Ninety-Nine Things We Like - Part One - Giving Tuesday Edition

Here is the first part of our list of ninety-nine things (places, groups, people, etc) that we like.  Our theme for today is Non-Profits and Charities, primarily because we want to make sure these folks get their names out there, but also because it is Giving Tuesday (#GivingTuesday) and apparently that means people are looking for worthy organizations to shower with cash today specifically.

Well look no further, below is a well-cultivated list of organizations doing good work in Chicago to make things better for us all.  We kept annotation to a minimum, but you are welcome and encouraged to click through to their websites and learn more about them.  Most of them fall into one of two categories: 1) "hey, we help queer people/youth live healthier and happier lives", 2)"hey, we help people gain access to food in the city, either growing it or just in general, yay."  Other than that, there are a couple wildcards.

1. Windy City Performing Arts - the organization in which Kristl and Rachel met, there is an SSAA chorus (Windy City Treble Quire) and a TTBB chorus (Windy City Gay Chorus) and the groups are having their combined concert this Saturday at 5pm and 8pm.

2. Felines and Canines -Edgewater-based no-kill shelter housing ~80 cats and ~20 dogs, they have a safe, beautiful space for animals, and a very high adoption rate.

3. Chicago House - Chicago House and Social Service Agency serves individuals and families who are disenfranchised by HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ marginalization, poverty, homelessness, and/or gender nonconformity by providing housing, employment services, medical linkage and retention services, HIV prevention services, legal services, and other supportive programs.

4. Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois - TJLP is a group of radical activists, social workers, and organizers who provide support, advocacy, and free, holistic advocacy and criminal legal services to poor and street-based transgender people in Illinois.

5. El Rescate - is a project of the Puerto Rican cultural center that provides identity-affirming housing to homeless LGBTQ youth, some being HIV positive, and support services to assist with their transition to independence.

6. ONE Northside - is a community action organization composed of community members (like churches and credit unions) as well as concerned individuals that work with lawmakers to make social change.

7. Project Fierce - Project Fierce Chicago is a grassroots collective of radical social workers, housing advocates, and young people who are working together to establish identity-affirming transitional housing in ChicagoProject Fierce’s mission is to reduce LGBTQ youth homelessness in Chicago by providing transitional housing and support services to homeless LGBTQ young adults.

8. The Night Ministry - The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. Through the Night Ministry's Health Outreach Bus, Youth Outreach Van, and Youth Shelter Network, they work on the ground in Chicago neighborhoods to reach adults, teens, pregnant and new moms who have nowhere else to go.

9. Howard Brown - Howard Brown Health Center exists to eliminate the disparities in health care experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people through research, education and the provision of services that promote health and wellness.

10. Chicago Women’s Health Center - Chicago Women’s Health Center facilitates the empowerment of women and trans* people by providing access to health care and health education in a respectful environment where people pay what they can afford.

11. Greater Chicago Food Depository - The Food Depository, founded in 1979, makes a daily impact across Cook County with a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, mobile programs, children’s programs, older adult programs and innovative responses that address the root causes of hunger. Last year, the Food Depository distributed 67 million pounds of shelf-stable food, fresh produce, dairy products and meat, the equivalent of 154,000 meals every day.

12. Care for Real - They help those in the Edgewater community by providing food, clothing and counseling services to those in need. They have on-site food distribution, deliveries to the homebound, a free clothes closet and a case-management program to help clients connect with other services they may need.

13. Greenheart Transforms - Greenheart is a nonprofit committed to connecting people and planet to create a more peaceful and sustainable global community.

14. NeighborSpace - NeighborSpace is the only nonprofit urban land trust in Chicago that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups. We shoulder the responsibilities of property ownership so that community groups can focus on gardening. NeighborSpace-protected gardens give young and old alike an opportunity to get their hands in the earth and enjoy nature, right in their own neighborhoods.

15. Peterson Garden Project - hosts community gardens all over the northside of Chicago, recently opened a community kitchen in Edgewater.

16. Advocates for Urban Agriculture - Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) is a coalition of individuals, organizations and businesses working to support and expand sustainable agriculture in the Chicago area, from home- and community-based growing to market gardens and small farms.

So, that's our curated list.  Did we miss any of your favorite organizations?  Are there sustainable or queer organizations that you feel absolutely should be on this list? Please leave a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter.  We are always excited to learn about more enlivened non-profits doing good work in Chicago.  Or maybe Chicago isn't your home city, but you want to let us know what is going on in Portland or New York.  Start the conversation.  We're listening!

Curious about part two of this series? Go ahead and click here to see it!

