Rooting DC: A Forum for Growing Urban Food Systems


By Lizzy Gendell, special to Edible DC

Rooting DC’s tagline is “An annual conference. A perennial event”. Last weekend’s forum was a true happening—I was one of the more than 1200 attendees from across the city, including dozens of nonprofits and urban farmers who came together to network, learn and create shared agendas for urban food production, sustainability and improved nutritional health. Rooting DC is a day well spent.

When you stepped through the doors of Wilson High School, you saw how the rich community of our city’s growers, composters, seed savers, social justice activists, teachers, students, friends, and neighbors work together. Similar to the complexity and interdependency of the ecosystems that work together throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed, it seems that Rooting DC’s community members find ways to mirror that interconnectedness.

The day began with meandering through different organizations’ booths and talking to innovators and entrepreneurs of all kinds: vertical gardeners to sauerkraut makers who are sampling from Sweet Farm. After that, everyone dispersed into classrooms where many workshops were offered.IMG_3442

My first workshop was “Talking Race, Class, Workers’ Rights & Food” workshop, where we split into teams and acted out different scenarios of potential conflicts in community garden and farm environments. Notable takeaways were the reminder that in the community of food production, we spend a lot of time growing food and plants, but not as much time growing relationships. It is often assumed that community gardens are beneficial to and wanted by a community, but it is important to ask the community what they want, and build & sustain relationships before taking action. The workshop leaders, both representing DC Fair Food, suggested that we can get more involved in this topic through campaigns such as “Pay Family Leave” and DC Fair Food.

The day would not be complete without the series of food trucks waiting for all the Rooting DC goers at lunch (all of whom are probably foodies at heart). Lemongrass Food truck filled with delicious Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches was there to feed us, wholesome and nutritious bowls from Beefsteak and many more.

Ultimately, Rooting DC begs the interest of all who are thinking about where their food comes from: whether they are home gardeners, small farmers, urban herbalists, food justice activists, chefs, or students. This amazingly informative event highlights the interconnectedness and interdependency of our local food system: from the soil we plant in to the food on our plate.



Chicago-native Lizzy Gendell is a spring semester intern at Edible DC, and a junior at George Washington University where she is majoring in American Studies and minoring in Sustainability. @romainecalmandcarroton

Cool as a Cucumber - Nine Easy Ways to Use One of Summer's Best Veggies

Words and photos by Rachael Bender, special to EdibleDC CucumbersIt's cucumber season! Cukes have had a strong season and are plentiful in the farm markets, and maybe from your home garden. Growing cucumbers is easy and rewarding. Using a trellis to help the vines grow as tall as they grow wide, it’s an adventure to sift through the big leaves and pretty yellow flowers each day to find ready-to-pick cucumbers hidden inside. But when you have an abundance of anything perishable, the question is always: what should I do with it all? Here are ideas for using this superfood daily.

Make pickles. Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. Find your favorite mason jars and make a brining liquid for turning your cucumbers into sweet or sour pickles. Check out recipes here and here.

Freshen up your H2O. We all need to stay hydrated in the warm summer weather. Throw cucumber slices into your prettiest pitcher for an instant classic. They are 95% water anyway!

Explore salads from around the world. Make a Japanese cucumber salad with soy sauce, rice vinegar, scallions and a dash of sesame oil. Chop up a Greek salad with tomatoes, onions and olive oil. Add cucumbers to your favorite tabbouleh recipe. It’s an easy upgrade from your average garden salad.

Japanese Cucumber Salad

Host high tea. It’s as easy as a cucumber sandwich – thin slices on high-quality white bread slathered with cream cheese mixed will dill and a little lemon juice. Cut into triangles for a fancy presentation so you’re ready for that surprise visit from Queen Elizabeth and Princess Kate.

Spiralize it. The spiralizer gets prime real estate on my kitchen counter all summer because I use it so often. Make sesame cucumber noodles with peanut sauce for a bowl that tastes like takeout.

