24 June 2013

Urban Grown Farms and Gardens Tour - 2013

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
This year marks the 5th biennial urban farms and gardens tour, hosted by Cultivate KC, and the urban growth (pun intended) this city has seen is nothing short of amazing. In 2005 when the tour began, there were 6 farms on the tour and 300 people who attended the whole tour. Every tour since has seen an exponential increase in both attendees and farm sites on the tour. This event now boasts 60 sites and has spanned to cover two days; the small number 300 is more likely to describe the number of attendees in one day at one farm. By now the tour has reached the status of The Largest Urban Farm Tour in the nation. 

All of which means, this city has a lot of food growing in a lot of unexpected and important places. 

chard on the westside

Urban farming - popular enough now to merit its own magazine - is more than just the trendy thing to do. This movement goes beyond the offbeat juxtapositions: the dilapidated buildings next to lush raised beds of kale, rusted art and radishes, municipal chickens and downtown ducks. This is about growing food in precisely the spots where people are everyday. This is about revitalizing wasted land and making it livable, beautiful, and productive. This is about knowing where your food comes from and seeing it for yourself, whether you're a little kid, a grown woman, an old man. For some of these sites, this is about serving the underserved, about communities pulling together to take care of themselves, and about volunteers working to feed others. Whether a site is an oasis in a food desert or growing the freshest food right outside the restaurant kitchen, this tour is about "cultivating change." 

When I volunteered four years ago, I hurried all over town to help and see as much as I could in one day, but I could only make it to 5 farm sites. And that was before I had kids. So this year I was pretty proud when - over the course of 2 days, while Sergio was unavailable, with both girls in tow, stopping for potty breaks and diaper changes and breastfeeding - I made it to 5 farms again! Of course, that leaves 55 farms I wanted to see but couldn't. I'm not complaining, though. Too many urban farms and gardens is a great problem to have.

The Five Sites I Saw on My Tour

The first stop on my tour was Hoop Dog Studio on Troost. Almost every morning we take Troost to take Julia to school, so I had noticed this place with its turquoise doors, its ransom-note like "Obama" made of old neon sign letters, its particular tall bird on the side of the building. But I never would have imagined that inside is an intricate maze of hydroponics, livestock, vegetables, flowers, and discarded materials turned into art. While you may need to steer your toddler clear of the rusted nails emerging from the rail road ties or the shards of (intentional) broken pottery, you will come away in awe of the majestic mess of growth and life - vegetables, fish and flowers - coming out of urban castoffs - rebar, upturned muffin tins, oxytetracyclinehydrochloride barrels. Maybe that "skelebird" on the side of the building is supposed to be a phoenix. 

Hoop Dog Studio on Troost 
Julia and Skelebird
Crown Garden
In the summer of 2010, I was an insignificant member of a small team of people helping to make plans to start an urban garden - to be maintained by volunteers at Hallmark - at the Ronald McDonald house right across the street. That summer the idea was just a seed. I went off to have a couple of babies over the next two years and then next thing I know - voila! The garden is going so strong that they are on the Urban Grown tour. There are some incredible master gardeners and volunteers at Hallmark who have contributed their time to this farm's success. And all the produce grown (organically, by the way) in the Crown Garden goes to the families and patients staying at the Ronald McDonald house. Which seems to me like such a really nice thing to do for people you don't even know.

Hallmark's Crown Garden
Julia's and my favorite. 

The Beanstalk Garden has a little bit of everything - several varieties of fruits, lots of vegetables, flowers, herbs and a fountain. I'm not sure if the water feature is meant to be toddler entertainment, but it sure was for us after a long hot day of touring. Jasper and Julia went wild with the water while we sat under the grapevines and fed the babies and imagined what we might grow in our own gardens even though we are not the skilled master gardeners who run these places - nevermind that. Seeing it all blossoming and blooming and making fruit makes you think - surely I could do this, too! And the truth is, with the help of KC Community Gardens, you probably could!

Beanstalk Children's Garden - and fountain
Pretty please with a cherry on top?
Herb'n Gardener
I wanted to stop in at Lew Edmister's place because Julia and I see Lew every Friday night at Badseed (for that same reason, I wanted to go to Urbavore, too, we just couldn't get there). I thought it'd be fun to see what he's growing so maybe Julia can put two and two together when she sees him at market. Lew also makes bread and - for that matter - made his own bread oven! "Fire!" said Julia, when she saw Lew checking the flames inside. While Lew got his dough ready for a demo, Julia and I ate mustard greens from the field and tried to keep Clara from eating the mulch. Lew brought us some nasturtiums to eat; Julia would have none of it, though she liked eating the little yellow mustard green flowers.

