Food and Drink Feed

An Uncommon Harvest

Each day when I get home from work, I hang up my keys, set down my bag and head straight to my porch to see what (if anything) has grown since the day before.  I get down low and scan the tops of my many containers for any sign of green poking through the dark soil and compost mix.  This is my first time gardening in any sort of preplanned, even remotely educated way and I'm both giddy and anxious to see some sign that I did it "right".  Is there enough sun?  Did I plant the seeds too deep?  Should I have paid more attention to what the package said about soil type?

I was recently doing the same thing with a friend's six-year old son.  We were walking around their garden to see what new plants had appeared after several days of rain.  I told him about my after work routine and he laughed "You're Toad!"

"What?" Kids are well known for saying just what they think, but I couldn't imagine where this declaration had come from.

"You know from Frog and Toad."  He looked at me expectantly.

"I don't remember."  It had been a long time since I'd read the series.

"Toad was in his garden yelling 'Grow' at his plants.  Frog came over and said 'What are you doing?  We planted them yesterday'". 

Now it was my turn to laugh.  I am most certainly Toad. 

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Thankfully, there is a harvest ready to be enjoyed today.  This isn't one of those plants that people day dream about as they flip through seed catalogs on cold, wintry days.  No, these plants are the embodiment of persistence, resilience and a sunny disposition.  I think their very prevalence makes them all the more fun to discover as a food source.

Behold, my backyard bounty -

Uncommon harvest april 2012
A bowl of violets and dandelion greens  from my lawn; and a little thyme from my container garden.  I've long been a fan of dandelions, but eating them?  When I was a kid, my older brother convinced me that the "milk" in their stems was poisonous.  This so-called knowledge made creating dandelion chain necklaces feel incredibly daring.  Since then I've learned he was just messing with me, but hearing dandelion greens compared to arugula in bitterness scared me off all over again.  However, dandelions as food are everywhere this season. 

On Earth Eats they're cooking them up and debating whether or not they can actually be called a weed since they're useful.  On Firecracker Farm they're gathering the blooms by the basketful and making fritters.  In Taproot magazine they're using them to make dandelion vinegar, salads and medicines.  It felt wasteful to ignore this bounty blooming all around me.

I'm not used to searching my yard for dinner, much less getting down low to find the youngest, mildest dandelion greens.  As I picked them part of me didn't really believe I was going to eat them.  But once they were washed and placed in my salad spinner, they looked like any other green.  I hadn't planned to eat anything else from my lawn, but when I saw the purple violets I remembered all the beautiful cakes I've seen Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy decorate with them.  And I'm sure I've seen Amanda at SouleMama cook with them too - maybe a garnish on her famous basil popcorn?  Checking first for bugs, I tentatively bit into one.  There was a slight crunch and sweetness, like sucking a clover flower. 

I decided to add these home grown ingredients to my go-to after work dinner - a microwavable package of frozen rice and whatever veggies, nuts and beans I have on hand.  I finished it off with a littel drizzle of balsamic vinegar and voila, the taste of spring!

Dinner spring 2012



Homemade Peanut Butter

For almost ten years I've been on a quest, a slow and meandering one maybe, but a quest all the same, to go from a person who heats prepackaged foods to one who actually cooks (and bakes). 

Along the way I've been surprised, embarrassingly often, at the foods that can be made at home, which I had assumed could only be made in factories. If you've never seen someone make mayonnaise for example, would you ever imagine that it's made from whisking together eggs and oil?  Some foods' creation is as mystical as alchemy, until you see behind the curtain.  

Jennifer Reese has a book out that touches on this issue of how foods are made, titled Make the Bread, Buy the Butter.  There's a copy waiting for me at the library as I write this, so I can't say too much about it, other than that she  discusses when  making food at home is (and isn't) worth the time and effort. 

I think most people would agree that food made with care in small batches at home is better than food that has undergone an automated process of washing, heating, extruding and packaging in a factory.  Except sometimes, it isn't.  Peanut butter cups come to mind.  I don't know what Reeses does to theirs, but no recipe I've tried at home has ever come close.  And so, when I saw Yvette van Boven's recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter I thought, what a great idea, but it won't taste like peanut butter.  By which I meant, it won't taste like the processed, sweetened, velvety spread that I have eaten almost every day of my life and love. 