Enjoy a refreshing frappe. Blend cucumbers with plain Greek yogurt, lime juice, fresh mint, ice and a pinch of sugar for a smoothie delight. Add macerated blackberries to the bottom of the glass to make it a dessert.

Cucumber Frappe with Blackberries

Taste tzatziki. I recently hosted a Greek-themed dinner for friends and one dish on the table all night was tzatziki. This refreshing sauce is great with grilled meats or as a dip with veggies and pita.

Channel your inner Julia Child. Cucumbers baked in butter? Yep. That’s what Julia would do. Find the recipe with multiple variations here.

Have an afternoon snack. One of my favorite ways to eat cucumbers is to peel, slice and dress with lemon and pinch of salt. Simple, quick and healthy.

Whether used for meals, as a hangover cure or as an anti-inflammatory eye mask, remember that cucumbers are one of summer’s best produce.


Rachel_BenderRachael Bender enjoys cooking as much as dining out, particularly when she can use harvests from her home garden.  A regulatory attorney by day, she caught the travel bug and looks forward to sampling local cuisines while visiting all 50 states with her husband. 

The Skinny on Asparagus

By Eugenia Bone, author of The Kitchen Ecosystem, special to Edible Communities SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

When my son was very young he was a binge eater. One fall he ate tomatoes and apples. Just tomatoes and apples. The following winter it was ground beef. But after a full Spring of his eating pretty much nothing but baked asparagus, which he nibbled from top to bottom, I became exasperated and asked his doctor if these eating habits were going to cause malnutrition or…or what? But Dr. Heiss put my worries aside. He said the whole idea of a daily food requirement was bogus (and some say a government-supported fiction perpetrated by the food industry lobby), and that a good diet only makes sense from an annual perspective. Over the course of a year, at the rate my son was going, his diet was perfectly fine. I started to think about this, and how much sense it makes in terms of eating seasonally. What nature wants us to do is binge on fresh, regional foods at their nutritional peak. How much nutrition are you getting from asparagus picked in Chile in December and shipped thousands of miles? Better to eat and preserve them now, while the wild (well, not exactly wild, as Asparagus officinalis are feral: they’re escaped domestic asparagus) and cultivated asparagus are in their glory.

Wild asparagus grow pretty much all over the country. You’ll find them along fence lines, ditches, and roads; though avoid roadsides where you suspect there may have been weed spraying. Once you locate a patch you’ll be able to harvest these perennials every year. (It’s easy to locate a patch before everything starts greening up as they stand out from other weeds. For guidance, check out The tender shoots or spears come up in the spring, and as the temperature warms, the plant become ferny and bushy, eventually producing little red berries (which are inedible). Wild asparagus can be anywhere from a foot high to as tall as you, and the spears can be stringy and tough, but the flavor! It was wild asparagus that opened my mind to the byproducts that could be made with asparagus.

Cultivated asparagus are sold thick and thin, and vary in color from white to green to purple. White asparagus are blanched by mounding earth around the plant to protect it from the sun. Interestingly, people either seem to love them or hate them. (I love them poached in stock, with sautéed morels on top.) Thick asparagus come from older plants or early harvests, and thin asparagus come from younger plants or later harvests, as the new asparagus shoots become thinner as the season progresses. (By the way, the distinct smell of your pee after eating asparagus is a result of metabolizing certain compounds in the asparagus. The younger the asparagus you eat, the stronger the smell.)

I prefer thick asparagus as the texture holds up better under cooking and canning, and I like the purple cultivars the most, as they are especially sweet and tender, though if you pickle them they stain the vinegar purple. It’s okay. Weird, but okay. Look for firm stalks with tight tips. Once the buds start to open the spear quickly becomes woody. Store asparagus in a jar of water in the fridge as you would cut flowers. If you ask me, they’re just as beautiful.

