A Peace Cafe

Nourishing A Peaceable Community

In the wake of the recent events in Charlottesville, I’ve been pondering the logistics of building peaceful community. It seems that for a city or town to have the resilience to resist hate, it has to be a lively, vibrant, connected community, one where many people feel a strong sense of belonging. There’s lots of social research that indicates that this sense of belonging is losing ground in the USA, for dozens of reasons, from increased job mobility to increasing distraction seeking, media addiction and more. Holding an occasional protest or festival can’t truly do the job; weaving community requires many small threads. It also takes time, yet I’ve seen how quickly we can bond over shared experiences and desires. It seems clear that people who long for peaceful, nourishing community are the very ones who can most effectively create it.

Here on the island, several hundred people gathered on a downtown green space after Charlottesville with candles and hurting hearts. It was heartening to see that the momentum was positive rather than negative; people gathered not to scorn the haters but to show their desire and support for a more peaceful, inclusive, and just society. As people shared stories and songs, it became apparent that many of us want to be more connected, to learn from each other, and to stand together in the face of hate. Over and over we heard that community is strengthened when we welcome diversity, meet challenges with compassion, and support each other with kindness.

A Cafe For Kindness

I’ve been thinking and talking with friends about ways to encourage the momentum of that initial event locally. Recently, I got permission from Eagle Harbor Congregational Church to host a monthly Peace Cafe in the Fellowship Hall. The idea is to make a time and place for coming together to share experiences and ideas that can help build kinder, stronger, and more resilient community for all of us. I’m inviting our local branch of Indivisible to participate, as well as local faith communities and anyone who is interested is definitely welcome to come and talk and listen.

One problem I saw at our outdoor gathering was that the circle was so huge, we couldn’t always hear each other. At the end, as people drifted away, I had a vision of doing a grand promenade, circling around and shaking hands right and left so we all got to see each other face to face and maybe exchange names. Years ago, I participated in several “talk cafes”, open gatherings where participants move between variously labeled “topic tables”, including some undesignated tables for free discussion. It seemed like a great model for developing an open yet small scale forum that allowed enough interaction that everyone at a given table can speak and be heard.

Kindness In, Kindness Out

My model is also influenced by the Socratic Cafe program, which encourages careful phrasing of table topics to promote broader and more empathetic responses than single word topics like racism or hate might. Thus, each Peace Cafe table’s conversation will hopefully be sparked by a prepared question which aims to stimulate thoughtful responses. How can our community resist hate/racism in our schools? How can we discover/explore our own filters, perhaps white/privilege, abled/disabled, agist, gender spectrum, etc.? What actually, practically encourages/discourages a diverse community?

Loving, Compassionate Exit Strategies

Here’s a great conversation starter:

https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2016/life-after-hate

If your community could benefit from such a program, please feel free to adapt this one to your own needs. Here on Bainbridge island, we will host Peace Cafes monthly and intend to include all ages. If there is interest, we will happily arrange for daytime events as well, possibly at the Senior center and the local schools. Like any good cafe, we’ll supply coffee and tea and light snacks.

Dorie Greenspan’s Peace Cookies

What do you serve at a Peace Cafe? Perhaps the most delicious treat ever developed, the World Peace Cookie has become as iconic as those ubiquitous molten chocolate cakes. I have a riff on the recipe, as many people do, and Dorie herself has take it a step further as well, as you can see here:

World Peace Cookies, the Newest Version from Dorie’s Cookies: Sneak Peek

Here’s the gist of Dorie’s latest version from the link above:

“A word on mixing, log rolling and patience: This dough can be different from batch to batch — it always seems to turn out well no matter what, but the inconsistency can be frustrating. I’ve found that it’s best to mix the dough for as long as it takes to get big, moist curds that hold together when pressed and then knead if necessary so it comes together. When you’re rolling it into logs, keep checking that the logs are solid. Again, the dough can be capricious and it may not always roll into a compact log on the first (or second or third) try. Be patient.

