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Two Transplants embrace the Wabi-Sabi-ishness of Rochester in Gallery Opening

One grew up among the tea plantations of the Darjeeling region of India

The other grew up in the progressive urbanism of Austin, Texas. 

One was raised in Buddhist teachings. The other came to Buddhism in his teens.

One way or another, they found themselves in Rochester.

This Friday, come check out their shared venture in the Kuma-Gama Clay Studio and Tea Bar.

Over a glass of freshly brewed hibiscus iced tea, I had the opportunity to interview them both.

Here is their full story which I profiled them in the Democrat & Chronicle: 

Within Japanese culture is the aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi.

Rooted in Buddhism, this philosophy draws attention and appreciation to life’s everyday simplicities. It asks the follower to seek out beauty in unobvious places, such as the gnarled and twisted texture of a tree branch or the irregular jaggedness of a stone.

In many ways, Rochester is a Wabi-Sabi city, says potter Cody Kroll, making it the perfect place to create his imperfectly shaped sculpture and Japanese tea ware.

“Rochester is … not perfect, and it is unfinished,” says Kroll, an Austin, Texas, native. “That’s the way I make art, by always keeping in mind that nothing is perfect and nothing is permanent.”

Kroll was working out of a small studio in the Hungerford Building and selling his work on etsy.com.

While online, he met Niraj Lama, a native of the Darjeeling region of India, who was selling his Happy Earth Tea online. Lama is a newcomer to Rochester, and when the two realized they lived in the same city, they met in person and a business venture began.

They will open Kuma-Gama Clay Studio and Happy Earth Tea Bar in a larger space, Suite 228, in the Hungerford, 1115 Main St., during First Friday this week.

Kroll’s work will be on display, and Lama will provide a history of tea, as well as tastings.

Kroll’s interest in Japanese culture came early in his life. His grandfather was a Marine stationed in Japan and brought him some pottery. Kroll studied fine arts at Eastern Kentucky University and State University of New York at Buffalo. He has been influenced by 16th-century and modern Japanese glazing techniques from artists such as Kanzaki Shiho and Suzuki Tomio.

In the spartan space of the Kuma-Gama Clay Studio, light streams through industrial glass block windows onto whitewashed walls. From outside, one can hear the clank and whistle of a passing train on the railroad tracks behind the building. Cinderblocks support a shelving system of wooden boards that display Kroll’s creations.

On these shelves, the visitor shouldn’t go looking for a matching tea set of identical cups fashioned with traditional scenes.

In his own primitive “impressionistic” style, Kroll strives to capture the fleetingness of a single moment on the surface of his earth-toned works, sometimes in a glaze that seemed to be fired in a kiln while it was still dripping, sometimes in unglazed parts of a piece that capture his fingerprints.

Though each piece is a one-of-a-kind creation, when a few are assembled, they suggest an eclectic harmony and the ideal vessels for a formal Japanese tea ceremony or the enjoyment of a single cup of tea.

Kroll says because Japan is an island nation, each has its own distinct style and uses resources found nearby. So too does Kroll, who only uses locally dug clays, such as what is found at the bottom of the pond of the Folk Art Guild of Rochester in Middlesex, Yates County. The glazes Kroll uses are made from ash taken from wood-fired ovens of local restaurants.

Everything about Kuma-Gama Clay Studio takes sustainability into consideration. The Hungerford Building has been repurposed from an old fruit-packing plant to a place where local artists work and live. Tea is served from an old piece of furniture found outside the hallway in the studio. It was refurbished into a tea bar and adorned with polished tin ceiling tiles also found in the building.

When Kroll moved to Buffalo in the early 2000s to earn his master’s degree, he thought all of New York would resemble Manhattan. He says he has grown to appreciate Rochester’s artistic and cultural riches and its potential to grow as a creative hub.

“To me, Rochester is what Austin was 25 years ago — a nice, yet-to-be discovered city along a river. I actually like that Rochester is a little depressed,” says Kroll, referring to the Buddhist outlook of accepting the high and low phases of life and knowing that each will pass.

While Kroll’s art is based on appreciating imperfections, Lama’s craft in making the perfect cup of tea depends on the precision of timing, water temperature and the cut of leaf.

Growing up in the foothills of the Himalayas, covered with tea plantations, Lama was raised in a culture of tea. In the country that is the world’s biggest consumer of the beverage, tea was part of everyday life. Though Lama worked as a journalist in India, the tea import business keeps him connected to his homeland.

“Tea nourishes the soul. It takes some time and patience to calm down to enjoy the subtleties of the flavors of tea. While coffee delivers that jolt to get you through the day, tea offers the drinker a tranquil alertness,” Lama says.

Together, Kroll and Lama hope to foster a “tea society” at the studio, where tea lovers and those simply curious about tea can learn about tea ceremony traditions and the art of making the beverage.

Kroll and Lama see the repurposing of the Hungerford Building as symbolic to the revitalization of Rochester. Just as Lama’s tea is a symbol of welcoming hospitality in his culture, so it has been with the “open, welcoming” nature of the people he has met in Rochester since moving here with his wife and two small children just 18 months ago.

“Rochester to me as an outsider has been a very gentle, welcoming place,” Lama says

Photo Challenge: Geometry

This post is long overdue, but WordPress put up the perfect photo challenge to (kick me in the pants and get writing) I mean, get me motivated:

What is urban? This is what true urbanism should be. A blend of city and nature on a perfect summer day.

I went to a lot of places over the summer, but my favorite destination, for always, remains:

New York City.

Why?

It’s a place where I grew up, and you’d think I would be tired of it already. Seen it all. Been there. Done that.

That’ll never happen. Because there is always something New to discover in New York City. Even for us natives.

For example, in our annual summer visit to New York City, we toured the High Line.

Opened in recent years and built on refurbished elevated rail lines, the High Line lets the visitor walk the thin line between street level and the heights of skyscrapers. It is a strip of gardens, fountains and orchards that blooms right between steel, brick and glass and wooden water towers. It repurposes an older structure that would have otherwise been torn down and instead has been transformed into a public space and one of the best places to snap pictures in all of New York City.

It goes on for about 20 blocks above the West Side’s meat-packing district and there are plans to extend the High Line to more of the old abandoned El.

With fountains, flowers and musical and cultural events, all set in a shining beacon of sustainable public space, to me it’s the best 20 blocks you can walk right now in NYC.

I shot these photos on my dad’s Nikon:

The Garden that Ate the Community Garden

It’s been more than a few weeks since I’ve written about my garden. I’ve had to pack the kids for camp. I was away visiting family and friends in New York City.  There are several writing deadlines I must complete before the end of next week. And the family is in a bit of transition. More on that in a later post.

But, at the beginning of the summer, I said I would post about my garden, and I’ve got to get back on track.

Since early May I have been tending a 10 x 10 foot plot in my town’s community garden. I have been watering diligently

through this very dry summer.

When I was away,  I left my garden in the care of some  friends who have a plot  adjacent to mine. They have a garden that is not only well cared for but is sealed like a fortress against any critters that may want to feast on their crops.

After a week of being away, I was tempted to drive out to the garden the night we arrived home. But there were kids and suitcases to unpack and get into the house. The garden would have to wait.

No one can tell me that there isn’t a time difference between New York City and Rochester.

Maybe its just the pace of time that moves faster “downstate” because when we returned from our week away in good ‘ol NYC, I was exhausted and slept until after 8 that morning.

I tried to push some energy into my voice when the phone rang and woke me at 8:15.

It was my gardening friend.

“Have you been over to the garden? I didn’t wake you?  Did I?”

No, of course you didn’t wake me, I said, faking a wide awake tone into my voice. But, considering I just got home at nine the night before, and my garden would not be visible in the darkness.

I thought, is she mad? I’m still in downstate jet lag…why don’t Rochesterians get that there exists jetlag when returning from New York City? And you don’t even need to fly to get it!

“Well, you should get over there soon. Your garden is becoming known as the Garden that Ate the Community Garden!”

Indeed. In just one week’s time, my garden had exploded.

Now, compare my community garden at its humble beginnings back in May:

My garden when it was no more than a patch of weeds.

I cleared it and planted tiny seeds:

And now:

Sunflowers have grown taller than my tallest child.

Both the sunflowers – and the children

– have some still to grow:

Pumpkin vines are creeping everywhere. I’ve actually received gentle reminders from my garden neighbors to please retrain my vines back into my garden plot and out of the common garden paths.

And, unlike a sun deprived pumpkin vine, not only am I getting blossoms that have been host to a number of pollen-intoxicated bees, but I actually have 5-10 pumpkins taking shape. I’ll need to make a lot of pumpkin pie this fall.

Not to mention a lot of tomato sauce:

The full sun of the garden has produced such strong leaves on my tomato plants, it looks like they’ve been going to the gym.

There have been some failures, of course every garden has them. My eggplant plants were eaten first by beetles and then strangled and overgrown by the invasive pumpkin vines.

The basil seeds I sprinkled never made it in this dry summer without a good daily watering.

But so far, this experiment in community gardening is paying off. Harvested my first crop of purple beans for dinner last night:

Adventures in the Community Garden: Day One

This will be the year.

This is the year when I, as a gardener, who has lived for over a decade trying to eek out a ripe tomato or a proper cucumber vine in the dappled sunlight of my backyard, will finally understand what full sun means.

This is the year that this gardener becomes a farmer.

For $25, I signed on to care for a 10’x10′ foot plot of earth in The Town of Brighton’s Community Garden. I’m hoping not only to reap some great crops of vegetables and flowers for bouquets all summer, I’m also looking forward to the people I’m going to meet and the stories I will learn from them.

But when I made my first visit to the community garden, located along Westfall Road in Brighton, I wondered what I’ve gotten myself into.

This is the third or fourth season at the garden and many of the plots have been cared for by some pretty seasoned green thumbs. There are plots adorned and accessorized with fencing systems to keep out critters,

neatly divided quadrants, and well-built support systems to grow climbing bean and pea vines. There are plots that have strawberry plants and leeks sprouting up that were planted from the year before:

Some caring gardeners have even designed  a scarecrow:

Then, I located my plot. Plot D-4:

Weedy. Messy. Nothing much to look at. But, hey, I signed on to this, and this little plot of land was mine for the season so I got to work.

It took little effort to pull out the weeds from the soft, loamy soil. The most delicious feeling soil I have ever worked compared to the clay-laden soil in my backyard garden. Did I mention that my neighborhood was built on a former brick making quarry. ‘Nuf said about the quality of the soil.

But out here: The Brighton Community Garden sits on a former cow pasture that was home to  a century’s worth of dairy cows. You guess it, this soil is blessed by 100 years of blessed cow poop.

I weeded and I tilled, the only sounds I heard were the swallows and red-winged blackbirds that swooped and sang overhead.

I did bring along my iPod for company and listened to music on its tiny speakers. And, even though I was alone in this sunny field, I still kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was going to run off with it. There are some habits from New York City that don’t die.

After a few hours, my plot looked like this:

Not bad for a first day’s work.

Next up: I’ll install a fence and start planting some seeds.

Mama’s Got a Brand New Bag, and I don’t care if you don’t like it

Do you remember a repeated exchange between two dogs in the Dr. Seuss book, “Go Dog Go”?

Perhaps this picture will jar your memory:

The dog wearing the very frilly hat is not insulted by the other dog’s dislike of his hat. He keeps his hat on and is not disuaded by the rejection of his silly head covering.

They agree to disagree and have a pleasant parting  exchange.

“Good-bye”

“Good-bye!”

The other day, on a rare shopping outing,  in addition to buying a pair (okay, two) of much-needed black flats, I came upon the store’s purse collection.

I know that for many women, the purse is the must-have power accessory. Women may spend hundreds of dollars on a handbag and change their look at least once a season.

Me? I cashed in a gift certificate I received on my birthday a few years ago for an over the shoulder cloth handbag. Except for the occasional wedding or evening occasion, I have not changed purses in nearly three years.

I looked at the new handbag displays at this shoe retailer and then the worn straps and the bottom of my bag, which was beginning to tear. Yes, it was time for a new bag.

I chose a handbag from Sakroots.

Here it is:

I was drawn to its orange and red flowered pattern. It reminded me of wallpaper from the 1950’s. It has all the whimsy and just enough kitch for a springtime handbag.

My new bag is a bag with purpose.  Sakroots gives a portion of each purchased product to The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion Trees program. The program is working to reforest the Atlantic Forest of Brazil.

But when I got my bag home, was it greeted warmly by my family?

No.

“Eew! That’s a horrible bag,” exclaimed my daughter. “Why did you buy  that  bag?” said my daughter.

“It looks like an old granny bag. It’s so old stylish,” said my husband. This is coming from a man who still wears sweater vests to work.

On first instinct, I scrambled for my car keys and dug up the receipt, looking to return my purchase as soon as possible.

But wait. No! I liked – no – like – no  – LOVE – my quirky new handbag. Like the canine in the Dr. Seuss book, I will take the critique of those around me, but then I will move on.

So, do you like my new orange-with-red-flowered bag? I hope you do. But if not, that’s okay too. Because I do.

“Good -bye.”

“Good-bye!”

Everything’s Coming Up .. too soon

The warmth in March, and everything that goes with it is coming at us all too soon. The last few days of March have behaved normally, reminding Rochesterians what a Rochester March should really feel like. Sunny but raw. Windy and cold. But last week’s weather was the talk of the town here in Ra-cha-cha. […]

A Man with a Map. A Woman with a Bottle. Couple work for Rwanda’s Future.

Tony Vodacek, left and, Manasse Mbonye, the provost of the University of Rwanda and a former RIT professor, inspect a coffee plant in Rwanda.

Sometimes, the constraints of print media causes editors and writers to make painful cuts to stories. I had a wonderful conversation with Ann Vodacek, my Brighton neighbor and wife of RIT professor Tony Vodacek about a simple solution that is being used to solve a pervasive problem in Rwanda – using plain water bottles to help purify drinking water with the power of the sun. For space sake, it had to be cut from the print version of my story in the Democrat & Chronicle. I thank both the Vodaceks for all their help with this piece and wish them luck as their work with Rwanda evolves.

Here is the full version of the story.

Tony Vodacek knows his way around a map.

The Brighton resident grew up in Wisconsin and spent summers navigating state and national parks on family camping trips. His wife, Ann Vodacek, describes him as a person who possesses a built-in global positioning system that comes in handy when taking family vacations with their three children in the Adirondacks.

While some people find going to new places disorienting, just hand Vodacek, a Rochester Institute of Technology associate professor, a map and he can locate his destination “in seconds.”

“I never have to ask for directions,” he said.

Throughout his life, Vodacek had an intense interest in maps and the information they reveal. This passion led him to a career in a field called remote sensing, which is the science of obtaining information about geographical areas from a distance, typically from aircraft or satellites.

Vodacek likes to keep and display maps that directly relate to his work. Posted on the door of his office at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT is a relief map of the tiny African country of Rwanda. There are also photos from his last visit and labels from bags of coffee that represent one of Rwanda’s chief exports.

Vodacek’s friendship with former Brighton resident and RIT astrophysics professor Manasse Mbonye has evolved into a partnership between American and Rwandan academics who seek to advance this African country by providing its people with the knowledge to grow an information infrastructure and ultimately improve the way the water and land are used to create a stable economy.

Mbonye arrived in America as a Rwandan refugee child in the 1960s. After decades of living in America, he returned to Rwanda this year to accept a position as director of academics at the National University of Rwanda.

During his five visits to Rwanda — his most recent trek took place earlier this year — Vodacek met with Mbonye and many government dignitaries, and listened to their visionary optimism for Rwanda. The Rwandan people are trying to reconcile with their recent past and seek to advance this landlocked country with few natural resources by boosting its technology infrastructure and agricultural practices.

“Rwanda is striving to become self-reliant. It no longer wishes to be sustained by institutions like the World Bank. Mbonye said there is no other way for Rwanda (to succeed) except through education. The alternative to this is a dark path that has already been traversed,” said Vodacek, referring to the genocide in the mid-1990s where tribal divisions led to the deaths of nearly 1 million Rwandans.

Now, Vodacek is leading a multi-disciplinary international team of scientists and graduate students — backed with a $350,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — on a two-year survey of the Lake Kivu system in Rwanda to collect scientific measurements to learn how human activity is threatening biodiversity. Vodacek and his graduate students will study satellite data collected over 40 years to unlock the story of this lake that rests among volcanoes and a mountain gorilla reserve, a lake that one day might erupt from volcanic activity to cause a natural disaster.

“Just like meteorologists use satellite data to forecast weather changes, I use remote sensing to forecast environmental changes,” said Vodacek.

If Rwanda is going to be a technologically advanced country, it is going to need more power. This power can be found at the bottom of Lake Kivu. The lake’s depth is 1,574 feet with fresh water above and saltier, denser water resting on the bottom. The saltwater and sediment at the bottom of the lake trap large reserves of carbon dioxide and methane, sort of the way gas is trapped in an uncorked champagne bottle. For now, the waters are calm. But according to geological studies taken from layers of lake sediment, the lake is overdue for a phenomenon called “turning over.”

Geological studies have found that about every 1,000 years, underwater disruptions in the bottom of Lake Kivu — such as a volcano or an earthquake — caused the denser, gas-laden waters to rise to the surface and release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the valley.

Those releases can be deadly. Vodacek pointed to an incident in Cameroon, where in 1986, a plume of carbon dioxide escaped from Lake Nios and suffocated 1,500 people while they slept.

If such a disruption would happen now, two million people living in the area would be at risk of suffocation. Possibly adding to the mix of disruption to the water is human activity like farming and deforestation. It is here where Vodacek’s research will be applied to see if human intervention might be another reason why gas pressure builds at the bottom of the lake.

Another man-made event that was evident in satellite images was the 1994 genocide. Photographs from space showed forested land in Rwanda that had nearly disappeared as fires were started and displaced people cut down wood for fuel during and after the genocide.

Whether or not human intervention will cause Lake Kivu to release noxious gasses, Vodacek did not need a satellite image to see evidence of deforestation around the lake due to farming practices and the burning of forests during Rwanda’s civil war.

As Vodacek drove along the shores of Lake Kivu, it was also easy to see just how hard it is to farm in a country that hardly has any flat land.

“People are trying to scratch out a living as subsistence farmers on deforested mountains. It looked like some of the farmland was nearly vertical in some areas,” observed Vodacek.

After decades of losing trees, the Rwandan government is studying ways to reforest its land. Remote sensing can help the country explore its options as it weighs the needs of growing food on farmed land versus protecting land and water quality by replanting trees. Should reforestation be widespread and allow for intermittent areas of farmland, or should some tracts of land be densely developed leaving other parts to turn over back to nature? Remote sensing over time can help study these scenarios and answer these questions.

“I’m excited to see what patterns and changes that will come about as Rwanda moves to reforest its land. This is all a very long term experiment and we are only at the beginning of it,” said Vodacek.

In any case, planting more native trees can only improve the quality of the water in Lake Kivu.  Deforestation coupled with farming causes soil erosion, nutrient depletion and water runoff into the lake. These practices make for poor drinking water quality leading to water borne diseases especially among Rwandan’s children. It is this issue that has caught the attention of Vodacek’s wife, Ann.

A social worker by trade, Ann is in the beginning phases of working with Rwandans she has met through her husband’s work to improve drinking water by a method called Solar Water Disinfection, or SODIS. Used successfully in other countries like Kenya and India, it is a method as simple as killing harmful bacteria in drinking water by filling up plastic water bottles and leaving them to sit in the sun for six hours.

