Month: June 2011

rainrainrainrainrainrainrainrainrain part 1

This is the only picture I could find that had proof that it rained. See the puddle. And if you look closely, you can tell I'm soaked.

The title of this post pretty much sums it up. Every time we set out to work on the shed, the director of this sadistic movie orders the clear blue sky away and calls in the clouds with the giant raindrop machines embedded inside. But at least it’s not too hot!

Before Mariah went home and made that pizza (I’m drooling just thinking about it), she and Carolyn, Wesley, Rebecca, Lucy and I all started the foundation of the shed… with some difficulty. We met at 2:30pm on Saturday, had a quick meeting and divvied up tasks (Mariah, Rebecca and I to get cinder blocks from the Crafts House and Lucy, Carolyn and Wesley to start tearing up the grass where the shed will go).

Moving blocks around. All 23 of them.

Moments later at 2:40pm, it POURED. This was no normal rainstorm. This was plotted by someone very high up who saw that it was just too nice a day for us to start building a shed. Of course. But we worked anyways. Using Mariah’s groaning car, we moved about 20 cinder blocks from the Crafts House down to the road that runs by the garden. But we still had to move them one last stretch (FACT: carrying the first block is fine. The eighth one feels like you’re lugging thirty blocks.)

Carolyn rewarding Ameri-Corps workers with peas.

Then all of us (plus some Ameri-Corps peeps that Carolyn enlisted) moved all the blocks up to the garden area. The diggers did an excellent job of tearing up the grass where we’re laying our foundation! With a little final work cleaning up the edges and moving extra dirt around, we declared our work done. It’s so exciting to see us get another step closer to the shed existing!

Sharing recipes after finishing the day's work

We ended the day with a mutually inspiring discussion on recently-made recipes (See Mariah’s post for the outcome of her inspiration!)I know I left the scene with many scratches and sore biceps and I am eternally grateful to everyone who helped out in the erratic weather. So much love to all of you.

Post-Workday Eats

After an afternoon of moving dirt and cinder blocks for the new shed, I picked some collard greens from the garden for a dinner treat. Greens in hand, I headed home to dream up something delicious.

Pretty successful...

I’d made a batch of cashew cheese that morning, so I decided to make pizza. My farmer’s market hauls this week resulted in beets and asparagus, which seemed like excellent topping choices to me. The cashew cheese was pretty simple. I let 1 1/2 cups of raw, unsalted cashews soak in salted water for about 18 hours (overnight) and then I drained them and tossed them into the blender with 2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbl of nutritional yeast, 6 tbl of water, a little lemon zest, and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. That went into the fridge to set for a while and I made pizza dough!

Pizza Dough

1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cups lukewarm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix the yeast into the warm water and then combine that mixture with the flour, olive oil, and salt. Stir gently. Form into a ball and then set aside to rise for an hour (covered in plastic wrap, in a warm place).

While the pizza dough rose, I sliced up a large beet and stemmed some asparagus and tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. I roasted those on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes at 350.

After an hour, I took the pizza dough out of its bowl and gently stretched it onto a greased cookie sheet. I set the oven at 525 as I topped the dough with hot sauce, a bit of cashew cheese, the sliced beets and asparagus, and thinly sliced ribbons of collard greens. I turned the oven up to 550 and put the pizza in for about 10-12 minutes.

Spicy and sweet.

The collard greens got perfectly crisp!

A pretty perfect end to a satisfying work day. The toppings were nice and crisp, but the cashew cheese kept the crust from drying out. I have about a handful of collard greens left and I’ll be trying to figure out some use for them tomorrow (as wraps for faux sushi? just on sandwich? sauteed in garlic?). As the summer goes on, I’m sure we’ll be coming up with more delicious concoctions from the garden and sharing them!

Rainy day reads

Squash before I left for the lil brother's graduation

It’s been a dreary couple of days up here in Boston. It definitely surprised me when I came back from my little brother’s graduation in Virginia where it was mostly in the 90’s and the sun only gave way to the stars and a crazy thunderstorm or two.

