Three Sisters and Blue Cornbread


I am planning for my 2017 garden. This season is going to be very experimental. I am in a new house with a new garden and I am planning  the vision of my future farm homestead.

In addition to my garden at my home in Annapolis, this year I have reserved a terrace in the Community Learning Garden. This is the same campus community garden that Deb and I started together in 2010. I am eager to get back into the campus garden to try out a three sisters garden – growing beans, squash and corn together. The three different plants provide support and benefits to one another. I have selected a heirloom varieties of each – blue and red corn for cornmeal, black dry beans, and a few unique varieties of winter squash. 

Since I will be growing corn for cornmeal, I am curious to experiment with cornmeal recipes. I have a local blue cornmeal that I’ve been using for my trials. My first goal is to perfect my cornbread. Here is a great recipe for cornbread muffins from a favorite cookbook, The Art of Simple Food.

Cornbread Muffins (adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)

What You Need

  • 2 cups cornmeal (try heirloom, unique and/or local varieties)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted

What You Do

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Butter a 12 muffin tin
  3. Mix together dry ingredients
  4. Mix together milk, yogurt and egg
  5. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture
  6. Whisk or stir until well mixed and smooth
  7. Stir in the butter
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 12-15 minutes (cornbread should be brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean)

For the Love of a Sandwich

I have been keeping a secret for over ten years. This week, I revealed to my husband for the first time that I love tuna-salad sandwiches. I grew up eating them. Every day. In mom-packed-school-lunches  served on white bread or from the local diner as tuna-melts on an English muffin.

While others may have alternated their school lunches with PB&J, turkey, chicken, and other options, I grew up attending a Jewish day school, which required kosher packed lunches. Lunches needed to be either dairy or pareve (neither meat nor dairy). According to the rules of Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), fish is considered pareve. And so, daily tuna-salad sandwiches, perhaps with a bagel and cream cheese a couple times a week.

Back in 2007, as I started my exploration of environmentally conscious eating, I soon realized that my tuna habit (tuna-salad, tuna sushi rolls, etc.) did not align with my values. As with many types of fish, the environmental story for tuna is complicated. Checking the recommendations from Seafood Watch clues you in on the complexity of the situation. 8 “best” options, 32 “good” and 58 to “avoid”. Greenpeace put together a Tuna Shopping Guide, but my approach has been to avoid all tuna and most seafood, with special exceptions of locally caught fish and molluscs (like oysters) occasionally.

But, there is nothing like a tuna-salad sandwich. Until now.

“Chickpea of the Sea”! I found this bowl on an incredible lunch spread this weekend at a baby shower. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my taste-buds. This is the sandwich salad I have been waiting for. I recreated the lunch just two days later and had just the same result. I am very excited to share this recipe with you. Note – I replaced the celery and scallions for a chopped leek, which was excellent. This is a very forgiving recipe – use what you have and adapt to your tastes.

Chickpea of the Sea (adapted from TheKitchn)

What You Need

  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (can substitute veganaise or use half greek yogurt)
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp celery seeds (note – I didn’t have them, and it still turned out great)
  • One and a half ribs of celery, diced
  • Two scallions/green onions sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon caper with brine (optional)
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh herbs (lemon balm, chives, dill, or parsley)
What You Do
  1. Place chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times to roughly chop.
  2. Add chopped chickpeas to bowl and then add remaining ingredients stir.
  3. Serve on bread with lettuce and/or sprouts as a sandwich or on lettuce leaves as a lettuce wrap.

Rainy Sunday, Back to the Blog

It has been 4 years since I’ve posted here – and wow! it has flown by. While I have achieved much of what I set out for in 2010 when I first met Deb, I’ve learned that this is a life-long journey and one that is much more successful when it is shared and cherished. It is amazing to reflect on the past decade. I am now working exactly where I wanted to be in 2010 – on farms, food service, farmers’ markets, and local food policy. And yet, there is still so much more to learn and do. What we’ve realized is that our quest for learning and for tackling environmental challenges has only intensified since we first started blogging. So, we are back!

I am glad to be on the journey with you!