Makes about 36 cookies

1 1/4 cups (170 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (28 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons; 5 1/2 ounces; 155 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature

2/3 cup (134 grams) packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar

1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 ounces (142 grams) best-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into irregular sized bits

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed until soft, creamy and homogenous, about 3 minutes. Beat in the salt and vanilla. Turn off the mixer, add all the dry ingredients and pulse a few times to start the blending. When the risk of flying flour has passed, turn the mixer to low and beat until the dough forms big, moist curds. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate. This is an unpredictable dough (see above). Sometimes it’s crumbly and sometimes it comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Happily, no matter what, the cookies are always great.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather it together, kneading it if necessary to bring it together. Divide the dough in half. Shape the dough into logs that are 11/2 inches in diameter. Don’t worry about the length — get the diameter right, and the length will follow. (If you get a hollow in the logs, just start over.) Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and freeze them for at least 2 hours or refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.

When you’re ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Working with one log at a time and using a long, sharp knife, slice the dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. (The rounds might crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them. (If you’ve cut both logs, keep one baking sheet in the fridge while you bake the other.)

Bake the cookies for 12 minutes — don’t open the oven, just let them bake. When the timer rings, they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, and that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can munch them, or let them reach room temperature (I think the texture’s more interesting at room temperature).

Bake the remaining dough.

STORING The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just bake the cookies 1 minute longer.”

 

 

 

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A Cascade Of Cucumbers

Admiring An Underrated Vegetable

Since I moved this spring, I haven’t had a place to grow vegetables, but fortunately I am blessed with friends who do. I was recently given a basket of mixed cucumbers in various sizes and shapes and colors. I’m thrilled, because cucumbers are among my favorite snack foods and the basis of some delightful salads. When fresh and crisp, the flavors emerge as slightly bitter and slightly sweet, more earthy in some types, faintly floral in others. Easily over powered by heavy dressings, cucumbers carry subtle dressings to perfection. When just picked, most of my family will happily munch them plain, but I prefer them thinly sliced with just a dash of rice vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt.

I like crunch in my salads and fresh cucumbers provide that crisp element however you slice them. For a Middle Eastern meal, cut cukes in wedges and toss them with cherry tomatoes, a little sweet onion, and a refreshing dressing of Greek yogurt, minced mint and green onions. For an Italian side, cut them in slim slices and toss with a garlic and basil vinaigrette. Top grilled fish or fowl with chopped cucumbers with dill and lemon juice or a quick salsa of cucumbers, peppers, onion and roasted peaches.

Not tempted? Here’s the rap on using cu-CUM-ba in Jamaica:

Hot Stuff

I collect old cookbooks, especially those from pioneer days and around the turn of the last century. Many of them include recipes for cooking with cucumbers, mainly because back in the day, very little excepting fruit was eaten raw. Even what was then called a salad often involved combinations of cooked vegetables blended with mayonnaise or sauces. In Italy, Russian Salad or Insalata Russa, a form of potato salad enlivened with capers, remains popular even though raw salads now abound. Most of the old recipes I tried were pretty awful, notably baked and stewed cucumbers, but this adapted version of fried cukes and green tomatoes is very tasty indeed.

Fried Green Tomatoes And Cucumbers

2 large green tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled
1/4 cup whole wheat or any flour
2 tablespoons yellow corn meal
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 large eggs, well whisked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter

Slice tomatoes and cucumber into 1/4 inch slices, set aside. In a pie dish, combine flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Whisk egg in another pie dish. Dredge vegetable slices in flour mixture, dip into egg, then return to flour mixture to cover well. In a heavy iron skillet, heat half the oil and butter over medium high heat and fry half the slices, not crowding the pan, until well browned, about 4-6 minute per side. Replenish pan with remaining oil and butter and repeat with remaining slices. Serve hot. Serves at least one.

Peach And Cucumber Salsa

Next time you fire up the grill, roast a bunch of halved peaches on the side. They freeze beautifully and add remarkable savor and depth to dressings and sauces as well as this addictive salsa.

Roasted Peach And Cucumber Salsa

1 cup chopped roasted peaches (about 2 halves)
1 cup chopped cucumber
1/2 cup chopped sweet mini peppers
1 ancho or any hot pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients, toss gently and let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with chips or with anything grilled, also makes fabulous dressing for green salad. Makes about 3 cups.

Cucumber Salad With Mushrooms

Vinegar softens cucumbers and turns mushrooms to velvet. Spoon this refreshing salad over cooked rice or partner it with roasted or grilled anything.