You don’t need to peel asparagus unless the stems are tough, and then, only the lower half of the asparagus. So how much of the spear to use? You can use it all. To trim asparagus, either peel the tough end, and cut off the dry tip, or snap the spears. Hold the ends of the asparagus and gently bend. It will break at the point where the tender part of the asparagus ends. The tougher end of the spear has plenty of flavor, and can be used to make an aromatic stock. You can use the stock many ways: as a soup base (it’s a fabulous base for fish soup), as a poaching liquid for fish, to make risotto, and to cook spaghettini.

Cooked with fish or eggs, pickled and used in place of capers in dishes like Chicken Piccata, poached and dressed with homemade mayonnaise, or simply baked and drizzled with oil and Parmesan cheese, asparagus are a real seasonal treat. I pig out on them when they are in, especially in conjunction with other spring foods, like lamb, morel mushrooms, and soft shell crabs, and vegetable plates with artichokes, peas, and ramps. Not only are they delicious, but I know binging is the best way to access their great nutritional profile. At least, that’s what the doctor told me.

Wild Asapargus photo eugenia bone

Shaved Asparagus, Pea, and Pea Shoot Salad

I have served this surprisingly rich salad as a second course after a pasta dish, on top of a piece of broiled fish, and garnished with croutons: they’re all good! When choosing pea shoots, look for small pale leaves with plenty of thin, curling tendrils. Avoid large stemmy pea shoots, which are tougher. But if you do find them in the market with very long stems you can cut the stems off and throw them in the stockpot. Save the asparagus ends or peels for Asparagus Stock (below).


1½ cups shelled fresh peas (about 1 pound in the shell)

12 thick spears asparagus, trimmed (as described in text above)

1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled

½ teaspoon mustard powder

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 whole anchovy (see Note), chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ pound pea shoots

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

In a pot of boiling water, cook the peas until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Using a very sharp knife (or a mandolin if you have one) cut the asparagus into very thin slivers on an angle. Raw asparagus must be very thinly sliced to be palatable.

Rub the garlic clove around the inside of a wooden bowl. Add the mustard powder and lemon juice. Mix until the mustard powder dissolves. Add the anchovy and combine well.

Add the oil, mixing all the while. Add the peas, asparagus, and pea shoots and toss in the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss with the Parmesan cheese.

Note: I prefer whole anchovies cured in salt, which you can find in Italian markets. Soak them for 10 minutes to remove the salt, then rinse and fillet them. You don’t have to get all the bones, just the spine.

Asparagus bunch

Asparagus Pesto

This puree is great to have on hand. It makes an excellent sauce for broiled fish or for pasta or ravioli, or a poached egg on an English muffin. With added cream and seasoning, it’s also perfect as a warm soup. It is not thick, but loose and light. To make this pesto more robust, add 1/3 cup pine nuts to the food processor. Save the asparagus cooking water and ends or peels for Asparagus Stock (recipe below).


1 pound asparagus, trimmed (as described in text above)

1/3 cup pine nuts (optional)

2 garlic cloves, sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


Cut the asparagus in large pieces and place them in a large pot. Add just enough water to barely cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and boil the asparagus gently until they are fork-tender, about 10 minutes for slender asparagus, longer for thick ones. Reserving the cooking water, drain the asparagus.

Place the asparagus in a food processor along with 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water and the garlic. Add the pine nuts, if using, the oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste and pulse to combine. If necessary, add a bit more cooking water to get a smooth pesto.

The asparagus pesto holds in the freezer for 8 to 12 months. Add salt and pepper as you use the pesto (seasoning loses its oomph when frozen).


Spaghettini with Asparagus Pesto


If you have asparagus pesto on hand you always have a quick dinner. This pasta dish is elegant, beautiful as a first course or a light dinner. For an extra savory dish, cook the pasta in chicken broth (see side bar). You can also jazz up the garnishes: try sautéed shrimp, a dollop of homemade ricotta, or chopped fresh chives, or a combination.

¾ lb spaghettini 1 heaping cup asparagus pesto (recipe above), warmed Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese for garnish

4 tablespoons toasted breadcrumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over a high heat. Add the spaghettini and cook until al dente. Drain. In a large serving bowl toss the pasta with the asparagus pesto. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with the grated cheese and breadcrumbs.


