I’ve made this a couple of times and it totally hits the spot when you want a comforting hearty pot of lentil soup. Last night we hosted our weekly community supper at our house, so we made a big pot of this soup, a fabulous colorful crunchy salad, and spaghetti squash with sage butter and parmesan. And a loaf of bread to go with it. (Oh yeah, and homemade vanilla ice cream! It was a good meal.)
This is an adaptation of a recipe from Veganomicon, and I snagged it from Chow.com’s recipes section. I’ve altered and tweaked it in a few places, so I guess I can say it’s my recipe, too.
1 tb olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, sliced into half-moons
1 potato, cut into 1/2″ chunks
4 cloves garlic
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tb chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 pint jar of canned tomatoes
8 cups water
3 cups puy or pardina lentils
2 bay leaves
1.5 tsp salt
.5 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2. Add the water, lentils, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Just before serving, stir in the vinegar and mix well.
It’s really nice to bake a loaf of bread so that the bread is ready just before the soup. Then you can have hot crusty buttered bread with your soup. When I say “bake a loaf of bread” I mean No Knead Bread, because that’s the only kind of bread I know how to make. I realized last night that while it is not good enough to be an everyday loaf, it’s an ideal choice for a supper like this, when you really want a hot loaf of fresh baked bread.
As I noted above, I made a big pot of this for a community supper. I doubled the above recipe and served 12 people with 2 quarts left over to put up in the freezer.
The challenges to winter cycling in the Northwest are primarily copious amounts of a) rain and b) darkness.
For the past fifteen years, my solution to the rain has been the usual one: a bicycle-specific “breathable/waterproof” rain jacket, and, when necessary, rain pants. In recent years, I have amassed a wardrobe consisting almost entirely of wool, so that when I do get wet from rain (or sweaty from wearing rain gear), at least I stay warm. But while full rain gear works for certain situations, it’s often more than I need, and it’s almost always uncomfortably warm in our temperate climate. While the technological advances of Gore-tex and the like have doubtless improved things somewhat over plastic ponchos, I still don’t find most of my waterproof/breathable gear to be breathable. Sometimes it’s not even waterproof. And it’s hard to find a pair of rain pants that doesn’t bind, leak, or otherwise seem like a cumbersome waste of money.
We’d been meaning to try rain capes for a while, and this summer, while in Eugene, we finally picked up a couple from the Center for Appropriate Transport. They make their own rain capes, right there in Eugene. The capes are simple affairs, like a small tent with a hole in the top for your head. There is a buckle around your waist to keep the cape from flapping too high, and there are little slots for your hands to fit in, or to hook into, or something. The idea is, you hold the cape onto your handlebars, so that it provides rain protection to your upper body as well as your legs. And in practice, it works remarkably well. I’ve used the rain cape several times in heavy rain, from short rides to commute-like trips of 5-7 miles. On the longer trips and in heavier rains, my knees and shoes get damp, but frankly no worse than they did with rain pants, and less dramatically. Meanwhile the comfort level is considerably higher: Since the cape doesn’t have to provide breathability in its fabric, it can be completely waterproof; and since the cape is not snug-fitting, there is ventilation aplenty. I also appreciate how it fits easily over all manner of coats and jackets, regardless of their bulk or length.
The disadvantage to the rain cape is that one has to hold it in place on the handlebars, which gets in the way of various activities like signalling for turns, shifting with downtube shifters, and ringing a bell. For short rides, this is not a big problem, but it gets tiresome over several miles. I am thinking I will sew on a few velcro loops to the front, so that I can attach the cape to the handlebars and not have to hold it with my thumbs. For the meantime I am holding the cape onto the bars with big binder clips, which sounds a little crazy but works very well.
The rain cape really shows its advantage on warmer rainy days, especially on short rides to an appointment or meeting. It’s perfect for most urban cycling.
The other major improvement we’ve made this year is to finally figure out a solution to the rainy-glasses problem. We got contact lenses! It’s the last thing I would have thought I’d do for winter cycling, but last year we got very weary of dealing with wet spectacles mile after mile in the rain.