Cucumber Mushroom Velvet Salad

2 cups thinly sliced cucumber (1 medium)
1 cup thinly sliced stemmed mushrooms (2 large)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup stemmed Italian parsley

Cover sliced cukes and mushrooms with 1 cup ice water to which you have added salt, gently stirring to dissolve. Let sit for 15 minutes, drain well, pat dry and gently toss with oil and vinegar. Serve at once, sprinkled with parsley. Serves 4-6.

 

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Plants That Thrive On Benign Neglect

Workhorse Plants For Tough Places

A few years ago, I was asked to plan and plant beds at the entryway to Bainbridge Island, a new pocket park above the ferry dock. Created by a team of Rotarians and community volunteers, this little park now leads thousands of people to and from the ferry each year. Like a well designed home entry bed, the Waypoint plantings must look good all year without needing much care. Especially now.

For the first few years, I and a small band of volunteers maintained the beds. However, an unfortunate series of decisions that did not include us resulted in the care of this entryway park resting on a single park employee. Since I’m very fond of her, I recently decided to get over my snit (sort of) and give her a hand with getting the beds back in shape. This is no small task, since the larger bed alone consists of about 10,000 square feet and holds hundreds of shrubs and perennials. Fortunately, the plant palette has largely proven to be successful and most of the plantings are quietly thriving despite the dearth of care. Indeed, they read quite well through the year, perhaps especially from a distance, as they were intended to be as attractive to passing motorists as to walkers.

The Dark Side Of Perennials

I’ve been fascinated to see how well the perennials in particular are holding up. Back in the 80s, I was so smitten with perennials that I used them anywhere and everywhere. Gradually, however, I began to find the winter blankness of perennial beds depressing. Perennial borders also need frequent division and resetting or they lose definition and become over crowded. Some fleetingly lovely plants just don’t earn the space they require while others are frustratingly fussy or all too eager to spread. In reaction, I started developing mixed borders. My early experiments were a little iffy, since it takes some skill to create lastingly effective and compatible combinations that really do hold their looks all year. Eventually, those mixed borders wove colorful combinations of perennials and shrubs, grasses and bulbs into a tapestry that could hold up visually even in the depths of January.

Naturally, I then developed an obsessive fascination with shrubs, to the point that perennials nearly vanished from my palette. Good looking, hard working woodies can definitely transform the gardening experience for aging gardeners and what joyful fun to explore their possibilities! Soon enough, perennials sneaked their way back into my gardens, earning their place with gorgeous foliage, bold color, and delicious fragrance. These days, I only plant mixed borders, but the balance is a bit more even. For one thing, my current perennial palette has been strongly influenced by the way plants age. Evergreen perennials, slow clumpers, and those with marvelous seed heads are very welcome. Incorrigible floppers are out, even if their flowers are lovely. Takeover thugs and wild runners are out as well, no matter what they offer.

The Bold and The Beautiful

Perhaps because my eyesight is not what it was, I no longer plant demure dainties. These days, most of my plantings are designed to read from a distance, and they’re usually based on the natural architecture of the plants. Thus, perennials are planted in sweeps unless large enough to constitute a “sweep of one” (think Six Hills Giant catmint). The bigger catmints are very dependable for large scale plantings; each can cover 3-4 square feet and will repeat bloom reliably if sheared lightly once or twice a season. At the Waypoint, catmints make excellent edging plants, spilling gently over the lip of the stone retaining wall that delineates the huge border we call the Wild Garden.

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is a similarly solid performer here, surrounding its pleated foliage with foamy masses of tiny, starry blooms that hold their looks for months. Prairie sunflower (Helianthus Lemon Queen) is a spreader in terrific situations but is slowed down considerably in poor ones like this, where its sheaves of sunny flowers carry on for months despite drought and heat. When happy, as it is here, joe pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum Gateway) can soar as much as 8 feet high, making statuesque thickets of sturdy stems topped with the soft globes of dusky purple flower heads. In shadier areas, massed hellebores hold their own in summer thanks to long fingered foliage, brightening the cooler months with long lasting flowers as well. Tough as nails, my favorite ground cover perennials, Bishop’s Hat (Epimedium) also offers shapely foliage and smoky fall color as well as unfurling coils of late winter flowers that look like balancing birds on a wire.

