Monday, October 24, 2011

Minestrone: Season-Ending Scraps, Tips and Stems

When not raking leaves, helping Betty feed the world, or doing laundry, I spent the weekend making minestrone soup with the diminishing remainder of my summer crops and other food that I had put up earlier in the season. Other than the cheese, meat and oil, all other ingredients are garden produce. There is a lot of stopping and starting with this recipe. You won’t spend a lot of time standing over the stove (and could probably use a slow cooker for parts of it), but this is a two-day event.


Ingredients
· ½ pound of dried white beans (such as Romano, great northern or cannelli)
· ½ pound pork (i.e., chopped ham, sliced and chopped bacon or panetta)
· 1/3 cup EVOO
· 1 chopped onion
· ¼ cup chopped carrot
· 1 chopped stalk of celery
· 3 cloves chopped garlic
· 3/4 cup shredded zucchini
· ¼ pound green beans, trimmed and cut into ½ inch pieces
· ½ pound potatoes, chopped into ¾ inch chunks
· 3 cups shredded cabbage
· ¼ pound chopped kale leaves
· 3 pints chopped tomatoes
· 2 pints chicken stock
· 1 cube pesto



Directions
1. Soak the beans in a large bowl overnight with enough water to cover them by at least three inches. The next day, drain the beans and then cover them again by at least two inches of water and simmer them uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes, or until they are tender. Add a bit of salt and turn off the heat.
2. In your dutch oven, cook the meat in the oil over moderate heat. Stir every two minutes.
3. Chop the onion and add to the meat. Stir.
4. Chop up the carrot, garlic and celery and add to the pot. Stir.
5. Shred the zucchini, chop the green beans and potato and add to the mixture. Stir.
6. Chop the cabbage and kale and add to the mixture. Stir.
7. Add the tomatoes and stock. Stir and cover for 45-60 minutes.
8. Spoon half the beans into a food processor with a slotted spoon and puree them. Add the puree to the pot and stir.
9. Spoon the remaining beans with a slotted spoon into the pot. Stir.
10. If the soup is too thick, add some of the bean water. Otherwise, discard the water.
11. Take the cube of pesto and throw it in the pot and stir it slowly until it is completely dissolved.
12. Taste the soup. Add salt and pepper if you think it necessary.



Some people use pasta instead of potatoes. If you are one of those people, omit the potatoes and add ½ cup of pasta with the beans and a cup of the bean water.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Preserving Herbs the Quick and Easy Way



In case you've been wondering what I have been up to lately, I've been very busy harvesting, drying, storing and labeling seeds, pushing raffle tickets and drying herbs. This caused me to think about brushing off an old post and updating it with tricks I have learned in the three years since I posted it.




One of the best things about a garden is the ability to grow and eat your own herbs – sometimes within hours or even minutes of harvesting them. Over the years, I’ve stayed with the basics and easiest to grow: basil, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, dill, parsley, fennel, oregano and sage. I once tried to grow some cumin, but it died within a few days of transplanting it. In days of yore, I harvested my basil as I ate it and then the rest in October, when I would freeze it. In 2008, however, I had way too much to freeze, and so I made and froze pesto from some of it and dried some of it (which I then grind and store in jars like you buy in the store). The pesto was outstanding (and I substituted easier-to-find and less expensive walnuts for pine nuts).



For myself, I store many of the dried and frozen herbs in regular zip-lock storage bags. However, dried herbs also make nice gifts during the holidays, so it’s a good idea to find some nice herb jars. I had trouble finding jars in 2009, but then happened upon some $2 herb jars at Crate & Barrel in June. (While they’re a little bigger and expensive than I’d like, they are very cute). World Market also reliably has inexpensive herb jars. Let’s face it, you can buy dried herbs for $1 at Big Lots, so how you packaged your dried herbs will matter if you want to create a thoughtful gift.



Basil. I used to think that the best way to preserve basil was to freeze the individual leaves and then throw it into the recipe (for pasta sauce or soup) at the end. This is certainly the least time consuming method and I still always store at least one quart freezer bag of basil this way every year. Pluck off the leaves, wash them, and then throw them in a salad spinner to dry them as well as possible. Then, you can put a layer on a cookie sheet and stick it in the freezer for about an hour before putting them in the freezer bag. If you're really rushed, just fill the bag, and then suck out all of ther air (with a straw) before sticking the bag in the freezer.


