Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Experience Through Hell: Dante's Inferno in 10 Courses

Having aided JJ Gonson from Cuisine En Locale in the past, when I heard about JJ's next O.N.C.E. one month ago, I knew I had to take part. JJ's O.N.C.E.'s, or One Night Culinary Events, are multi-course meals held on short notice sporadically throughout the year, and include as much locally sourced food as possible.

However, this was not like any other O.N.C.E. It was not going to be just once. Three nights, 10-courses, full with actors, dancers, music, and script: a culinary, theatrical, and musical interpretation of Dante's Inferno. Welcome to

Venue: Club Oberon, home of the American Repetory Theater's The Donkey Show.

Dante's Inferno is the first of three parts of Dante Alighieri's allegorical work, The Divine Comedy. This poem describes Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso). The great Roman poet Virgil is Dante's first guide, and it would be he who would lead guests through Inferno and the 9 Circles of Hell, in what would be a magnificent production.

Weeks of work were put into the event, from all aspects of production and people of all talents. As a part of the kitchen crew last Tuesday, I was led by the three chefs of the show: JJ Gonson, Trevor Smith, and also Jennifer Ede, who did an amazing job communicating between the kitchen crew and the servers. The kitchen work involved some very intense chopping, cooking, dishwashing, and plating to serve approximately sixty people, and the work could not have been done without the contribution of many other Cuisine En Locale volunteers. Because of the intensity of the work, the time flew by. And before I knew it, we were already plating the tenth course, Heaven.

Luckily, in addition to being a part of the kitchen crew on Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the event on Wednesday. And it was wonderful to be able to see the hard work put into the kitchens become a part of this:

Virgil, our guide for the night, led us through the 9 Circles of Hell, each with its own culinary, theatrical, and musical interpretation, for the evening.

The night began in "Limbo," with a Clear Flour bread roll and water. Next, the two lovers Paolo and Francesca tangoed in "Lust," while we were served a Duxbury oyster shooter with a Keown Orchards Green Apple mignonette sauce. Guests were subsequently brought to the third course, Gluttony, where the servers, who were essential to creating the feel for the evening, carelessly tossed baked beans and Stillman's apple cider-glazed pork ribs in our plastic bowls with extremely large spoons. As we were served, Virgil led Cerberus, 3-headed dog and guardian of the Gluttons, engage in an eating contest with himself and a large bowl of beans. "Wrath" presented irritated and impatient waiters. So if you had been too busy enjoying the show rather than eating, you had best be prepared to wolf down the Jasmine kale salad with Grapes of Wrath Vinaigrette. "Heresy" was next, with a lobster salad enclosed in a delicate and flakey tomb-shaped puff pastry, adorned in a chili pumpkin sauce.

We were then taken to the seventh course, "Violence," where the Minotaur, part man, part beast, tore beets and smeared the "blood" all over his body, as we were served Jen's dark-red, sauerkraut cold beet soup, topped with white creme fraiche. "Fraud" followed as the eighth course, where guests received, suprise: Tofu Wellington, not the anticipated Beef Wellington that was written on the menu. In "Treachery," we were given Beelzebub's Beelzeburger, as the servers rocked out to a song about fast food. And then Lucifer came forth, Prince of Hell.

Lucifer, Virgil, and the servers

After the nine circles of Hell (and bypassing Purgatory), we found ourselves in Heaven, guided by Dante's dead and beloved Beatrice (who did some amazing acrobatics), and where Dante comes face to face with God (Anthony Saffery), who strummed some lovely tunes on the guitar.

It was a wonderful, entertaining night, and enjoyable in more ways than one.

Many thanks to Clear Flour, Keown Orchards, Stillman's Farm, Verril Farms, and Sherman Market, who provided much of the locally sourced food for the night. And a big thank you to everyone else who made these nights possible, including the servers, actors, dancers and Oberon staff, the sound, production, and tech staff, the Cuisine En Locale crew, volunteers, and many others!

For another take on the event, a more detailed course-by-course description of the night, and some links to the musical components of the evening, I encourage you to read this review on LimeyG bends yer lughole.