Grand Grasses

Grasses, too are best grouped in sweeps, unless they have enough structural integrity to stand alone, and even then, I usually place them in clusters. At Waypoint, maiden grasses (Miscanthus) such as Gracillimus and Morning Light remain strong and striking through the winter and need only a late winter cutting when the green of new growth edges up from the base. I also used my favorite evergreen grasses, notably pheasant tail grass (Anemanthele lessoniaia) and Carex testacea, both of which are most satisfying to my eye when given enough room to spread into their full space, which may be as much as 4 x 4 feet. Japanese forest grass (Hakenechloa macra), plain green or chartreuse-gold in the Aurea form, is another trooper that can hold its own in tough conditions. This slow clumper gradually flows into stream-like masses that look especially attractive on slopes or underplanting small, sculptural trees, as they do in this little park.

Rich in grasses and shrubs, mixed borders become less about floral color and more about the rhythmic repeats of hummock and mound, spike and spire. Instead of falling fast for new plants, I now assess the impact of a given plant over time and try to plant accordingly. Since this might mean plunking a small start in a big, empty space, I use annual fillers as place holders. They provide seasonal color without cramping the style of the shrub or perennial or grass they’re filling in for. Calendulas are great favorites, since they bloom at least a bit all year round, producing their shaggy, citrus-bright blooms even when the irrigation fails (Yes. I don’t even want to discuss it).

On The Wild Side

The Wild Garden border blends into a steep, wooded ravine, so it’s planted with hundreds of native trees and shrubs at the back and sides. Towards the front, I echoed the wild plants with allied garden forms that evoke the island’s complex history. Thus, you’ll see both rosy pink Spirea douglassii and compact garden spireas, bigleaf maples and Japanese maples, wild cherries and ornamental Asian cherries, native roses and rugosa hybrids. Rich with oceanspray and sumac, twiggy dogwoods and hawthorns, Indian plum and huckleberries, the bold background plantings meld into the native woodies lining the ravine.

Along the street, a large, more formally planted island bed island bed combines Mount Fuji flowering cherries with a solid mass of Lonicera pileata Royal Carpet. This low-growing, evergreen, trouble-free shrub is an excellent choice for low garden hedges, maturing to 3-4 feet high and wide. Tucked into this sweep of green, small rain gardens hold sheets of dwarf redtwig dogwood, Cornus sericea Kelseyi, which take up water eagerly in winter without needing summer irrigation. Along the sidewalks, pockets of seasonal color hold low maintenance perennials, clumping grasses, ground covers, and bulbs. Except when the irrigation…argh.

Soft Yet Structural

These “softer” elements must none the less be architecturally strong enough to hold their own amid the larger woody plants. Thus, the perennials and grasses need to be powerhouse plants that offer excellent form and foliage. Some also have pretty flowers in season, but they must earn their place without them. Shrubby or perennial, grass or bulb, preference was always given to plants with distinctive natural shapes. It’s been a hard year for plants (I still don’t even want to talk about the epic irrigation system fail) but overall, the palette is performing remarkably well.

Seeing how it’s all holding up has reawakened my former feelings of affection for this hard working landscape and I have to admit, I’m actually looking forward to getting hands-on involved again. After all, the plants did nothing wrong and they had no more of a vote than I did when the disruptions occurred. So. Hmm. Even though I swore (quite a bit) that I would never set foot in there again, well, it kinda looks like I’m going to. Giving up on gardens works best when we don’t have to see them any more (like the one I just left when I sold my house). (I don’t want to talk about that either.) It looks like I’m going to act like a grown up, suck it up, get over myself and offer some loving care to a planting I definitely loved creating. Yup. Because life hands us enough losses we can’t do anything about and it really doesn’t make sense to add to them out of stubbornness. Right? Yup. Right. Sigh. Right.

 

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Great Garden Sauces

Cooking, Canning, Freezing…

As summer slides away, sauce making season peaks. Our gardens are almost burdened with tomatoes and we’re all making sauce by the gallon to can and freeze. This year, my favorite sauce tomato is an indeterminate midseason called Crimson Vee. This strapping gal produces masses of fruit even in cooler climates, especially when nourished with liquid kelp (as discussed last week). Though we’ve had our hot days and dry spells (!!), our maritime cool nights and overcast mornings can slow ripening to a crawl. Crimson Vee doesn’t mind the fluctuations, especially when grafted onto sturdy rootstock. In any case, the blocky, deep red fruit is quite firm-bodied, making for excellent sauces.

