Saturday, March 31, 2012

Haiku Blogging

Forty days of posts
Makes blogging minds so weary
Haiku posts this week

Eating strawberries
Grown forty minutes away
Such a good breakfast

Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't Let Good Fruit Go Bad

One of the first major projects I started working on in my VISTA year was to implement a "gleaning" program for Del Norte County.  My supervisor, Angela Glore, had had the idea for the program since before I started with Community Assistance Network, and she put me to work straight away getting started on it.  "Gleaning" is a term that orginated long ago in history, and dates back to at least biblical times; it refers to collecting extra food that would otherwise go to waste and giving it to the poor.  Large landowners and farmers would let peasants go through their fields after a large harvest and they were allowed to keep the extra produce that wasn't harvested.  Modern gleaning programs take that same basic idea and apply it to communities; volunteer harvesters go and collect extra produce from local farms, public spaces, and even peoples' backyards, and take the gleaned food to local food banks.

Our program, the Del Norte Community Gleaning Project, really took off last season.  We contacted 4H and got their Citizenship Group involved with the project; the Citizenship Group is a group of high schoolers who take on community service projects each year.  They go down to the California 4H convention in Sacramento every spring to present their ideas for projects, and when they presented the gleaning project, they won 1st place for their presentation, competing against 4H clubs from all over California.  Throughout the summer, the 4H kids and I collected produce from all over the county, primarily receiving extras from the harvests at Ocean Air Farms.  We also collected from Crescent City's Farmer's Market each Saturday, and the 4H kids even went and collected apples from backyard orchards which were then pressed and served as apple sauce at the Farmer's Market.  In total, from May through November, we were able to collect 4144 lbs. of produce.  All of that food was distributed through CAN's food bank, to the people who need it most.

Gleaning programs exist all over the country, but our program was most directly inspired by Food For People, the network of food banks in Humboldt County.  Food For People has a well established gleaning program that primarily gleans from the multitude of small organic farms around Humboldt.  Each year, they take in thousands of pounds of food that is distributed through their food banks.  When we were first getting our program off the ground, we talked a lot with Jason Whitley, who heads up FFP's gleaning, who gave a lot of advice and assistance to us as we were starting.  Just a few weeks ago, Angela, VISTA Laura, and I took a work trip down to Humboldt and happened to run into Jason at Cafe Brio in Arcata.  As luck would have it, he was about to head out to Eddie Tanner's Deep Seeded Farm to do a gleaning pickup, and we had a couple hours to kill.  We went out to Eddie's farm and spent the next two hours harvesting beets, kale, cauliflower,  and spinach.  We didn't get a final weight from Jason, but we harvested a van full and all of it got sent off to be distributed at the food bank.

The Community Gleaning Project will be collecting produce again this year.  We'll be at each Farmer's Market and we encourage anyone who might have extra produce to call us any time and we will come out and harvest it for you.  We're also always looking for extra volunteers to come out and help collect.  If you are interested in getting involved in any way, contact me at or (707) 464-9190.  Also, check us out on Facebook: "Del Norte Community Gleaning Project."  And follow us on Twitter @GleanDelNorte.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cutting Some of that Red Tape

I was reading recently (here, in NPR's food blog) that there's research that favors using local foods as the more efficient option when administering aid. Which is contrary to current policy. Currently, it is required that we Americans "Buy American" for the rest of the world. It was a policy developed to promote the interests of domestic agriculture. A little extra cash in Farmer Joe's pocket wasn't so bad, when the government would buy his grain and distribute it to foreign aid organizations. But this has evolved into a system that largely benefits large crop-specific (often for GM crops) and shipping lobbies, instead of  Farmer Joe, the family farmer, or agriculture as a whole.

Since 2008, 75% of all food aid, paid for by the U.S. government has been required to be purchased from the U.S. and shipped on  U.S. preferred vessels. Before that, 100% was purchased and shipped from the states. This costs a lot of time and money. When it takes a long time to get food to hungry people, food organizations are forced to face more extreme bouts of hunger than they would have to if the food were more readily available. It's estimated that we could cut off 14 weeks of waiting for a response to a crisis. Imagine having to wait 3 1/2 months for fresh food after an earth quake.
Changes could be made to Farm Bill that would speed up the process and feed 17 million more food than we do now - with the money we are already spending. Only 47% of the food aid budget goes to actual food - the rest is red tape, shipping, overhead, markups for growing and shipping regulations.

Letting the people have a little more say in where their food comes from could do a lot of good. The people would feel comfortable with the food their provided - local foods being the familiar sort. Aid organizations would be better prepared to respond quickly in the event of a crisis. Local farms would be supported, and these people could start working their way toward their own sustainable foods systems, economies. That sounds like a lot of good. But then how much of aid work should be in line with foreign policy and trade?

Here's an online form to Tell Congress to cut the red tape. Or follow this link to find contact information for your congress members, if you'd like to write a more personal letter.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Training an Orchard

Well, first things first... It turns out that I've been describing this thing all wrong.  For over a month now I've been promoting this event as a free "pruning" workshop to prune the new orchard at Mountain School.  After two blog posts, multiple Facebook mentions, and dozens of flyers distributed, I found out that there would actually be no pruning taking place at all.  At the start of our free workshop, the first thing I learned was that with first-year saplings you don't prune the trees, you "train" them.  So, despite my inaccurate description of the event, the day went on as planned for the first annual Gasquet Orchard Training Workshop.

Just as a reminder, this is the third installment in a series of blog posts I've written about the Gasquet Orchard Training (formerly Pruning) Workshop.  You can read the other posts here and here.  And I would like to sincerely thank Deborah Giraud from the UC Cooperative Extension for making the drive up from Eureka and braving the rain with us to teach us such a useful skillset.

And we certainly did brave the rain.  This day has been coming for over a month now, and due to the busy schedules of the planners, this was the time we could do it and we were going to get out there, rain or shine.  Luckily there has already sprung up a small group of Gasquet residents who are committed to this project and are eager to take part in any and all activities related to the new Gasquet Garden and Orchard.  We were also joined by a couple of US Forest Service firefighters who heard about the workshop and were curious to learn about pruning (excuse me, "training") from a pro.  We got pretty fully soaked through in the two hours we spent in the orchard, but spirits were high and we all had a good time and (hopefully) learned something about fruit tree maintenance.