Eugenia Bone-1


Eugenia Bone is a cook and author whose stories and recipes have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country including The New York Times Magazine to Saveur, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Fine Cooking, The Wine Enthusiast, Martha Stewart Living, and The Wall Street Journal, among many others. She is the author of 5 books, among them Italian Family Dining, and Well Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Food (nominated for a James Beard award); Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms, and The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals. Visit Eugenia's blog,

Spicy Tomato Pepper Jam

by Kristen Hartke, managing editor of Edible DC Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

Now that we’ve segued from summer to early fall, my little plot in the local community garden is overflowing with the most prolific fruits of the season — namely, tomatoes and jalapeño peppers, all producing like crazy and sweeter than ever from warm days and cool nights. My favorite thing to do with these beauties is turn them into a spicy-sweet jam that can be enjoyed as the weather turns colder and a reminder is needed of summer days gone by. This jam is delicious on burgers, stirred into stews, or spread on toasted baguette slices with or without goat cheese for a tasty appetizer.

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of canning (which is actually pretty easy, but not everyone has room for storing all those jars), you can also place the jam into a quart-sized freezer bag or other freezer-safe container (I like to freeze in one-cup quantities) and then defrost whenever you are ready to use; after that, it will keep well in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes

3 jalapeño peppers, roughly chopped -- you can remove the seeds, use all the seeds, or retain just some of the seeds, depending on how spicy you want the jam to be

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2 TB balsamic vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp fresh chopped tarragon, or 1/4 tsp dried tarragon

salt and pepper to taste

Put first three ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until somewhat smooth but still slightly chunky, then spoon into a 2-quart saucepan. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the salt and pepper, and mix together well. Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to very low and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes or until reduced to the texture of a thick jam. Add salt and pepper to taste and allow to cool completely. At this point, you can simply store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or can or freeze it for later consumption. Makes about 1.5 cups of jam.

Overrun with zucchini? Make Zucchini Bread — that actually tastes like zucchini

by Rachael Bender


This year my garden has exactly one zucchini plant.  Multiple tomato plants, four basil, a few dill, and some parsley. But only one zucchini.

However, this zucchini plant has all but taken over almost an entire garden box - spreading itself out into the aisles of the garden, twisting into the tomatoes, and forcing the relocation of two pepper plants.  Seriously, it looks like Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors”; in fact, every time I water the garden, I can hear it saying, “Feed me, Seymour!”

So I have spent the whole summer looking for new ways to use all my zucchini.

To my welcome surprise, while reading Gail Simmons book, Talking with My Mouth Full, I was drawn to the section where she writes about how, while she was growing up, her mother used zucchinis for everything, instead of more traditional ingredients.  Yes!  Someone who understands.

Inspired, I decided to just start putting zucchini in everything, but started out, as most people do, with baked goods.  I have a recipe I like for zucchini muffins, but the finished product tastes more like a spice cake than anything else. I could slap some icing on one and call it a cupcake without anyone noticing.

This time, I was looking for more of a bread recipe, where the zucchini is the star, not the cinnamon or the nutmeg.  I thought, let’s take my mother-in-law’s beloved banana bread recipe, swap zucchini for the bananas and see how it turns out.

Good thing I made two loaves.  Not only did my husband love it, but my sister claimed a loaf for herself.  It is moist, flavorful, and uses up at least some of the zucchini that I’ve enjoyed all summer from my garden — although there’s still a lot more to left. I’m open to more suggestions!

Zucchini Bread


1-1/4 cups shredded zucchini (about 1 medium zucchini)

1/3 cup melted butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg (beaten)

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

pinch of salt

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts (optional)


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the shredded zucchini with the melted butter, then add the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture, then fold in the flour until well-incorporated. Add just a little cinnamon and nutmeg, if using, and the walnuts, again, if you’re using them.

Pour into a buttered loaf pan and tap the pan on the counter to help remove any air bubbles. Bake about 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Enjoy!