It was wonderful to not only be a part of the kitchen crew one night, but also to be able to enjoy and appreciate the show on another evening as well. I am already looking forward to the next O.N.C.E.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Vermicomposting, Part I

A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend the Urban Homesteaders' League's Vermicomposting Extravaganza workshop with Ryan Gray. And last Saturday, I finally received my worms! Before the workshop I didn't realize how easy and simple vermicomposting actually is, and I am very excited to start!

is a method using earthworms to turn food/organic waste into nutrient-rich compost. Vermicompost contains worm castings, bedding materials, and organic wastes at various stages of decomposition, and contains worms at various stages of development and other microorganisms associated with the composting process (2). Worm castings, or worm poop, is the end product formed after the earthworms break down organic materials. Worm castings contains many beneficial microbes and nutrients and is a very nutrient-rich plant fertilizer (2).
Vermicomposting is perfect for those living in urban areas. And if you are composting correctly, the compost bin shouldn't even smell at all!

What do you need to begin vermicomposting?
  • A container with a lid
  • Bedding material, such as shredded newspaper. Ink should be soy-based!
  • Moisture (ex. water in a spray bottle)
  • Redworms aka red wigglers or Eisenia fetida (Get them from a friend, or order them online, such as from WormWoman).
Shredding the newspaper
Photo courtesy of Lisa Gross
  • Drill ventilation holes around the top sides of the bin and on the lid. (The worms need oxygen to breathe. And drill small holes so your worms don't escape!)
Drilling the ventilation holes
Photo courtesy of Lisa Gross

It's all about teamwork
Photo courtesy of Lisa Gross
  • Completely FILL your bin with bedding, such as shredded newspaper. Ryan recommends to shred the newspaper thin, around ¼ to ½ inch thick.
  • Worms breathe through their skin, so the bedding needs to be moist. Spray the newspaper so that it's "fluffy and damp," but not soaking. You don't want your worms to drown!

  • Add the redworms and some food scraps to the bottom of your bin and let them get to work!
  • Be careful about OVERFEEDING your worms. You want to avoid the odors of rotting food, and you want to give the worms enough room to move around as they get adjusted in their new home!
  • Once your worms begin reproducing and become assimilated to their environment, you can begin feeding them more. Have excess food scraps? Refrigerate or freeze them for later!
  • You can add more bedding if it gets low, and be cautious that the bin doesn't become too moist.
  • Every few months, harvest your fertilizer! One easy way to do this is to put food scraps on one side of your bin to attract the majority of your worms (or you can also do this on the ground on top of some spread out newspaper/plastic). Once you've gathered /separated your compost and picked out any extra worms hiding inside, add some new bedding to your bin and you can begin the process all over again!
Sources: Ryan, myself, here, and here

A Word About Temperature:
  • Redworms are happiest at ~60-75 degrees F, but they can survive at temperatures of 50-80 degrees F.
DO compost
  • Raw vegetable products
  • PLAIN, cooked vegetable products (no oil added, etc.)
  • Eggshells (it's recommend to rinse them first)
  • Cereals and oatmeal
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Beans
  • Newspaper (with soy-based ink!)
DON'T compost
  • Meat, chicken, dairy, or fish products
  • Oily/greasy foods
  • Non-citrus fruits (they are completely compostable, but they may smell more and attract more flies)
  • Citrus fruits- at a minimum, or just avoid them!
  • Bread- at a minimum
  • The smaller the food scraps/the larger the surface area of your food, the easier it will be for the worms to break it down! They "lick" rather than chew.
Some of Ryan's Recommended Sources:
-Fun fact: Worms eat over half their body weight in organic matter a day.

What to do with your food scraps that aren't good for your redworms, or what to do if you aren't up for vermicomposting just yet?
Vermicomposting is a wonderful way to recycle your food and to create some very healthy and nutrient-rich soil!

Have questions for Ryan about vermicomposting? Contact him at compostboy[at]

Thanks to Ryan for a great workshop, great information, and for breaking down vermicomposting into a simple and easy process. Thanks to Erik Zornik as well, who also provided some great tips. And of course, thanks to the Urban Homesteaders' League for hosting this workshop. Look forward to an upcoming blog post on Worm Updates in the next few weeks!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

WWOOF! World Wide Opportunitites on Organic Farms

It's been awhile, but I wanted to say a few good words about WWOOF. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a world wide network linking individuals interested in volunteering on organic farms with farmers looking for volunteer help. In exchange for volunteering on a farm, room and board are provided for free! It's a wonderful and cheap way to travel, and there are WWOOF organizations all over the globe!

Last summer, I had such an amazing experience WWOOFing in Canada at the farm Artisans de la Terre. Located in Ste.-Marcelline, we were about 15 minutes away from the town Joliette, and about an hour away from Montréal.