Here's where you'd reasonably expect me to tell you how van Boven's recipe compared to my expectations, but I can't.  When I got to Trader Joe's to buy the peanuts, I was confronted by eight shelves of nuts, all begging to be made into butter.  There were pale gleaming macadamias, wrinkled, brain-like walnuts, satiny cashews, diet friendly almonds, and an array of seeds as well.  In the end I brought home bags of hazelnuts and pecans.

Pb beforehand 022512
Once I'd changed the nuts involved I felt free to make all sorts of adjustments, including the type of sweetener and the seasoning used.  Based on the interview with van Boven that accompanies the recipe, I think she would approve. 

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Fingers crossed. 

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At this point I was worried that my blender just didn't have what it takes to grind those nuts into creamy submission.  Maybe there's a reason why you never see hazelnut or pecan butter.  I decided to give it one more shot.  I turned the mixer on and went downstairs to flip the laundry. 

When I returned,

Pb on bread 022512

I had hazelnut, pecan butter with a hint of curry - I did mention I played with the seasonings, didn't I?  I know the picture looks a little like pate, but it tastes wonderful.   It's a little grainier than peanut butter, and I don't know if that's my choice of nuts or the fact that it's homemade, but it tastes so good that I keep stealing spoonfuls each time I walk through the kitchen. 

Next time I'm thinking I'll add a little cocoa and see if I get something similar to Nutella.  I wonder what using agave or molasses would do to the results.  As you can see, it may be a while before I buy another jar of my beloved store butter. 

If you'd like to try your hand at van Boven's homemade peanut butter, or create your own signature variation, the recipe (and interview) can be found in issue five of CraftSanity magazine (along with everything from chai apple pie, gardening in the snow to instructions for Tunisian crochet). 

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Normally I would just post my variant of the recipe, but I'm hoping you will buy the magazine (either in paper or  reduced price pdf form) and support Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood as she turns her love of craft and journalism into a new business venture.  For all the back story on the magazine visit Craftsanity.com where you can find a blog and the amazing CraftSanity podcast full of interviews with people making a life through craft.   In fact, you can hear Jennifer interview van Boven in episode 126.

Now I think I left something I need in the kitchen.  Yeah.  On the counter near the nut butter...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Apples in my Pocket

Signs of Fall
Apples have been on my mind.  First came John Seabrook's article "Crunch" in the New Yorker, which I heard read enticingly on NPR.  Seabrook's description of SweeTango, the latest apple breed to hit stores, had me wondering if the experience of biting into its crisp glory, might be worth stabbing myself in the leg with an EpiPen afterward.  Read his words aloud and see if your salivary glands don't leap into action.

 "[The store owner] handed the apple to [the customer]. She looked it over, and then sniffed the calyx, the apple's bottom. It was a large apple, but not supersized, like the Fujis down the aisle. It had sunburned shoulders, yellow sides, and a splash of green around the stem bowl, and it was freckled with 'lenticels,' through which it was imperceptibly breathing." 

Nothing yet?  Read this.

"Like Honeycrisp, SweeTango has much larger cells than other apples, and when you bite into it the cells shatter, rather than cleaving along the cell walls, as is the case with most popular apples. The bursting of the cells fills your mouth with juice. Chunks of SweeTango snap off in your mouth with a loud cracking sound. Although a crisp texture is the single most prized quality in an apple--even more desirable than taste, according to one study--crispness is more a matter of acoustics than of mouthfeel. Vibrations pass along the lower jaw and set the cochlea trembling."

That paragraph deserves an award, and I may too for resisting its siren song. 

Then came a flurry of apple recipes in the blogs and magazines that fill my reading life: Apple ButterRoasted Apples , Cardamom Roasted Apples, Apple Pie Cookies, Apple Sauce, Apple Butter, Apple Pie Jam and the most adorable (can a New Englander say "twee"?) Apple Chai Pies in CraftSanity (issues 4 and 5).  I resisted them all on the premise that while I can eat cooked apples safely, these cooked apples were just too desserty at a time of year that needs no more desserts.

