Today, I ate all my snails at breakfast.

Normally, I might have balked at the idea: a few dozen tiny, round, green-gray bodies floating in a bowl of murky broth, partly hidden by a thick layer of cooked greens. But today, at this table, with this Korean drumming troupe, I ate every single one. I finished the last of the broth with an exaggerated slurp to show I’d enjoyed it, which is what you do when you don’t know how to say you did.

I’ve eaten everything offered to me since I arrived three days ago at the Nanumteo farm in South Korea: countless bowls of chicken, stuffed with dates and rice and garlic, and boiled in a ginseng broth; pork hooves; and dried squid in sweet sauce. I’ve eaten, of course, because I’m hungry, and when you’re in a place where you can’t communicate, you eat when and what you’re given. But I’ve also eaten because I’m deeply, profoundly grateful to have a place at the table.

I’m here because in 1971 a British secretary named Sue Coppard thought it would be nice to get a group of people together to visit organic farms on the weekends.

Because the group she founded became the sprawling grassroots organization called Worldwide Opportunities in Organic Farming, or WWOOF.

And because a WWOOF branch was founded in South Korea in 1997.

Continued on Student Reporter: http://studentreporter.org/2014/09/wwoof-korea-a-bridge-of-the-agricultural-past-and-urban-modernity/

Is it edible? Dinner on a bed of kale

When I was in high school, I waited tables at a local diner. By-the-Way family restaurant sat along a bare stretch of single-lane state highway, sharing its parking lot with an auto-body shop; a view of pre-fab log cabin homes, “priced affordably” “come in and check one out today”, ever-present from the front glass windows.

We served all-you-can eat spaghetti on Wednesdays and haddock crunch, battered in corn flakes, on Fridays. We served the food that grandparents and truck drivers wanted to eat, because those were the customers that filled our booths and the stools at the long counter, running the length of By-the-Way family restaurant.

Every plate we served, save for the belgian waffles towering with whipped cream and the slender slices of pie, was served with a garnish: one piece of curly green kale and one thin orange slice. The kale sat rinsed and chopped into aesthetically-appropriate hunks in a white gallon bucket next to the serving line. And every plate of food we served, save for the belgian waffles towering with whipped cream and the slender slices of pie, came back to the dishwasher with one appropriately-sized hunk of raw, green kale. This routine we repeated, on every plate, every day, for years, without ever giving it a second thought.

Until one day, a little boy inquired as I set his plate of chicken fingers and french fries in front of him: “Is this thing edible?”, holding the adornment aloft. “Ummmm, I don’t know. Let me find out.” Back to the kitchen, where I was met with a series of white-coated shoulder shrugs. “I guess you could but I don’t know why you’d want to.” I popped a piece in my mouth for good measure and shook my head in a grimace – not exactly what I’d call “edible”.

And this was everything I knew about kale. Until I got to college and discovered kale lightly sauteed with lemon, balsamic vinegar kale with slivered almonds, and raw massaged kale salad. Until I discovered that the favorite food of yogis and Vermonters was not just a plate garnish, after all. All of this is to say that I just made dinner and it was delicious. And it was cheap. And it had kale in it. So, I thought I’d share it with y’all.

Ravioli, tossed in vodka sauce, on a bed of prosciutto, kale, and pan-roasted cherry tomatoes.

Sounds fancy, right? And expensive. Fortunately, looks can be deceiving. In addition to being delicious, the second and third best parts of this meal were that it took less than 20 minutes and cost about $2. Make this dish when cherry tomatoes are on sale, and vodka sauce, and really – I promise – you only need the tiniest bit of proscuitto.

Recipe (for one, because I’m a single grad-school gal):
A handful of frozen cheese ravioli (6 or 7)
A little less than an ounce of prosciutto, minced
A few leafs of kale, ribs removed, sliced very thin
A small handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
About 1/4c of vodka sauce, enough to coat the ravioli
A dash of italian cheese, if you like

Put your water on to boil and heat a small amount of oil (olive, grapeseed, canola, whatever is on hand) in a skillet. Throw in your minced prosciutto and saute over medium heat for a minute or two. Add your kale, cooking until it starts to become tender and the bright green color comes out. Push to the side of your skillet and throw in your halved cherry tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and anything else your heart desires. Once the skin on the tomatoes starts to blister or brown, mix everything together and put it on your plate.

Meanwhile the water has come to boil, and you’ve thrown in the ravioli, which only takes three minutes to cook – because sometimes things are magic like that. The square pockets of pasta will start to rise to the top of the boil, to let you know they’re done. Strain ’em, throw ’em back in the still-hot pot, and toss to coat with vodka sauce. Pour over your kale mixture, top with a sprinkle of parm, and viola — delicious.

What makes this dish so good is its complementary flavors – the saltiness of the prosciutto, the richness of ricotta, the sweet flavor of roasted cherry tomatoes. In the right proportions the flavors complement each other, none overpowering the other.

Cheers, to a little Wednesday night indulgence and a plate full of edible kale. Happy eating!

Count your blessings…and eat them, too

In my left hand, I am holding a shallow bowl. It cradles: one cooked chicken, one unidentifiable black object, and one hard-boiled egg. Before me are two lighted candles, one recently constructed spire of silver and green, and the elders of Phonsin

Southern Lao PDR is hot, one of the hottest places I have ever been. For five weeks I have traveled in the company of noon-day temperatures that rest easy in the nineties. And with enough shade and water, it is a heat my body can understand. Within minutes of arriving in Savannakhet, it is readily apparent that this is heat of a whole different sort. But, we have come here to trek. And so, while the sane and rational people of Lao seek solace from the mid-day sun, we are headed into its gaze.

