Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mystery Food "Lucky 13" edition and Funeral For a Friend

First thing's first: This week's mystery food had a lot of my favorites!

Concord grapes, green beans, sweet corn, a tomato, peaches, zucchini and summer squash. Included in the weekly farm newsletter was a recipe for grape juice, so I may check out the farmer's market and buy more grapes. I'd really like to try making some grape jelly from fresh grape juice. My mom and I were discussing last night how grape jelly never really tastes like grapes…so I want to find out if it does if you make it from scratch.

Also exciting on the local food front is that I picked the first watermelon of the season from my garden! The other two probably have a few more weeks to go, but here's the goodness:

What is the second half of this blog post title referring to? I'm really not so crass that I would use an Elton John reference to make light of the actual death of a living creature. Now that your blood pressure has returned to normal, read on…

The last time I spent any significant time clothes shopping was when I went searching for items to complete my Halloween costume last year. Shoe shopping? I am clueless. When I find something that I like…it gets worn/used until it dies.

Examples: My favorite pair of sandals are four years old. I bought them before I left for England. I'd had foot surgery and had to wear shoes good support. The brown Sketchers I found (on SALE) were pretty ideal. Only now are they starting to fray a little bit around the edges. The same goes for my work shoes. Before I moved to D.C., I found the perfect pair of black mary jane flats. Every once in awhile I go over the scuffed edges with some polish and they look new to me. I am clearly tempting fate as I can see where one of the straps is about to give out and one of the soles is nearly worn through. I do this with clothes too-one of my favorite t-shirts was bought on a whim at Pac-Sun while I was shopping with my cousin Emily on vacation…we were 13 at the time. The most bizarre thing there is that it fits me better today than it did 12 years ago.

But my Travelsmith bag, with an apt model name of "MetroSafe"…it's perfection. Joe's parents bought it for us before our trip to Amsterdam in March of 2006. It is the best bag in the world-don't argue with me on this, you will not win. First of all, it's black, so you never have to worry about it clashing with clothing if that sort of thing bothers you. The adjustable shoulder strap is lined with slash-proof cable and the front panel hides a bunch of zipper pockets (with tamper proof clips!) beneath water-repellent nylon. The bag itself is only 11 inches tall and 10 inches across, and yet somehow I can fit all of the following items inside: A journal, Kindle, MP3 player, wallet-purse-organizer-thing, Blackberry, keys, my eyeglass case, a travel-size umbrella and a spill-proof travel mug that encourages my sweet, sweet affair with coffee. Simply put: this bag is magic. Mary Poppins would be impressed. And unless I'm going somewhere special or getting dressed up, it is about the only bag I ever carry.

And oh, how I have abused it. On multiple occasions I've had to run it through the washer/dryer because I a.) accidentally left the open/close button pressed down on my coffee mug, causing coffee to slosh out, b.) crushed a small packet of jelly that I stashed in one of the pockets when I bought a bagel, or c.) had an ink pen explode inside of it. The clip for the strap also broke after I snagged it on the Metro for the umpteenth time, but was easily repaired with a new one from the fabric store. The bag has been dragged through the Netherlands, England, Boston, Pittsburgh, DC and a hundred destinations in between. It has been thrown in the car, smashed in between luggage in the trunk, stuffed in an airplane overhead bin, and cramped into Metro trains sardine-packed full of tourists. It has donned buttons celebrating Steelers Super Bowl and Penguins Stanley Cup victories and stickers promoting political candidates and important causes. Yes, the Travelsmith bag is an item of beauty and awe.

Despite its incredible durability, the nearing end of its lifespan looms over me like a dark cloud. The cables in the strap have worn through the fabric lining and the jelly explosion seems to have caused irremovable stickiness on the inside of one of the pockets. Alas, it is probably time for retirement. It is time that I must allow my dear friend to go to bag-heaven. Goodnight, sweet prince.

Of course, I say this now, but it will be weeks before I actually acquire the necessary motivation to look for a new handbag.

Oh Travelsmith bag…I wish I knew how to quit you!

Ciao for now,

Friday, August 20, 2010

Park51 and why it belongs in lower Manhattan

I read a thoughtfully written piece by Roger Ebert today entitled, "10 things I know about the mosque." It was his assessment of the proposed construction of the Park 51 community center, which plans to house a mosque in addition to a wide range of recreational and educational spaces.

While I agreed with his final conclusion that the true reflection of American values would be to live and let live freely, I did not agree with his assessment that "[t]he imam would be prudent to chose another location, because the far right wing has seized on the issue as an occasion for fanning hatred against Muslims."

We should not be threatened by those who would promote fear and hatred in order to control culture and refuse tolerance. Islam is the world's second largest religion. A Pew Research study in 2009 estimated that there are approximately 1.57 billion Muslims in the world, which is about 1 in every 4 people.