Before heading and trimming
And what did we learn?  Well let me clarify the pruning vs. training situation.  The first thing Deborah taught us was that you don't "prune" first year trees.  Pruning is the practice of cutting back, or "heading" (more on that later), vegetative growth on mature trees in order to promote better fruit production.  Training is the practice of establishing proper structural support in your young tree by controlling the growth of the branches and trunk.  Proper training in a tree's first year ensures that it will not grow excessively bushy with weak limbs; sunlight would not get evenly distributed, the branches would not be able to support the fruit, and most importantly, the fruit would be too small and not taste very good at all.  After all, the main objective of training and pruning is to control the distribution of the tree's resources in order to produce big, delicious fruit.

After heading and trimming
 The way you train trees is by going to work on them with a pair of pruning shears.  The objective is to give your tree a strong trunk or central leader, and to have a few strong branches that are evenly spaced apart on the trunk.  Our fruit trees had already grown a number of small, first year branches from the nursery, so we had to remove quite a few branches and cut back the branches we were keeping.  When you're training your tree, there are two types of cut you make: heading and thinning.  Thinning a branch is when you cut it off at the trunk, ensuring it won't grow back, and giving your keeper branches more space and access to sunlight.  Heading is when you shorten a branch down in order to help it grow stronger and have more girth.  As you make your heading and thinning cuts, you keep in mind the type of structure or arrangment that you want to give your tree, and there are a few different options.

The basic options you have for arrangement are central leader, open center, and y-shaped.

Central Leader

    Open Center

  • Central Leader might be the most recognizable, as it most resembles basic "tree" structure.  You have a strong, predominant trunk with your scaffolding limbs (branches) evenly distributed around around the trunk.
  • Open Center is an effective arrangment for having even sunlight distribution coming to the tree.  There is no central leader, and instead has 3 or 4 main scaffold limbs that are (in theory) evenly spaced apart around the trunk.  This method also makes future pruning and harvesting very easy since the trees don't grow as tall.
  • Y-Shape: similar to the open center except you leave only two primary scaffolds.  This is a good way to utilize space in an orchard, if you train the "Y" to be perpendicular to your row of trees.
Each of the different types of arrangments will work best for different types of fruit trees, but those are the basic shapes you want to give your tree and each one of them will work well.  The method we primarily used for our fruit trees was the "central leader" but a few of them will most likely end up being "open center" depending on how they are pruned next year and the following years.  We just went with the natural shape that the trees already had.

Another technique used in controlling your trees' arrangment, beyond just properly training with the right cuts, is to use spacers between your scaffolds.  If you are trying to create an open center tree but your scaffolds are too close together, or if the angle is too tight and the scaffold gets too close to the leader, you can wedge something between them in order to get the shape you want.  We used this technique on a few of our trees, including this one which we want to be an open center:

We ended up getting all 24 of the fruit trees trained in well under 2 hours, which really went by in a flash, despite the rain.  You may have noticed at the top of today's post, I called this event the "first annual" Gasquet Orchard Training Workshop.  That's because we intend to continue with this event each year to make sure they properly develop; one of the most important lessons we learned is that fruit trees need to be maintained and observed every season to ensure a healthy tree.  Continuing the tradition each year will also open up the possibility of learning new things.  This entire workshop centered around how to train first-year trees, but the practice of pruning fully mature fruit trees is a whole other set of skills and knowledge.  We'll carry on with the orchard and make sure that it develops right.  Hope you can make it next year!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unplugging and Undoing

Committing to forty blogs for the forty days of Lent has confirmed it for me. There's a day for everything, and every day has a thing. There was World Water Day and Crab Meat Day and International Women's Day that we blogged about. There was Spinach Day and Reagan's Frozen Foods Day that we didn't. Some days seem more poignant than others.

I found another day, National Day of Unplugging. The third annual event occured this past weekend.  The idea was to have a day of rest from wired, plugged-in living. It's no coincidence that it occurs during the sabbath of some religious traditions: from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. This sort of sabbath is directed at any modern gal or guy addicted to technology and wanting slow down for a bit, religious affiliations aside. Sabbath Manifesto and UNDO promote a weekly 'sabbath' like this, to encourage us to process the passing week and engage with the living and the breathing. There are ten principles, they say, to follow for a successful day off the grid. Among them, are "connect with loved ones, "nuture your health," get outside," "drink wine," "eat bread," "give back."

It's a lovely way to slow down and enjoy life. To enjoy nature and anothers company. To enjoy food. Every week UNDO posts suggestions for how to spend your day of rest. Last week they suggested sharing a plate of cookies with a neighbor you never speak to, asking a stranger what was the worst date they'd ever been on, making a meal using local produce and at least one unfamiliar ingredient. They even suggest outtings and events specific to New York, L.A. and San Fransisco. suggested trying an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable last week
I didn't directly participate in this year's national event (aside from not having internet connection at my house). I left my phone on, answered a few calls, a few texts. But maybe this weekend. Maybe I'll turn off my phone and have a picnic - there's plenty of nature to enjoy in these parts!

If you have any ideas about how to unplug and enjoy food and community in Del Norte this weekend - sound off!

Monday, March 26, 2012

World Water Day, Revisited

Just last week, we talked about World Water Day -- this year focused on agriculture's great thirst. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal featured an article about California's farmers in the central valley who are being faced with large scale cuts in irrigation water rights due to a dry winter. Many farmers are facing cutbacks in the amount of land they plant and harvest.

Many people argue that southern California is not an agricultural Eden and shouldn't be so heavily farmed, given the general scarcity of water and the engineering feats needed to bring water for irrigation. But the reality is that much of California depends on irrigation not just for successful farming, but for a successful economy. When large farms can't plant their full acreage, lay-offs are not far behind. The WSJ article demonstrates the ripple effect of cutting irrigation water: even the local Ford dealership expects to feel the pinch in fewer car sales over the next year.

Stories like this emphasize how deeply water is embedded in everything we do. Too little water for cotton equals too few car sales to keep a dealership financially healthy. That's the negative.