When in St. Louis, Eat Ethiopian Food? Part 2

One of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants is Shagga in Hyattsville, MD. But, now that I know how easy it is to create these dishes myself, I think I might be able to satisfy the craving for these wonderful spices and flavors at home. Here is the run-down on what we prepared and the details about how to do it yourself.

Sautéed Cabbage and Carrots with Turmeric (from Food and Wine Magazine)

What You Need

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium red onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • Salt
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric
  • 1 pound carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 5 pounds green cabbage, cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces

What You Do

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil.
  2. Add the onions and a generous pinch of salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger and turmeric and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are fragrant and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the carrots to the casserole along with 1/2 cup of water and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the carrots are just starting to soften, 7 minutes.
  5. Stir in the cabbage in large handfuls, letting each batch wilt slightly before adding more.
  6. When all of the cabbage has been added, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
  7. Season with salt and serve.

Spiced Red Lentils (from Food and Wine Magazine)

What You Need

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium red onions, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons berbere, plus more for sprinkling (See previous post)
  • 2 teaspoons nigella seeds, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups red lentils (1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1 cup butternut squash puree (we had it leftover-and I thought it might add some nice flavor)

What You Do

  1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil.
  2. Add the onions and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until they are softened and just starting to brown, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, ginger, berbere, nigella seeds, cardamom and a generous pinch each of salt and black pepper and cook until fragrant and deeply colored, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the red lentils with 8 cups of water to the casserole and bring to a boil.
  5. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have cooked downand thickened, 25 minutes.
  6. Stir in butternut squash puree.
  7. Season the lentils with salt and pepper.
  8. Ladle the lentils into bowls, sprinkle with berbere and serve.

Timatim Salad (from the Berbere Diaries)

What You Need

  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. berbere (see previous post)
  • 3-4 large tomatoes
  • 1/2- 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 jalapeño peppers, chopped and if desired, de-seeded for less heat
  • 2 pieces Injera, torn into bite-size pieces

What You Do

  1. Combine the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chopped vegetables and Injera
  2. Serve chilled.

And for next time, I will try my own Injera. I am so happy to now know the secret of this amazing bread- cooked like a pancake! Teff flour is an ancient grain that is gluten-free and provides calcium, iron and protein. So, now I don’t have to feel so guilty when I fill up on it during the meal.

Injera (from Food and Wine Magazine)

What You Need

  • 4 cups teff flour (about 5 ounces)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

What You Do

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the teff flour with the water until a smooth batter forms.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight; the batter will be slightly foamy.
  3. Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat.
  4. Whisk the salt into the batter.
  5. Ladle 3/4 cup of the batter into the skillet; swirl to coat the bottom with batter.
  6. Cook over moderately high heat until the injera just starts to bubble, about 30 seconds.
  7. Cover the skillet and cook for about 30 seconds longer, until the injera is cooked through and the surface is slightly glossy.
  8. Invert the skillet onto a work surface, letting the injera fall from the pan.
  9. Repeat with the remaining batter.

This meal will feed an army! We had so much leftover. If you are just feeding four, I suggest cutting all the recipes in half (excluding the Injera!). Or, if you are like me – enjoy the leftovers for lunch and dinner for days.

When in St. Louis, Eat Ethiopian Food? Part 1

My sister and I love Ethiopian food. So, when my sister moved to St. Louis, we worried she’d have to go without the delightful dishes until her visits with me in D.C. This weekend, as Frankenstorm Sandy neared the East Coast, I left to visit my sister in her new city, hang with her new politically active puppy, Aidan (shown below), and check out the food-scene in St. Louis.

Before boarding my flight, I picked up a copy of this month’s Food and Wine Magazine. While the front featured the expected Thanksgiving ideas, I found the most amazing surprise: A Lesson in Ethiopian Flavors. The feature included not only some of our favorite vegetarian dishes, but also the characteristic Ethiopian Injera Bread. Amazing!

