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November 30th, 2011

Warm up with this hearty supper: Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Split Peas

mgtaylor60by Marygrace Taylor—
Even though the calendar doesn’t say so yet, we’re all starting to feel that extra snappy chill that tells us winter has arrived. Even down here in Austin, evening temperatures have plunged into the 40’s and 50’s, and I’m left craving some serious comfort food. But nutritionally, mac and cheese every night just won’t cut it. So I came up with this veggie-packed shepherd’s pie that gets its protein boost from creamy split peas instead of the usual ground beef. It’s warm and satisfying—and a dish that kids are sure to love, since it’s topped with mashed potatoes. The next time your family wants something cozy and comforting for dinner, try this. And if you like this recipe, be sure to sign up for KIWI magazine’s seasonal cooking e-newsletter, KIWI Cooks—where you’ll get plenty more just like it!

shepherds-pie-kiwi

Veggie Shepherd’s Pie with Split Peas
Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes

This hearty casserole, which works equally well as a weeknight dinner or a holiday main dish. Kids will love the bright, sunny color of the yellow split peas, but green split peas work equally well.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the pie plate
6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, diced into 2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
½ pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cooked yellow split peas
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
½ cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup 1 percent milk
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Lightly grease a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

2. Add the diced potatoes to the boiling water and cook until fork-tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

3. While the potatoes cook, add the olive oil and the onion to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, until the carrots begin to soften and the mushrooms have cooked down. Add the split peas, garlic, and thyme and cook 2 minutes more, then add the vegetable broth. Allow the mixture to simmer while you make the mashed potatoes.

4. Drain the potatoes and place them back in the pot. Add the butter and use a fork or potato masher to mash the potatoes. Slowly pour in the milk while you continue to mash, using a little bit more or less to reach the consistency you like. Add the salt and pepper, taste, and add more seasoning if necessary.

5. Transfer the vegetable mixture to the pie plate (there should be some broth still left in the skillet; pour that on top). Smooth with a spatula, then spread the mashed potatoes evenly over the top.

6. Place the pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the mashed potatoes are just beginning to brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 6
Per serving: calories 312, fat 9 g, protein 9 g, carbohydrates 50 g, dietary fiber 9 g


Marygrace Taylor is the staff writer and recipe developer for KIWI Magazine. She lives and cooks in Austin, Texas, with her husband and dog, Charlie.

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November 28th, 2011

Site Assignments

Mario-peace-corps-blog-80by Mario Machado

Last week, the long-awaited news was finally released to our group of anxious Peace Corps trainees. On Wednesday, we were assigned our future sites, the places in which we will be living and working for the next 2 years. Over the weekend, 34 trainees dispersed across Paraguay for our first encounters with communities that range in character from dense, semi-urban barrios to remote farming villages. My site is one of the latter.

The road to Guido Almada is not short and is certainly not easy. The initial bus ride from Asunción goes east for about 150 kilometers to Coronel Oviedo before turning north for another 50 kilometers to the small city of Carajao. The intersection with the 30-kilometer dirt road that leads to Cleto Romero (and, eventually, Guido Almada) is unmarked and almost undistinguishable, unless you know what you are looking for. Once in Carajao, one must hitch a ride on the once-daily bus, a taxi passing by chance, or one of the ubiquitous ox-drawn carts that regularly make the excursion to market. The dirt road quickly becomes mud at even the thought of rain and is utterly impassable for days following the stronger storms.

Click to enlarge the image.

Click to enlarge the image.

I arrived in Guido Almada last weekend with a packet of information on potential projects, community contacts, and a general orientation to the region. Quickly, however, and as I have come to expect in this country, all plans and preconceptions were soon obsolete as the conditions on the ground curiously toppled along in a rhythm all their own. The family with which I was to live for my first several months in site suffered a terrible loss the night of my arrival: The matriarch of the family, suddenly sick, passed away shortly after dark. In such isolated areas with the conditions of life being as harsh as they typically are, sickness and death seem to take on a much different and almost routine character.