If you wear glasses and cycle year round, you know what I am talking about. Rainy days are low visibility to begin with. Cover your lenses with hundreds of tiny refracting droplets of water and you begin to wonder if you can see at all. At night it’s even worse, as the droplets refract the headlights of oncoming cars into disco-ball-like explosions of light. The solution I’ve traditionally used is to stop as often as necessary to wipe my glasses dry. But after a few stops, my handkerchief would be soaked, and worse, my hands would be wet and cold from constantly removing my gloves.
By the end of last winter, we were actually thinking about Lasik surgery, but contacts are a more sensible solution for us right now. Holly and I both got fitted for lenses just in time for the rains, and we’ve been using them for rainy bike rides. The difference is amazing! I don’t much like contacts for the rest of my day — reading, working, and so on — but for rainy bicycling, nothing else will do.
It was almost a year ago that our chicken co-op, the Eastside Egg Co-operative at Zenger Farm, began its volunteer operations. A lot has happened since then, and the general consensus is that co-operatively tended chickens are a heck of a great idea. But there’s one thing that hasn’t happened, or it hadn’t until this last weekend, anyway: the coop had not rolled.
We designed this coop to be easily moved by a small farm crew, even if it was full of 50 fat laying hens. A key component to this design was a set of wheels. We toyed with the idea of using a wagon base, but decided it would be too heavy to move by human power alone. Being bicycle-powered people, we figured there had to be a way to utilize bicycle wheels.
Over the course of our conversation, Sacha and I came to the conclusion that a set of bicycle wheels could work very well. Since this was a volunteer-run project, and would benefit the 47th Avenue Farm, he offered to help out by designing and fabricating two custom forks that we could attach to the sides of the coop. I was rather floored at the notion, both that a person who knew how to weld stuff would offer to help us, and also that our coop would have Vanilla-designed components.
Sacha also suggested that we contact Surly Bikes to see if they might donate or partially donate a set of their Large Marge wheels and, more specifically, their Endomorph 3.7-inch tires, which I knew were designed specifically for rolling atop soft surfaces like sand, snow, or mud. Our friend Todd, one of the owners of Clever Cycles (and another member of the 47th Ave Farm CSA), knew the folks at Surly through his work as a bicycle professional, so he got us in touch. Lo and behold, Dave Gray and Surly Bikes agreed to donate two wheels, tires and tubes to the project.
So, back in May of last year, we designed and built a chicken coop, specifically with these wheels and forks in mind. Over the summer I got busy building the wheels, and Sacha worked on the forks. What with one thing, and also another, it took almost a year to get all the pieces together. During this time we’ve moved the coop several times, using as many volunteers as we could muster, and sheer brute force, to lift and lug the coop full of grumpy, half-awake hens across the muddy fields.
The moves were occasionally fun, as at the last Zenger work party. But, often they were a big pain sometimes literally, when the number of volunteers that morning was not quite enough to comfortably heave-ho. One on one, you or I could take a chicken on, and come out on top assuming you could catch the damn thing. But for hefting 40 to 50 well-fed hens, you want a big team.
Last Saturday, Holly and Craig and I went out to mount the freshly painted forks to the coop. We’d drawn in these forks in the original plans last year; brought out the half-finished forks in March to measure for their crossbraces; scoped out the fit the previous weekend; and stopped by a hardware store earlier in the week to collect the necessary bolts, screws, and drill bits. In one of those rare, universe-blessed moments, all our best-laid plans actually worked. And when we attached the wheels, bolted the axles tight, and took the coop for a test drive, we appreciated that free-wheeling freedom more than we ever would have, had we been able to roll the thing across the fields from the get-go. It worked! The forks bolted into the vertical 2×4 we’d built into the back of the coop a year ago. The huge, balloon tires rolled effortlessly along the bumpy field. The chickens found it all very amusing.
I need to say a little something about these wheels and tires. They are not something you look at and think, “Wow, what cool bike wheels!” Instead, you look at them and think, “What the heck kind of crazy vehicle are those wheels designed for?” And I know that Surly has designed a bicycle just for the use of these wheels. But really, I think what they have done is design a set of wheels for chicken coops. Because these wheels are absolutely perfect for this purpose. Meanwhile, I have a notion that such an easily movable coop could find a use in other contexts community gardens, co-housing situations, or maybe just other small farms. So perhaps Sacha and Dave can get together and start a human-powered chicken-coop kit. You never know.
We’d like to formally thank the folks who helped to get this coop on wheels.