We rang in the new year and my apple longings faded along with the discussion of holiday baking.  And then I heard Spilled Milk's Apple episode.  I was a goner.  When Matthew read off a list of apple varieties,  an image of a road trip based on tasting everything from the Aunt Rachel to the Tarbutton flashed into my mind.  Then there was the audio of the hosts, Matthew and Molly crunching into apple after appple.  Seabrook knew what he was talking about when he wrote that the crispness of an apple is all in th ears.

Several cook books and recipe websites later, I had a solution.  The apples were cooked, but still maintained a whisper of crunch.  The recipe wasn't a dessert, in fact it was pretty healthy (see notes in the recipe).  I put one in my pocket (bagged, of course) before heading out for a walk tonight, and a half hour later it was none the worse for having  shared space with my cell phone and keys.    Did I mention they're really yummy too?

Cinnamon Apple Muffins

Apple and Cinnamon Muffins

This recipe is a modified version of the one Rachel Allen provides in her excellent book Favorite Food at Home: Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland's Most Famous Chef.

Ingredients

2 eggs - lightly beaten

6 tbsp skim milk

6 tbsp (roughly a individual pack) vanilla yogurt

1/6 cup oil

1/3 cup apple sauce - this takes the place of most of the oil normally called for

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 unpeeled apple cut into matchstick size pieces

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

dash of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup wheat germ - high in fiber, iron, zinc and folic acid.  It adds a nice nutty taste too.

1 cup wheat flour

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 hand fulls of your favorite raw (unsalted, unroasted) nut.  I used hazelnuts. 

Directions

  1. Preheat to 350 degrees.  The recipe makes 12 muffins.  Use paper liners or grease your muffin pan.  These muffins retain their shape well, so the paper liners are optional.
  2. In a large bowl lightly beat the eggs.  Add the wet ingredients: milk, yogurt, oil, vanilla, and apple.
  3. In a second bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.  Then add the wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar and most of the nuts.  
  4. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones.  The batter will become quite thick.  As soon as the ingredients are mixed stop, you don't want to overwork the dough.
  5. Fill the muffin cups to the top.  The batter is thick enough that this step could even be done successfully by a young child.  Anyone who has ever had a child (or themselves) get frustrated as more cupcake batter ended up on the flat of the pan than in the cups, will love this.
  6. Chop the remaining nuts and sprinkle them on top. 
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the dough offers resistance (spring) when touched. 

Last muffin


 


Taking Stock

I did a potentially foolish thing.  A week before Thanksgiving, I decided I needed to lose 15-20 pounds.  No specific "due date", it just needed doing.  The timing was not ideal, but this was not a rash decision.  Somewhere in my mind I'd been been aware that clothes didn't fit the way they used to and smaller clothes had even slowly made their way into separate piles that I'd stopped looking through.  The final straw however was seeing a photo that someone had taken of me at a Meetup event.  I thought to myself "So that's what I really look like".  Gulp.

Squash onion galette 112311
Since then I have certainly enjoyed the tastes of the season (exhibit A - the Butternut Squash and Carmelized Onion Galette I made for Thanksgiving), but I've tried to adhere to two tenets of healthy living: moderation in all things and do more of what's good and less of what's bad.  In short consume more water and veggies, do less mindless eating and  get back into a walking habit.  The last one is the one that I want to talk about here.

Have you heard of gmap?  Apparently the website has been around for years, but I just learned about it from a friend who uses it and I'm Christmas-morning kind of excited.  The site uses Google Maps to let you plot your walk/run/ride.  It can then tell you (depending on how much information you type in)  how far you went, estimated calories burned and your pace.  I'm most excited about the distance since I can't tell you how many times I've had to retrace my steps to find my pedometer on the ground.  I remember years ago my mother started on a walking regimen for health reasons and wanted to track her distance.  She bought a map of our town, and after each walk colored in her route with red pen, measured it with a piece of string and then using the key, converted it to miles.  She was fastidious with her measurements, and often looked at her red veined map with pride.  She would have loved gmap. 