We were able to successfully make a number of great dishes including sauteed cabbage and carrots, spiced red lentils, and timatim salad. We also prepared some sweet collard greens with balsamic, maple syrup, and dates (not Ethiopian flavors, but very yummy). Unfortunately, when we went to the market, we picked up teff grain instead of teff flour and could not prepare the Injera. So, instead, we resolved to try Injera another day and purchased it from my sister’s nearby Ethiopian restaurants (yes, they are there in St. Louis!).

The first step was to buy the ingredients and prepare berbere, a spice commonly used in Ethiopian dishes. While we didn’t find the spice mixture in the store, we found some great recipes and instructions online.

Berbere (from

What You Need

  • 1 tsp of fenugreek seeds
  • 6 dried chilies (I only used 3, because I can’t handle the heat)
  • ½ cup paprika
  • 2 tsp ground ginger (I used fresh)
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • 1 and ½  tbsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp of ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground cumin

What You Do

  1. Combine all ingredients together in a blender.
  2. Mix!!
  3. Store in a jar in the fridge, the recipe makes approximately one cup.

Stay tuned for more recipes from the wonderful evening, as I continue my extended trip here in St. Louis. All flights have been canceled back to BWI, so I will be here through Thursday at the earliest.

Stay safe, dry and warm to all those effected by Sandy.

Planted Too Many Greens?

I guess I just don’t believe the seed packet: the spacing requirements or the promise that the seeds will germinate and become full-grown plants one day. A friend of mine who was raised on a farm told me that for each plant you want to grow, plant three seeds (one is for the rabbit, one for another pest, and one for you). For each fall-vegetable plant I wanted this season, I planted about 30 (or more). To my amazement, the seeds all germinated and sprouted. I am in awe of this process each time.

Now, my rows of kale, collards, broccoli-rabe, and radishes are coming in way to thick!

After a visit to Willowsford Farm, I was reminded by their beautiful rows of fall vegetables how large these plants get! So, I came home and started the process of thinning.

I’m left with lots and lots of yummy microgreens. Microgreens are also really nutritious – a recent study this summer found that microgreens contain up to 40 times higher levels of vital nutrients than their mature counterparts.

I’m using radish, kale, collard, and brocolli rabe microgreens now in salads and on sandwiches. Take a look at how many I’ve eaten so far.


Next time, I’m going to be scaling back on the number of seeds I plant. But, I love the process of thinning these rows now that I know how to enjoy the fruits of my labor with these healthy, little microgreens.

Backyard Fall Hangout and the Onion Tart

Last week, a friend of mine visited from FL. Before her arrival, I promised her the crispness of fall and told her to pack a sweater. Of course, when she arrived — it was well over 80 degrees. After a couple hot, summer-like days, we were relieved that we got a taste of fall weather over the weekend. To celebrate the season, and her visit, I hosted friends over to my house for a fall-cookout and fire in the backyard. We had grilled summer squash and eggplant as well as roasted winter squash – a bridge between the two seasons.

I also made an onion tart – from a recipe that I’ve been eyeing for the last three weeks. It was amazing! Perfect as an appetizer or side dish for your festivities this October.

Onion Tart (from TasteFood)

What You Need
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut in 1/4 inch cubes
– 3 tablespoons ice water
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 pounds yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 tablespoons port wine (I used the red wine open and leftover from earlier in the week)
– 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 2 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese (I used parm, but I think other cheeses would work here- I’m thinking of trying goat cheese next time)
– 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
– 1 egg, slightly beaten

What You Do
1. In a food processor, combine flour, salt, butter, and water. (Note: you can also do this with a folk)
2. Pulse until it resembles coarse meal, with some pieces of the butter apparent, adding another tablespoon of water if necessary.
3. Form into a ball and flatten.
4. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
5. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a deep skillet or pot.
6. Add onions and salt. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown, soft and squidgy, about 30 minutes.
7. Add port wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes.
8. Remove onions from heat and stir in the pepper. Cool slightly.
9. While the onions are cooling, roll out the dough to fit in the bottom and up the side of a 10-inch round tart tin.
10. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the bottom of the tart.
11. Spoon onions into the shell and spread evenly.
12. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon thyme over the onions.
13. Brush the exposed crust rim with the egg wash.
14. Sprinkle the tart and crust with the remaining cheese.
15. Bake in a preheated 375 F. oven until the crust is firm and golden and the onions have turned a rich golden brown, without blackening, about 30 minutes.
16. Remove and cool slightly. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature garnished with thyme sprigs.