September 2013 Food Swap

September Swap
September Swap

It's always so exciting when it's time to start prepping for another Food Swap.  We started prepping for this swap about mid July, when we were getting a HUGE number of cucumbers from our CSA (Angelic Organics).  We don't eat a lot of raw cucumbers, so the natural decision was to make pickles. We don't like the way canned (shelf stable) pickles become less crunchy after processing, so we made fridge pickles.  The pickles we decided to bring to the swap were our second batch of fridge pickles for the summer.  The first time we made pickles this summer (and for our broccoli stem pickles), we used dill weed to make them taste like dill.  This time we used dill seed.  The difference is a deeper, but more subtle dill flavor.  We thought bringing some of these pickles to the swap would be a good idea, because it would give a couple weeks to mature in flavor and be just about perfect for our lucky swap friends to eat right up. We even used the Ball Heritage Collection Pint Jars Kristl won at the last swap!

The other two items we brought were very different from pickles.  We brought homemade organic vanilla marshmallows and curried pumpkin goat cheese dip.  We made marshmallows for the first time earlier this summer with my friend Tracy in North Carolina. (It was part of an all-from-scratch s'mores project, which was really delightful, even though the chocolate making kit's directions didn't make any sense.) They are surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a good stand mixer.  We used organic corn syrup, because we really try to avoid GMOs in our food, and Kristl used a real vanilla bean to flavor them.  We were, however, up against a lot of other marshmallows at the swap today, so even though they came out perfectly, they didn't go very quickly.

The curried pumpkin goat cheese dip is a recipe we came up with a couple years ago as a last minute dish to bring to a party.  Kristl was like, "Oh pumpkin goat cheese would be like pumpkin cream cheese!" And I said, "Yeah, and if we add curry it'll be nice and savory!" And a delicious fall party dip was born. (I'm pretty sure those aren't the real words we exchanged, but you get the idea.)  It's a ratio of about two to one, cheese to pumpkin, with curry to taste (probably around a tablespoon), a little salt, a little honey, and a little lemon.  I can't really give you a whole lot more direction than that, as I did a lot of mixing things in, tasting, and mixing a little more of honey or curry to taste.  It was our most popular item at the swap, and unfortunately, we only had three 1/4 pint jars to give away, and the sample jar (which we gave to a friend at the end of the day.)

Before I go into what we got, I will say that this swap was really overwhelming.  It was held at the Petersen Garden Project's office, which is pretty similar to other previous swap spaces, if you include the outdoor area.  Unfortunately, it was raining, and the backyard had limited tenting, so a few poor folks were set up outside, but the majority of the 50ish (I'm not actually sure about numbers, sorry) swappers were crammed inside the building. It was pretty chaotic, and you could definitely see some folks were overwhelmed by the atmosphere.  I am the more extroverted between Kristl and I, so I was on deck for the majority of the bartering and squeezing around other swappers to find the people and items I wanted.

One new aspect of this swap was that it had sponsors! Jarlsberg USA and Woolwich Dairy provided abundant (and delicious) cheese samples for swappers, as well as providing cheese to two swappers to create an original recipe with! We volunteered to be one of the lucky swappers, but were too late. We did use goat cheese in one of our swap items anyway! We're curious to see how things work out with future swap sponsors.

Our bounty
Our bounty

We ended up getting a nice collection of items, regardless.  I was heading out of state on business for most of the week, so Kristl wanted to make sure we didn't get too many perishable/sweet things.  The majority of our swap items were in the realm of the savory.  The only thing not pictured is Chris's sprouts, which were lovely, fresh, and our snack on the way home from the swap.  Most of the items are untested at this point, but Kristl  told me the brussel sprout salad was delightful and the brownish saran-wrapped item, a Filipino rice dessert, was a sort of like stickier version of butter mochi (a sticky rice dessert popular in Hawaii which may make an appearance at a future swap).

It's just amazing to me how creative our fellow swappers are and how different the offerings are at every swap.  Kristl and I try to strategize what is best for each swap, what types of dishes will be popular, and what will get us a diverse collection of items to take home.  Sometimes we are spot on (we think August was our best swap to date) and sometimes we make similar items to everyone else.  That's what happened with marshmallows this time around; who knew so many people would think to make them?  We have follow up plans for marshmallows (think chocolate and graham cracker creations), but for the September swap we still managed to walk away with inspiring items and delicious food.

You know we can't post a swap recap without adding at least one tip for swappers. This one's an important one. Be sure to thoroughly label your swap items.This is the first time we received multiple items with absolutely no labeling. I realized after the swap that we hadn't included a date made/use by date on our swap items.

Here are some things to absolutely include on the label:

1. What the item is. 2. Whether it is shelf stable/should be refrigerated/etc. We usually just throw everything we got from a swap in the fridge, because we don't know if something has been properly canned or not (unless it's labeled or the swapper told us otherwise). 3. Date it was made/canned. 4. Estimated "Use By" date. 5. Instructions for use (if necessary).

If you have additional space, you can also include the following:

1. Your name. 2. A way to contact you if there are questions (email, website, Twitter, Facebook, phone number, etc). 3. Ingredients.

