Friday, May 21, 2010

Yet another project

Just because I don't really have enough to do, what with teaching, working for a theater as a fundraiser, putting in my garden and trying to get Hipster Supported Agriculture going, I'm going to be volunteering with a wonderful new project in Chicago to get Victory Gardens going again.

The Peterson Garden Project is an organic, community vegetable garden on the corner of Peterson and Campbell in Chicago’s 40th Ward. Thanks to the incredible energy of The Yarden (aka LaManda; really, never get to know this woman if you don't want to be drawn into her vortex of wonder), neighbors will once again be able to garden on this historic strip of Peterson Avenue. I've signed on as a volunteer in fundraising, sweat equity, and as part of the teaching team for new gardeners.

I went to the groundbreaking this morning (that's LaManda with Alderman O'Connor), and it was thrilling to see people who've been living just a block away from each for decades meeting at the garden for the first time. This week we'll be there with shovels, wood for raised beds, and piles and piles of dirt to get it going in just a few days, in time for Chicago's main growing season.

The site was part of an original WW2 Victory Garden from 1942-1945. This revival Victory Garden is being launched for the 2010 growing season for Chicago residents who, like those gardeners almost 70 years ago, want to work with their neighbors to grow their own food. One of the amazing things that LaManda discovered when she started researching the site was that the WWII Victory Garden movement actually started in Chicago.

I also scored a wild Marsh Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) that had taken root in this currently abandoned lot. I'm fairly shameless when it comes to asking people if I can dig up their plants. This is how I got most of my ornamentals. Transplanted it to my "Woodland" patch which I think is about to morph into a Prairie patch, since that's also where I've put some wild chamomile, and the One Seed Chicago beebalm.

I made this biryani for a volunteers meeting earlier this week, and anticipate providing many more treats and meals for this incredible group of people.

Vegetable-nut biryani
1 1/2 cups basmati rice, cooked in broth (I used the dregs of some coconut milk mixed with water)
Cut greens (I had arugula, radish greens, and spinach from the garden)
sliced carrots
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 cup raisins, plumped
1 cup crushed walnuts

Spices: curry powder, crushed coriander, turmeric (for color)

Prepare the rice according to package instructions, with 1-2 teaspoons of turmeric for color. Five minutes before it’s done, add the raisins (just put them on top and re-cover the pot, no need to mix them in.)

Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan, add curry and crushed coriander to the oil and heat until it just starts to steam; add the vegetables and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the nuts; sauté for a minute or two. Add the greens and sauté until they are bright green. If the rice is not done, turn the heat under the veggies down (or off if it's going to be more than about 5 minutes).

Mix together, salt and pepper to taste.

This also keeps extremely well.


  1. So glad you shared the Biryani recipe--it was delicious! The Peterson Garden Project has amazing spirit; love that it's happening in my 'hood.

  2. I love that picture of LaManda. It sucks that I've been a lame and haven't been able to get up there to check out the awesome work you all are doing.