Clara at Herb'n Gardener 
Julia and the mustard greens

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
From Lew's I thought I'd head to the Westside Local to see some vertical gardening by Anti-Hero Landscaping, but I got sidetracked on the way when I passed what looks like a giant hole in the ground full of an urban farm. Chickens, ducks, geese, bees and butterflies; vegetables, flowers, and herbs. This place was literally a dumping ground for a long time before, 3 years ago, some folks in the Westside Community Action Network came along to clean it up. It's amazing and lush and complex and gritty and the kale in that raised bed was the heartiest I've seen. (And I have seen a lot of kale.) Julia loved the livestock and watched with rapt attention as the chickens responded to our "cock-a-doodle-doos!" and "kiki-ri-kees!" This neighborhood has really embraced this bit of blight and brought it back to life.

Switzer Neighborhood Farm
in the shadow of the abandoned Switzer school

Julia and the chickens

17 June 2013

Father's Day

Some pictures in honor of the holiday:

Me and my dad (three pictures in one, actually). He is a wonderful father and I love him.

c. 1991, c. 2003, and 2012
Me, Sergio, and the girls who made him a dad. He is a wonderful father and I love him, too.
Impromptu Family Portrait
Oh, and here's an extra picture of the girls which is representative of the regular old rascally behavior we have come to know and love: Julia being wild and Clara being entertained.

15 June 2013

Strawberry Bread Pudding

If you're anything like me, you may find yourself with a good chunk of leftover Italian bread and an overage of fresh, local, organic strawberries (because you can never buy just one quart since one quart is what you eat on the way home from the market and you'll need a lot more than that once you get home). And in this fortuitous moment, you may think to yourself, "Is there such a thing as strawberry bread pudding?"

You may do a Google search and find out that, Yes, there IS such a thing! And you may sort through a lot of recipes before finding THIS ONE and emailing to your husband one morning suggesting it for dessert that night. And you may even get home at the end of the day and offer to make that Strawberry Bread Pudding only to discover that he has already done it! 

And then you may find out that not only is there such a thing as Strawberry Bread Pudding, but it is delightful. 

The next morning your husband may have the brilliant idea to slice the leftover bread pudding and fry it a little like a french toast or something. And then you may justify eating Strawberry Bread Pudding for both dessert AND breakfast. And you may be delighted yet again. 

If you're anything like me, that is.

Strawberry Bread Pudding
from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite, inspired by the Daily Loaf 
click here for full details and a recipe for caramel sauce

4 eggs
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1/4 cup golden brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces crusty stale bread, torn or cut in bite-size pieces
2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) strawberries, sliced

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 x-2-inch pan. Set aside.
2) Combine eggs, milk, sugar (white and brown, vanilla extract, spices and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until blended.
3) Place bread pieces into a large bowl. Pour milk mixture over bread and toss to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes to allow milk to be absorbed into bread.
4) Fold in strawberries and pour mixture into baking dish.
5) Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until raised and puffy. Insert a toothpick into center and if it comes out fairly clean, it’s done. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

The French Toast Treatment for Breakfast

leftover Strawberry Bread Pudding

Slice the pudding into 1-inch or 1 1/2-inch slices.
Heat butter in pan.
Fry the pudding slices (that's a weird phrase) until golden.
Ignore the fact that you just made something unhealthy even unhealthier.

10 June 2013

A Tornado, a Birthday, and a Funeral

My Aunt Jetta

We went to OKC recently to attend my aunt's funeral; the weekend before we'd gone to celebrate my grandmother's birthday (early) and to see my aunt Jetta who was very sick. She had been diagnosed with late stage cancer just after Easter. We had no idea how rapidly she'd decline. She only had one cycle of chemo that lasted just three weeks. She died before her hair even had a chance to fall out. 

