greens welcomes Brahm Ahmadi, co-founder of People’s Grocery in Oakland, CA, who will be giving a keynote on Oakland’s food justice movement. Towards the end of dinner, a short film on Clean Greens’ ongoing food justice work will be premiered. After dinner, we will be having a dessert auction, and guests can enjoy their dessert while listening to a local jazz band perform.

Founded in 2007, Clean Greens is a food justice organization that is owned and operated by residents of Seattle’s Central District. Our mission is to decrease the incidence of disease in our communities by increasing residents’ access to healthy, pesticide-free produce at affordable prices. We are committed to delivering clean produce to all people in our communities, which we grow on our 22-acre farm in Duvall, Washington, and distribute via our Central District farm stand and CSA program.

We hope you will join us for dinner on January 29th, to learn more about the food justice efforts of Oakland and here at home because ultimately, Food Justice Starts with Us!”

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It’s wintertime, and the weather’s been unusually cold.  This is not, traditionally, the season when a young (wo)man’s fancy turns to orchard-keeping and permaculture.

But why not?  Start thinking now about that new chicken coop you want to build, what to do about that homely apple tree in your yard, and whether maintaining a thriving beehive would give you the double benefit of providing free honey and drowning out your neighbor’s kid’s tuba practice (it probably won’t; sorry). Spring is, we like to think, not too far off.

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Here are a few upcoming classes from City Fruit and Seattle Tilth.

The headings for each category link to the organization’s page for registration information.

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Seattle Tilth Urban Livestock Classes

Backyard Beekeeping 101 (Good Shepherd Center; 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Room 107, Seattle, WA 98103, from Jan 15, 2011 10:00 AM to Jan 15, 2011 12:00 PM)
Learn the fundamentals of beekeeping!
Starting With Baby Chicks (Good Shepherd Center; 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Room 107, Seattle, WA 98103, from Jan 15, 2011 02:00 PM to Jan 15, 2011 04:30 PM)
Learn the most important considerations in caring for baby chicks.
Backyard Beekeeping 101 (Good Shepherd Center; 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N., Room 107, Seattle, WA 98103, from Jan 29, 2011 10:00 AM to Jan 29, 2011 12:00 PM)
Learn the fundamentals of beekeeping!
City Chickens 101 (Good Shepherd Center; room 107, 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103, from Jan 29, 2011 02:00 PM to Jan 29, 2011 04:30 PM)
A comprehensive introductory course for those interested in keeping chickens and want to start with adult birds.

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City Fruit Orchard, Permaculture and Beekeeping Classes

Fruit Tree Biology and Orchard Management

Saturday, January 15, 10 am – noon
Phinney Neighborhood Association: 6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103

Understanding the basic systems of a tree –its root, vascular, and photosynthesis/leaf systems—helps you better care for your trees and produce healthier fruit. The class covers basic tree biology and orchard management month by month—when to prune, thin, manage pests, etc. Finally, the class discusses orchard safety (especially ladder safety) and basic tools and equipment. Ingela Wanerstrand, is the owner of Green Darner Garden Design, specializing in edible garden design. Ingela has been pruning fruit trees professionally for 15 years, works with the Friends of Piper’s Orchard and Plant Amnesty, and receives high marks for teaching.

Mason Bees for Pollination
Saturday, January 29, 10 am – noon
Phinney Neighborhood Association: 6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103 (location tentative)

North America is in the midst of a pollination challenge with the honeybees; our fruit and garden crops suffer as result. Native, non-aggressive mason bees can dramatically increase fruit yields while improving the entire city ecosystem. Take action on the pollination challenge in your neighborhood by learning to manage mason bees. In this class, you’ll learn how to be successful in raising mason bees, you’ll see fun techniques to try in your yard, and you’ll receive hands-on experience with harvesting mason bees. Instructor Dave Hunter has been working with mason bees for nearly 20 years. He has been partnering with US scientists, University researchers, the ARS/Logan Bee Lab, and multiple experts across the country to help gardeners become more aware of their pollination requirements. He recently opened the website www.crownbees.com to assist gardeners with successfully raising mason bees.

Fruit Tree Pruning Basics

Saturday, February 5, 10 am – noon
Phinney Neighborhood Association: 6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103

Regularly pruning fruit trees improves their overall health, appearance, and can even increase fruit production. In this beginner class, learn the biology behind pruning fruit trees, practice basic pruning cuts, learn about pruning tools and get hands-on experience pruning a fruit tree. Bill Wanless is co-owner of brooke/wanless gardens, specializing in pruning of small trees, shrubs and vines. He is an ISA-certified arborist with 20 year’s field experience.

Planting and Caring for Young Fruit Trees
February 19, 10am-noon
Martha Washington Park (Location Tentative)

Before you get your fruit trees at the nursery this winter, come learn how to choose the right tree and the best planting and care techniques to give your trees a head start. This popular class covers site selection, considerations in selecting trees, how to plant them and how to care for young fruit trees. You will get hands-on experience planting a tree, so dress accordingly. Jana Dilley works on the Green Seattle Initiative with the City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment. She has a master’s degree in Forestry and in Public Affairs and has organized community tree-planting events in Seattle and California.

Pruning Fruit Trees to Produce More Fruit

Saturday, March 5, 10 am – noon
Jackson Place Co-housing: 800 Hiawatha Place S, Seattle, WA 98114

Learn the biology behind pruning fruit trees and get hands-on demonstrations of how to clean up old trees, how to train very young trees, and how to prune to produce more fruit. Jackson Place Co-housing grows apples, pears and plums in a highly urban environment and has both well-established and very young trees.

Grafting New Fruit onto Existing Fruit Trees

March 12, 10 am – noon
Bradner Gardens Park classroom: 1733 Bradner Place S, Seattle WA (Location Tentative)

This course provides an introduction to the whip graft, cleft graft, bud graft and pleach. You can practice grafting and learn the in’s and out’s of rootstocks. Instructor Greg Giuliani grew up on a Snoqualmie Valley farm with a 1930’s orchard. He learned how to graft in order to re-create these heritage fruit varieties, not available in stores. He has been a member and instructor with the Seattle Tree Fruit Society for twelve years.

Permaculture and Orchards

Saturday, March 19, 10 am – noon
Phinney Neighborhood Association: 6532 Phinney Ave. N, Seattle, WA 98103

In this hands-on class, learn permaculture best practices for planting and maintaining healthy fruit trees. The class will discuss how to establish “plant communities” (also known as permaculture plant guilds) that activate the soil, support the ecosystem, and promote low maintenance tree health. We will also cover sheet mulching and companion planting. Co-instructor Jenny Pell is a permaculture teacher, designer and consultant specializing in urban permaculture, edible perennials and vertical gardening. Details about her projects are at www.permaculturenow.com . Jacqueline Cramer has worked the land for twenty years as farmer, teacher, gardener, designer, and activist, and has worked in urban settings designing, installing and maintaining landscapes, including over 15 school food gardens.

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