Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February's Vegetable of the Month

brought to you by Jonathan Gliss, youth intern extraordinaire and aspiring culinary student


The cultivated cabbage is derived from a leafy plant called the wild mustard plant. Cabbage is used in a variety of dishes for its naturally spicy flavor. The cabbage head is widely consumed raw, cooked, or preserved in a great variety of dishes. A cruciferous vegetable, like its cousin’s broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, cabbage provides a wide variety of health benefits. Cabbage is low in calories and high in vitamin C and dietary fiber. Cabbage is easier to digest in its raw fresh form than when cooked. The longer it is cooked, the less digestible it becomes. Cabbage sprouts are delicate and easier to digest, and they also contain higher levels of nutrients. Avoid buying precut cabbage that are either halved or shredded. The moment the cabbage is cut, it begins to lose its nutrient contents. To store, keep the vegetable refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag to prevent loss of its vitamin C.

Cabbage and Leek Soup
• 2 pints of chicken stock or vegetable stock
• 8 leeks, trimmed, washed and chopped into small pieces
• 2 lb of cabbage hard stalks and outer leaves removed, chopped into pieces.
• 2 carrots cut into small pieces
• 3 sticks of celery cut finely
• 1 onion finely sliced
• 3 teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil. Drop in all the vegetables. Bring back to the boil, then cover and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pork with Layered Cabbage

2 pounds of sauerkraut
1 large head green cabbage
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 tsp of finely chopped garlic
1 lb ground lean pork
1/4 cup rice, cooked in boiling salted water (yielding 3/4 cup cooked)
2 lightly beaten eggs
2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1/8 tsp marjoram
1 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 cup water mixed with 1 cup tomato puree
1 cup sour cream

1 Rinse the sauerkraut in cold water. If needed, soak in cold water 10-20 minutes to reduce sourness. Squeeze dry and set aside. In a large saucepan, bring to a boil enough salted water to cover the cabbage. Add the cabbage, turn the heat to low and simmer 8 minutes. Remove the cabbage and let it drain while it cools enough to handle. Pull off 16 large unbroken leaves and lay them on paper towels to drain and cool further.
2 In a 10-inch skillet, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil, until the onions are lightly colored. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, rice, eggs, paprika, marjoram, the onion-garlic mixture, salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Mix well with a fork or wooden spoon.
3 Place 2 tablespoons of the stuffing in the center of one of the wilted cabbage leaves and, beginning with the thick end of the leaf, fold over the sides, then roll the whole leaf tightly, as you would a small bundle. Repeat with more leaves until all the stuffing has been used.
4 Spread the sauerkraut on the bottom of a 5-quart casserole and arrange the cabbage rolls on top of it. Add the water mixed with the tomato puree. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pan tightly and cook the stuffed cabbage over low heat for 1 hour. Transfer the rolls from the casserole to a warm plate. Stir in the sour cream to the sauerkraut. Simmer another 5 minutes. Lift the sauerkraut onto a serving platter with a slotted spoon. Arrange the cabbage rolls on the sauerkraut and pour some of the sauce over them. Serve the rest of the sauce in a sauceboat.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 head green cabbage, quartered through the core
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 salt and ground pepper
Start by putting olive oil in a pan (skillet can be used) over medium heat. Then add the cabbage and cook it until it is golden brown. Around 3 minutes per each side. Then add vinegar, sugar and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer. Cook the cabbage until it is tender. You can use a fork to test it. Cook about 12 to 15 minutes then serve with salt and pepper or replace the salt with soy sauce.

Cole Slaw
• 6 cups shredded cabbage
• 1 carrot, shredded
• 2/3 cup mayonnaise
• 2 tablespoons vinegar
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
• 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Toss cabbage in a large bowl with the carrots. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour the mixture over the cabbage and carrots and toss to coat thoroughly. Refrigerate until serving time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Short Collection of Disconnected Anecdotes, around the Theme of Dirt-Laden Moats

Center City third grade. First class of the week. Team Basil and I are playing in the dirt. Discussing soil. Isaiah says that he doesn’t like the smell of dirt. He likes the smell of fried chicken. We disagree on this topic. Eventually we resolve our differences, agreeing that the smell of chicken in the forest would be pleasurable.