Another benefit of gmap, especially for someone like me who is trying to (re)create a daily walking habit, you can enter your excursions on a calendar.  This makes it  easy to keep track of how often (or rarely) you're getting out on the road.  I've found this visual helpful when my motivation is lacking. 

Last but not least, each trip gets a unique URL, so you can share routes with friends (or blog readers).  Time to lace up those shoes and layer on the woolens; this is going to be the Winter of Walking!

Hat for me 2010





A Walk to SoWa Market


Today is truly November, wet, slate gray and cold in a way that sticks to the bones no matter how many layers I put on.  In short, it's not pleasant walking weather.  I thanked the universe that I never did buy a dog "to force me to walk daily, regardless of the weather" and I happily opted for the warmth and golden light of yoga class instead. 

As I sat on my mat, attempting to focus on my breath and prepare for class, images from a walk I took this summer kept coming to mind.  My brain's just doing it's job - thinking, I told myself as I pushed the images aside.  But they kept coming back, an antidote to the wind and rain I heard battering against the window.  So I welcomed the memory in and basked in the remembered sunshine all over again.

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At some point this summer, I was looking for new outdoor activities and discovered Meetup.   Just a few days later I found myself sitting on the T, riding to a part of Boston I barely knew, to take a walk with people I'd never met on a day where the weather was expected to be 90+ humid degrees.  What had I gotten myself into?

Finding the other walkers wasn't half as hard as I'd expected.  I saw a woman who'd been on the train with me, who had a water bottle and looked just as out of place as I felt.  "Are you here for the meetup?"  "Yes!"  That scene repeated itself over and over until a group of about 10 people, including our organizer, had formed.  Once we were sure there were no stragglers, we set off.  The plan was a short walk, just a few miles along the DCR Southwest Corridor ending at the SoWa (South of Washington Street) Market.

It turned out the trail (think sidewalk marked by signs) was a great way to see new parts of the city without any concern about getting lost.  Mosque 071711

These houses of worship were all on the same street, about a block apart.

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We looked like we were on a college tour, all following the fellow with the baseball hat, but what did that matter?  Everyone was there for the same purpose, so starting up a conversation with whoever happened to be beside you was surprisingly easy. 

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But the best part of all was the market.  When we arrived I saw a parking lot set up with white sunshades and brimming with produce.  I enjoy going to farmer's markets, but this just didn't seem to fit with the organizer's excitement.  Had I been spoiled by living in the suburbs?

Water sign 071711
"You can stick with the group or do your own thing," the organizer announced.  "Me, I'm headed to the other side of the market to get some lunch."  With that he disappeared into tunnel through a warehouse on the side of the parking lot and we all followed.

What appeared before us was the very best parts of a fair without the hawkers and the puddles of questionable origin.  It was a sea of independant crafters and designers, selling their creations, surrounded by a ring of food trucks. 

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Hotdog stand SoWa market 071711

I turned to the woman next to me and said "I thought food trucks were only in California", she laughed and pointed me toward one devoted entirely to the art of the grilled cheese sandwich. (If that sounds familiar, it's because that very truck was a contestant this year on Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race).  It was well past lunch and they'd run out of their  best sellers, so I opted for a classic hot dog truck where they made their own relish.  It was unlike anything I'd ever tasted before.  I think there may have been cranberries in it. 

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Fed and hydrated I wandered the stalls and when I'd seen everything (and done some very early Christmas shopping) I realized there was more to see inside the warehouses that surrounded us.  Let me give you a little taste...

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Bead +Fiber boutique Sign 071711

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Some things just cried out to be bought as a set.

Hands SoWa market 071711

Name tages SoWa Vintage market 071711

Shoe forms 071711

Spools 071711

There was something joyful about the eclectic mix of items.

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What more can I say?  It was summertime.  The sky was blue.  There was delicious food cooked in trucks.  There were artists and craftsmen happy to talk shop, and I had nowhere else I had to be. 



 

 

 


Camping - at home

Two and a half days of camping in my own home taught me a few important and several not so important things about this modern day life.  I'll leave the categorizing up to you.