What were my days like?
I was only required to work 5-6 hours a day, 6 days a week- although I often worked more than that because I wanted to. Growing a diverse range of vegetables (and a few fruits) was the focus of this farm at the time, although they are still expanding. The farm also had chickens and a few animals, and they distributed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) baskets twice a week. Although every day was different, some of my daily activities included feeding the chickens, watering the plants in the greenhouse, weeding, harvesting, helping to prepare the CSA baskets, helping to prepare meals in the kitchen, and more.

The house, the kiosque (farm stand), and the greenhouse

The barn and the greenhouse

Time to weed!

Bringing the chickens water

Preparing the CSA baskets

Besides getting to work outside and being able to work with some fabulous people (including some fellow WWOOFers), one of my favorite things at the farm were the communal meals. At lunch, they were an absolute must. After working for the majority of the day, it was wonderful to enjoy everyone's company for a group meal of delicious and farm-fresh food.

Making chapati

And because we were in the Québec region, I was able to practice my French skills and learn various farming terms and expressions en français! In addition, I learned how to cook with all the new vegetables I was being introduced to. (I now love kohlrabi, my second favorite vegetable after carrots!)

WWOOFing is a great way to learn about farming, sustainability practices, and where your food comes from, and it's a great way to travel and to improve your language skills as well!

Interested in WWOOFing?
Every country runs its WWOOF network just slightly differently, so look them up at There is usually a small fee to get the detailed listing with the addresses and contact information of the farms, but once you receive the booklet/online access for the detailed listing, you're all set to go! From there, the only fees you should need to pay for is transportation to and from your farm.

My insights as a WWOOFer:
  • It's usually recommended to stay at a farm for at least two weeks to get accustomed to it.
  • Most WWOOFers only stay at one particular farm for a few weeks. (Farm-hopping is common). If you're interested in staying for longer, it's sometimes recommended to see how the first two weeks go first, before making that extra commitment. But communicate with your farmer - it will all depend on the situation! I ended up staying at my farm for 6 weeks.
  • Farmers may be difficult to get a hold of. Don't give up, and be persistent! And don't always rely on e-mail, you may want to give the farmer a call (or 10 ;) ).
  • Communicate with your farmer ahead of time to make sure that you're on the same page, and so that you know each other's goals and expectations.
  • People's WWOOFing experiences vary, so you may also want to try searching online to see if the farm you're interested in has any past WWOOFing reviews.
WWOOFing again is definitely in my future! Please consider doing it, and ask me about it if you have any questions!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

CitySprouts' School Garden Celebration!

Last Saturday, I volunteered at CitySprouts' School Garden Celebration (formerly the Harvest Festival), which was a blast!
Despite the rainy weather, we had a fabulous set-up indoors, which still allowed us a view of the Graham & Parks school garden.

I had the opportunity to work at the Stone Soup station with JJ Gonson from Cuisine En Locale.

The kids did a wonderful job chopping up the vegetables for the soup, the majority of which were a generous donation from Parker Farm!
Photo courtesy of Susan Young

Although most of the festival was indoors, we cooked the stone soup outside. The soup, which was mostly vegetables, salt and pepper, and just a little bit of stock, came out delicious and warm and was perfect for the cold, rainy day.

At the celebration, each of the schools set up tables, held activities, and sold various items to help raise money for their gardens.

Photo courtesy of Susan Young

Activities during the day included pumpkin decorating by the Haggerty School, and apple cider pressing!

Photo courtesy of Susan Young
There were various informational booths at the festival, including one with School Nutritionist Dawn Olcott. Dawn coordinates the Tasty Choices program in the Cambridge Public Schools, which helps to bring more local foods into the school lunches.

In addition, the King Open School will be involved with the program Food to Flowers, part of an environmental iniative by Compost That Stuff and the City of Cambridge.
And how could I not take a picture of this gorgeous broccoli?

Despite the rainy weather, the School Garden Celebration was very well attended by children, parents, and the community.

CitySprouts' is a nonprofit that now maintains gardens in ALL of the public schools in Cambridge, and helps to incorporate these gardens into the school curriculum. Read my previous post about interning with CitySprouts. Interested in volunteering? Find out more information here!

All photos taken by Annabelle Ho unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Gaining Ground and Time For Lunch!

On Labor Day, I had a wonderful time with Slow Food Boston at their Eat-In at Gaining Ground in Concord.

