Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Big Neighborhood Supper

The first planning meeting for
The Big Neighborhood Supper

My friend Maggie is currently working on an exciting project this summer! It's called The Big Neighborhood Supper and fits right in with the philosophy we espouse here at sustomability. Tom and I will both be participating by donating produce from our garden, helping prepare the meal, and possibly coming up with some menu ideas. I volunteered us to help design some of the vegan items that will be served. We'll also be hosting one of the workshops out at our community garden plot at Meadowbrook. Here's an article Maggie wrote about the project:

The Big Neighborhood Supper is a public art performance in the form of a carefully orchestrated community meal. This meal will be unique in that all of the people (and animals) that consume the meal will have had a direct hand in its production. For example the supper table will be shared by chickens and humans alike (chickens may get to attend because they laid the eggs used in the meal, the people attending will have produced a range of ingredients and elements of the meal from homebrewed beer to garden harvests!) The contributors aren’t limited to agricultural folks alone; artists and musicians are playing an active role in creating the event’s environmental components by setting up an installation-like table setting with sculptures and sound pieces.

Not only is the Big Neighborhood Supper project a meal, it’s an opportunity for community members to share resources and local knowledge surrounding the topics of local and urban food production. Throughout the summer the Big Neighborhood Supper participants are hosting public workshops on a variety of topics all over town. June featured two workshops: the first on chicken husbandry and care, the second on home beer brewing and wine fermentation. July workshops include: home food preservation (canning, dehydration and freezing how to), organic gardening techniques and foraging for wild edibles (plant identification in Meadowbrook park)! August workshops will include fall planting preparation (composting, broad forking, suggestions for fall crops in this climate, etc.) For more information on upcoming workshops check out the project blog at

Maggie Taylor, the project coordinator, says that the intentions behind this project are to investigate art as a communication tool and to establish a forum (both live and online) for the community to exchange information relating to local food production. She has been working in the medium of performance art for the past seven years. This project relates to the process-oriented, new-genre, community-based food performances began in the 1970s and resurged in the 1990s. “Not only is the work time-based, live, and interactive, it can also be perceived as socio-political,” says Taylor.

We all have the basic need to feed ourselves. In this time of air shipment, limited fuels, rising costs, depleted resources, and desire for convenient food, it's important to investigate the impact we have politically and environmentally when we make decisions regarding where we obtain our food. Learning, producing and sharing our food within a community is an important step towards returning to sustainable food-sourcing methods.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Spring Harvest

Yesterday may have been the first day of Summer, but in our garden the harvest still sings of Spring.

There has been a TON of rain this Spring in Illinois. As a result, Tom and I have not gotten out to the garden as much as we'd like to and the weeds have really thrived. Yesterday we played some serious catch up and weeded our little butts off. Thankfully, we were rewarded with a beautiful spring harvest of beets, greens, peas, chives, basil, fennel, oregano, lemongrass, and marigolds. We're still waiting on the broccoli and cabbage, and unfortunately our spinach was completely ravaged by little caterpillars. We'll be using a row cover on the spinach we plant for the fall harvest. The damage those little pests did was incredible!

The real superstars right now are the beets. We chose to grow Detroit Dark Red which turned out just beautifully. We've been munching on the greens for the past few weeks, and yesterday we harvested a huge bundle of plump, juicy, beet roots. Tom immediately roasted them up for us when we got home, and they came out so good that we've already eaten them all up!

We also had a lot of fun both harvesting and shelling the peas. You wouldn't think shelling peas would be such a great time, but when it's peas from your own garden, it's actually quite satisfying. However, despite the fact that we planted loads of plants, we still only ended up with half a tupperware full of the little guys. We'll definitely plant a whole lot more when we try for a fall harvest.

The broccoli is being quite frustrating having produced no heads yet. The plants are beautifully lush with big green leaves and they don't seem to show any signs of bolting. Yet, we still don't have any heads. We'll wait a bit longer to see if we get any. Otherwise, we'll have to resign ourselves to just the stems.

The cabbage is doing well, just coming along slowly. It's finally starting to head up which is great. Both the tomato and pepper plants have flowered which is always exciting! So far the only loss is the spinach, and we get another shot at that in the fall. I'd say the garden is going very well as we enter into summertime.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Basil and Garlic Scapes Pesto

This delicious recipe will take you less than 15 minutes to create and works in many different ways as a dip, spread, or sauce. It's a lot like the pesto most people are familiar with, but instead of regular garlic we use garlic scapes from our farmer's market. Scapes are the stems which grow from the garlic bulb. They can be picked as soon as they develop and used in place of regular garlic. If you don't have access to scapes, garlic works just as well in the recipe. Also, scapes are CHEAP. A lot cheaper than garlic. The stems cost 10 cents each at our market. What a deal!