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  1. The hardest thing about losing electricity is dealing with food: how to keep it from spoiling, how to heat it up (cold food is not fun when you're already cold), and how to keep to a reasonably healthy diet.  My breakfast of Cheeze-Its fell a bit short on a couple of these.
  2. Time stretches delisciously in a world without clocks.  A morning feels twice as long when you're not aware that you've already "used up" half of it.  
  3. Quilting and knitting are perfect activities when there's snow outside and no source of heat inside.
  4. You really can light a gas stove with a match without losing your eyebrows.
  5. I owe Jenna of the Cold Antler Farm blog a debt of gratitude.  Her posts about storm preparation and trying to live on as little outside power as possible lead me to buy wind up flashlights, a batter free radio/mp3 player and a solar powered lantern (that also happens to be a water bottle).  Knowing I had these at hand and didn't have to worry about running out of batteries felt luxurious.
  6. Washing up with cold water has more rejuvenating power than a trip to Starbucks.
  7. When the sun goes down and there are no screens, time moves at the turtle pace of childhood.  
  8. While the dim glow candles produce makes reading and needlework painful, there's no better backdrop for listening to Bram Stoker's Dracula!
  9. New Englanders are known for their reserve, but that's just because it only snows 1/4 of the year.  There's nothing like bad weather for creating opportunities to meet the neighbors.
  10. The comforting power of a hot water bottle is underrated.  Curling up with Cozy Bear (my own pattern) in a cocoon of blankets was pure bliss.

Sleepy bear 022011

 


Better than a Granola Bar

I am always on the lookout for something quick and healthy that I can grab as I'm headed out the door.  This is especially true for evening walks.  When I get home from work each day I tell myself, I'll just have a little dinner and then go for a walk.  By the time I've made my dinner and sat down to eat it, my body has slipped from the motion of daytime life, to a lazy, nearly inert evening state.  Absolutely no part of me wants to go out for a walk. 

This is where the Playground Granola Bar rides in to save the day.  I can walk in the door, grab a couple of these and head straight back out for a walk.  They're filling enough that I'm OK with postponing dinner a little while, and healthy enough that I don't feel like I'm eating desert. 

These bars are hearty and chewy.  The recipe as originally written (see above link) is full of ingredients I typically have on hand, so I don't have to plan ahead to make them.  And best of all, as many people have noted in the recipe's comments, the possibilities for customization are endless.

The first time I made them, I tweeked the fat and sugar content to make them a bit healthier.  I replaced half the vegetable oil with unsweetened, plain apple sauce, a trick that a friend's mother taught me way back in elementary school.  I also cut the amount of brown sugar in half.  That batch tasted so good that I've gotten more adventuresome in my adjustments.  My latest version is an ode to the flavors of fall.

Autumn Granola Bars

Dry Ingredients

Dry ingresdients 100811

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup bran flour
  • handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips/chopped baking chocolate
  • handful of pepitas
  • handful of hazelnuts

Wet Ingredients

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  • 3/4 cup golden raisins (chopped, if like me you can't stand biting into the gooey ooze of a cooked raisin)
  • 1 can pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup honey (or more honestly,  whatever comes out before I'm tired of holding the bottle upside down while squeezing)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup apple sauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  
  2. Grease a 9 x 13" pan (I usually use a 9" cake pan because it's what I have)
  3. In a large bowl mix the dry ingredients.
  4. Make a hole in the center and add the wet ingredients. 
  5. Mix thoroughly.  The dough will become quite thick, so you may want to use your hands for this.  I've found a wide spatula makes a good stirring tool and helps to capture any flour at the bottom of the bowl.
  6. Spread into the pan.
  7. Bake 30-35 minutes until golden.  Allow to cool.  The original recipe recommends cutting the bars before they've completely cooled.  I've never found this necessary, but that may be due to the extra moisture I've added through the apple sauce and pumpkin puree.

I usually store half of mine in the refrigerator and freeze the other half. 

Autumn granola bar 100811Bowl courtesy of my grandmother's collection.  Squash from The Food Project (see sidebar)



 

 

 

 


Walk for X

After telling myself a couple years ago that I was done with the whole idea of walking to raise money for a cause, I find myself leading a group of kids to do that very same thing this weekend.  Being in this position has reawakened all my old ambivalence toward these walks. 