It is our third week of programming, and we are discussing what plants need to survive. The answers we seek are the fundamentals – air, water, light, food, soil. Before disclosing this precious information, we appeal to the class for ideas. To them, the question is posed, “what do plants eat.?” Immediately, as if we had asked on what planet we are sitting, the entire class, in unison, with enthusiasm equal to that if we had asked for volunteers to demonstrate how to eat an entire chocolate cake in 15 seconds, shouts: “TREES!!”



At Imagine Hope, our Wednesday school, we had to cram in two lessons this week on account of the Snowlycowtheresalotofsnow days. The students are dissecting soaked bean seeds. They are looking for the sprouted root and leaves inside of the cotyledons. There is the usual snickering because the beans are stinky and slimy. After a moment, though, a lovely occurrence occurs.

“Hey! Look! I found it! Me too! I found them!”

The gleeful outbursts begin to waft up from the general classroom area. Like, like snowflakes or raindrops, falling steadily, scattering around the room. That doesn’t quite work… like a sprinkling of water droplets, landing gently on a smooth surface of water, “yes!’s” ring out, the resultant rippling enthusiasm encouraging their classmates to send their own droplets, their own ripples back out into the class. A contained cacophony of bean-themed exclamations – this is the sound of children getting excited about learning.


After Kacie announced to our first class at Imagine Hope that we would be planting seeds on that glorious day, Jahmes (jah-mez) volunteers the tidbit that okra is his favorite vegetable. Jane (a made up name, because I can’t remember her real name) sneers from across the room. Jahmes clicks his tongue, throws his head back and responds: “aww you crazy, you don’t know what okra is? It’s a pointy vegetable with little black dots….um, seeds, inside (seeds were part of our lesson last week. Big points for Jahmes for working this into his put-down), and its real slippery and gooey and it can be fried or you can eat it regular.

At this, I smiled. Way to go Jahmes. Way to stand up for okra. Way to stand up for yourself. Most of all, way to stand up for foods with unconventional textures.


Franklin and I are holding hands. Well, I am holding Franklin’s hands, which wriggle wildly in mine, trying to free themselves. Franklin’s teeth shine behind his broad smile. There is a small speck of dirt on his right cheek. He’s talking about gettin’ bad guys or mud popsicles or how you plant seeds in space. I’m talking about putting basil seeds in little plastic cups with dirt. At least I’m trying.

Osagie (oh-sah-jee), sits between us saying ‘can I hold your hand? Can you hold my hand? Will you hold my hand? So I hold Osagie’s hand and he squeals, pulling them away, smile bursting onto his face, soil flecks flying into the air like an ocean mist.

Franklin’s the bad boy kind. Generally indifferent, always talkative. Very capable, very smart. Franklin liked playing in the dirt. Franklin couldn’t stop demonstrating the life cycle of plants in the dirt with his fingers. To get Franklin to pay attention, I threatened to hold Franklin’s hand. To get Franklin to calm down, I held Franklin’s hand. He shrieked and made a scene, like cool kids do, because he liked it. But not as much as he liked planting seeds.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Osagie (oh-sah-jee), On Planting

Week three: planting.
Week three: complete.

more to come soon.


Notes from a Volunteer

As a member of the food industry, and someone with an intense passion for cuisine, I came to the Youth Garden interested in learning about where my food came from. I wanted to see my produce in action, in a sense. Growing up in a city, I had never really had much of an opportunity to interact with my vegetables as living things. Reading Michael Pollan and learning about the local food movements made me acutely aware of my ignorance, and I wanted to change that.