The community itself, despite its geographic isolation, is surprisingly well connected and organized. Guido Almada and the surrounding communities have a strong history of resisting oppression and fighting for rights as a result of Paraguay’s 35-year Stroessner dictatorship, which ended in 1989. The farmers’ committees have established a strong leadership and actively express a desire to diversify to more sustainable methods. While agriculture provides a large part of family subsistence in Guido Almada, the community members are extremely interested in converting to organic farming methods (in both home gardens and possibly in some larger agricultural plots). My job over the next 2 years—along with teaching English classes, helping in the schools, and providing any and every amount of technical assistance that I can—will be to help promote and instill organic farming methods in the community.

This desire to convert to organic techniques is far from the norm here in Paraguay, where many people survive on what they can manage to grow and trade for. The fact that I have found myself in such a situation, with a community that sees the benefits and need for sustainability so clearly, is truly amazing. I am just beginning to realize how big my task will be in the next 2 years. I am also realizing what a lucky accident it was that found me working in the Rodale Institute’s organic vegetable gardens last summer. Who could have known how these things would work out? Thanks to all my friends at the Rodale farm and office; I really owe you a big one.

On the edge of my Paraguayan seat,

Mario


Mario Machado is currently studying in Asunción, Paraguay, prior to serving for two years as an agricultural educator with the Peace Corps. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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November 23rd, 2011

Growing Tulips in Containers

Keriann&Jeroen-100by Keriann Sloat Koeman—

Container planting has endless creative possibilities. This year as Thanksgiving quickly approaches, I wanted to add some pizzazz to my front porch, and I wanted something besides regular old mums to top my potted tulips while I waited for them to bloom in the spring. I discovered ornamental kale and cabbage in an array of striking shades of purple, pink, white, and green. They were the perfect toppers for my potted tulips. Growing tulips in pots is easy and fun for the whole family.

Find a container or pot
Use clean pots with drainage holes, and place some little rocks or gravel on the bottom to ensure good drainage.

Plant your bulbs
Add a few inches of potting soil in the container and plant the bulbs point up. When you plant, press the bulb with the flat side into the potting soil. Add another layer of potting soil (enough to cover the bulbs by at least 2 to 3 inches) and water slightly. Bulbs don’t like wet roots, so be careful that you don’t overwater. Add a 1-inch layer of coarse sand or mulch to keep the soil moist.

Cold period and rooting
Don’t add any fertilizer. Place the container in a cold area where it is between 32°F and 50°F. We suggest the fridge/garage or basement to give the tulips their “cold period.”*

During the “cold period,” water lightly once or twice. After 6 to 12 weeks, sprouts will emerge. When the sprouts are 2 to 4 inches tall, the tulips are ready to receive direct sunlight in a warm area.

Grow your flowers!
Place the container in an area with direct sunlight inside or out. The tulips will flower in 2 to 4 weeks depending on the temperature.

*If you decide to top your container with ornamental kale or cabbage, you can leave them on your porch all winter long or until they start to look straggly. Water sparingly as needed.

For more tips and information on organic tulips, check out www.ecotulips.com.


Keriann S. Koeman is the Vice President & Co-Founder of EcoTulips—The only supplier of organic tulip bulbs in the US!

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November 21st, 2011

Poetic Seed-Saving

Barding in the Garden at the end of a pretty good season.

Stanzas seem a lot like raised beds to me, spaces where things can grow, cultivated, of their own vitality…

Garden-Plots-norelli

Garden Plots, by A. Norelli

Light somersaulting
from the last of the many
green peppers gone red

as flowers
and I dream
root’s

wiry headways
traveling
underground after

water, nutrition,
and the secret tillings
of the worm…

Certain things need a
year. I will not talk
melons; cauliflower

was a bust
but last night I dreamed
it growing well

no new tomatoes;
I planted clover beneath
peaches! Crazy!