Here is the tart before it went into the oven!

We ate it so quickly there are no “after” shots.

Dine Out for Healthy DC Schools

Working in my own garden and reading the Nature Principle by Richard Louv has really got me excited about expanding gardening and “greening” opportunities for others. It could also be the start of the fall season with all its apples, cider, and winter squash. And of course the beautiful colors of our tree canopy. Whatever the reason, October is a great time to support community gardening initiatives and the development of a healthy food system. There is no better way to improve the food system than to provide education, healthy & sustainable food, and gardening experience to school-age youth through programs like Growing Healthy Schools Week.

Growing Healthy Schools Week celebrates school gardens and farm to school programs throughout DC. During the week, school staff will work with local non-profits, farms and chefs to coordinate inspiring activities aimed at engaging the broader community, increasing environmental literacy, building program capacity, and connecting students to their food.  You can volunteer with the program – or support the initiative by having dinner out with friends, family, or co-workers.

To celebrate the Kick Off of Growing Healthy Schools Week, the EatWell DC Restaurant Group is running a restaurant fundraiser for DC Greens and the DC Farm to School Network (which is a program of DC Greens) on October 15th. Through their GiveWell DC initiative, EatWell DC will donate 15% of all purchases made between 4 pm and 10 pm at any of their 5 restaurants: Commissary, Logan Tavern, The Pig, The Heights, and Grillfish.

Share the event on facebook and schedule a date, happy hour, or dinner with friends, family or co-workers. It’s an easy way to support a fantastic program.

Dogs Love Okra?

Wondering what to do with okra you can’t eat? Overgrown okra getting you down?

It is a true joy to be harvesting okra throughout all of Sep. and into Oct. from my garden at home. The best part is when the okra is too big for me to enjoy, I am able to share it with my Shar Pei, Logan. Just for fun, here he is enjoying his selection of oversized okra.


New Garden: Time for a Soil Test!

Next week, I’m moving to a new house where I am excited to get some overgrown seedlings into the ground in my new backyard and garden. I’m thrilled because there are two areas of the yard that have already been prepared for gardening by the previous tenants of the house. Unfortunately, the previous tenants did not do a soil test. Since the house is old, and located in Prince George’s County, I think that it is likely that there is some lead contamination in the soil. I’ve got to get the plants in the ground right away if there is any hope in producing any vegetables this summer. But, I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed that the soil tests come back safe for vegetable-gardening.

In my quest to better understand issues related to lead contamination, I found a couple resources from the University of Maryland’s Home Garden Information Center and University of California’s Extension. Both articles explain that common sources of contamination are:

  • Chipping or peeling paint around older structures
  • Industrial sites
  • Leaded fuels (remember, there was lead in gasoline until 1986)
  • Old lead plumbing pipes

Lead is hazardous, with young children and pregnant women at the greatest risk. Children exposed to lead have lower IQs and may experience permanent learning disabilities and behavioral disorders when compared to children not exposed to lead. But, when asking the question of whether vegetables are safe to eat after being grown in contaminated soil, it seems that there is not a simple answer. First, it depends how much lead is actually in the soil: 

So, I can hope for a low-level of contamination (low number of ppms of lead). Additionally, I can help minimize risk by growing the right kinds of vegetables and fruits and avoiding others. For example, fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers are less likely to contain high lead levels compared to leafy vegetables (such as lettuce and spinach) and root vegetables (such as carrots and turnips).

Monitoring the pH and adding organic material to the soil helps manage the amount of lead that might leach into the plants. Therefore, I will be sure to check the results of the soil test for pH and add compost and soil amendments to help further reduce health risks.

Lastly, since contamination adheres to the surface of the plants, I will be sure to wash all vegetables and fruits produced in the garden thoroughly and peel those that need it. It is also important to wash gardening clothes and hands to help minimize ingestion of the soil from getting dirty playing in the garden.

Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for some nice results of that soil test.