Sacha White and Vanilla Bicycles donated the design and fabrication of the forks. They also powdercoated the forks and gave them the sleek “EEC” logo and stars! Aw!
Dave Gray and Surly Bikes donated the parts for the two wheels, along with the tubes and tires. (I built them.)
Bill Stites of Stites Design helped Sacha with the CNC work on the forks.
Todd Fahrner was kind enough to get us in contact with Dave at Surly.
As for the Eastside Egg Co-operative, well, I guess you could say we’re on a roll.
Organic, local, free range eggs are selling for $6 a dozen at the PDX Farmerâ€™s Market this season. One farmer had a sign up to explain the increase, noting a 40% increase in feed prices. This is a small example in a pretty privileged corner of what is promising to be just the beginning of a new world of high food prices, and increasing food crises. It is no real surprise if you spend time talking to farmers and reading about resources. We were visiting a farmer last month who raises hogsbeautiful, free-ranging, rooting wondersand he talked of the strain of rising feed prices. Organic feed went up 25% in 2007 and had already risen an additional 15% in the first six weeks of 2008. Another farmer mentioned that it was becoming impossible to stay ahead of the increases, even with buying feed in advance. The increases were just bigger than anyone could anticipate. Those farmers were selling hogs on a sort of CSA model, where customers pre-purchased. This is normally a great model, giving the farmer a stake to work with at the beginning of the season, and the customer gets a well-raised hog at the end. But with feed prices escalating so quickly, the prices paid for the hogs at the beginning of the season were not what they end up costing to raise. Weâ€™re watching feed prices rocket up at our local feed store when we buy for the co-op, of course.
These are my up-close-and-personal examples of the stresses that are really only just beginning in our food system. And I watch from a position of relative privilege. It feels precarious these days, this privilege, as I join everyone in wondering and worrying about recession and what the next year will bring. Nevertheless, I am not in the position of the recent protesters in Haiti, who live on $2 a day, and very seriously have no room for price increases that are going to happen anyway.
Cheap oil. What a demon it has been in our lives. And now itâ€™s not cheap, but trying to maintain the system weâ€™ve built around it continues the deviltry. With oil prices up, wealthy countries are desperately subsidizing grain for ethanol production in a futile bid to stave off the changes that are our only option for any sustainable future. Farmers are getting more for commodity crops, but involving themselves in precarious plans to find the hottest crop, and resisting pressure to increase production to try to hold these unprecedented prices up. I feel pretty sure that we are just seeing the tip (or is it the last melting fragment?) of the iceberg when it comes to the economic disruptions that this century has in store for us. If my reading is right we will see a lot of swings, but I think that the swings are going to happen with a mostly upward momentum when it comes to energy and food. (As an aside, it’s important to note that these two itemsfood and energyare frequently left out of the inflation indices!)
As I say, I am not surprised, but I am surely not complacent or smug about whatâ€™s going on. This is going to be an unpredictable and scary time. I worry on so many levels.
I worry for all of the amazing farmers Iâ€™ve been privileged to meet in the last few years. They are learning and husbanding so many skills and precious foods and animals in sustainable ways, but what will this economic pressure do to them? The NY Times had an article recently musing that it might make local and organic seem more accessible to people, if conventional food prices increase. Others have mentioned this idea to me as well. I truly would be delighted if it were sobut I just donâ€™t know if I buy it. I have felt hopeful in the last year at the increased attention and support local sustainable food has been getting, but it feels like a fragile thing. Will it hold up to $6-a-dozen eggs, to locally-baked bread becoming even more expensive? Transportation of food to market is already a huge expense, resource drain, and pollutant. This is only going to become more serious. Our household only eats meat from sustainably-raised animals, but we will probably have to reduce how much we buy as prices increase. Will our contraction (and that of others like us) be compensated by an overall increase in people migrating to this much better, but much more expensive option?
I worry for the worldâ€™s poor, who have been dependent on the formerly cheap global â€œcommoditiesâ€ of rice, wheat, corn. This global food market (fueled by cheap oil again) is not going to hold together, and tragically it has destroyed much of the local agriculture that used to provide a spare, but real, subsistence base for the worldâ€™s peasantry. Land, and maybe more importantly, skills and knowledge have been lost. How do we farm without petrochemical fertilizer and pesticides and herbicides? There are small oases of knowledge and practice, but they are not enough yet, and they are threatened by these crises. I have read that many countries are looking at both grain and petroleum exports in a new light, and threatening to end or strongly curtail them. Again, not so surprising, but this, too, will probably increase overall volatility.