The squash after I came back! Some of it looked like it had DOUBLED in size in just five days. Whoa.

But the rain is good for our little garden (the plants are oh so happy)! Things really boomed while I was gone (they probably wanted to impress me, the little dears).

Squash flower after the morning rain.

It’s very exciting to see the plants flowering because you know what that means… well, flowers are the reproductive part of the plant.

Eggplant flower! I hear they're edible...

When two plants love each other very much/a pollinator or the wind does its job, the eggs of the plant is fertilized

and the seeds begin secreting a compound that expands its ovary walls.

But wait… its ovary walls? That’s right kids. You’re eating the ovary of a plant when you eat your fruit. But that’s the way they want it to be (I’m reading Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. I’m on the apple section. Plants are just using us, btw). So when we see a flower… fruit is soon to follow!

Zucchini sprouts

Right before I left, Gracie and I planted some lettuce, cucumbers, and zucchini where there was open soil (we harvested the kale and thus had a small free patch). I was pleasantly surprised to find them sprouted and well on their way to glory. (And to discover that the ghetto paper ID tags I’d laid on the soil were still kinda sorta legible.)

But the reason this post is labeled “Rainy day reads” is that 1. it’s rainy and 2. I just finished a book you should (in my opinion) all read: Deeply Rooted by Lisa Hamilton. Even if you don’t like farming and agriculture, the descriptions of the farmers and their land is just great. If you’re more into the urban food movement, I recommend Closing the Food Gap by Mark Winne. That, too, was a great read and changed the way I look at food in cities.

Tomato flowers with Gracie doing her thing in the background.

So all your days may not be rainy, but I bet some of them will be super hot and humid and you’d be best off reading a book.

West Coast Summer Gardening

Over the past few months, thanks to Mae Humiston, my fabulous visit to the rolling green hills of Virginia, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and the conclusion of two years of living off of TUDS industrial kitchens, I have developed a desire to get my own hands all soiled up. Literally.

Back home in the Bay Area, I searched out sustainable farming and gardening opportunities and stumbled across Full Circle Farms. Upon a quick GoogleMap search, it turned out that this wonderful farm turned out to be right next to one of my favorite spots for nighttime strolls! I have walked by the 11-acre plot a half-dozen times over the past year and since it obviously isn’t lit at night (can’t mess up those short-day plants!), I had no idea of the treasures buried on the other side of the chain-link fence.

I went to their open farm volunteering day last Sunday, hoping to learn a bit more about, well, everything. Interest in agriculture does not equal aptitude- just ask my said little planters outside. I started out weeding the single row of corn (Pollan would be proud), and later moved on to helping plant zucchini. The unusual June rains had left the air heavy with humidity, but being outside in the warm weather, chatting with new people, and the dirt under my fingernails felt as right as anything possibly could.

A garden appears!

The garden, almost cleared of grass

So when I showed up at the garden after going home for a couple weeks, the grass has taken over and was shading the plants! Ridiculous. So I cut the grass before and after work. With hand clippers. I got a lovely blister, but now it’s a nice calloused over patch. AND the garden is no longer shaded by absurdly tall grass. To tell you the truth, clipping the grass by hand was kind of therapeutic, almost like meditation. Plus, Lucy put the grass on the beds to serve as a down-pour protector (rain can wreck exposed soil) and a thin mulch that will decompose over time.

Our new friend, Ivan

After the garden reappeared from the jungle o’ tallness, I discovered our new garden friend Ivan, a PhD. student at Fletcher. He added a raised bed and watered our garden during our absence. He’s a chill guy with gardening experience

and he brings a few tips (did you know carnivore urine keeps away rabbits and other pests?)  His bed is a lovely sight with peas, tomatoes, basil, peppers and more, all very pretty and healthy looking, and most of them grown from peas (because it’s so much cheaper than buying seedlings, he says. This is too true.) I’m excited to have such a dedicated  guy contributing to our mission!

Mariana measuring the angle for the cut. Note the safety goggles!