The positive? Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. Large-scale drip irrigation systems were first developed in Israel, where water conservation isn't a luxury -- it's a desperate need. Drip irrigation systems put water directly at the roots of the plants and use a fraction of the water used by sprinkler systems. The Green Revolution (the development of high-yielding plant varieties) tried to solve one problem, hunger, without considering related problems of land fertility and water use. It might be time for plant breeders to stop working on ever-increasing yields under "perfect" conditions and focus more attention on varieties that are drought-tolerant.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food Freshness-IQ

screen shot from the freshness-iq quiz

We talked recently about food storage and preservation, and being a part of the process instead of handing everything over to modern technology. Well, Sub-Zero, the giant of food preservation and refrigeration systems would argue that there is a way, that they have the technology to keep your food at it's freshest . I am not here to advertise for them or take a stance against their product. Simply put, I know I couldn't afford such a system, and I find the more idyllic, affordable and energy efficient root cellar to be more appealing to my romantic sensibilities. But what they did was put out an interactive quiz to test you on what you know about food storage. Do you know what ethylene gas is, which fruits emit it, which vegetables are sensitive to it? Do you know what kind of atmospheric conditions your tomatoes need to stay fresh? Take this quiz to see what you know. And even better? Every quiz completed earns a dollar for Food Corps, an AmeriCorps program that works specifically to gain food insecure youth access to fresh, nutritonal foods. Food Corps volunteers do this by delivering hands on nutrition education, building and tending school gardens and bringing high quality local foods into public school cafeterias.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Farm Bill

Approximately every five years, Congress re-authorizes what is usually called the Farm Bill. It is one of a few bills that is considered omnibus legislation, meaning that it covers a vast amount of legislative territory in a single, sweeping bill. The Farm Bill doesn't just include legislation directly linked to farms and agriculture. Many people argue that it should be call the Food Bill because of its wide-reaching effects on food and farming prices and profits.

This is a Farm Bill year and Growing Tables has posted about it before: here and here. Unless it is derailed by election-year politics, Congress will re-authorize by the end of the year. Rumors say that there will be no major changes in this bill, particularly none that favor small farms over agribusiness or consumers over profit. Change comes very slowly to the Farm Bill, but here are some resources for learning more:

Public Health Law and Policy has published a primer guide to the Farm Bill. This is their description of the primer:

"The Farm Bill is a major piece of agriculture and nutrition legislation that has a profound impact on public health. It not only affects farming and food production – it also ultimately determines the types of food we eat and how much it costs.

Community leaders across the country can play an important role in ensuring that Farm Bill spending helps promote health. This guide is designed to show the links between their work and federal policy, and to help identify ways to get involved in the Farm Bill reauthorization process."

Mayors of our nation's largest cities have gotten involved, sending this letter to Congress outlining their priorities for the Farm Bill, based on the food challenges their city residents face. The city of Seattle has gone further. They created the Seattle Farm Bill Principles -- meant to guide changes in Farm Bill legislation -- and have been working to get more cities and citizens to sign on to their principles.

The Farm Bill will affect us all. Learn more about it and raise your voice if you believe the priorities contained in past Farm Bills need to change.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Honesty is the best policy

Isn't honesty always the best policy?  That's one of those maxims we learn as children, right up there with the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  And like the Golden Rule, it's an important lesson for children but it's one that you should carry through your whole life, and it's disappointing when we see people in the adult world not abiding.  For instance, it's dishonest when the industries and companies that feed our country don't tell consumers if their food contains GMOs.

Honesty isn't too difficult.  Here, I'll start:  I honestly didn't have it in me to write an entire blog post today, so instead I'm linking to the homepage for the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act of 2012, a policy that would mandate honesty.  Give it a look and take a minute to consider the role that honesty plays in our national food system and the choices you make when it comes to food.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere: Happy World Water Day!

Living in Del Norte County, it can indeed feel like there is water everywhere. We are surrounded by the ocean, our wonderful rivers, and the water that falls so abundantly from our skies. Water plays a huge role in our lives here whether we are surfers, swimmers, fishers, or floaters: Del Norte folks work, play, and live with water.

In addition to all the visible and tangible ways we are connected to water, water plays a huge hidden role in our every day lives. This year, the slogan for World Water Day -- today! -- is "The World Is Thirsty Because We Are Hungry". Activities and promotional materials are highlighting the vast quantities of water used in food production, quantities that are expected to rise dramatically as the human population continues to grow and more people are opting into a Western, meat-heavy diet.

Here's the explanation of the theme from the UN's advocacy guide for World Water Day:

"UN-Water is dedicating World Water Day in 2012 to the theme of ‘Water and Food Security’.

The objective of WWD 2012 is to raise awareness on the relationship between water and food production and promote more sustainable food production and consumption patterns. It seeks both to alert the world of the adverse global situation in water and food security, and to encourage decision-makers to seize opportunities to address global challenges. Through showcasing success, it seeks to encourage decision-makers to initiate and sustain reforms and forward-looking approaches."

Many partners are involved in this work. One Drop has created a game and a water footprint calculator based on the amount of water required to produce particular foods. Their visual representations of what they call "virtual water" are stunning: a block of cheese spraying out water droplets as it's grated, an apple pouring off water as it's peeled.

WaterAid is highlighting the absence of safe drinking water for one in ten people living on Earth today. Water-sandal maker Teva is urging people to do a day without water. At the federal government level, the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department both promote World Water Day.

Teva's "One Song Shower" graphic is part of their Day Without Water Challenge

It's worth noting that the United Nations has been tying food security into many different messages this year. As you may recall if you read our post on International Women's Day, the theme was about ending hunger through women's empowerment. It is no coincidence that food security is a recurring theme. Food security is a real and pressing issue for many people both here and abroad, especially those who are living in poverty. With about 70% of fresh water consumption being used in food production, we cannot ignore the direct links between water security and food security.

You might not want to get too close to me today. Although I will continue to wash my hands as a health and safety concern, I am giving up my shower and tooth-brushing (apologies to my new dentist!) for the day.