The pavilion

Begun in 1994, Gaining Ground grows fruits and vegetables using organic methods. ALL of Gaining Ground's produce is donated to food pantries and meal programs within 20 miles of the farm, and within 24 hours of harvest!!! With a small staff and most of the work on the farm performed by volunteers, it's great what Gaining Ground is able to accomplish! And anyone can volunteer - read more details about volunteering here.

What a huge scale!

Onions galore

Drying the garlic

Love the bees!

Slow Food Boston's volunteer day at Gaining Ground involved 1-2 hours of farm work, with plenty of weeding!

The Crew

Afterward, we broke for the Eat-In portion of the day with a delicious potluck that included potatoes with home-cured bacon, red quinoa, a beet salad, and much more! The Eat-In was a part of Slow Food USA's Time for Lunch Campaign.

The Child Nutrition Act, which governs the National School Lunch Program, is reauthorized in Congress every 4-5 years. Since school budgets have been cut, schools have been struggling to give children the real food they need. And because the Children Nutrition Act is being reviewed this fall, it's time to tell Congress that real food needs to be in school lunches! If you are concerned about the food that is in school lunch, sign the petition and read more about how to get involved!

Monday, August 31, 2009

CitySprouts (and The Food Project)!

This summer I had the fabulous opportunity to intern with the organization CitySprouts. Based in Cambridge, MA, this nonprofit will maintain gardens in all of Cambridge's public K-8 schools by this fall.

During the academic year, the CitySprouts' garden coordinators work with the Cambridge school teachers to incorporate the gardens into the school curriculum. Additionally, during the summer, CitySprouts runs a middle school intern program, in which middle school students learn, among other things, how to grow, harvest, and prepare food in an urban environment.

During my internship, I was able to assist two of the garden coordinators with their middle school intern programs, and I held two of the school garden drop-ins while the middle school intern program was in session. I also had the opportunity to work in the CitySprouts office, allowing me to see both sides of the organization.

Working with the CitySprouts staff, and interacting with the other college interns, parents, students, and volunteers in the community was definitely an amazing experience! I would highly recommend volunteering with CitySprouts and volunteering at the CitySprouts' drop-ins, which are held at the various public schools all over Cambridge, from the end of April until mid-November.

And, as you can see, I also had a wonderful time taking plenty of photos during my internship. I am working on creating an online photo album with all of the pictures that I took- I simply could not resist taking pictures of all the beautiful vegetables, flowers, and plants that were in the gardens!!!

And if you do not live in Cambridge, there are plenty of other organizations to volunteer with to get your hands dirty, including The Food Project! The Food Project's mission is to "grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system." During certain times of the year, individuals can volunteer at their drop ins at their Lincoln and Roxbury locations on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. In May, I had the opportunity to volunteer at The Food Project in Roxbury with a group that I am involved with, Slow Food BU. Read about SFBU's experience at The Food Project here!

I cannot believe that classes are starting again and that it will already be September. But that also means that cranberries, pumpkins, and winter squashes will be in season!

Have a great week!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Get Your Ferment On - Fermented Veggies, Food Preservation, & Live Active Cultures!

Today's post is dedicated to the wonderful world of fermented veggies.

To start off, here are a few definitions to clear up some initial confusion:
  • Lacto fermentation- "using salt to suppress spoiling bacteria while fostering growth of beneficial lacto bacillus bacteria, which are present on vegetables and produce the preservative lactic acid." (1)
  • Pickling- "Using vinegar to preserve vegetables or fruits along with spices and herbs."
  • Hot water bath canning- "using a boiling pot of water to push air out of sealing-lid glass jars containing high acid foods." (1)
  • Pressure canning- "Using a pressurized canner to create even higher temperatures (steam) that pushes out air and seals the lid of glass jars containing low acid foods." (1)
  • Culturing- "Using microorganisms to transform the sugars or lactose of various liquid foods into other kinds of nutritious and tasty substances." (1)
Vegetables usually ferment best when using a brine, which is basically salt dissolved in water (2, pg. 38). In some vegetable ferments, such as sauerkraut (aka fermented cabbage), the salt draws water out the vegetables via osmosis (2, pg. 38). Meanwhile, in other vegetable ferments, such as cucumber pickles, a brine solution is mixed separately and then poured on the vegetables (2, pg 38). The salty environment prevents strains of several harmful and pathogenic bacteria from growing, while it encourages the growth of certain desired strains of bacteria- in particular, Lactobacilli (2, pg. 38-39).