Of course, as I soon learned being a volunteer, I wasn’t just watching and learning – I was working! Gardening is serious, sweaty physical labor. The first day I arrived, we spent four hours shoveling soil into neat rows where we would later plant tomatoes. I was sore after—but it felt great. The experience afforded me the opportunity to get in touch with nature – quite literally. Not to ruin the glamorous ideal of garden work—it's funny in retrospect, but I guess I thought I’d be spending the time planting seeds and smelling herbs-- but most of the time I was on the ground pulling weeds.

Ah, weeding.

As Chris, Garden Coordinator extraordinaire, taught us on the very first day, weeding is a task that one must learn to love in an organic garden, because your hands are really the only tools you have to keep these incessant invaders from overtaking the delicate vegetables you’re trying to grow.  This agricultural aspect of volunteering at the Youth Garden was very neat, and it inspired me to start my own container garden at home (maybe so that I could spend more time smelling herbs and admiring produce between weeding). I was lucky to have access to some of the best gardening consultants around, as both the staff and the volunteers are extremely knowledgeable gardeners, and they helped me have a very successful first effort.

However, the most fulfilling part of working at the Youth Garden was not the horticultural expertise I gleaned, nor the break-time snacking on sun-ripened strawberries, nor even the pleasure of pulling that last weed from between the rows of potatoes.

The most fulfilling part was working with the children and the families in the Growing Food, Growing Together program, and watching THEM learn the amazing things the garden has to teach. Kids who have barely had access to produce from a grocery store are able to snap a fresh stalk of asparagus out of the ground and eat it – right out of the ground! I saw the families I worked with develop a connection with nature and a fascination with the growth cycle. All of this made them very excited, of course, to be able to bring home the fruits of their labor and eat what they had been working so hard to produce.

During this moment of dietary crisis we are living, with skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes, it was inspiring to see the way that this experience could empower these children and families – who happen to come from a population that is most at risk for obesity and diabetes—to learn to grow, cook, and most importantly, enjoy vegetables, and the positive impact that this could have on their community.  As someone who hopes to work to change our nation’s dietary habits, I see this as a very powerful program, which, if expanded, could have a huge impact on our country’s health and well-being.

My volunteer experience at the Washington Youth Garden was exciting, moving, and above all, a lot of fun.  I tried to share the love by bringing as many friends along as I could, and yes I did manage to have several repeat gardeners (a great feat, when you realize what an 8 a.m. wake up call on a Saturday morning means to a 20-something).  I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in food, nature, or people to go ahead and spend a morning at Garden.

I have great respect and admiration for the mission of the Washington Youth Garden, as well as for the staff and dedicated volunteers that make it happen.  It was a fantastic summer for me and I feel privileged to have had the chance to volunteer there.  Looking forward to next season!

Mariana Cotlear, a novice gardener, is a graduate student. She hopes to work to prevent obesity via nutritional and culinary education and public awareness campaigns. She can be reached at mariana.cotlear@gmail.com.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Life Cycle of a Child

Perhaps in the grand scheme of things, seven minutes is not very many minutes. To the existence of dinosaurs, seven minutes would be a tyrannosaurus fart. Gone without acknowledge of its existence. Not even worth batting a limp, useless forearm at. To a third grader, on the other hand, seven minutes of direct eye contact and explicit questioning is an eternity. Like weeks of jury duty, hours sitting in traffic for you or me. There is little outside the realm of battery-operated devices these days that can hold a seven year old’s attention for that many minutes (which is another issue entirely).

This past week was our second of lessons with Garden Science, and we were studying the life cycles of plants. Namely, beans. Remember in elementary school when you put a bean in a cup with a wet paper towel, waited several days, and then wet yourself when the roots emerged? That’s what we’re doing this week.

To start our lesson we define the words ‘seed,’ ‘germinate,’ and ‘maturity,’ which are the three main stages of the life cycle. The drilling is not shortchanged. We have a clearly marked diagram of a sprouted bean. We dissect soaked beans to identify the parts of said sprouted bean. We read a story that clearly outlines the lifecycle of a bean. We then ask the students to tell us about the lifecycle. Often, they do. Finally, we have a drawing exercise, where the students draw the three major components of the cycle: a seed, a germinated plant, and a mature plant, (which are, surprise, the vocab words of the day) using any plant of their choosing.