[Update: I wrote this in advance with the full intention of not showering. However, an encounter of the dental kind yesterday had me feeling all fear/nervous sweaty, which is not a good feeling. I instead embraced the one-song shower challenge and had the water running for less than three minutes. I figure if I do that for the next week, I'll have made up for showering at all this morning. To make up for inadvertently deceiving our readers, I'm offering up another view of World Water Day.]

Here in Del Norte, we may be blessed with abundant water, but for many people around the world, obtaining sufficient fresh, clean water is an every day challenge. World Water Day is an opportunity to think about our water resources with a fresh perspective. How will you celebrate, acknowledge, or learn from World Water Day 2012?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Continuing with the Pruning...

A few weeks ago, at the start of our 40-day blog-a-thon for Lent, I did a post about pruning fruit trees, weddings, and why the two were occupying the same space in my mind.  I started research into pruning for a few reasons: it's a new skill, and I always want to learn new things; there was an upcoming wedding at my house, and the fruit trees needed to look immaculate; and I recently organized a work day to plant an entire orchard at Mountain School in Gasquet, and pruning first-year saplings is a crucial practice.

Since my post, I've been able to address two of my reasons for research, and I'm working on the third.  I've been reading up and I feel like I have a decent grasp on the basics of pruning, and I've already gone around my property and pruned the rose bushes and a Dogwood sapling that I planted last Autumn.  In preparation for the wedding, I had an experienced friend come out and go to work on the fruit trees, ensuring a contented bride.  And as for the orchard in Gasquet, well that's the next step.

Next Tuesday, the 27th, there will be a free workshop, for anyone who is interested, at the orchard at Mountain School in Gasquet.  Deborah Giraud, an orchardist from UC Cooperative Extension in Eureka, will be there to demonstrate proper pruning techniques, and we'll go through the orchard until every one of those fruit trees is ready for the Spring!  This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in fruit tree maintenance to come and learn from an expert about how to treat your trees and how to master the basics of the art of pruning.  If you're a Gasquet resident, this is also the perfect chance for you to check out the Gasquet Community Garden and get involved with the progress that's underway!

The workshop will start at 2:30, which I know is a prohibitive time for a lot of people, but we would love it for anyone to make it out at any time that afternoon that they can manage.  As for those who can't make it, I'll follow up the event with another blog post, detailing the turnout and sharing some of the new skills I learned.

Feel free to contact me with any questions at or 464-9190.  Deborah and I will be out there working on those trees, rain or shine, but if the rain keeps you indoors, we'll understand; just remember to check the blog for the follow-up coverage!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Food Drives, of the Virtual Sort

Yesterday was a food bank day at CAN, and I had the unique pleasure of spending my morning in the warehouse, pacing to keep my extremities warm between filling food boxes. The dried and canned goods were mine. A can of tomato soup per person, per box, a can of pineapple, noodles, rice, beans. Most of what I was packing was purchased by CAN. The produce and breads, the cheese and milk had been donated or gleaned from a local store.

Even gleaned items come at a cost (the cost of maintaining a food truck for example), and when local and federal governments tighten their belts and grant money is scarce, food banks have to be creative about filling the boxes for community members.

Virtual food drives have been popping up lately, as a way to support general and specific hunger related causes online. Some food banks have set up a template of their own that anyone can use. If a person or company wants to host a holiday or memorial drive, they have only to make a few clicks to customize it, and then post the link wherever they like. They range from the elaborate to the simple. The North Texas Food Bank'll provide you with lounge music and a grocery cart to fill on your virtual tour of the supermarket. Fill your cart with oranges and yogurt, juices and bread till you've reached the amount you'd like to donate. The less animated San Diego Food Bank will tally up your donations for you, if you'd like to buy them a case of peanut butter or sliced peaches.  Feeding America keeps it simple. Every dollar donated, they say, is eight meals, and you can donate in increments of 25 dollars.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy Spring!

The weather predictions do not reinforce the calendar, but nevertheless, tomorrow is the first day of spring! I am a big fan of four-season weather and love parts of each one, but I think spring is my favorite. My favorite flowers -- daffodils of all varieties -- appear in the spring. Spring is alive with possibility in a way that no other season is: seeds get planted, baby animals appear in the fields, the first green buds appear on the trees.

And, of course, there are many foods I associate with spring. On Facebook, a friend in Illinois has been posting pictures of the first morels of the season. I have spent happy, muddy, exhausting days with him, walking up and down the steep slopes behind his house, searching the ground for those elusive mushrooms. The deep "spring-ness" of this activity was always reinforced by the spring wildflowers we encountered: trillium, may-apples, Dutchman's britches, and others.

Spring brings asparagus and peas, new radishes and strawberries (eventually). In some parts of the world, it brings wild seasonal delicacies like ramps and morels. But my heart has a special place for this beauty:

Rhubarb is truly one of my very favorite foods. For decades (very literally -- I think I made my first when I was 12 and I am now three decades past 12), I have made a rhubarb tart that has become a staple recipe in my extended family. It was originally based on a recipe that came from Parade Magazine, of all places. The recipe was for a faux Linzer tart, with plain bread crumbs replacing the nuts in the crust. It called for canned cherry pie filling, and I made it that way the first time. But then rhubarb season arrived and this was clearly a crust recipe begging for rhubarb. To me, the first rhubarb tart of the season says that spring has truly arrived. Although the raised beds we inherited with our house are in rotten shape, one thing thriving are the divisions we made of an ancient rhubarb plant. I'll give it a few more weeks while I finish out my sugar-free Lent, and then I see my harbinger of spring, the rhubarb tart, on my plate.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Fresh Fruit & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one of the best perks of VISTA work is the opportunity to attend trainings.  My VISTA position is nearly up and I've just finished what most likely was my last training in this term, and it was a fitting end to a series of great opportunities in food trainings.  In the past year, I've gone to the ACGA Conference in New York City, an incredible experience where I learned about the action that communities take to increase their food sovereignty in the midst of food deserts; before that, I went to a training in Humboldt by Food For People where I learned, amongst other things, about gleaning projects and was inspired to start a gleaning project of our own in Del Norte; and in September I was even lucky enough to help host a conference of our own in Del Norte to teach others about our experiences in community gardens.