At 10 am, in the hottest place on Earth, our tuk-tuk drops us just outside of Savannakhet and, passing through a wooden gate, we walk into the woods. Temperature 100, feels like 112. We trek. The woods with our guide are a fascinating place. Populated with trees that drip flammable oil and bugs that, when eaten raw, have a spice like the hottest chilies. The first half of our walk was filled with discoveries like these:




And then, perhaps inevitably, the heat breaks, as we trade woods for field and the sky trades sun for thunderclouds. Our quartet dashes across narrow paths winding through rice paddies; stopping at abandoned shacks and two open-air homes when the storm grows especially fierce. Us and the chickens, we waited:


At half-past four, we walk into Phonsin, soaked and parched, a product of Earth’s forces. We are staying the night at the house of the village elder, whose daughter hands me a Laotian skirt as soon as I walk up, pointing toward the shower room. Grateful for dry clothes, I slip into my borrowed apparel. At 7:00, the Baci ceremony starts, the blessings begin.

In my left hand I am holding a shallow bowl. It cradles: one cooked chicken, one unidentifiable black object, and one hard-boiled egg. The elders of Phonsin circle me, each speaking in Lao, and each tying one strand of white cotton around my left wrist. Blessings for the traveler, the newly returned, and as far as I can tell by looking at wrists, babies and the elderly. This seems good company to keep.

When the blessings have finished, I am brought a bowl of water, and instructed to peel and eat the egg from the shallow bowl in my hand. It now contains the blessings and I can take them into my body. In this unexpected moment is a reminder of the innumerable powers we give to food. From its sustenance, we draw connection, deep nourishment, and here and now, the power of intention, of hope, of the divine.




For the Love of It

Sometimes we forget why we love the things we do, incorporating them into the area of being as natural to us as breathing, sleeping, eating. And then, sometimes, we are reminded in the most nourishing and unexpected of ways.

Yesterday, I signed up for a cooking class with Sammy’s Organic Thai Cooking School, just outside of Chiang Mai. Sammy himself came to pick me, and five other farangs, up from our guesthouses, and whisked us off on the day’s adventures. First to the market, where the senses were saturated with abundance and epicurean symmetry:




Then, we were off to Sammy’s fourth-generation family farm. Let me just say that there is nothing like gardening in a tropical climate. Peppers, eggplants, and pumpkins grow with great abandon, amidst lemongrass stalks that shoot four feet into the air. Trellises of blue pea and tiny sprigs of wildflowers provide a delicate balance to the audacious and verdant greenery. It was here, touring the kitchen garden, prominently bridging house and rice field, that I found myself surrounded by the familiar. Ah yes, growing food, mi amore.


After several hours of cooking and feasting, Sammy insisted we take advantage of the many shaded hammocks set up throughout the garden, for an afternoon nap before our second round of cooking, and feasting (Hard living, I know). As I settled in and came to stillness, the garden around me flickered with life: birds eating bugs eating leaves, wings flitting in all directions. And I remembered, in a new way, ‘This is what a garden is — a place where we invite life’. In an ecologically diverse garden you don’t have to control all the elements. Just create the canvas, nature will do the rest.




In a world of paradox and complexity, it seems like there are too seldom solutions which don’t themselves create other unfortunate problems. Because of this, environmental and social issues can often seem at odds. The opposite is true in an organic garden, in the very best of ways.

The Foods of Christmas Past

Plenty is the start of a new journey for me, and when starting out what better place to begin than the beginning? We all have almost infinite beginnings, layer upon layer of starts and re-starts. For Plenty, it might be the beginning – of living history, when simple organisms began consuming for sustenance. Or it could be a mere 10,000 years ago, with the advent of the agricultural systems which so shape our world today. And for me? I trace my food roots back at least two centuries.

For more than two hundred years, my family has made their home in northern NY and French Canada, coaxing a living from the thin soils of its’ temperate forest. At the turn of the twentieth century, my great-grandparents raised 12 children while homesteading outside a tiny Adirondack town. For them, an integral part of life was maple sugaring – distilling sweet sap into valuable syrup. Every year, before the first signs of spring became evident in the snowdrops and leaf buds peeking out from freshly thawed earth, the sap would start to flow just below the bark of Acer saccharum. Tapping into the xylem of these trees would yield up to 50 gallons of sap for every gallon of syrup produced.

Today, my family make their homes in the suburbs of Central NY, seeking sustenance in the aisles and freezer sections of Wegmans. The foods of modern abundance, and convenience, stock their kitchens. Twice a year however, the women in my family return north to procure several gallons of liquid gold– Grade A maple syrup; our one tie to our centuries-old food culture.

Except at Christmas. At Christmas, we track down all the foods of Christmas past – pulling out Aunt Marie’s cookie recipes, stocking the fridge with Croghan bologna and cheese curds, and whipping up batches of maple frosting. These are the Foods of Christmas Past.They provide us with an emotional nourishment which extends far beyond the reaches of taste or convenience.  They connect us to those before us who have passed and to ways of life that seem so long forgotten. They are what we are – and it is a beautiful thing.

Recipe: Aunt Marie’s Buckeyes

Written on the recipe card: This is Aunt Marie’s version, written by her at the age of 80-something, while sitting at Mom & Dad’s kitchen table during one of her fall visits.

1 lb confectioners sugar

2 c. crunchy peanut butter

1 stick butter

3 c. rice krispies

Combine and roll into balls. Combine [and melt] 12 oz. chocolate chips and 1/3 c paraffin wax. Dip and place on paper.

See here if you (like I) wonder why we would ever add wax to an otherwise perfect food: http://www.thekitchn.com/-good-questions-43-104835.

Eat well. Cook well. Share abundantly.