One student, let’s call her Shirley, chose to illustrate the life of a collard green plant. When I walked over to her, she had done very well – each stage perfectly depicted. The vibrant stylings of crayola artfully filled the space between her pencil strokes. Then it happened. I asked her, ‘what part of the plant is the collard green?’ Queue the clock.

“Ummm….it’s the collard green.” While this answer was technically true, and I must admit that at this response I faltered, this was clearly not the answer I was looking for. I pushed on, inquiring what structural part of the plant comprised the collard green. For the first several minutes, I gave her no help. Asking her shamelessly leading questions, I hoped that she would think back on our prior discussion and come up with the answer herself. “What grows out of the stem in the germination stage?” Shirley stares. Briefly flicks her eyes in the direction of the clock. And stares.

Yielding no progress, I switched approaches.

“OK, what color is a collard green?”


Excitement wells inside me.

“YES!, and think about a tree…you know what a tree looks like, right? What part of a tree is green?”

Shirley’s eyes narrow and after a short pause she says, “leaves.”

“YeS!” trying to pretend like my wild eyes and brimming excitement are not freaking her out, I continue, “and so, what part of the collard green is the collard green??”

“…………the root….?” And her eyes go back to the clock. And my head droops. Just a little bit.

In the end, I gave up.

“It’s the leaf,” I sighed, and got up to move on. Shirley stares at me, and after a moment, continues coloring without any hint of acknowledgement.

While my interaction with Shirley, and others of the sort can be comical, even turned into enjoyable anecdotes, the reality is that these comments are indicative of a fairly serious knowledge gap. A lack of understanding of the food they eat and the natural world around them. One student announced to the class that his favorite vegetable is dough. I was asked by a nine year old if a shrimp is a vegetable. Shrimp are not vegetables. Shrimp are animals.

Unfortunately, this reality of under-education is more a rule than an exception in the lives of average American children. There are myriad forces working against our nation’s children, like corporate advertising, rising inactivity, lack of access to real food, and skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, which result in the gap that our hero has exemplified when discussing collards.

Please know that my intention is not to patronize or look down upon our students, by any means. It is not right to lay blame on the children who are a part of this national ‘mindset,’ if you will. Quite the contrary, I call attention to Shirley and the rest of our students because, in a sense, they are in the minority of the majority by having the opportunity to be a part of the Garden Science programming. They have a chance to acquire the knowledge to fill the gap, and this is one of the many reasons Garden Science excites me.

I’d like to think that our discussion had an impact on Shirley, even if she didn’t directly acknowledge it. In fact, I know that it did. Or at least that it will. Because when the program comes to an end, Shirley will come to the garden, having participated in six more classes. She will have picked up tidbits here and there (accumulating, needless to say, that many more tidbits than her peers who did not get to participate in Garden Science). She will frolic around with her classmates, dodging in and out of the beds, nibbling veggies, generally going nuts. Finally, she’ll run up to me, panting, sweat dribbling down her adorable little brow, holding up a young lettuce plant that, as a result of her unbearable excitement, she has just uprooted instead of harvested. She will say “hey! Mr. Andrew! Leaves!”

Shirley will know that leaves are edible because, even though I gave in to her disinterest last Tuesday, I won’t give up. I’m still new at the education game. Still getting my bearings. Finding my sea legs. No, I won’t give up. Nor will Kacie. Nor will Garden Science. Nor will the movement. I understand now that the most potent current that drives our sustainable food movement is belief. Believing in your message. Believing in your motive. Believing in your lunch. Believing in your students. Believing that even though Shirley isn’t interested now, she will be. Believing that seven uncomfortable minutes with Shirley are worth it, because in the grand scheme of shifting paradigms, seven minutes is not very many minutes.

If you have any questions, comments, general concerns, or are unclear about the structural significance of your favorite vegetable, you can contact me at aplotsky@washingtonyouthgarden.org