And after all those, I end my VISTA trainings with "Fresh Fruit and Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment."  Like I said in my previous post, the first day was mostly filled with information on incorporating more fresh food into school lunch programs, which was very interesting but not exactly relevant to the work I'm currently doing.  But that was just the first day, and honestly I'd go to just about any conference if it meant staying at the luxurious Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah.  The next day focused almost exclusively on working with school gardens.  My traveling companions, Angie Calleja and Suzanne Nurre are both school garden educators with the Network for a Healthy California, and I'm a community garden coordinator who has recently delved into the school garden setting, so this day of training was right up our alley.

Our first session of the day was about planning a garden for harvest around the school year.  You don't need to be a seasoned gardener yourself to know that a large part of all your harvest is going to come in the summer, when kids are out of school and no one is paying a garden worker to be there.  So how do you ensure that the students will get the chance to eat what they planted?? Careful planning!  We broke into small groups and created planting calendars for themed gardens (like a "salsa garden" where we plant tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and tomatillos) so that we could get a harvest either at the end of the school year or right when school starts up again in September.  This activity worked out perfect for me because I had just recently been struggling to come up with a cohesive planting calendar for the kids I work with at KRECR, and doing the themed gardens is such a good way to keep kids interested and to have a basic frame to create a calendar around.

A lot of the rest of the time was spent doing different garden activities that are perfect for engaging kids by using a school garden.  We also learned about different garden activities that are designed to meet state school standards for teaching different subjects, like language arts, math, and science.  Other activites we did included "Seedy Characters," where we dissected a pinto bean to examine the different parts of a seed and learn about plant reproduction.  We even got to make our own trail mix using six different types of seed.

Overall, it was a great conference that gave me some food training to help carry out the remainder of my VISTA term.  Traveling with Suzanne and Angie was likewise a blast; another perk of going to trainings is the friends you make on the trip.  As I mentioned before, not all of the conference was totally relevant, but it was part of what I think is the most important function of conferences and trainings:  re-igniting or strengthening the passion and excitement we feel for the work we do.  Though we always carry the interest and enthusiasm with us, going to these conferences every once in a while really gets your head and heart in the game and gears you up to go back out there and do great work.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Vegan Colcannon

 It's Saint Patty's Day! And I am here to drive animal products from today's diet as old Patty drove snakes from the Emerald Isle some three hundred years ago. At least, here's a vegan take on one traditional Irish dish. This particular version is just as comforting as the original, a little extra tasty.  In addition to the usual shredded cabbage, minced onion and mashed potatoes, this one has kale and garlic. It's just as green as the original, but a little extra pretty. This one uses purple potatoes instead of russet or yukon for depth of color and flavor.  Paired with a good vegan stout, with a fire roaring in my hearth, friends on my couch, rain outside, it's like being in Ireland, a vegan Ireland.

2 pounds purple potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, minced
1 leek, minced
3 cups kale, shredded
3 cups green cabbage, shredded
1/3 cup non-hydrogenated margarine
3/4 cup soymilk, hot
salt and pepper to taste

Place the potatoes with a little salt in a saucepan with enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer, covered until soft, for about ten minutes.

Heat the oil in a large pan, and sautee garlic, onions and leeks till just tender. Add the cabbage and kale, salt and pepper, cover and cook till wilted, but still crisp.

Strain the water from the potatoes and mash with the margarine and soymilk. Mix in to the greens, adjust seasoning and enjoy while hot!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Willy Wonka Approved Food!

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we all decided to blog about something related to the holiday for the day before, the day of, and the day after. My post is about a quest. My sweet husband, currently relaxing after tonight's performance of Willy Wonka, is vegetarian, as am I. For YEARS I have heard him pine for a good vegetarian reuben sandwich. For those who may not know the reuben, it is a glorious amalgam of corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese, usually served on rye bread with Russian dressing. 

I have tried a few times before to create a vegetarian corned "beef" without much success. The closest I've come is with seitan -- a very chewy wheat protein. After mixing gluten with water, seitan gets simmered in stock for a long time, and in my last attempt, I made the broth with corning spices, hoping that would impart some corned beef flavor. It didn't entirely work. Once you combined it with swiss cheese and sauerkraut, it was ok, but not great.

Part of what was missing was some fat. Seitan is very close to fat-free, so adding a little bit of fat seemed like a good idea. I also needed to add some umami, that fifth flavor found in miso, soy sauce, anchovies, and other rich, salty foods. 

I started by steeping the water for the seitan with a vegetable bullion cube (not something I usually use, but I also don't usually try to recreate meat) and a couple tablespoons of corning spices. I strained it over the gluten flour to build a base of flavor. When I simmered the seitan slices, I added soy sauce, another bullion cube, and a tea ball of corning spices to the water. 

Then it was time to add some fat and umami. I made a marinade of olive oil, miso paste, a small amount of ketchup (in a vain attempt to give it an attractive color), and some mustard. My logic with the mustard was that maybe we just needed other "deli" flavors to fool our palates. I tossed the still-hot seitan with this marinade, and once it cooled, I let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours. Tonight, I slow-baked it at 275 for about an hour. Even by itself, it's the closest thing I've tasted to corned beef since 1985.

Enter Willy Wonka from stage left. Being funny for two hours in front of an audience makes a man hungry, so I suggested that a reuben was a possibility. His verdict? I believe his exact words were, "I would never stop eating this." It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, I know, but once he was finished, there were many mumblings of, "OH. That sandwich!!" I think I may have reached the end-zone of this quest. I see a few opportunities for improvement, but the basic technique is solid, I think.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!

(My apologies for the lack of photographs. Truly, seitan is not attractive. At one point, it looked like I had a dozen large, slightly off-color banana slugs lying on my cutting board. You didn't want to see that anyway.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fresh Fruits & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment


As a member of the CAN Food Team Blog Squad, I get the pleasure of live-blogging my trip to the Fresh Fruits & Vegetables: Centerpiece for a Healthy School Environment Conference.  I'm currently in Ukiah and have just attended the first day of the two-day training geared toward increasing the availability of fresh produce in schools.  This is Part 2 of a two-part conference that is held each year by Healthy School Environments, and is open to school personnel and community partners.  I've traveled down here with two garden coordinators, Angela and Suzanne, from the Network for a Healthy California in Del Norte, and so far this has been one of the best opportunities I've had to fulfill my mandated in-service trainings as a VISTA.