Of course, what makes an excellent tomato sauce is an individual preference, but mine is for sauces that retain some qualities of freshness, notably a lively, nuanced flavor that doesn’t taste “cooked”, which so often means heavy and dull. There’s also the question of skin and seeds. I have an old Squeezo Strainer, a marvelous contraption involving a worm screw with a mesh cone cover that separates skin and seeds from pulp. It’s my go-to for apple sauce making, but also works beautifully for making tomato sauces in quantity, when peeling scalded tomatoes can blister your fingers. On the other hand, I often leave tomato skins on and leave seeds in as well, finding they give sauces a robust, rustic quality as well as bold, big flavor. It’s very easy to simply core and quarter tomatoes, or even just to cut off the stem attachment and call it good, and I think the resulting sauces are better than just fine, skin or no skin.

A Simple Sauce For Canning

This is my favorite sauce for canning, which seems to retain the clarity of summery flavors better than long term freezing. Scale it up for big batches, but try just a quart or two first to see how you like it, since individual preferences rule.

Summer Canning Sauce

2 quarts chopped ripe tomatoes with juices
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Rinse, core and quarter tomatoes, then chop coarsely (or more puree) in a food processor. In a large pan, cook oil, garlic, and salt over medium heat to the fragrance point (about a minute). Add tomatoes, salt, and basil, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until sauce is as thick as you like it. Fill, seal, and process jars as usual, or check out this link if you aren’t sure how this whole canning thing works:

http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_03/tomato_sauce.html

When It Rains Ripe Tomatoes

Home grown tomatoes often ripen in a rush, leaving the cook with a pantry full of produce that won’t wait. While drying or canning are the usual methods, I’ve had good luck freezing roasted tomatoes for up to three months, especially when prepared without seasonings. What? But yes, herbs and garlic (especially garlic) can develop off-flavors in the freezer, so the sauce will taste a lot better if you saute your onions, garlic and herbs before adding frozen roasted tomatoes. Luckily, the entire process is extremely simple!

Roasted Reds

2 quarts medium red tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, then place them cut-side-down in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (50-60 minutes). Pack in jars and seal or puree first for a smoother sauce. Freeze for up to 3 months (use straight-sided jars and leave an inch of head room). Makes about 4 cups.

A Splendid Sauce

Thawed or just made, pureed Roasted Reds are luscious in Rich Red Sauce, which tastes like you spent hours making it but cooks up in minutes. Serve over pasta, quinoa, or rice and prepare to receive complements.

Savory Red Sauce

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon minced oregano
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives (or any)
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 cups pureed Roasted Reds (thawed if frozen)
2-3 tablespoons fresh goat cheese, crumbled or Asiago, grated

In a sauce pan, heat oil, garlic, onion, and oregano over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, add celery and olives and cook until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Add chopped tomatoes, bring to a simmer, add puree, bring to a simmer and serve at once over pasta or rice, garnished with cheese. Serves 4.

Speedo Sauce

If you want a super fast, exceptionally tasty sauce for tonight, try this light, lovely version, which works best with tender, juicy tomatoes you’d use in a sandwich or salad. Use an onion of you don’t have leeks yet, and add any garden gleanings you like, from zucchini to pole beans. Capers lend this quick sauce body and depth, but a tiny bit of anchovy paste works well too.

Fresh Pasta With Garden Tomato Sauce

8 ounces fresh fettucini or noodles
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 leeks, thinly sliced (white and palest green parts only)
1 teaspoon minced oregano
2 cups diced, juicy tomatoes (with juices)
2 teaspoons capers, drained
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup shredded Asiago or Romano cheese

Cook pasta as directed on package. While pasta water is heating, combine oil, garlic, and fennel seed in a wide, shallow pan over medium heat and cook to the fragrance point (about one minute). Add leeks and oregano and cook until tender-crisp (5-6 minutes). Add diced tomatoes, cover pan and bring to a simmer, adding capers and salt as (if) needed. Cook pasta as directed, drain and serve with hot sauce, garnished with basil, cherry tomatoes, and cheese. Serves 4.

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