My new way (or to be precise -- Iced Tea Latee's way) to store basil is to take the washed and salad-spin dried basil, fill my food processor to the brim, and puree it with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) before then freezing cubes of this in an ice cube tray. Pull them out and stick them in a freezer bag to have basil all winter long.


The old, tried and true way is to make pesto. This involves taking 3 cups of washed and dried basil leaves, 2 tablespoons of pine nuts or walnuts, 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, 5 chopped cloves of garlic and 3/4 cup of EVOO and then pureeing it all through the food processor before freezing them into tiny containers or ice cube trays. Pesto thaws quickly by putting the container in a bowl of warm water or even in the microwave. For a quick meal, I mix it alone with pasta or spread it over white fish (like tilapia) before putting it on the George Foreman grill for a few minutes. You can also use it in a pinch to make bruchetta for an impromptu cocktail party.


One nice thing about basil is that you can stick the stems in a glass or pitcher of water and, if you break the stems off only at the main joints, the stem will sprout new roots and live for weeks in a glass of water placed in direct sunlight. (I've even seen basil flower in the my kitchin and form seeds). Once you have enough roots, you can even repot it and then grow it for most of the winter under grow lights (although it will look rather sticky and unappetizing if you ask me).


When you have a bumper crop (like I have this year) and the food pantry looks at you as though you're insane for bringing them bags and bags of fresh basil, you can dry the rest. One way is to hang the washed branches upside down in a place shielded from direct sunlight where they will get lots of air circulation. I gather the braches into a small group, put a rubber band around the tip of the branches and then run a twist tie (like you find on bread packages) through the rubber band. I hook or twist the tie around the rod.


Another, quicker way to dry the leaves is to 1) pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees, 2) stip the branches, 3) wash the leaves, 4) run the leaves through the salad spinner until dry, 5) place the leaves in a thin layer on parchment or wax paper on a cookie sheet, 6) put the cookie sheet and leaves in the oven, 7) turn off the oven and 8) let them sit overnight or even until you get home from work the next day.


Once the leaves have dried, I run them through my herb mill into a cereal bowl until I have enough to fill a jar or bag.


In the meantime, you should have been prolonging your basil harvest by pinching the aspiring and actual flowers twice a week until mid-September. Then, let most of the plants go to seed and let the unsightly brown seed pods dry on the plant. If you harvest the seed pods, you will find a few (maybe 5-10) tiny black basil seeds inside each pod. I save those tiny in small coin envelopes for next year.


Parsley. Pretty much everything I’ve just written about basil applies equally to Parsley. (I’ve never made pesto from parsley, but I’m told you can). Parsley is best preserved by freezing and I dry the rest for grins & giggles and for gifts. I usually freeze two bags of Parsley by just filling the bags and freezing them. My parley comes back year after year even though it is supposedly an annual. However, the second- and third-year plants always go to seed way too early and so I recommend pulling the entire plant out of the ground in the Fall so that you can start over next Spring.


Cilantro. The only way to preserve it is to freeze it. Unlike basil, I don’t bother with freezing the leaves on a cookie sheet. I just wash it, shake it dry and then pluck the leaves and put them in a freezer bag. I freeze two or three bags in June so that I will have enough to make salsa in July, August and September.


For the seeds, I split them between seeds for next year’s cilantro crop and storing the rest to grind as coriander.


Finally, if you like Thai or Asian food, it is good to wash and freeze some of the roots and stalks to use to make, among other things, curry paste.


Dill. Until this year, I always had too much dill. It generally takes over my back yard and I weed it like crab grass. Before it goes to seed, I harvest a lot of it, wash and shake it and then hang it until it dries out. I then pull the dried leaves into the herb mill and process. To preserve dill seeds, I wait until the seeds turn brown on the plant and then bring them inside and dry them inside a paper bag (which will catch any falling seeds) like I described above.


Dried dill weed is great on white fish. Take the fish, top it with sour cream, dill weed and red onion and then bake. Dill seeds are great in making dill pickles.


Sage. The best time to harvest sage is before it flowers, but you can harvest some without the flowers if you look. (There are not many leaves left on a branch after it flowers). I hang the sage upside down to dry and then process through the herb mill as described. Sage smells so good and has such a fluffy texture, I often think I am doing my recipient a disservice by processing it before putting the leaves in a jar. For myself, I save whole leaves and then crush them when I use them in cooking. I found an interesting recipe for taking fresh sage, spreading anchovy paste, between two leaves, draping it in egg and flower and then frying it in EVOO.