My traveling companions and I left Del Norte yesterday morning, giving us ample time to navigate the big school district van through the inclement Northern California weather at a nice relaxed pace, getting us safely to Vichy Springs Resort in Ukiah with plenty of daylight hours left in the day (thank you Daylight Savings Time!).  And it's a good thing we did, because our accommodations are possibly the best I've experienced on a work trip, and these grounds needed exploring right away.  Angela and Suzanne travel in style, and when after taking a dip in the natural mineral bath (which has been visited by the likes of Mark Twain, Jack London, and Teddy Roosevelt), I made the decision to always go on future work trips with these two and always let them choose the destination.  (kids, sometimes it pays to be a VISTA)

But of course, this isn't a resort trip, it is a work trip; lucky for us, learning about healthy foods in schools is hardly considered "work."  The conference started bright and early this morning with John Fisher from UC Santa Cruz's Life Lab Program and Deborah Beall of the CA Dept. of Education describing all the new developments that have been taking place in the world of food and schools; like Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign and the USDA's release of the new Choose My Plate meal guide.  One of the best features of any conference you attend has to be the SWAG; these guys had a great selection of free seeds and starts, and I got a giant stack of informational fruit and veggie display cards (I take pleasure in simple things).

The main focus of the day was looking at ways to get more fresh produce into school lunch programs, whether it be through utilizing your school's garden, getting creative with the salad bar, or contracting with local farmers.  We heard from Michelle Malm and Pilar Gray, Directors of Kelseyville's and Ft. Bragg's School Food Services, respectively.  It's incredible to see what they have done with their districts' food programs through the years and you could see what drives them: sheer dedication and belief in combatting our societies ills by starting with the plate.

The end of the day was spent learning about waste management in school districts, focusing on starting recycling and composting programs at school sites, which is such an "easy win" for schools on a multitude of fronts: saving money, keeping kids active, opportunities for learning biology, engaging with businesses in the community, etc.

It's been a great day of conferencing, and tomorrow we have a series of sessions on garden-based nutrition education to look forward to.  In a few days I'll have a more comprehensive post about the entire trip, but so far, so good.  And now the mineral baths are calling my name!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ginger Grapefruit Curd

Heidi, author of the blog 101 Cookbooks, is a woman after my own heart. She describes herself as someone who loves natural foods, takes lots of pictures, does a good amount of globetrotting, and likes to make lists of her favorite things. She's a regular step ahead of me, documenting that something I hadn't quite thought of yet, providing me with a running list of things to try. She's been on a bit of a Morroccan kick lately -  posting poloroids from her trip and recipes for Mint Roasted Veggies, Baby Carrot Salad and Ginger Grapefruit Curd. It inspired me to try my hand at a citrus curd and make a whole meal inspired by Moroccan flavors: Vegetarian Harira, couscous dressed with tahini and lemon juice and basic biscuits as the canvas for our citrusy dessert. I suspect this curd'd be good on anything (say shortbread or toast or panna cotta!), but if you go for biscuits, use whatever dairy or sugar you have on hand. I put in 3/4 plain low-fat yogurt and 1/4 heavy cream. Before baking, I brushed the tops with cream and sprinkled on a bit of cinnamon to offset the freshness of the grapefruit and play up the bite of the ginger.  

It's surprising how easy this recipe is, how creamy and luxurious the results:

1 cup / 240 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, strained
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp / soft
1/2 cup granulated sugar or honey, optional
2 large egg yolks, preferably room temp
2 large eggs , preferably room temp
1/8 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained
1 tablespoon fresh ginger juice (made by pressing grated ginger through a strainer)

Simmer the grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, reducing to 1/2 cup / 120 ml. Let it cool a bit.

Cream the butter in a medium stainless steel bowl (note: you'll use this bowl as a makeshift double-boiler later). Add the sugar and beat until fluffy and light. Add the yolks, and then the eggs one at a time, beating well to incorporate after each addition. Stir in the salt, and then gradually add the grapefruit juice, lemon juice, and ginger juice - working the juice in as you go.

Rinse out the small saucepan you used earlier, and fill 1/3 of the way full with water. Bring to a simmer, and place your stainless steel bowl of curd on top of it. Stir constantly, and heat the curd slowly enough that the sugar (if you used it) has time to dissolve. This step usually takes me about ten minutes. Pull the curd from the heat when it is just thick enough to coat your spoon, around 166 degrees, F. Your curd will thick substantially as it cools. It's wonderful warm or cool.

Basic biscuit topped with cinnamon and curd

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Yes, Please, We'd Love One!

Value-added products such as jams and jellies, cheeses, baked goods, or other types of preserved foods can provide a real boost in revenue to local agriculture and small-scale food producers. The problem is that most health and food safety regulations are written for the "big guys": they require all sorts of equipment and cleaning systems that aren't as necessary if you're producing things by hand, in small batches, rather than tens of thousands of units a day.

So how do small producers break into the value-added product business if the investment in equipment and space is so high?

One way is to change the rules: that's what the California Homemade Food Act we wrote about earlier is trying to do. So-called "cottage food laws" have been enacted in many cities and counties to allow small producers to use home kitchens (still subject to inspection on demand, in most cases) to produce value-added products.

Another way is to create a big-guy facility that is available and used by small-scale food artisans. Marin and Humboldt Counties (and many others around the country) have done this with their FoodWorks programs. In Arcata, the Food Works Center provides office/storage space and access to a kitchen certifiable for processing foods for sale. It is heavily used, with a long waiting list, but it has helped several small businesses get off the ground. Facilities like this don't just help farmers and processors. They create jobs and new businesses that could eventually out-grow the shared facility and build their own.

Community Action Marin's FoodWorks is a bit different. They have staff that helps a customer bring a new product to market, but also do a lot of private label and co-packaging work. It doesn't provide as much independence to the processors, but still provides a great service to local farmers and processors.