The next swap will be held on Sunday, October 6, at 4pm, at the new Savory Spice Shop in Lincoln Square. The swap sold out really quickly, but if you're interested, you can add your name to the wait list! Spots always open up, so there's a good chance you'll still be able to get in. Jill Houk (amazing chef) and Angie Garbot (fabulous photographer) will be at the space at 3pm to sign their new cookbook The Essential Dehydrator. We'll do our best to get there early to see them, since Kristl randomly knows both Jill and Angie.

The November swap will be held at The Chopping Block in the Merchandise Mart on Sunday, November 10, at 3pm. The last swap of the year will be on Saturday, December 7, at 3pm, at Enerspace Chicago. I believe the capacity for both swaps will be relatively large. Be sure to follow Chicago Food Swap on Facebook to be notified when the swap registration opens. Unfortunately, we have conflicts on both of those dates, so the October swap will be our last for the year. Hope y'all don't miss us too much!

Garden Update: July 2013

Garden as of July 8th, 2013
Garden as of July 8th, 2013

Welcome back to the "Garden Update" segment, I hope you are excited, because we are! A lot has happened in the garden since the middle of June. We went on a vacation and left our garden in the hands of a friend and any folks willing to water over at Vedgewater. There are bright yellow paint sticks with the words "Water if Dry" written on them. This is an indicator that the plotholders are out of town and their water may need some love.  

We've been blessed with a good strong crop of green beans and a delightful team of kale plants. The kale is a Russian variety, and the leaves are coming out to be larger than your hand. The green beans are just getting started, and I'm pretty sure we will see a second flowering from them before they are done. We've eaten at least a couple dozen green beans each and I've been throwing them into stir fries and pastas for extra green crunch.

First picking of green beans!
First picking of green beans!

We have a couple square feet of beets which are not getting terribly large, but we pulled one for tasting last week and it was the sweetest beet you could imagine. It was slightly smaller than a ping pong ball, but totally worth growing for the flavor. I will probably pull the beets in the next week or so to make room for a fall planting. I had planted some little beets in and amongst the spring beets, but they were shaded too much and haven't done a lot. Hopefully, I can make some room for fall beets which will give us a little more sustenance going into the winter times.

Baby beets, almost ready to eat!
Baby beets, almost ready to eat!

Our tomato plants are really coming along, even the ones I thought were goners. We also recently discovered that our broccoli plants, which seemed basically worthless up to this point, are trying to flower. I'm pretty excited about the prospect of broccoli florets, but it's nice to know that if we never get traditional looking broccoli, we can still eat the leaves and the stem. Yum!

We have cucumbers, corn, peppers, and eggplant starting to bloom as well. It's a bit late for many of these plants, but for our first year out, we're pretty proud of what our little plants are doing. The cucumbers have taken quite a hit from the recent heat wave. Even when we water more than once a day, they are looking a bit wilted and sad. We had a couple days last week, when it was really hot, that it was pretty touch and go for a few of our plants. Some things really do not like heat. To help with keeping the ground cool and retaining water, we mulched with cocoa shells. I do not recommend cocoa shells to anyone who has dogs or has a garden frequented by dogs, as they can be dangerous to dogs (It's basically like feeding chocolate to your dog, if the dog tries to eat them off the ground). However, Peterson Garden Project does not allow dogs in their gardens, so we were able to try out cocoa shells for mulch. It seems to be going ok, but even with the mulch, the bed dries out pretty quickly. I'm looking forward to more rain and some slightly cooler weather.

These berries are better than candy.
These berries are better than candy.

The biggest surprise for me in this garden has been our volunteer strawberry plant. It has re-bloomed twice and continues to produce the sweetest and tangiest strawberries I have ever eaten. We were pleased to see that the previous owners of the plot had planted strawberries the year before, because strawberry plants do better after their first year. We have harvested a berry or two every couple days from this plant and the trend seems to be continuing. The heat did get to the strawberry plant a bit too, some of the berries appeared to be almost cooked on the bush, but I think this is mostly a lesson to think about how to provide shade for plants in a shade-less garden. Next year, I will probably add in a bit more infrastructure and plan my planting to have larger plants protect more delicate plants. In the meantime, we will continue to live and learn with the garden, and hopefully I'll be back in August with some gratuitous tomato porn.  Tomatoes are comin'!

Garden Update: The Setup!