Thyme. I usually process this at the end of the season (like basil). Most of my thyme survives well into the winter and so I am judicious in my harvest. The leaves are freakishly small, but you can hang them to dry like other herbs and process through the herb mill. You can also dry them in the oven (as described above for basil).


Rosemary. Ditto for thyme.


Fennel. If you want leaves or stalks to cook with, you had best harvest them before the plant flowers. Afterwards, the stalks get narrower as the plant flowers. When the plant goes to seed, let the seeds dry on the plant and then bring them in as described above with dill.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

SACG Raffles Beautiful Cart



The SACG is raffling a medium garden cart from Gardner’s Supply Company.

We won it and we love it, but we just don't have room for it in our tiny shed.
Maybe your community garden could put it to good use.
Maybe you could at your own home.
Or your mother's home.
Or your mother-in-law.


$5.00 per ticket.
Contact the Garden Manager at gardenmgr@gmail.com if you'd like to buy a ticket or two or three.

What a Bargain For an Uber-Chic Garden Cart!
The cart’s big pneumatic wheels roll easily over rough terrain. High sides prevent loose loads like mulch and compost from bouncing out. The axle is positioned to distribute the weight and balance the load. The long handle lets you push or pull with equal ease and has a comfortable neoprene grip. The cart retails for $229 before tax and shipping.

Specifications at a Glance:

Rust-proof aluminum frame
Comfortable foam handle grip
Thick panels of 4-ply exterior plywood
Ball-bearing wheels with pneumatic tires
61-1/2" L x 31-1/2" W x 22" H overall
Cargo bed: 23-1/2" W x 40-1/4" L x 11" D
Sliding dump door with deep, welded tracks
Easy assembly
Hauls up to 400 pounds
All terrain wheels
Made in Vermont USA





The winning ticket will be pulled at noon on November 12, 2011 following the annual meeting of the members of the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden. You need not be present to win.

November 12 is also our season-ending work day, so if you come, we'll also put you to work:) Refreshments will be served.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

FPAA and SACG Neighborhoods Uniting Against Crime

On Tuesday, I attended the regular monthly meeting of the Franklin Park Area Association and yesterday I attended the monthly block watch meeting. Both meetings discussed ongoing initiatives to improve the safety in the SACG neighborhood and greater near east side.

As an aside, the FPAA will be having its annual pumpkin sale the weekend of October 22-23, 2011. [Editor's note: This has been moved UP a week to October 15-16] This is one of the major fundraisers of the year. Pumpkins cost about half of what is charged in grocery stores. FPAA will again be buying $500 worth of pumpkins (even though they sold out early last year) because they do not want to risk having extra pumpkins at the end of the sale. It was suggested that they also sell refreshments, but they will need other volunteers to staff that booth if they do so.

The main speaker at Tuesday’s meeting was Jonathan Beard from Columbus Compact Corporation on East Main Street. CCC is actively involved in commercial and residential development on the near East Side (several blocks west of the SACG neighborhood). After the City failed to help to address rampant crime on the near East Side, Beard spearheaded a private sector initiative which placed 80 surveillance cameras in the empowerment zone between Parsons and Wilson Avenues along Main Street. The cameras record a massive amount of drug trafficking and have lead to numerous arrests. With video evidence in hand, he has been very successful in obtaining the attention of local government officials to address this problem. The City’s Safety Director has supported aggressive policing to arrest individuals who are observed by the cameras dealing and possessing drugs. Unfortunately, they almost always immediately post bail and return to the streets within 24 -36 hours. Even when convicted, their sentences are usually only 12-18 months, with time off for good behavior, etc. Meanwhile, their co-conspirators, who act as lookouts and bodyguards, are virtually never arrested or searched for drugs. The situation has reached a crisis because these individuals have taken to shooting each other, as well as innocent bystanders (and their homes and businesses). Several of the individuals recently murdered had been arrested and/or convicted and were out on bail or early release at their time of death. In other words, they had been safer in jail than out on the streets. While their crimes have been serious, none of them warranted a death penalty.