Garlic Scapes:

I LOVE BASIL. Our basil came from a couple of sources. We've got three plants out at the garden and one in a container on the balcony. I like to harvest evenly from each of the plants in order to keep them all happy. All the plants are doing well, and our container basil is doing better than any of our previous efforts on the balcony. The plant in the picture below has already been harvested three times!

Container Basil

Basil and Garlic Scapes Pesto


4 scapes
1 1/2 tbs olive oil
3 cups loosely packed basil
3 tbs firm tofu crumbled
1 tbs nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

Chop scapes using every part of the plant.

Heat 1/2 tbs olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Add scapes and cook about 5 minutes until they barely start to brown on the edges.

In a food processor add basil and pulse a few times. Add rest of olive oil and cooked scapes to basil and pulse a few more times. Add tofu, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Process until smooth.

Spread on a sandwich, toss with pasta, use as a dip, spread on pizza, stuff ravioli, etc. etc. etc.

Make again and again and again. Double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. Freezes very well!

When scapes go out of season use 3 garlic bulbs instead. This recipe is pesto-perfect!

EDIT: Here's a version from our friends over at di-wine and dine that's much heavier on the scapes:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

layered sweet potato and black bean enchilada casserole with homemade tortillas and sauce

When I was younger one of my favorite dishes was my mom's enchilada casserole. Her recipe was made with chicken or ground beef and loads of shredded cheese. Although it was tasty, the main ingredients in the old recipe don't fit in with my diet anymore. Using her casserole as inspiration, I've come up with a layered feast of black beans, sweet potatoes and homemade everything. The recipe below includes homemade tortillas and homemade enchilada sauce. If you don't have enough time you can always substitute in store-bought tortillas and sauce, but for the best results, take the time to try making this from scratch (at least once!).

Tortillas from Scratch

2 cups Masa Flour
1 3/4 cup water
pinch of salt

Mix flour and water in a bowl with a fork. Roll into a ball, making sure the dough consistency is even. The dough should hold together, but not be overly moist.

Divide dough into 4-16 balls depending on the size tortillas you want. I recommend 8 balls for the enchilada casserole recipe.

Here's the tricky part. If you have a tortilla press, use it! Lucky you! I on the other hand do not have one (I need to steal my mom's!). Instead, I take two cutting boards, place one ball between them, put it on the floor then stand on it. My weight flattens the ball into a nice, round tortilla. However, even with all my weight I'll never get it as flat as a tortilla press, but the thick tortillas work great in this enchilada casserole. For thinner, more rollable tortillas a press is a must!

When you separate the cutting boards be careful not to pull apart the tortilla. If you end up with half the tortilla on one board and half on the other, it's not that hard to peel them up and press them back together with your fingers. Another help is to put parchment paper, wax paper, or saran wrap on the boards to prevent the tortillas from sticking.

On medium high heat in a dry skillet cook the tortillas for about 1 minute on each side. Remove from heat, stack on a plate, and cover with a towel until ready to use.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Enchilada Casserole

For Filling:
2 Sweet Potatoes or Yams
1 Onion Diced
3 Cloves Garlic minced
2 tbs Olive Oil
1 can Black Beans drained and rinsed (or 1.5 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight and cooked)
2 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Oregano
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Cilantro diced
1 Avocado sliced
Cheezy Sauce recipe from Veganomicon, Soy Cheeze, or any other favorite cheese substitute (optional)

For Enchilada Red Sauce:
3 Cloves Garlic minced
1 tbs Olive Oil
2 red chilis or 2 tbs Cholula sauce (more if you like it hotter!)
1 1/2 cup Tomato Sauce
1 tbs Cumin
1 tsp Salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel sweet potatoes then slice into quarters. Brush with 1/2 tbs olive oil. Place in baking pan and bake 30-40 minutes until soft.

Start the sauce now: In a sauce pan heat 1tbs olive oil over medium heat. Throw in garlic and let cook 1-2 min. Stir in cholula (or chilis), tomato sauce, cumin, and salt. Lower heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes have passed, set at low until ready to use.

In a skillet, heat 1 tbs oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook about five minutes until starting to brown. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add black beans, cumin, oregano, and salt and lower heat to medium. Cook ten-fifteen minutes, stirring regularly. Using your spatula or spoon, break the black beans apart.