Food project greens 083110
The very first charity walk that I was involved with was the CROP walk back in middle school.  I remember walking through the golden autumn light, away from the familiar roads of downtown and out into rural parts of town I'd never seen before.  Discovering that there were still unfamiliar parts of town, after living there most of my life was exciting, and exploring them powered by my own two feet created a sense of adventure.    I assume I was there with my church youth group, but in the murky way of memories, I also think I remember being with classmates.  The identities of my fellow walkers may be lost, but the feeling of camaraderie and being part of something larger and more powerful than me, remains crystal clear.   

Fast forward ten or fifteen years and I was walking through unfamiliar neighborhoods of Boston, surrounded by a sea of strangers and feeling that same camaraderie and do-goodery.  Again the cause was hunger, an issue whose very existence in this country strikes me as unacceptable.  This time, instead of the seven miles of the CROP walk, the route was twenty and I have to admit I was as driven to see if I could walk that far, as I was to raise the money. 

I did the full twenty miles (and was really proud of the achievement) until the next year when I collected double the money  while only walking half the distance.   This time I had a walking partner who was more into the doing good part and less into "extreme" walking, so at the half way mark we took the courtesy bus back to the beginning and called it a day.  

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Even though all of my sponsors had made a flat donation, rather than a per mile one, I still felt like I'd cheated.  I hadn't suffered for the cause; I'd taken a nice walk with a friend.  And that's when I realized that how much I walked, the part I could truly control, was meaningless.  It didn't affect how much people donated.  They donated what they were comfortable with, regardless. So why were walkers and all the expenditures of a massive walk even necessary?  And that's when I finally understood why charity walks work. 

Charities hold walks, because it's a lot harder for an individual to say no to a friend who asks for a donation, than to ignore a faceless organization asking for money to help strangers.  Boom.  With that realization, nothing about the system had changed from what it had always been, but I felt a bit dirty.  My relationships were being used, and even if it was for a good cause, I felt uncomfortable.   So I stopped.  If I wanted to support a cause I would, but I'd leave my friends out of it. 

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So here I am, about to chaperon a charity walk and having mixed feelings about it.  I hope the kids enjoy that same sense of being a drop in a much larger ocean of good that I did at that age.  I hope they enjoy themselves and look for more opportunities to get involved in the community.  And as for me, I'm looking forward to a walk in the golden light of autumn, exploring parts of Concord I've never visited before.

If you'd like to make a donation to Sunday's CROP walk, your money will go toward local food pantries and international disaster relief. 

Here are a few links to other organizations involved in the fight against hunger.

The Food Project - Bringing fresh, reasonably priced vegetables to Boston and educating a new generation of farmers along the way.

Project Bread  - Check out their beautiful holiday card selection. It's a great way to support their year long effort to feed the hungry children of MA.

Share Our Strength - If you watch the Food Network you're probably familiar with their work.

UNICEF - An organization that needs no introduction

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It was a beautiful day for a walk.  There was something wonderful about a long ribbon of people walking through historic (and rather affluent) Concord to bring some relief to those in need.

Concord Crop walk 101611Taken near the Old North Bridge

Crop Walk crew 101611


Colorful Jamaica Plain - Part 2

 

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A quick walk down Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and it's clear that this is a town where "main street" is still valued.  There are a few big chains, mainly banks and New England's own Dunkin' Donuts, but the majority of storefronts are independents.  There are enough restaurants to keep you trying something new for quite a while, whether its spicy Indian cuisine, succulent sushi or sandwiches named after gangsters.  I passed a martial arts school, a yoga studio with an adorable monkey on the sign and Kitchenwitch, a kitchen supply store I'm itching to go back and wander through. 

It's always a bit depressing when a store can't come up with anything interesting to put in those huge storefront windows that face the street.  I've noticed hair and beauty businesses seem to find this especially difficult.  But Kitchenwitch caught my eye immediately with their wedding gifts display filled with matryoshka doll inspired wares, tea pots and did I mention the life-size mannequin wearing a wedding dress and witch's hat?  Anyone who can come up with a window like that must have a unique perspective to share inside.  I tried to capture it in a picture to share with you, but the glare from the sun on the glass worked against me. 