Velvet-horned bucks
deface trunks—
eat sweet greens too!

*

This poem was intended to be a string of haiku, but in practice it turned into many distinct attempts to encompass the form. I only kept the kernels I liked, weeding out and composting the rest, which left me 15, then 13, and finally eight stanzas. In each of them—the product of my first all-out season of micro-farming—there was some sort of fruit even if there was crop failure. And of course there are surprises brought about by using Form: a friend of mine noticed that ‘melons, cauliflower’ next to each other sounded a lot like melancholy, which was a great poetic harvest considering they were both devastated by groundhogs and the low point of my year. But at least I had some consolation that the loss made way for some clever wordplay, right? Very much like the perfect red chilies that were growing in my compost bin without a hint of my help all year! Surprises! That’s what the garden brings, good and bad, big and small! Poetry too! With the seeds of haiku I made a second season out of the end of fall. Who says composting should be relegated solely to the field of gardening? I find the composted realities of gardening are a heady fertilizer for the poetry medium.

And Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!


ARtist, poet, Gardener www.AlexNorelliARt.com

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November 17th, 2011

Culture Shock

Mario-peace-corps-blog-80by Mario Machado
Textbooks have been written on the topic of culture shock, its various manifestations and its particular trajectories. But there is no prescription for how any one person may experience this phenomenon. For me, culture shock has so far existed as a nebulous notion somehow grinding its gears in the recesses of my mind. Perhaps I am being short-sighted and a bit naive, but it seems to me that the trauma of living in a new culture is really just a product of one’s attitude. It’s amazing the things you can acclimate to, given the necessary time and space.

Moving to Paraguay to begin my Peace Corps service was an initial shock that dramatically altered my life in many immediate ways. I began speaking Spanish and Guaraní daily instead of English; I moved in with a Paraguayan host family; I lost most communication with my family and friends; and I was surrounded by things that were new to me. Still, the excitement of being away from my home in the United States—from being pushed out of my comfort zone and into the adventure zone—was thrilling. For about a week, the blog words flowed like water and I could barely contain my thoughts. Each meal was new, carb-rich, fried, and delicious. The language was a challenge that I rose to meet with debatable success. My host family soon became like close friends.

Soon, however, the novelty of it all began to wear off. I became riddled with writers block. I craved veggies and greens as opposed to mandioc and fried dough. I could barely organize thoughts in one language, let alone transition between three on a daily and almost inter-conversational basis. My host family remained warm and wonderful, but as one would expect, had lives to lead and went about doing so.

And yet, while the stresses of acculturation come in waves, the overall trend is toward positive adaptation. Sure, I am living with a family below the poverty line, out of contact with things that are comfortable and familiar. Yes, I am eating foods like mondongo (cow’s stomach), kidney, giant lizard, horse, and incredibly huge amounts of mandioc almost every week. Absolutely, my brain simply shuts off at times, leaving me without any words at all. And certainly, I shower from a bucket and use a hole in the ground as my toilet.

While all of these things are different and strange, taking time to get used to, none of them make life in Paraguay unbearable. In fact, they make life in Paraguay infinitely more real and more colorful. It hasn’t taken long to embrace the crazy foods; I have learned to eat first and ask questions later. The seeming difficulty of cultural differences is overshadowed by the fact that as you live in a place long enough, eventually that place begins to feel like home. I have been here for only a month and a half, and it simultaneously seems like forever and no time at all. Over the next two years, despite the changes and challenges that I will undoubtedly continue to face, Paraguay will only become more and more like my home.

Until next time,
Mario


Mario Machado is currently studying in Asunción, Paraguay, prior to serving for two years as an agricultural educator with the Peace Corps. The Allentown, Pennsylvania, native and 2011 Penn State graduate spent the summer of 2011 volunteering at the Rodale Institute and the Organic Gardening test garden.

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