In addition, the more salt you use (2, pg. 39):
  • The slower the fermentation process
  • The more acidic/sour the product
  • The longer the product will store for
Fermentation vessels include crocks or simply large, glass wide-mouth jars. A smaller glass jar can be placed inside a wide-mouth jar to put pressure and weight on the fermenting vegetables.

And fermenting vegetables can be as simple as this:
  • Make a brine by dissolving ~3 tbsp salt in 4 cups water (or to taste)
  • Put 1.5-2 lbs of cut up vegetables (for ex., cabbage, carrots, beans, squash, radish root vegetables, a combination, etc.) into crock(s) or jar(s). This can be done with or without the addition of spices or herbs (for ex., whole peppercorns, mustard seed, caraway, dill, etc.)
  • Pour the saltwater brine over the vegetables, making sure that the vegetables are submerged in the liquid.
  • Put a plate or weight on top of the vegetables to weigh the veggies down.
  • Put a cloth or towel over the container, and let sit at room temperature for 2-4 days (to taste)
  • When the vegetables are ready, store in the fridge

Helpful hints:

  • It is important to make sure that the vegetables remain submerged, because fermentation is an anaerobic (without oxygen) process. If there are vegetables above the liquid, they will be exposed to oxygen, and can encourage the growth of mold.
  • Try to remember to check on your fermented veggies everyday and make sure that they are submerged under the brine, and also taste them to see if they are ready for refrigeration. If there are any moldy veggies on top, you can just remove them (the mold only grows on the surface). And if there is water loss by evaporation, simply add more brine to your fermenting vegetables.
  • Fermentation occurs more quickly at higher temperatures.

By making your own fermented vegetables, (including sauerkraut, sour beets, kimchi, and more), you can control the saltiness and sourness/acidity of your fermented food!

In addition, there are many benefits of fermentation and from eating fermented foods:
  • Fermentation preserves nutrients, and "breaks them down into more easily digestible forms" (2, pg. 6)
  • Fermentation creates new nutrients, such as B vitamins (ie. folic acid, riboflavin niacin, thiamin, and biotin) (2, pg. 6)
  • Fermentation "removes toxins from foods" (2, pg. 7)
  • "Many fermented foods can be consumed live...and alive is the most nutritious way to eat them" (2, pg. 7)
  • "Many commercially available fermented foods are pasteurized," such as commercially sold yogurt in stores, "which means [that they are] heated to the point at which [beneficicial and nonbeneficial] microorganisms die." (2, pg. 8)
  • "Lactobacillus fermentation inhibits the growth of diarrhea-related bacteria such as Shigella, Salmonella, and E. coli." (2, pg. 8)
  • Fermentation is another way to preserve foods.
After you've done it once, you'll find that fermenting vegetables is actually very easy! Look at my sample recipe above or links to some recipes below.

For more information on fermentation from Sandor Ellix Katz, read his book Wild Fermentation, or take a look at his website for recipes on how to make sauerkraut, pickles, and more!

In addition, Gabriel Cousens from the Tree of Life Rejuvination Center provides a little information on fermented foods in his book Conscious Eating. Preview Conscious Eating here through Google Books, and go to page 743 to read the section on Fermented Vegetables and also to find a few recipes.

In his book, Gabriel Cousens notes:

  • "Sauerkrauts are fermented foods that help re-populate the colon with health-promoting, lactic acid-producing bacteria. Raw sauerkraut has these healthy bacteria, but store-bought, pasteurized sauerkraut does not." (3, pg. 743)

And although I already went through some definitions, I would like to reiterate that room temperature vegetable ferments are not the same as pickled vegetables made and stored in vinegar (when you put the vegetables directly in the fridge for preservation/to develop flavor). Although both are food preservation methods, vegetables fermented at room or warm temperatures for several days or weeks rely on the bacteria lactobacilli to create lactic acid. Thus, these fermented vegetables contain live active cultures. Read a little more info on this subject here.

If you would like some more reading on sauerkraut fermentation, look no further.

And on another note, the other day I was at the Russian grocery store Bazaar in Brookline, and I tried a pickled apple! I probably won't be getting one again, but it wasn't bad! (It was sweet and sour at the same time!)

Happy Friday everyone! :)


  1. Ben Grosscup. "9-19-09: Date of Food Preservation Workshop Near You." NOFA - Massachusetts News - August-October 2009, p. 4.
  2. Katz, Sandor Ellix. Wild Fermentation. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003.
  3. Cousens, Gabriel. Conscious Eating. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 2000.