Shop lically sign jp 080611
This idea of shifting where we spend our money so it supports the local economy and independent sellers/growers whenever possible, really appeals to me.  I heard Heather Ordover of Craftlit talking about the book Switch, in which an economically depressed town tried all sorts of expensive projects to keep from dieing.   And then a group of students realized that if each person in town just spent $40 a month there, in town, the economy would turn around, and it has.  It's something to think about.

A small sign for the Blue Frog Bakery drew me down a side street, where I couldn't miss the shop.

Blue frog 080611
I'm always impressed when a food establishment is willing to give a glimpse behind the scenes at food preparation.  There's a dessert restaurant in Boston called Finale where they've placed a mirror on the ceiling above where they torch the creme brule so patrons can watch the caramelizing magic.  Blue Frog's action that afternoon wasn't so dramatic, but it certainly made me want to stop in and sample a bite, or two, or three the next time I'm in JP.

Blue frog bakery jp 080611
There must be something about JP and 3D animal signs.  The toy shop had whimsical, Jim Henson-esq aliens climbing its store front, and JP Licks, the ice cream shop which started in JP and spread across the greater Boston area,  has a larger than life cow emerging from its brick facade! 

Jp licks 080611

The interior is a bit of an ice cream Disney world.  The tall ceilings make the space feel huge.  There are figures hanging from the ceiling and large paintings, not to mention a display case of pastries and the scent of freshly brewed coffee.  And of course the ice cream is rich, flavorful and original. 

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Outside is a bit more relaxed.  There's a bubler with a bowl beneath it labelled "Homemade Dog Water".  I don't even own a dog, but I always think it speaks well of an establishment when they remember their customer's furry friends.  To the right is an area designated as Belle's Park.  Not so many years ago Belle sold her handmade jewelry from this spot.  In addition to being craftminded, she was also an avid backgammon player and belonged to the New England Backgammon Club.  When she passed away JP Licks set up this little memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite part of this spot, is the giant mural on the adjacent business's wall.  What could be an eyesore, an alley leading to trash cans, is turned into an attraction, a celebration of the space. 

Woman squirrel mural 080611

Woman fox mural jp 080611
These ladies are brand new.  They still had paper hanging beneath them to protect the wall from splatters. 

Women animals mural jp 080611

When I was here just two weeks before, there were different murals.  I don't remember what they were of, but they didn't look old or faded. I wonder if they change them out regularly to give more artists a chance to share their work.   The abundance of murals  was one of the main reasons I wanted to come back and take a closer look. 

Burito mural jp 080611 On the side of the Purple Cactus restaurant

 

Childrens mural 080611
A mural created by the Jamaica Youth Mural Program in 2004

Children mural detail 080611
The moon in the window, and the running girl's untied shoe laces make me smile.

Jamaica pond mural 080611
A mural of Jamaica Pond, including the boat house.

Sports mural jp 080611
This elaborate mural overlooks garbage cans and a municipal parking lot.

And then there's my favorite.

Lantern parade mural jp 080611

It stands opposite to the sports mural, bookending the parking lot.  The scene looks like something out of a children's book, but it actually commemorates the annual lantern parade around Jamaica Pond.  People bring their own homemade lanterns or buy one on the spot, and join together to walk the 1.5 mile trail around the pond.  It looks like it happens in the fall, based on their dress.  I'll try to go to it this year and bring back photos to share.

Lantern parade 3 jp 080611

 You can see the same boat house here that appears in the earlier mural. I like the variety of the people, the pregnant woman, the women with dreadlocks, the child with the giant hat who is clearly marching and having a great time.  And why not?  Being outside, at night, with a touch of fire is a recipe for magic.

Lantern parade 2 jp 080611

Can you remember being small enough to ride on someone's shoulders?  I remember being on my dad's at the local air show.  I was two parts thrilled (I could actually see above the crowds), and one big part terrified, but I wasn't about to let on.  Then I'd have to get down and walk!

Lantern parade 1 jp 080611

If you'd like to see more murals, some of which have been replaced by the ones I showed here, visit the JP Community Arts Advocates website.

There's just one more intallment to come of this trip through JP. Fittingly, it will continue from where we've left off, Jamaica Pond.