Notes from NOFA

“One of the challenges facing agriculture is that people take their food for granted. And when you take your food for granted you make bad choices about agriculture…We’re losing the ability to feed ourselves.”

Those insights come from Kevin Engelbert’s closing keynote address for last weekend’s Northeast Organic Farming Association‘s (NOFA) New York winter conference. Kevin was the first ever organic dairy farmer in the U.S.

I got to spend last weekend at the conference in Saratoga Springs along with an amazing group of well over a thousand farmers and food activists. I was there to teach a food preservation workshop.


I also got to share a drink and a conversation with my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer, Ted Blomgren of Windflower Farm. I ran into Nancy and Alan, my main meat farmers from Lewis Waite Farm, Paula Lukats of Just Food, Melissa Danielle of Honey Bee Holistic.

(I’m doing a foraging tour for Honey Bee in April–it’ll be on the updated class and event list I will be posting, um, really, really soon.)

I met up with the folks from Silver Heights Farm who grow most of the seedlings I use for my veg and herb classes at NYBG and BBG, and met many delightful new-to-me folks.

Taking a workshop on how to build your own “self-watering” container meant that I got to bring one of those contraptions home. This easy and cheap to make container is the equivalent of the pricey “Earth Boxes.” I’ve experienced the high yield the latter gives, and am excited to try out this homespun version.

I was so psyched to learn about StolorOrganics veg oil made from locally grown sunflower seeds that I lugged a a quart of it home with me (along with the self-watering container and the heap of canning gear I’d brought with me). Tip: their latest batch will be available in 1-2 months, and the farmer told me that it tested with a super-high smoke point, higher than previous batches.


There was a wonderfully enthusiastic and optimistic energy at the conference. Perhaps that buoyancy was needed to balance all of the essential discussions about the major issues tethered to agriculture today.

When talking about the challenges facing sustainable and organic farming, Kevin Engelbert pointed out that the modern concept that the highest, best use for land is development is  dangerous and false: “Any piece of land that can grow something has reached the peak of its development,” he said, contrasting that point of view with the one that considers farming a temporary land use until the land can be sold, paved over, built upon.

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Miriam’s Malabi

I’ve been back just over a week, and I’ve almost adjusted to being back in this snowy landscape


after this:


Before too much more time goes by, I want to mention the wonderful lunch we had with my long-time friend Miriam of Israeli Kitchen. She cooked a scrumptious meal of many courses. It included her sourdough bread, and mushrooms with grape vine leaves (an Elizabeth David recipe that I was tickled to recognize, one foodie to another).

She also made a dessert called malabi. It’s a light pudding flavored with rose water and the recipe for it is here.

Here’s me finishing up the malabi. I don’t think I was talking with my mouth full, but I can’t promise.


I’ve got some folks coming over for dinner tomorrow and I think I’ll try making some malabi for them. A friend once told me never to make “virgin” recipes, i.e. ones you haven’t made before, for guests, but that’s a rule I’ve broken too many times to take seriously now.

I’d also like to mention that a forager’s eye is always on the lookout, and mine was delighted to spot this bountiful watercress along the Jordan river (Ellen, Mark–you know I thought of your patch in PA when we found this!)


Okay, so maybe I haven’t fully adjusted to being back. I’m still waking up stupidly early. And there’s this guy I’m sweet on who’s there not here. Sigh.

Meanwhile, time to nuzzle up with Ella and make the most of my winter pantry.

Stay warm.

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Breakfast with Cesar

When we climbed out of the jeep at 6:45 a.m., Cesar was already starting a fire to cook our breakfast on.campfire-cooking

Back in Brooklyn it was still deep winter, but on this forested hillside in Jerusalem, spring was starting. The first daffodils were blooming among the rocks, and hundreds of cyclamen plants were popping up, promising a spectacular show in a week or two.israeli-daffs

Cesar is a Russian gentleman, Georgian to be exact. He is one of my friend Ricky’s “morning mates,” and they meet when they are letting their dogs chase after deer and romp with each other among the trees. ricky-and-cesar

Cesar had brought the makings of bloody marys, but first Ricky popped open the cava (Spanish sparkling wine) that we’d brought. It was that kind of morning.

Cesar sliced the two different cured meats he’d brought, both of which he’d made. I took out the hen of the woods a.k.a. maitake mushroom that was among our contributions to the morning’s feast (I’d given Ricky some of the haul I foraged and dehydrated last fall).

Cesar tapped a peg into a tree trunk to hang his jacket on, and then got back to the serious business of breakfast. He sautéed the “hen” along with his cured meats and some scallions in a skillet over the fire and then added eggs. We ate the delicious result along with some tomatoes and cucumbers we’d brought, plus radishes from Cesar’s garden. Sometime during the preparations Boris, another Georgian living in Jerusalem, joined us.

Cesar showed us his version of how to make and drink a bloody mary. This is done in a small glass, shotgun-style, and is much tastier than it sounds. So tasty, in fact, that I think I’ll make it my default version of this drink.bloody-mary

First, pour in a small bit of tomato juice (Ricky added a dash of salt and pepper). Then slowly, carefully pour vodka along the side of the glass so that it stays in a clear layer above the tomato juice. According to Cesar’s instructions, drink it all in one shot but take the vodka layer slowly and then knock back the tomato juice as a chaser.

The best part of the bloody mary was watching Cesar locate the vodka, which along with the cooking gear was stashed under rocks and branches in various places on the hillside.cesar-aftermath

Yes, there are many more stories from this visit to Israel, including the lovely meal cooked for us by Miriam of Israeli Kitchen. Stay tuned for more of those. But breakfast with Cesar was just as wonderful as floating in the Dead Sea and other parts of the journey.

I arrived in Israel on New Year’s Eve, so I haven’t had a chance to wish you this yet: Happy New Year! May 2011 turn out to be one of your favorite years.

Cesar front center, then clockwise Boris, Ricky, & Leda

Cesar front center, then clockwise Boris, Ricky, & Leda

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