This type of facility could be a real boon to any county. Imagine if Del Norte -- with our abundant blackberries taking over every inch they can grab -- could be exporting blackberry jam, blackberry pie filling, blackberry cordials, and blackberry syrup. Imagine our farmers market bursting with new, local vendors selling home-baked pies and breads, small-batch cheeses (or even ice creams!), chutneys, salsas, jams, jellies, and more.

If you're going to dream, I always say, dream big. So, maybe I should change the title: I'll take TWO!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Food On Film

In my previous life as a chronic academic, I taught a class called Anthropology Through Film and Fiction. We took four major cultural topics and viewed them through a variety of lenses, including films. Food is a central concern in anthropology -- from how it's produced to the rules governing when, where, and how it can be cooked and eaten -- and it was my favorite of our subjects.

There are so many great films and books about food. We watched Babette's Feast and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman. We read Like Water for Chocolate and Farmer Boy, a great view of the tremendous work involved food self-sufficiency. One year, we also watched Tampopo, which is a wonderful movie about food obsessions, but the raw egg scene freaks me out too much, so after the first year it was on a list of films they could watch on their own if they wanted more. I chalk that up to my years in food service, which were pretty much smack-dab in the middle of the Northeast's salmonella scare when over-easy eggs were featured in nightmares.

Today, there is a vast cultural shift taking place on the screen. Movie after movie is vilifying industrial agriculture; celebrating the local, the organic, the small; and shining a spotlight on how we eat. After decades of growth in industrial agriculture following World War II, people are starting to say no and the movement is being both documented in and driven by films that inform and/or expose industrial agriculture and the diet it supports. We have seen our national government resisting these changes, in the fight to continue to count pizza sauce as a serving of vegetables, for instance. This cultural shift, like so many, is being driven by grassroots action and even grassroots documentation.

There are too many films to name, but here are links for many of the films that have crossed my radar and that I've either seen or want to see:

King Corn
Forks Over Knives
Food, Inc.
Supersize Me
Fridays at the Farm
Dirt: The Movie
Food Stamped
The Garden
As We Sow
Food Matters
In Search of Good Food

There are many others out there. Have you seen any of these? Do you have a review to share? Do you know of other movies that should be on this list? Use our comments section to share!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Small and mid-sized farms create more jobs than large scale farms. The USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative has been re-tailored this year to stress this point, with hopes to make it into the Farm Bill again. The initiative got it's start in 2008, and was met with oposition, as it has been associated with giving federal funding to niche farms that don't feed a large percentage of the population.

But every million dollars spent on food from local and regional sources, goes to support 13 jobs. That's in significant contrast to the three jobs supported by every million dollars spent on foods from farms without a regional focus.

The USDA is working to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers. They're not just doing the obvious, providing funding for smaller, regionally-funded projects. They've provided an interactive map that shows the local projects they've helped along since 2008, which could potentially connect a consumer to a farmer in his or her region. Consumers and farmers alike have also been invited to take part in the discussion on local agriculture and job creation, using social media. On March 5, they held a forum on the key themes of the Know Your Farmer Compass:  local food infrastructure, stewardship and local food, local meat and poultry, farm to institution, healthy food access, careers in agriculture,  and local food knowledge. Hundreds of people used the Twitter hashtag #KYF2 to join the discussion, and asked questions of the Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Kathleen Merrigan, and 60-some others - experts on food policy and local food practioners. All of this is aimed at getting people connected with their food, the producers, the consumers and the policy-makers together.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fresh and Refrigerated Foods

'Conscientious Eating' is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Especially when we are talking about eating locally and seasonally. There are the usual arguments for building a sustainable food system. There are the environmental benefits of eliminating the thousand mile journey on a fossil-fueled semi, the health benefits of eating produce at its ripest. Most simply, though, people seem to like their food a lot better when they know where it comes from.
After we've thought about what we're eating and where it comes from, what about being conscientious about the way we store our foods? What about being involved in the keeping of food, not just the picking and preparing? I've been looking for an alternative to handing over all responsibility to the crisper drawer in hopes my veggies will be fresh and ready when I am. My refrigerator, currently the dumping grounds for all food items, can't be the most energy efficient option. It certainly isn't the most pragmatic. Since moving to the wet cloisters of Del Norte County, I've discovered the crisper drawer does not actually keep my carrots crisp. But neither does leaving them on the counter.

To save our food from the fridge, Jihyun Ryou, a Korean artist concerned with preserving foods and oral tradition, has designed an aesthitically pleasing way to put more traditional ways of storing food to work. "Objects," she says, "make invisible knowledge evident." That is, she has developed a way of visually reminding us what people before us, our grandmothers, our ancestors have known for ages: how to make food last. Using these objects gets us involved in the lives of our produce, instead of handing it over to technology. Here's a link to her blog documenting the project. As traditional wisdom would have it, it matters whether you store your apples with potatoes, whether you store your carrots upright, whether you give your eggs room to breathe. Whether this will work, and in Del Norte County, remains to be seen, but it seems worth a try. The more we can store outside the refrigerator, the smaller the refrigerator we'll need. And the less energy we'll consume.

one way to store root vegetables outside the fridge

There is always the venerable root cellar, too, for keeping vegetables fresh through the winter. The National Gardening Association has ideas for how to make a root cellar work for you, regardless of your living arrangements.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Crab, Sourdough, and.... Days

This post was inspired by my two co-workers, Angela Glore and Laura Jo Welter.  Yesterday, Angela wrote a fantastic post about a day that is truly worth recognition, International Women's Day; and today, Laura Jo was nice enough to share a fun idea when I was looking for a topic for today's post. 

Have "days" always been a thing? I don't mean that as in weekdays like Monday, Tuesday, etc., but having each day of the calendar year be a designated appreciation day, has it always been like this? Of course there has always been the big ones: Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Labor Day; but growing up, I can't remember all the other days having some sort of recognition attached.  Lately I've been noticing that, if you care to look it up, each day of the year has a plethora of "holidays" attached to it.  For instance, today is National Crab Meat Day, and if you do a little light Googling, you'll find out March 9th is also the day to celebrate "Learn What Your Name Means Day," "Panic Day," and "Registered Dietician Day."  I don't know what to make of this trend in day-designation, but I, for one, love it!