When sweet potatoes are finished baking, remove from oven and place in food processor with 1/2 tbs oil. Puree until a smooth mash develops.

Lower oven heat to 350 degrees.

In a medium sized casserole dish set down a bottom layer of tortillas. Pour black bean mix on top, spread a third of the enchilada sauce and some cheeze(if using) across black beans. Add second layer of tortillas. Spread the sweet potato mash on top with more sauce and cheeze then add top layer of tortillas. Spread the remaining third of the sauce and some more cheeze.

Bake for 17-20 minutes.

Remove from oven, sprinkle cilantro and sliced avocado across the top.

Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Foraging: Mint, Dill, and Lamb's Quarter

I've been really into foraging lately, steadily growing my repertoire of foods I feel comfortable picking and munching on from the wild. It's a lot of fun to walk down the sidewalk and look at all the foods I could be eating! I've been using friends, family, internets, and edible plant reference guides to help decide what I can forage. So far, my favorite guide is "Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places" by "Wildman" Steve Brill.

Before I discuss specific plants, please be diligent in your research before you eat them! I am no expert and you shouldn't entirely trust me on what you should and shouldn't eat. These first few are relatively straightforward, but many others have poisonous look alikes.

Also, watch where you're foraging from. Keep away from roadways where pollutants can settle on your snack. The Wildman suggests a minimum of 50 feet away from roads. You should also avoid areas that may be sprayed with pesticides.


Our community garden plot is infested with mint. This makes foraging for mint very easy. You can identify it by the minty smell. It can really overwhelm some parks and garden areas, so you should definitely explore and try to find a mint patch! Several of the other plots are infested and I like to walk in between some of the plots and collect the huge amounts of "border mint." I've found a few varieties, but prefer the spearmint (or what I think is spearmint) which is darker and more flavorful. I toss a fistful in bowling water and make delightful mint tea. When the lemongrass starts to grow, I'll chop that up and add it for lemony goodness. You can hang the mint upside down to dry it out and use when the fresh stuff is gone.


Dill also likes to invade our garden. It's identifiable by the dilly smell when you crush it between your fingers. It looks like a small carrot top and tries to pass itself off as a carrot sometimes. However, it smells much better than carrot greens! One of the garden plots has not been used and is covered in dill. I have decided to ignore the possibility that the would-be gardener actually decided to grow a dill patch and have been collecting my dill there. I especially like covering asparagus with olive oil, dill, and salt and roasting it in the oven for 15-20 minutes. You're supposed to store dill in a jar of water covered in a plastic bag. That seems to working alright so far. I haven't experimented with drying it, but I presume it's similar to mint.

Lamb's Quarters

For weeks and weeks, I've been obsessed with positively identifying lamb's quarters. It's a green similar to spinach and I heard it was quite tasty. However, I kept getting nervous that I was not correctly identifying it. The several sources on lamb's quarters showed varying types of leaves and made me uneasy about what I'd been finding, although I had a strong feeling that I had it right. I've compared it to many sources many times and have now decided I know my lamb's quarters. The leaves are diamond shaped, with the base of the leaf fatter than the end. The leaf edges are notched and the stems have grooves. The younger leaves are covered in a white, powdery substance. There aren't any poisonous look-alikes, but some relatives aren't that delicious and can be mildly irritating.

My lamb's quarters experience taught me that you can read all of the guides, but until you've actually seen and connected with the plant, you can really second-guess yourself. It really helps if you have someone show you the plant live. (Thanks to Eric for connecting me with purslane! I'll chat about it when I see more pop up!)

You can use lamb's quarters like any other green. I stir-fried it up with a touch of oil, lots of pepper, and soy sauce. The leaves shrink by about two-thirds, so make sure to keep that in mind when you're cooking! I underestimated its amazing shrinking abilities and ended up with a very peppery dish. You can mix it in with other greens if you want to slowly introduce it to your taste buds, but eating it by itself will allow you to full acknowledge its deliciousness.


This is not edible and is actually very poisonous. Susan thought it looked pretty and picked it up to put in our awesome chemistry themed vase. I wasn't sure if it was Queen Anne's Lace/Wild Carrot or Hemlock. After consulting with the Wildman's book and the internets, I'm going with hemlock. Not like we were planning on eating it anyway. Until you're a pro, stick with the easily identifiable plants that don't have highly poisonous dopplegangers.

Foraging can be a lot of fun, so I encourage everyone to partake at what ever level they feel comfortable with. It's delicious, introduces you to new foods, cheap, and has a low environmental impact.

And if you really can't find any mint, dill, or lamb's quarters, Susan invites you to help weed our garden!