During the time that I’m not at work or clipping grass by hand or meeting the people with the orderly raised beds in our garden, I’m helping Mariana build the shed! We moved all the wood from Signe’s house to mine in a daring feat of strapping plywood to a car roof and driving a block. It was exhilarating.

Then we (mostly Mariana, she’s the real worker here) harassed the neighbors with the screaming of the saw as we cut the pieces into their destined shapes. There were some struggles… mainly struggles with calculating angles since it IS summer and all, and the skilled math part of the brain usually disappears with the snow.

We paint shed walls white (with primer) wearing black sweatshirts.

But after several days of hard work on Mariana’s part, and some silly painting work by yours truly (I got paint on my back. That takes skill.) the pieces are almost ready to assemble. We’re just waiting on a go-ahead from Facilities (cross your fingers!)

Mariana is standing where we'd like to put the shed, she is small- so keep that in mind for scale

We’d like to put the shed between the path in front of South and the “entrance” to the garden. Why? 1. It’s flat already. 2. It’s out of the way of pedestrians and mowing. 3. We could use the side of the shed as an “info wall” and put up news and information about the garden so passers-by could stop and read about it instead of trekking across the grass (I just imagine some woman in high heels sinking into the ground with every step as she attempts to learn more about this fantastic little garden.)

And my last point for this post: today Gracie and I were joyfully reunited in a very appropriate place: the garden. We checked it out and decided it was time to do some real work.

A rebar and horse fencing solution to tying up tomato plants

We went back to my place, grabbed the hose, the mobile-hose-thing-with-cool-features, horse fencing and some rebar, and, in a feat of strength and endurance, carried it downhill to the garden.

We staked up the tomatoes in a fashion that I learned from my time at Wade’s Mill back home in Virginia (I recommend the yellow grits). One stretch of horse fencing supported by two pieces of rebar can serve many tomato plants, since two sides are accessible. We put up two sections of fencing, tying twine around sections and tucking tomato plants inside of the loops made. It’s hard to describe, so I’d check out a picture.

Some of the many seed packets we still have left (personally, I hope that cilantro never makes it into the garden)

There were some empty-ish patches, and we have a ton of seeds, so we pulled out the packs and determined that it was time to plant some more carrots.

Signe raved about purple carrots, so we seeded those and another variety around the tomato plants. We also replaced a horrible looking basil plant with new basil seeds, hoping a stronger batch will arise to glory.

Gracie watering the salad mix with the nozzle set on "shower"

With little hopeful pods in the ground, we watered the place with our new hose set-up! It was smooth, easy, beautiful, and the adjustable nozzle was a riot (for Gracie at least).

We also harvested some kale and collard greens! As much as I love to garden and cook, I have to admit… I’d never cooked with kale before (and never really cared for it when other people did.)

But today I decided I needed my leafy greens and I was going to get them in the form of kale. Gracie assured me it wasn’t an exact science, which helped my resolution to try it out. But I still needed to follow some direction. So I looked it up on Google.

Fried kale, before the macaroni. Great by itself, even better with some noodles and cheese.

How to cook kale. The first recipe was the one I went with. It was basically fried kale with garlic (recipe: get some oil in a pan. make it hot. add garlic. add kale. fry. eat.) I guess I made kale chips (I later found out that that’s a real thing… but that’s not what I set out to make). And they were incredible with my macaroni and cheese. I completely recommend it.


Greetings from the Newest of the Mexicos. I just got home from a wonderful weekend of film, food and free beer in Telluride, CO. My friend and I were volunteering at MountainFilm in exchange for passes. We met Alex Honnold (OMG!!!, ask Carolyn), Tom Shadyac (Director of Ace Ventura), M SanJayan (Lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy) ANNNND, Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the guys who made King Corn! They are in the process of doing a bunch of super cool new things such as Truck Farming ( and Food Corps ( The whole weekend was zero waste, meaning that at every MountainFilm sponsored event, there were compost bins, recycling bins and a small trash can. In addition, they did not provide plates, cups or silverware, you had to bring your own!