I choose to think that this trend exists for the simple fact that there is so much stuff in the world to appreciate that we can't waste a single day not being grateful for something.  And today that something is crab meat, a celebration I fully endorse.  We are still in the middle of crab season here in Del Norte, and even though we had a late start, some of the crabs that have been coming in are the biggest I've seen in years.  I recommend you observe this holiday and go down to the harbor and get some crab from Alber's and enjoy your Friday night with some fresh Del Norte crab!  If you're like me, you enjoy crab the most with some melted butter, cocktail sauce, sourdough, and beer or wine.

Speaking of sourdough, I've continued my venture in the world of baking with a couple of loaves of sourdough made with a fresh sourdough starter.  I blogged earlier this week about keeping a sourdough starter healthy (Sourdough), and on Wednesday night I used the starter to bake two loaves for the monthly Ferment Del Norte meeting.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. It is a celebration, a call to action, a time for reflection, a day to inspire. In the past year, as in all years, women have made new discoveries in science; acted to change their communities; taught children to read and write; worked with their partners to create loving homes; gained new freedoms; and grown and cooked food for their families and local markets. In the past year, as in all years, women have also been hungry; struggled to feed their children; suffered from preventable illnesses; died in childbirth; survived violence both inside and outside their homes (and sometimes, not survived); and faced unequal access to agricultural land, tools, knowledge, and credit.

This year, the theme for the United Nations celebration of International Women's Day is "Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty".  In explaining the theme on their website, they write:

"Key contributors to global economies, rural women play a critical role in both developed and developing nations — they enhance agricultural and rural development, improve food security and can help reduce poverty levels in their communities. In some parts of the world, women represent 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, comprising 43 percent of agricultural workers worldwide.

Estimates reveal that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger."

In some parts of the world, women produce most of the food grown for home use. Research has demonstrated that women who have secure land tenure -- that is, women who own or otherwise have full control over their agricultural land -- produce more food per acre, put more time and resources into improving their land, and are more likely to live above the poverty line. And yet women are often denied land ownership, access to agricultural education, and development dollars that are poured, instead, into high-value crops for export.

When women are given access to business opportunities, whether it is through micro-enterprise programs like the Grameen Bank and Kiva or through non-profit development organizations like Bead for Life and Heifer International, they are less likely to live in poverty. And because poverty is one of the best indicators of food insecurity, women with opportunities are also less likely to be food insecure.

Women have the ability to raise their families out of poverty and food insecurity, but if women continue to have restricted access to land, capital, opportunity, and education, "ending hunger and poverty" will remain a theme of International Women's Days for years, if not decades, to come.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala

"Where does our food come from?"  is a good question, and it rightfully gets asked and discussed pretty frequently.  The context I usually hear it in is when people want to consider their place in the vast, modern industrial food system; but today I was thinking about it in terms of the origins of specific cuisines.
I recently bought a tikka masala spice blend when I was at a great little spice shop in Bend, OR a couple weeks back.  I bought it for my parents because they, like me, love Indian food; my dad makes some pretty excellent curry, but I thought he might like to try a new line up of spices and flavors.  My dad also had a birthday coming up, and with his well-documented history of store-bought gift refusal it made for the perfect opportunity to use the new spices and cook him a birthday present he would really appreciate.  
When I told my co-workers about my dinner plans, our conversation casually turned to what the definitions of "tikka" and "masala" really are, and what it takes to define a dish as chicken tikka masala.  My curiosity piqued, I started to read a little bit about the origins of the ever-popular "Indian" dish....

Or was it really an Indian dish after all??  This is how ideas for blog posts come about, folks!

Some people might know chicken tikka masala (CTM) as "Britain's true national dish."  When I came across that phrase being used to describe CTM, I figured it had something to do with the old British/India trading routes; just like why a popular Western ale is known as India Pale Ale (British sailors used to pack their boats' beer supply with hops as a preservative for the long trip to India, which is why today's IPAs have that high hop content).  Maybe British traders tried CTM in India and were so enthralled that they brought it back to the home country and it just caught on?
However, I quickly learned that while "chicken tikka" is in fact an Indian cuisine ("tikka" refers to small chunks of meat), the popular dish with thick red sauce that we now know as chicken tikka masala is largely a British invention.  As the story goes, a British gent found his chicken tikka to be too dry and asked the chef to make a gravy to go with it; the chef proceeded to cook a can of tomato sauce and some yogurt in a bowl with some spices and served it to the patron as "tikka masala"("masala" refers to a mixture of spices).  A national treasure was born!
The dish became so popular that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook proclaimed it "Britain's true national dish," a demonstration of the multicultural palate and history of the empire!  


For chicken marinade:
4 boneless skinless chicken breast
2 cups plain greek yogurt
2 teaspoons tikka masala spice blend*

For sauce:
3 carrots
1 lbs. potatoes
1 jalapeno
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon tikka masala spice blend
2 teaspoons salt
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream

Chop chicken into bite-sized chunks.  Add spice blend to yogurt and combine with chicken in bowl, let sit for at least 4 hours.  Stick chicken onto skewers and lay on a greased baking sheet.  Preheat oven to broil on high heat.  Broil chicken until slightly browned and juices run clear. 

Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic and jalapeno for 1 minute. Season with 2 teaspoons masala blend, paprika, and 3 teaspoons salt. Stir in tomato sauce and cream. Simmer on low heat until sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop carrots and potatoes and either steam or boil until they're just a little bit soft.  Combine carrots, potatoes and chicken into sauce and let simmer for 10-20 minutes.

Serve over rice, with a side of raita.  Raita is a traditional Indian side dish made with yogurt; it's a great thing to pair with spicy curries when your mouth needs cooling down.  I make mine by adding chopped cucumber and some salt and mustard seed powder to yogurt, and sprinkling some cayenne pepper over the top.

And nothing tops off a proper multicultural meal like a nice, cold IPA!

*While I simply used a jar of tikka masala spice mix, you can easily make your own.  Here is a standard mix of spices that you would find in CTM:
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne