◊ Life as an Eco Carny

Dear mom,

If I eat one more kale chip, spoonful of almond butter, slice of vegan cheese or clif bar, I’m either going to vomit or be constipated for life. Life as an eco carny has me drowning in “green” foods samples  – and I think you know plenty about my struggle with free samples.  All I want is my chopping board, loads of veggies, and plain yogurt. I love to travel but am having serious kitchen withdrawal.

This is a rare letter that truly (and regretfully) feels like a substitute for actual communication with you. So I hope people don’t get bored with it as I catch you up on why I haven’t called in a while.

Spirit fingers

November is a whirlwind. I’m on the eco-carny train working festivals in California in order to inform people about my org’s mission and recruit new members. First stop: San Francisco. And I’m completely smitten. The festival ended yesterday and since then I’ve been roaming… seeking funky street murals, popping into bakeries and cafes, sorting through smelly racks of clothes at thrift stores. Can I move here? Job shmob… who cares. I just want to live.

The people in San Fran are weird. Especially the people who come to our events… senile bag ladies, people dressed only in twigs, those who define “green” as marijuana use, unsupervised children with dreadlocks. A weekend at the festival in San Fran served the same purpose as a trip to Wal Mart in Birmingham – it made me feel almost normal… almost sane… and privileged for my token competency.

Coast

When tens of thousands of people come under the same roof to celebrate all things green, the conversation possibilities are endless. I’m on my feet, chatting about the environment and economy all day… and despite my exhaustion come nightfall, I feel pressured to keep up with my coworkers who are always ready to rage throughout the night. And if my boss tells me  to drink, then I have to drink :). Since our crew has been coming here for years, we have our regular digs… the favorite is a piano karaoke bar called Martuni’s, where broadway actors chill after shows. On Sunday night, we sipped martinis while the cast of the Lion King competed over karaoke. It. was. amazing.

This is where I landed during my run today

And about the visibility issue… I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but… I am writing letters to my mother visible to the whole freaking world! I challenge you to name any action more visible than that. Yes, I am shy by nature and yes, when I was young, I didn’t speak (is a selective mutism self-diagnosis pushing it too far?). But I’d like to think that I’ve exercised my shyness comfort zone plenty.

I’m just not a chatty person and that’s that. Verbal communication is overrated (which is why I miss India where all I had to do was  smile, nod, make funny faces and stir my hands in the air). So maybe my take on boys is hypocritical. I hate the way that boys act towards me, but is it my fault for not giving them opportunities to act in other ways? I guess I don’t give people much to work with. Am I too defensive? Too insecure? Ugh I’m over this conversation. I embrace my single-lady-ness and should stop attacking its persistence.

Anyway, right before I left for California, Arielle and I hosted a brunch that lasted til 6pm (success). We decided last minute to post the brunch as an American Jewish World Service Global Hunger Shabbat event, which lured friendly strangers. We started the brunch with ice-breakers (my fav!) and quickly cut the awkwardness with alcohol.  The menu is below.

Cucumber grapefruit gin fizz

Bloody Marys with Celery Ice Cubes

Spinach Feta Pumpkin Muffins

Buckwheat Fig Scones

Ricotta Cardamom Pancakes

Big Beautiful Porridge with Nuts and Dried Fruits

Radish Cucumber Salad

Fall Veggie Hash

Spinach Onion Frittata

Blintzes (thanks Ilana and Molly)

Pumpkin Muffins (thanks Sami and Ayla!)

Me: How did we drink so much?
Carolyn: We’re grown people… uhh… grown ups. We’re grown ups. It’s very possible to drink so much.

You would have loved the celery ice cube bloody marys (minus the cheap vodka).  I’m including my two favorite recipes from brunch in this post – the buckwheat scones and spinach feta pumpkin muffins. They were the first dishes to run out and are both perfect for fall. I adapted both of these recipes from 101cookbooks.com. Heidi, the site’s blogger always posts the most beautiful, healthful recipes!

As it gets colder, I’m obsessed with buckwheat and these scones are perfect… not too sweet but just enough to complement the nutty buckwheat.  I know buckwheat is not a normal flavor to love and I’m blaming bubbe for pushing kasha on me since childhood. Maybe we can make them for Thanksgiving.

I’m in San Fran for another day and then off to Los Angeles. And then I’ll be home for Thanksgiving! Can’t say that I miss DC yet.

Love,

Shaina

PS. Mark said that I refer to you by your first names? …huh? Right back atcha. I would never. Ever.

Fig Buckwheat Scones:

(Adapted from 101cookbooks.com – thank you, Heidi! Original recipe is here.)

These scones are the most beautiful, photogenic baked good I’ve ever created. Usually, I have a hard time making things that are supposed to come out pretty, but this recipe inspired me to (try) to follow instructions. And even though I wasn’t precise in my measurements or process, they came out beautiful and delicious.

Dry mix:

  • 1 1/2 C buckwheat flour
  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Wet mix:

  • 4 Oz cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/4 C heavy cream
  • 1 C Fig Butter ( recipe below)

First, mix dry ingredients. Then, add butter. You can either make dough in food processor or rub butter between your fingers, rubbing it into dry mix until it feels like grains of rice. It’s important that the butter stay solid and cold, so do this quickly!

Then add the cream and gently mix into flour.

Transfer dough onto a well-floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into your best rectangle (Heidi says it should be 8 inches wide, 16 inches long, and 3/4 inch thick… but I just did my best to get it to look like a square). Make sure the dough does not stick by using plenty of extra flour.

Spread the fig butter on the dough and roll the long edge of the dough into a log so that the seam is on the bottom.

Slice the log in half with a knife and place the halves on a baking sheet. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (can be kept in fridge for two days).

Preheat the oven to 350° and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

After 30 minutes, take  logs out of the refrigerator and cut into 6 equal pieces. Place each scone flat on baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through.  The scones are ready to come out when their undersides are golden brown. They are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day.

Makes 12 scones.

Fig Butter:

  • 6 dried figs
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C nuts (I’ve used cashews, walnuts and/or almonds)
  • dash sea salt
  • clove powder, ginger, cinnamon and vanilla to taste

Add all ingredients to food processor and puree until smooth. Whenever I make this, I always double or triple the ingredients – even though I intend to make it for a specific recipe like this one, I use it liberally throughout the week – it’s great stirred into oatmeal or yogurt, or spread onto apple slices or a cracker.

Pumpkin Spinach Feta Muffins

(Adapted from 101cookbooks.com, original recipe here)

  • 1 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 C cubed pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 2 tsp sea salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 large handful of chopped spinach
  • 4 tbs chopped parsley
  • 3 tbs sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tbs toasted walnuts in pieces
  • 3/4 C grated Parmesan
  •  1/2 C cubed feta
  • 5 tsp  mustard
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 C buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 2 C flour
  • 4 tsp  baking powder

Preheat oven to 405F  and grease a muffin pan with butter.

Toss squash in salt, pepper and olive oil and roast on baking sheet for 15 minutes until cooked through. Set aside.

Mix two-thirds of the squash with chopped spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, two-thirds of the feta, and all of the mustard. Add lots of salt and black pepper!

In a separate bowl, beat eggs and buttermilk/yogurt  and add to the squash mix. Sift the flour and baking powder onto the  mix. Add salt and a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper and fold together – do not overmix!

Spoon the mixture into muffin pan and top each muffin with a bit of the remaining squash and feta.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes  until the tops of the muffins are golden. Let cool slightly before serving.

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