Much like Christianity, which has an estimated 38,000 denominations, there are debates within the Muslim culture about the ways in which the religion is practiced, thus leading to a variety of sects and movements. There are radical, hate-filled branches springing from any religious culture, but these should not and do not define the vast majority. The Muslims living in this country are just as American as anyone else. They desire the same things as non-Muslim Americans: education for their children, adequate healthcare, employment, fulfilling relationships with others, and space to practice their faith.

The space proposed in lower Manhattan is not a selfish place, but an inclusive one. Park51 writes that its vision is "dedicated to pluralism, service, arts and culture, education and empowerment, appreciation for our city and a deep respect for our planet.  Park51 will join New York to the world, offering a welcoming community center with multiple points of entry. With world-class facilities, a global scope and strong local roots, Park51 will offer a friendly and accessible platform for conversations across our identities."

The community center plans to house recreational facilities, a swimming pool, a culinary arts center, restaurant, a library, reading room, art studios, an auditorium, a mosque which is open and accessible to anyone, and a September 11th memorial with "quiet contemplation space, open to all."

Shouldn't we embrace such an idea? Why not build something like this so close to the former site of the World Trade Center? Why not use it as a beacon to the world that says, "We will NOT be afraid. We will NOT give into hatred. We will NOT let terrorists destroy our country or our culture. All of us, regardless of ethnicity or creed stand united as Americans."

There is a chance for this to be a positive turning point in our history. Don't let the hyperbolic, fear-based rhetoric win. This is not a game, nor should it be used as a political bargaining chip to sway voters. Those who would use it in such a way should be ashamed that they would deny fundamental civil rights and simultaneously encourage bigotry and fear to advance their own agendas.

Turn your face instead toward peace and tolerance. Only those who believe in liberty for all can truly be free.
(For more information on the community center)
(For Roger Ebert's comments on Park 51)
(The Pew Research study on global Muslim population)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mystery Food Week 12 and the County Fair

Remember how I mentioned being inundated with peaches last week? (I know, woe is me...) Here is one of the county fair entries that came out of the bounty. All-fruit peach preserves. Nothing but peaches, lemon juice, white grape juice, and some pectin. I love the color so much.

The other entry was a peach apple cider butter. It came out with just enough spice, and the hard cider I used added a tang on the finish. Yum. Right now they're in the gym of the Thomas Jefferson Community Center waiting for the Arlington County Fair judges to taste them.

As I said to one of my colleagues, "I am fully prepared to be schooled by somebody's grandma." By the time I got to the gym yesterday, there were lines of jars filled with preserves, jellies, fruits, vegetables, and honey of every color in the rainbow. It was a pretty impressive display--I won't lie, I felt a little bit intimidated. But hey, if you don't try, you'll never know if you can succeed. And so I left my jars among the others and tucked the claim checks away in my wallet. Regardless of what happens, I'm really proud of the food I made and hope that the tasters enjoy it.

There weren't many people at the fair due to a gray, drizzly sky, but I wandered around for a little bit. The food stands alone showed what a diverse place Arlington is. How many county fairs do you know of that have pad thai and stir-fry next to the deep-fried oreos and funnel cake? I hope to go back during the weekend if we get some nice weather.

Not too much else is going on here at the moment. I have a short breather and then the fall semester starts up next week. Right now I'm just enjoying having some time to bake cookies and play with the goodies from Mystery Food Week 12:

I received summer squash, peppers, an apple, a tomato, sweet corn, peaches, a cucumber, green beans, and a dill plant. A fun variety this week. I might try to poach some of the peaches in wine...

As for my own garden, I discovered a hidden treasure. The massive amounts of leaves and vines on the watermelon plant were concealing a melon that was growing in the corner! It's about the size of a medicine ball and I never even saw it under all of the foliage. What a delicious surprise. The peppers are also still coming in full force. I see pickling in my future...

Hope you are all enjoying the waning days of summer. Be blissful.

Ciao for now,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mystery Food Weeks 10 and 11: Double Delicious edition

We had a bad storm in Arlington last week and this happened behind our house:

So I didn't have Internet access from home until this morning. But I still had some wonderful things delivered to my doorstep by the folks from Great Country Farms. Here are week 10's gifts:

Beans, corn, a melon, a tomato, onions, doughnut peaches and freestone peaches.

And week 11...
Eggplant, corn, peaches, nectarines, onions, tomatoes, and a potted nasturtium.

I'd love to stick around and chat, but in addition to all of that fresh goodness, Joe's parents brought me peaches from the eastern shore. Time to make some jam (for possible county fair entries)!

Ciao for now,