The theme of the weekend was “Awareness into Action” and it really got me thinking about the environmental cost of my lifestyle and the cost my outdoor sports habit and how I can help to change the system. There was a man by the name of Tim DeChristopher who gave a great talk about how he threw a federal mineral right auction in order to save the land. He is going to jail for seven years for it and couldn’t be happier. He said that before the auction he rode his bike, bought organic food, the whole shebang, but felt like he was never doing enough. Now, he says that his life has purpose. I’m not recommending that we commit any felonies, but it does make you think about what is in the realm of possibilities.

Check out the website to see the entire list of films. I recommend If a Tree Falls, Towers of the Ennedi, Coal, and Cold.


Mad Dawg

A Garden for the Students

The first semester of Tom Thumb’s Student Garden’s existence as a group open to the entire student body produced four additional raised beds, a solid starting collection of essential gardening equipment (a couple hoses, some shovels, rakes, spades, clippers, etc), and a core of excited and dedicated individuals.

My name is Mae Humiston. I’m a co-leader of the garden with Grace Myers. We both “apprenticed” under Signe Porteshawver, the group’s founder. Signe, Grace and I spent this last semester gathering interested individuals to join our mission for a glorious student garden. What ensued is hopefully an indicator of great things to come.

Signe and a friend building one of the first raised beds

We spent the incredibly snowy winter months planning which plants to plant, the budget, and how to save money and resources. Ultimately, we ended up scoring some wood from the theater set of a play, thanks to the efforts of set-builder and garden enthusiast Andrea Ness. As soon as the curtains closed, Andrea led us up on stage where we learned the basics of deconstruction (it’s a combination of finesse drilling and brute force, culminating in a feeling of awesomeness) With some help from some friends, we lugged the pieces over to the Crafts Center, our main construction site. Looking at the existing shapes and configurations, we realized we could use two of the frames from the set as tall raised beds. The original shape had been a kind of platform for actors to stand on, about a foot and a half tall. It was a sturdy frame in need of some siding, so we attached some plywood from a different set piece.

Emma and Rebecca pulling staples from theater scrap

The construction involved many hours of pulling staples, screws, and nails and fighting the binding force of glue, which our patient, good, beautiful, garden-loving friends Emma Sass, Nate Eckman, Rebecca Matyas, Carolyn Pace, Micaela Belles and Liam Walsh-Mellett did with skill (all under the guidance of our carpenter guru Andrea). With that addition, we placed our first Tom Thumb’s Student Garden-created raised bed next to the three beds left over from the Ex-College class (for more about the creation of the garden, see About).

Liam sawing plywood for a raised bed (that's Holi rang on his face)

Over the next few weeks, two more raised beds created in the same fashion joined the little cluster behind Latin Way. All in all, I’d have to say that using the salvaged wood, while sometimes frustrating to tear apart, was very satisfying and successful. The wood was already painted on one side, which meant we saved money on not only wood, but also on water-proofing the wood. I’ll also say that it’s pretty neat to look at a theater set and find a raised bed somewhere in the mix.

But before we could do any of the building, the snow had to go. So during that long waiting period, we decided what we wanted, and Gracie bought an exciting collection of seeds.  We got together one chilly afternoon to reap the warmth of a greenhouse and plant an early mix of peppers, tomatoes, squash, and melons, and a wide variety of each kind. With tender loving care from Miss Madeleine Carey they quickly overtook their sunny corner and as soon as the weather warmed up, we took them outside to their new homes.

Nate working on the tool-box

We also began a tool box (out of salvaged wood as well) to hold tools until the shed it finished. Oh yeah, the shed. Two members of Engineers Without Borders, the lovely Mariana Liebman-Pelaez and the awesome aforementioned Nate Eckman, are testing their design for a water catchment system by building a shed and water-barrel deal for the garden. We get a shed and some water, and they get to prove their idea is awesome to other EWB with concrete evidence. It’s a good deal, and they’re excellent people.

We spent a final day installing a couple smaller beds and a larger bed gardener/bikesmith/carpenter Carolyn made in an urge to build.