Beard is particularly concerned because the crime has adversely affected his ability to improve the City’s near east side with residential and business development. He has been successful in rehabilitating a number of apartments on Main Street, for instance. However, as we know, like many homes in German Village and the Short North, there is no set back for these residential structures from the public sidewalk. In other words, the homes’ front door immediately leads to the public sidewalk. Many of these drug dealers unfortunately hang out on the sidewalk and in bus stops. The residents cannot do anything to keep these individuals from congregating on their front door step. Who wants to live somewhere when there are drug gangs leaning up against your house or apartment and the police won’t chase them away? These dealers have also become shooting targets for other gangs. So, the bullets start flying and hit these homes, sometimes narrowly missing -- or not -- the law-abiding resident inside. Many people living in these newly-rehabbed apartments have to spend their evenings exclusively on the second floor to avoid getting shot in a drive-by shooting. Is that any way to live?

Beard explained some of his frustrations. The City has a criminal ordinance prohibiting loitering in the aid of drug offenses, but it is not being enforced out of concern it that it is unconstitutionally vague (i.e., criminalizes legal behavior). For instance, it arguably criminalizes standing within 100 yards of a drug trafficker while holding a cell phone (which would include many law abiding citizens). The current Ordinance provides as follows:



2317.50 - Loitering in aid of drug offenses.
(A) No person, with purpose to commit or aid the commission of a drug abuse offense, shall loiter in any public place.
(B) For purposes of this section, the term "drug abuse offense" has the same meaning as found in Section 2925.01(H) of the Revised Code. The term
has the same meaning as "controlled substance" as found in Section 3719.01(D) of the Revised Code.
(C) For purposes of this section the term loiter means to resort to, remain, or wander about in an idle manner essentially in one place and shall include the concepts of spending time idly, or sitting, standing or walking about aimlessly.
(D) For purposes of this section, the term "public place" means an area of property, either publicly owned or to which the public has access, and includes but is not limited to streets, alleys, sidewalks, rights of way, bridges, plazas, parks, driveways, parking lots, transportation facilities, or other place open to the public, the doorways, entrances, porches, passageways, and roofs to any such building which fronts on any of the aforesaid places, or motor vehicles in or upon such places.
(E) In determining the purpose of an offender under this section, the Court shall consider all relevant surrounding circumstances, which may include but are not limited to the following factors:
(1) Repeatedly beckon, stop, attempt to stop, or engage passers-by or pedestrians in conversation; or
(2) Repeatedly stop or attempt to stop motor vehicles; or
(3) Repeatedly interfere with the free passage of other persons.
(4) That the person has been convicted or been found delinquent for a drug abuse offense.
(5) That the person is loitering and directing pedestrians or motorists through words, hailing, waving of arms, pointing, signaling or other bodily gestures to a person or premises where controlled substances are possessed or sold.
(6) That the person is loitering and has cordless telephone, cellular telephone, walkie-talkie, or beeper within 100 yards of a person or premises where controlled substances are possessed or sold.
(7) Any statement by the offender.


(G) No arrest shall be made for a violation of this section until the arresting officer first requests and affords such person an opportunity to explain such conduct. No
person shall be convicted if it appears that the explanation rendered is true and the surrounding circumstances disclosed a lawful purpose.
(H) Whoever violates this section is guilty of loitering in aid of drug offenses, a
misdemeanor of the fourth degree. If the offender previously has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a violation of this section, loitering in aid of drug offenses is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.

Faced with the arguably vague ordinance, the police will only arrest the traffickers for unlawful possession and not for assisting the trafficker by acting as a lookout or bodyguard. When presented with video evidence of trafficking, the police have been successful in arresting individuals on East Main Street, taking them back to the police station and then using the video to support a search warrant to find drugs on the trafficker’s person (often stuck in an unsanitary body cavity).

Beard is advocating a several-pronged approach. First, the Loitering Ordinance should be updated to remedy the vagueness issue and make it more expensive for the co-conspirators to support drug trafficking. The General Assembly is currently considering increasing the penalties for drug trafficking. In any event, arresting the co-conspirators and requiring them to post bail and pay fines will at least make it more expensive for them to continue helping their drug trafficker friends. Without an extensive look-out network, the police will be better able to arrest the traffickers.

Last year, after a series of meetings and discussions, almost every City and County Official (including the City Attorney’s office, County Prosecutor’s office, judges and City Council President Ginther) had signed off on improving the Loitering Ordinance so that it could be enforced to benefit law abiding residents. Unfortunately, Councilperson Mills then took over the Safety Committee in January and no progress of any kind has been made since that time. While she has expressed polite concern with the issue, and has said that she and her staff are considering it, she felt that the loitering issue involved mostly “poor choices” and not criminal behavior and saw no urgency to update the Ordinance this year. To be fair, this Ordinance should be carefully drafted to criminalize behavior which is directly related to trafficking and not merely criminalizing being friends, blood relative or social acquaintance with a drug trafficker. Legal concerns and public comments should be invited in upgrading the Ordinance.

[Editor's Note: On October 18, 2011, the Dispatch ran an article about this situation. While the article mentions the unconstitionality of the current ordinance, there is no discussion about steps to amend the ordinance to make it lawful and effective. Council President Ginther is quoted saying that Council has not ignored the problem, and explaining that they simply do "not necessarily agree[] with your approach, recommendations or style." The article does not mention any steps which Council is taking to address the problem, although there was a lot of public fanfare last week about a proposal for the City to pay for graffitti remediation. There was no proposal to stop gangs from spending hours standing and wandering aimlessly in front of businesses and homes and getting themselves and innocent bystanders shot. There was no proposal to publicize a hotline where residents and business owners can call the police about drug traffic loittering with knowledge that the group will be disbanded or arrested by police within minutes of the call.]

Second, Beard advocates a pilot enforcement program that would encompass the area between Parsons Avenue and Alum Creek, Whittier/Frebis and Broad Streets.

Third, Beard would like to see COWIC dedicate at least 20 job training opportunities to individuals in the pilot target area to create economic opportunities for the traffickers other than selling drugs.

Fourth, consideration of aggressive sentencing for chronic and repeat offenders, with extended periods of probation, house arrests with ankle bracelets, no waiving of court costs and fines and stay away orders while on probation. Continuation of aggressive policing in the target enforcement area by better and improved coordination between vice, narcotics and gang units to disrupt open air markets, bootlegs, etc.

Fifth, exploring restorative justice work requirements for the City's Land Bank and civic and business associations affected by the criminal behavior.

Finally, expanding and enhancing the Main Street camera program.

In any event, efforts are underway to unite virtually every social, non-profit, block watch, religious and civic organization in the near east and south sides of Columbus to sign a letter to City Council and other government officials to take urgent and coordinated action to stop the drug trafficking and related violence which has turned a growing number of near-east side and south side neighborhoods into areas as dangerous as any third-world country.

Polite concern does not make it safe for parents to let their children walk down the street to a community garden, which is why I am so invested in this issue.

The FPAA also distributed a video showing the affects of these shootings and the bullet holes in area businesses. Some business operators have simply closed up because they do not feel safe. It is no wonder that there are droves of vacant homes as rational people flea to safer areas, including the suburbs. Unless this is eradicated soon, there will be no taxpayers left living in the near east side.

The FPAA has created a facebook page for all of the FPAA blockwatches (including ours, Morrison Hill and Fairwood). The FPAA also encourages anyway to review updated crime statistics at http://www.crimereports.com/.

To protect the investment in their homes from criminal activity (including illegal dumping in the alley between Stoddart and Morrison), the FPAA block watch has purchased two video cameras for the SACG neighborhood. They are currently operational. In the very near future, four signs will be installed (purchased without the benefit of any grant funds out of the personal finances of a SACG area resident) advising drivers that the Stoddart Avenue neighborhood is under 24 hour video surveillance. It still bothers me that we do not have any suspects for the murders which occurred next to the SACG in August last year and March of this year. With video cameras, we hopefully will be able to help the police identify suspects in any future shootings or other crimes. Anyone living near the SACG should notify the block watch if they experience criminal activity so that the block watch leaders can review the videos to find potential suspects.

We are also planning to seek additional grant funding to purchase three additional cameras for the Morrison, Stoddart and Fairwood neighborhoods. There have been a number of break-ins in the past few months and, again, no suspects or witnesses. Unfortunately, good cameras tend to cost about $1,000/each (not including installation and operational costs) and we do not have $80K, which is what CCC has spent on its effective video surveillance program in the neighborhoods west of the SACG.

Last weekend, someone broke into the "eyesore" buildings next to the SACG and busted a side door (which rendered the building accessible to anyone and everyone). Both Barb and I reported it promptly to the City Land Bank and the door was repaired within two days.

The FPAA will be meeting again on October 25 in the lower level of the Franklin Park Conservatory at 7:00 p.m. Police Liaison Officer Theresa Kalous will be the featured speaker and will discuss the local Healthy Communities Initiative.