It’s that simple. The hard part, according to Ann, is gaining the trust and changing the habits of rural villagers.

Ann listened to the frustrations of a young Rwandan doctor who spent time in the United States to complete his residency.

“Rwandans who are studying medicine are trying to go back to their villages and teach mothers that it is not normal for children to suffer from swollen bellies or diarrhea. But it is going to take trust and some education for villagers to change this way of thinking,” said Ann. Improved health among Rwandan villagers can only lead to overall quality of life for the whole country, she added.

October in New York: East Hill Farm/Folk Art Guild Open House

Last Sunday morning, though I could have slept in, I woke up early. I woke up my family too. I told them we were about to take a trip into the country. No, we weren’t going through a corn Maze.No, there would be no pumpkin catapult contests. But I promised them, they would enjoy it. They were going to have a good time. Because I SAID SO!

Life has been way too hectic lately. I feel like I have barely seen my three children since late June. It seems like no sooner did my older son and daughter return from sleep-away camp and I washed all their laundry, the summer ended and so began the school grind. Homework and tests.  Track meets and band practice.

But last Sunday morning, we had this glorious sunny perfect day. And we had no school and no work. I just wanted one chore-free day of me not nagging anyone spent out in the country. One day of me not badgering anyone to stop texting friends while I am talking to them or stop playing games on the computer.

So off we went.

The ride along Canandaigua Lake had the whole family, plus a friend of my son’s, singing along to “American Pie” on the radio and marveling at the colors of the trees that dotted the hills

as we whizzed past withering cornfields.

To reach our destination: the East Hill  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm and Folk Art Guild in beautiful, Middlesex, NY. There, we got a chance to see where our vegetables were grown all summer.

East Hill Farm is a project of the Rochester Folk Art Guild, a nonprofit organization and community of craftspeople and farmers. Since 1967, they have grown food and produced handmade practical folk art on a 350 acre farm. East Hill Farm uses old fashioned, chemical-free, hands-on organic methods to grow fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs, pigs, and chickens for the community and for sale through our CSA and markets.

For the past 20 weeks, our family took part in a great experiment of owning a CSA share. Each Friday since mid-May we were presented with a portion of vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers organically and lovingly grown by a group of young entrepreneurial farmers.   Whether it was spring’s excessive rains or July’s excessive heat, we shared in the farmers’ risky dance with Mother Nature.

The farm had limited cell phone service so we got a chance to sample the simpler, slower style of life. We actually got a chance to catch up, share and talk as a family. How many times are family members distracted from each other by screens: laptops, DS games, cell phones, iPods?

Well, on this day in October my teen-aged daughter actually sat and talked to me.  She sat and reminisced with me about the first time she used  a pottters wheel this summer at camp as we watched a master potter throw and mold a clay jar before our eyes:

How many toys, clothing, dishes do we buy that are made of cheaply made mass-produced?

At East Hill Farm, in the woodworking shop, bare-footed craftsmen showed off their lathes.

And my kids played with real wooden toys.

Made in the USA.

Then, in the weaver’s studio, my son got to try his hand at a loom, using wool that was dyed by an apprentice, the same young woman who brings us our week’s worth of vegetables. Thank you, East Hill Farm farmers. It’s been a great summer.

Eating my way through the CSA: Roasted Tomatillos

With the fall harvest approaching, my first year in subscribing to a local CSA, or community supported agriculture farm, is coming to a close. My family signed on to share a share with another family: good friends  we have known through school, soccer games, and synagogue for over ten years. We decided to go in together in a CSA share as one brave experiment.

The very wet spring that gave way to a very dry hot summer created spotty conditions for the young farmers of the East Hill CSA. Buying into a CSA comes with its risks and rewards, as we were warned. But in the end, joining made me feel good that I am helping local, sustainable agriculture and like the farmers, I am taking a gamble on Mother Nature in hopes of bringing healthy food to my family’s table.