And, oh, do I worry for the future. I try to keep most of my focus on my localit is where I can have the most impact, and working with people, face-to-face, gives me hope. But when I raise up my head to the wider worldthe one I and all of us depend on for every drop of water, for every morsel of food, for every breath of airit is a blow to my spirit. We are not treating this world as the source of our life.
Where is our reverence, our respect, our awe? Where is our sense of self-preservation?
I’ve been wanting to try this since we had a bread pudding with dandelion greens at Higgins last year. I got so excited about that dish at the time that the bartender said “You want the recipe? Lemme go ask the cook!” and brought back a scrap of thermal paper with a rudimentary recipe scribbled on it, in what I prefer to believe is Greg Higgins’ handwriting. Using that recipe as a start, and Pierre Franey’s recipe for apple bread pudding as an aid, Holly and I put this dish together. It worked marvelously.
The Higgins recipe mentioned grilling the greens, which I thought might be a chefly pretense, but we decided to try roasting the kale as a substitute measure. The result is superb, and, I think, crucial. The dry, high heat removes some of the water from the leaves, crisps the edges, and concentrates the sugars. The kale held its texture and shape in the finished dish as a result, and the flavor was magnificent.
I think this recipe would work well with any greens or combination of greens, but especially the more assertive greens that sometimes verge on bitter, like kale, collards, dandelion, or mustard. I now have a mind to try it with dry roasted mushrooms, or shredded roasted beets, or broccoli . . . it seems like a versatile base for vegetable flavors and textures.
Of course, the really wonderful thing about bread pudding is that it uses up eggs, milk, and bread ends. It’s a practical dish with a glamorous flavor.
10 oz brioche loaf or other bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 oz (or so) curly-leaf kale or other tasty winter greens, washed, leaves stripped from tough stems and torn into small pieces
3 med leeks, white and some green, cut in half lengthwise and then crosswise into half-inch pieces, and soaked in a couple changes of water to remove grit
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup cream
3 cups whole milk
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450Â°F.
Toss kale leaves with a little olive oil. Spread out on baking sheets and roast in the hot oven for about 10 minutes. The kale will wilt slightly, and then crisp at the edges. Perfect. Remove the kale from the oven and put it in a bowl.
Lower the oven temp to 400Â°F.
Saute the leeks and garlic in butter until tender but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
Beat eggs and milk together with salt, pepper and thyme.
Mix egg mixture, greens, leeks and garlic, and cubed bread together in a big mixing bowl. Pour the mixture into a 9×14-inch baking dish, scraping out the last bits with a rubber spatula. Place the baking dish into a larger pan such as a roasting pan or hotel pan. Put the pans carefully into the oven. Pour boiling water into the outer pan, ideally to the depth of the bread pudding mixture, taking care not to splash any water into the bread pudding!
Cover the baking dish loosely with foil.
Bake at 400Â°F for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Check for doneness in the middle of the pan; if the custard is cooked, a knife inserted into the middle will come out clean.
We’re pleased to announce that our egg co-operative has been featured in Edible Portland, a local food and culture magazine that is available for free in groceries and farmers markets in the Portland area. If you can’t see the actual magazine, you can read the story on Edible Portland’s web site.
In conjunction with this story, our efforts have also been chronicled in a thoughtfully done video piece, which you can enjoy using the viewer below. The video was shot and produced by Rebecca Gerendasy of Cooking Up a Story.
A couple weeks ago, we gathered at the farm on a rainy morning to move the chickens to a new field. Since the coop still does not have its wheels, this involves a large-ish group of people doing some heavy lifting. In this case we picked up the coop with the chickens still inside, and carried them to their lush new field full of chickweed and overripe pepper plants. Photo by Laleña Dolby
I know it’ll be a lot easier once we get the wheels on, but it sure was fun to get together and do this work. Afterward we gathered in the warm dry farmhouse for coffee and eggs on toast. And then we all got on with our week. Thanks to everyone who came out and lent a hand.