This past weekend, two generous and talented friends came over to help make one of our dreams into a reality. One of our urban homesteading dreams, that is. We are SO blessed to have friends who care about our desires to produce our own food and set a small, but to us important, example of what it means to live (or at least eat) off the land in a small town where we hope more and more food is being grown. We are hoping to gently influence some of our East Bay/Piedmont and Oakland neighbors to perhaps carve out a few feet of space to grow some herbs, maybe even some kale (of course KALE), if they haven’t already. The anticipation and anxious feelings surrounding growing our own food is so exciting.
My father-in-law said something a few weeks ago that keeps sticking out in my head. He said that we as American’s, and the way our society and culture dictates change, seems to be driven by emergency situations. To that point, just because there isn’t a war, i.e. World War II, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to develop our own ways of being self-sufficient. This is where the concept of the Victory Garden popped into my head. Taking any space that you have, even if it’s in the form of pots in the windowsill of your studio apartment, or on the kitchen table. Historically, the Victory Garden was supposed to boost morale and empower all citizens to take advantage of their own backyard resources, supporting themselves and the war effort by growing food, raise certain animals and live off of the land, to a certain degree (or even pots or planter boxes). For more information on what’s going on in places like Oakland in regards to urban farming and Victory Gardening, there is a lot to thumb through at The Victory Garden Foundations’ website, and this amazing website. I found this through catching up with works by artist Amy Franchescini, whom I saw at the SFMOMA and who has been honored for the SECA award in the past. TRULY innovative and artistic eco-creative stuff, but I digress a bit.
Blog title item #1: BOXES. We now have one of two planter boxes built and ready for sealing, concrete laying (we have to with our webs of redwood root-age. No wonder redwood trees are so resilient, large, ancient and amazing. Their roots go EVERYWHERE!) and planting. I think we need starters (not seeds) and will go for tomatoes, carrots, LOTS of greens (lettuces, kale, chard, kale and more kale) and maybe try our hand at some blueberries under the redwood trees. Apparently they like acidic soil. SO many possibilities! But we did get the Sunset Western Garden Book, which is basically a bible to grow anything. I have also heard that Golden Gate Gardening is a must buy for growing food and any plants in the San Francisco Bay Area, since our climate is so diverse (and amazing – no bias here).
Felled redwoods from a nearby vacant lot. Friends asked for permission to mill the wood, we paid the friends for the service and amazing skill with which the wood was milled and cut, and here the redwood planks await…for planter box making!
Russ, Scotty and Tim savoring one of the finished boxes, after Scotty and Tim produced a beautiful piece. We watched and provided food (Thanksgiving sandwiches, anyone?) beer and cold water, and Russ lent a hand and helped with heavy lifting and other tasks. Can’t mess with perfection, ladies and germs. I hope Tim and Scotty aren’t annoyed at how in awe I am and how I ask constantly how they know so much about so much. ; ) They are amazing friends.
If you build it, they will come! And now…if we grow it, we will eat!
We were fortunate to have great friends helping us out, who knew how to deal with dimension, measurements very accurately…and had the tools. Scotty and Tim are really talented people.
On to the topic of black beans. I found a recipe in a magazine that I usually toss aside (I won’t say which one…but I have narrowed my view since I started subscribing to Whole Living, which I love). The night of the box building, we were having friends over for dinner. I haven’t done too much with any regional South American themed recipes, and I still have so much to experiment with and learn. This recipe was one of those you look at with uncertainty, with about 50 kagillion ingredients that you know you probably don’t have in your pantry. But…I decided to take it on and give it a makeover. The recipe was for pork and plantain enchiladas with black bean puree. I had black beans already, and a good amount of ingredients it called for, but wanted to make it a bit more simple…and vegetarian. So, from this recipe, I just dropped a few things and, even though it was still a bit complicated (sort of like Thanksgiving in a dish, with multiple components to coordinate at once), I still had a lot of fun doing it.
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 chopped yellow onions, divided
- 1 2/3 cups organic chicken or vegetable broth, divided
- 6 tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped and divided
- 1 serrano chile, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 cup cilantro leaves (plus more for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 2 (15-ounce) cans organic black beans, rinsed and drained (Eden Organics brand does not have BPA lining in the cans – that’s a GOOD thing). Or you can cook your own beans (soak and sprout) which ups their nutritional value. I didn’t have time this week.
- 2 tablespoons of raw honey
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 soft sweet, ripe plantains, peeled and coarsely chopped
- Olive oil
- 12 (6-inch) corn tortillas (try to get as “clean” as you can. Many seemingly pure corn tortillas usually have lots of other additives in there.
- 4 cups cooked brown rice
- Sour cream or “crema,” which is basically cream that some South American cuisine’s use for garnishing. I added a little honey to make it sweet to complement the plantains
- For tomatillo sauce: combine 1 choppped onion, 1 cup broth, tomatillos, 1 garlic clove, and serrano in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until tomatillos are tender. Cool for 10 minutes. Combine tomatillo mixture, cilantro, lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender; process until smooth. Pour into a large measuring cup.
- For Black Bean Puree: Place skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add the remaining onion; cook for 3 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add remaining garlic clove; cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add remaining 2/3 cup broth, and cook for 1 minute, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add black beans; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool slightly. Place black bean mixture in blender. Pulse 15 times, scraping occasionally until mixture is a thick puree.
- For Plantains: Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Combine 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, honey, and plantains in a medium bowl, tossing to coat plantain. Add plantain mixture to pan; sautée for 3 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Cool slightly; finely chop.
- ASSEMBLY TIME: Next, I heated the corn tortilla’s slightly in the oven to soften them up, and then keep them warm. I put out a buffet of all ingredients for everyone to pile onto their tortilla’s, like soft tacos (including the brown rice, plantains, tomatillo sauce, black bean puree, crema, and garnish with more cilantro.
- TIME TO EAT!
The spread (salad, tomatillo, crema and cilantro), brown rice, black bean puree (under foil) and plantains in the foreground
A simple side salad of mixed greens, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds and simple, homemade mustard vinaigrette dressing (my favorite!)
To accompany? Friends Ryan and Liz (Liz is a culinary student, and amazing cook, in Napa, so it was fun to get her input on the meal) brought fixings for blood orange margarita’s. I love them…and not just for their creative booze concoctions. ; )
Blood oranges await their fate: freshly squeezed juice for us!
The mixologist hard at work
SO refreshing. Tequila, agave syrup, Cointreau (I think?) and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice
And that was our weekend. Fun times, good friends, great food and the pursuit of happiness through planter box building. EMBRACE URBAN FARMING and stay tuned for more on our journey towards home-grown kale and farm fresh eggs.