Highs of belonging to a  CSA included (for us at least):

  • The discovery of Kale and Kohlrabi that can be oven baked, salted and eaten like chips;
  • Fresh herbs;
  • A weekly sunflower or wildflower bouquet  in midsummer;
  • Patti pan squash;
  • Bags of mixed greens for salad that include edible flowers like nasturtium
  • Pints of home-grown grapes that really taste like grapes (my daughter proclaimed they tasted like grape candy). Delicious, if you can work your way around the seeds.

The lows

  • Discovering that the weekly box of bounty is not all that bountiful for two families;
  • Sharing one eggplant or two (very puny) sweet potatoes can be an exercise in tactical negotiations between two families (Weekly bartering included exchanges like: “You take the sweet potatoes, I insist!”; “Are you sure?”; “Yes, you take the sweet potatoes, but can I have the one cucumber”; “My kids don’t like Swiss Chard, really, you take the Swiss Chard this week …I’ll take  the tomatoes…” and so on.);
  • Beets. Though the beet offerings as of late are getting more plump, the tiny beets at the beginning of the season in my opinion were not worth the stained hands and countertops for their size;

But readers, as the headline of this blog post promised, this post is about Tomatillos. It’s also about  using the blogosphere to find recipes for my CSA goodies.

Since I’ve been blogging, I have come to appreciate search engines. I find it interesting to learn from my blog stats what search terms draw people to my blog.   For example,  hundreds of people searching for “arugula” or “arugula leaf” have found their way to my blog. So, after my friends decided to bestow  me with this week’s share of almost  two dozen  tomatillos, I returned the favor to the blogosphere by searching for Tomatillos on WordPress.

If you find that you have in your possession a lot of these late-season green, globular fruits with a papery shell, you may want to give this recipe a try for roasted tomatillo salsa that can be used for enchiladas. I found it on Angelinna’s Cottage Blog. Thank you Angelinna, whoever you are.

What’s that Purple Thing from the CSA and what do I do with it? – CSA week 4

Joining a CSA Farm is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get.

The adventures of my first summer with a CSA continue. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Don’t expect to live on what you get in your CSA share. In spring and early summer, you’ll still have to supplement your local produce with things like peppers and other salad vegetables
  • Locally grown produce from a Northeast CSA will not include summer plums and peaches and berries, so you will still have to buy that at the supermarket
  • Expect to get a lot of Kale.  Learn different ways to prepare it, you’ll be surprised how much you like it.
  • Don’t expect vine-ripened tomatoes until at least late July

This week, like last, we received  a bunch of sugar snap peas.

They can be prepared in stir-frys and salads, but my family likes them best raw. Easy enough.

We also received some beautiful purple basil which I shredded and used as a topping for pasta. It’s also good in Thai cooking.

But last week, after getting back from a great trip to see the family back in NYC, I went to pick up our family’s half of the share from our friends. They took the basil because they knew I have a ton of it in my own garden.

What they gave me was this:

This weird, bulbous thing is called Kohlrabi. It’s pronounced: Call Robbie. It looks like it could have grown on futuristic farm on Venus. Just the sight of it made my sons laugh. I have never had Kohlrabi, neither did our CSA partners, so they let me be the brave one and try it first.

So what to do if you encounter Kohlrabi in your CSA share this summer:

  • First you peel the purple away. I thought this was a bit disappointing because it was the vegetable’s purpleness that made it so intriguing to my kids. Underneath, you will find a white flesh, like a turnip.
  • Slice it thinly with a sharp knife. Kohlrabi is tough!
  • Toss it with Olive oil Salt & Pepper and place it on a single baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees. It has a sweet taste and the texture of roasted potatoes
  • Make a Kohlrabi Green Apple Slaw, as featured in A Veggie Venture 
  • Make a Kohlrabi puree, as recommended by Farmgirl’s blog 

I will wait patiently for the mounds of zucchini and tomatoes we’ll get in our CSA share. But in the meantime, I’ll have fun with this strange vegetable that looks like it was grown on another planet.

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