If you have been following us on Instagram, you know we have a lovely 4’x8’ garden plot in Peterson Garden Project’s Vedgewater garden. Vedgewater is at the corner of Broadway and Magnolia and has ~180 plots. The land is on rent from Loyola, and this is their second year in operation. I’m hoping--pretty securely because I’ve seen several groups from Loyola working in the garden--that PGP’s lease on the space will be renewed. This is the closest community garden to our house and it’s almost like having a backyard garden. I started my garden planning back in March. I knew I would be growing things this year, because it was the first time in four years I would not be picking up and moving somewhere else. I got a huge stack of urban/small space/container gardening books out of the library. My favorite of all was definitely Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail. Briefly, because this was not meant to be a book review post, this book is great because it goes through prepping a raised bed or container garden, the pests you might encounter, and the natural fertilizers you can use. Plus, it has plant-by-plant breakdowns of what you need to know to raise them. It’s super informative, and while I read it cover to cover once, I wanted to reference it so many times after returning it to the library that I just went and bought it.

Check out our seedlings!

Check out our seedlings!

Armed with knowledge, I set about the process of buying seeds and starting seedlings. I got seeds from three sources. First, I found organic heirloom seeds from Kenyon Organics on Etsy. I bought eggplant, cucumber, kale, chard, peppers, broccoli, basil, and three different types of tomatoes. Around the last week of March, I planted tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and broccoli from seed indoors. I used toilet paper rolls as seedling packs, and filled them with organic seeding soil. I had also purchased a seedling pot maker from Burpee, and used that when I ran out of toilet paper rolls. The toilet paper rolls seemed like an awesome idea; it was re-purposing, biodegradable, and about the right size. However, all the toilet paper rolls developed mold on the outside. They also started to unwind, which made watering difficult because the water would just pour out the top. I recommend the pot maker or just saving the containers from store bought seedlings, which is what I will mostly use next year. Kristl has an Ott lamp for crafting which I used as a makeshift grow light. I wasn’t growing that much, so it was the perfect size.

Back to the story... The peppers and eggplants never came up. The tomatoes all sprouted and grew pretty well, as did the broccoli. We went to the orientation before April 22, when the gardens opened. We got a garden plot assigned to us. We were ready. Peterson Garden Project had a giant plant sale the weekend of Mother’s Day. We bought two more tomatoes, four cucumbers, two eggplants, and three pepper plants. I also got two kinds of lettuce and arugula for our porch plant boxes.

Look at that fresh garden

Look at that fresh garden

It was starting to get warm, so I began to get antsy about planting, even though most of my sources were saying to wait until after Memorial day for transplants. I got Kristl and all the seedlings outside to the garden one evening mid May, and we put everything we had in the ground. Later that evening, there was a huge storm, and it really knocked our plants around. Only two tomatoes and two peppers survived from that initial planting. Our plot belonged to someone else last year, so there were strawberries, oregano, and parsley which were wholly unfazed, but it was back to the start for almost everything we planted. Lesson learned.

Luckily, the farm we have our CSA through--Angelic Organics--sent us an email offering free seedlings out at the farm. I also learned that the Bonnie plants sold at Home Depot are raised organically and they have heirloom varieties. I purchased some organic bush bean, beet, and lettuce seeds from Burpee, and calendula (a flower used to speed healing for burns and cuts) from Seed Savers Exchange. We came home from the CSA farm with beets, corn, green onions, and a couple small tomatoes. We grabbed some kale seedlings from Whole Foods, broccoli from Matty K's on Lincoln, and eggplant, tomatoes, and a jalapeno from Home Depot.

By the first of June, we had planted almost everything except the hot weather plants (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes). I took a beginner class from PGP, and they said to try not to plant those types of plants until it’s good and hot or they won’t thrive. So, I didn't put them in until June 10th.  At the moment, I feel like things are going pretty well. All the plants look relatively healthy and all the seeds I have planted have come up. The strawberries have already given us six impossibly delicious, plump berries. We have had enough kale to serve as a vegetable at dinner, and we've been sprinkling fresh oregano into lots of things.

Our little deck garden really grows

Our little deck garden really grows

The lettuces on the porch are going wild! Kristl had a poached egg and arugula sandwich on her sourdough bread and it looked delicious. The real question now is how these hot weather plants will deal with the persistently cool temperatures. We have had some really discouraging moments so far in this growing season, but the best advice I probably got at my beginner’s class was not to get emotionally attached to the vegetables. If they die because of weather or some hungry critter, that is out of my hands. My job is to make sure they are fed, watered and protected from weeds. If they don't make it, I can always plow them under and start over with something new.

Going forward, I will try to give you a garden update every 2-3 weeks. I want you to keep up with the mistakes and victories I am having on the agricultural front. I’m trying to be conscious of mistakes I may be making. I’m not trying to come off as a master gardener (although I would very much like to become one someday). I’m just an amateur trying to grow some food to fill my kitchen. Hopefully, I will learn some tricks to make the produce produced outweigh the cost of seeds, seedlings, and supplies. And hopefully, it will get into the 80's for a couple months so our big yield, hot weather crops will have a fighting chance!

Until next time, happy growing! And eating!

Everything's lookin' good!

Everything's lookin' good!