I had no idea that Memorial Day weekend I was saying goodbye for the last time. That weekend she said no more than five words to me, which in and of itself was a feat. She was virtually non-communicative towards the end. That weekend when I reached out to her she responded, whispering "Thank You," "Love you," and "Pretty," (that last one was her acknowledgement of the bouquet of flowers I brought her from Mema's garden.) I am grateful for the visit I had made earlier in May when she was doing a little bit better and when I brought her a birthday gift and a card, which I know she treasured; she wouldn't even let my mom throw away the envelope that her birthday card came in. She passed away peacefully on Wednesday morning, May 29.

I struggled with how to tell Julia that Jetta passed away. She knew something was up ("Jetta doesn't feel good.") and had already asked some poignant questions (“Who hurt Jetta?”). But she is too young to understand death. When we went back for the funeral, I worried that Julia would inquire after Jetta or want to know why we were all sad. She IS in the “Why?” phase, after all. We used our best euphemisms and our simplest language and I think in some fundamental way, she understood just enough. The truth is that her child-like view of it all brought some levity that I found to be refreshing in the most stifling parts of the mourning process: “She’s pink!” (Julia said, at the funeral home where there was a pink light shining on the body) and “Jetta has a new bed!” (after the viewing) and “Is Jetta hiding?” (at the graveside service).

In many ways I was helping myself understand death as much as I was helping Julia. This was the first death in the inner circle of my mom’s family since the year I was born. I’ve never had to face it so forthrightly. I questioned what it all meant each step of the way.

The night of the viewing of the body, there was a big storm brewing. Being tried and true Oklahomans, we all knew something big was coming. You could just feel it in the air. (Also, we were watching the news and the meteorologists said something big was coming.) We proceeded with the evening’s plan nonetheless; my mom took Mema to the funeral home and many other folks arrived. Sergio and I came with the girls and were able to have our moment to say “Goodbye” and “We love you, Jetta.” Before long the storm had progressed and we realized we needed to take cover. We hustled out of the funeral home and piled into our caravan of cars as the newscasters on the radios advised us all to take shelter. We were headed across the street to go into the basement of the church. It felt so weird to leave Jetta behind.

The viewing of the body is peculiar. We know in our heads what has happened, that our loved one has died, but our hearts want to believe that maybe it’s not true. Our hearts want to believe the way Julia probably believed - that Jetta was just asleep. It certainly looked that way. She looked beautiful (no small feat after her illness) -- and pink, even! -- as though she were just resting for a moment. But let me tell you - nothing drives home the reality of your loved one’s condition like having to leave her behind in the funeral home while the rest of the family takes cover from a tornado.

Oh and did I mention that this was my grandmother’s 92nd birthday? What a strange way to spend your birthday. That night, Mema powered through the visitation and the tornado, broken heart and all. We all even managed to share some cake together and reflect on those 92 years. But it was far from a happy birthday. We found out later that the tornado that came through that night was the widest tornado ever recorded in US history - about 2.5 miles. The wide-reaching path of destruction was an apt metaphor for the ripple effects of Jetta's death - of anyone's death, I am sure. It has both a broad (for many) and a personal (for each of us) impact. However, no one felt Jetta's death quite the way Mema did. As she told me later on, tearfully, at the graveside service, "It just cuts so deep."

The next morning the sky was clear and beautiful. The funeral for Jetta was perfect; she would have loved it, I am sure. Family came to town and my parents' house was full of warmth and full of flowers and full of food. There was an amazing outpouring of support from my parents' friends and co-workers, my aunt's friends and co-workers, my friends - more generous that you could imagine. If quantities of food delivered to the bereaved are any indication of how well someone was liked, then my aunt was extremely well loved. The remainder of the weekend was part hustle and bustle of family gathering and part quiet reflection. And lots and lots of emotion.

Jetta was a giver of great gifts, a baker of amazing birthday cakes, and a taker of great photos. She was patriotic - didn't care who you voted for in any election just so long as you voted. And she'd give you The Raised Eyebrow of Consternation if you didn't. She was a loyal Hallmark Gold Crown shopper and invested a lot of time in finding the right gift. She was a bit of a wallflower. She was full of tact. She never said an unkind word. She loved iced tea. 

It is so hard to believe she’s gone. We are all better off for having had her in our life. We miss her so much.

“I had rather be shut up in a very modest cottage, with my books, my family, and a few old friends, dining on simple bacon, and letting the world roll on as it liked, than to occupy the most splendid post which any human power can give.” - Thomas Jefferson

(a quotation framed and hung on the wall at Jetta's house)