Filed under: project updates, where the flour went | Tags: documentation, flour, human powered hauling, industrial harvest, photography, pumpkin bread, Robert Zverina, squirrels, trailer bike, urban habitat chicago, wheat, zverina.com
My husband Rob is the documentarian of the family. I was into photography back in the pre-digital age, but pretty much immediately upon coupling up with Rob I decided I liked having my own personal archivist, put the camera away and just enjoyed living without looking through a lens.
This spring, however, all of that had to change once I realized that I was on my own in Chicago. No personal archivist, no husband – just me, alone with my poor documentation habits. Undeterred, I bought a camera and carried it around constantly, ever-so-slow on the draw, trying to figure out how to work the daggone thing on the fly, and re-remembering all that stuff about apertures and f-stops. Even though I feel like I did a passable job documenting the major events of the summer, picking up the camera to capture a moment never became instinct.
And so, I have some regrets. Rob will occasionally mention a missed shot from years ago that has been burned into his memory, which I’ve always found impressive but a bit odd. Why hold onto it? But now I understand. This post is dedicated to trying to tell, in words, what I should have captured in pictures.
Two stories stick in my head. The first happened when D. contacted me about getting 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour this fall:
I am a hobby farmer who happens to produce more than enough pumpkins for myself, family and friends. Generally I give away the pumpkins and bread I make out of the pumpkins. The crops are organic and grown in glorious DeKalb County soil in Sycamore, Illinois. I’d be interested in 50 lbs of the flour so that I can make dozens of loaves of pumpkin bread this season to give away. I could accept the flour ASAP because I’m already harvesting pumpkins and baking.
A couple weeks after he’d picked up his bag of flour, D. emailed me saying that he had a few loaves of pumpkin bread for me. I was of course delighted, but running around that day and told D. if I wasn’t at home he could leave the bread on our front porch.
Later that afternoon I got a text from D. that he’d just dropped off the bread. Although I was home at the time, it took me about 10 minutes to make it downstairs to the porch. On the porch was a small box containing 5 loaves of pumpkin bread. And on the box was a little squirrel. He had chewed through the box, the plastic wrap and was so contentedly munching away on the bread that he barely looked up when I opened the door. No doubt that if I had gone up to get the camera, he would have stayed there feasting and we could have had an adorable, hilarious photo shoot. Oh, I could kick myself.
Of course, when I told Rob about this the first words out of his mouth were “did you take pictures?”
The second tale of documentary woes started with an email from N., who works at Urban Habitat Chicago. They were interested in trying to grow wheat, and maybe taking a little flour too. We went back and forth to figure out a time for her to come pick some up, and we were both kind of busy and ended up doing one of those “let’s talk on Sunday night and see if we can do it then” appointments that didn’t used to happen before everyone had cell phones. And then when she called I didn’t hear my phone. When I finally called back, it was hours later – well after dark – but N. said that was OK. It would take her an hour to get up to my place, though – she was going to do the hauling by trailer bike.
The trailer was a sturdy, well-built DIY contraption that utilized milk crates, steel tubing and big cart wheels. Turns out, this was its maiden haul. I grilled N. about the handling, the weight, the construction as we loaded it up with 50, then 100 pounds of wheat berries and took it for a test ride down the alley. Getting the bike moving was really not too difficult – with 100 pounds of cargo, you’ve got momentum on your side. Turning was not too bad either. But stopping – well, that was tougher. N. was headed down Damen towards Pilsen, and the only part we agreed might be a bit sketchy was the downhill part of the bridge across the river. Truth be told, I was slightly worried when I did not hear back from her for a couple of days, but it turned out she, the wheat and the bike made it just fine. It was only then that I began kicking myself for not busting out the camera. What was I thinking? The only human-powered haul of the project (and surely the most bad-ass) and I stupidly missed it.
N. came by again a week or two later to pick up more wheat, but it was raining and she showed up with a friend’s truck. There are no second chances.
Filed under: project updates, where the flour went | Tags: Chicago, flour, industrial harvest flour, st. columbanus food pantry
So far this has been the first handwritten bit of documentation that I’ve received. It came earlier this week and I’ve been saving it up for a Christmas day post. It came from an unfamiliar name and address in Chicago.
First off, because I’m the sort who thinks a Christmas card with a sorta-cross-eyed kitten on it is way cute, I had to stop and think: do I know the person who sent this?
And then, surprise! When we coordinated the donations to St. Columbanus, although we labeled the flour using the standard label I made up – that has my name, email and mailing address on it – the food bank clients received the flour without any sort of explanation or context. So I hadn’t really expected to hear from any of them. Getting a bag of flour that instructs you to correspond with its maker is slightly random. Perhaps I, also, made some assumptions that people who were getting food from a food bank were not the types to care about an art project, or were not inclined to want to document the act of trying to keep food on the table. Having these assumptions be made apparent through a single note is humbling.
At the same time, it gave me immense satisfaction to hear that the flour was appreciated by somebody out there. Mom (who trained me from a young age to write thank-you letters, something I’m not always so good about now) was right: it just feels good to be acknowledged for a gift. It put me in the holiday spirit like I have not been in many years.
However you celebrate the winter holiday season, hope it is filled with love and friendship.
Filed under: baking, project updates, where the flour went | Tags: baking, bread, Chicago, flour, InCUBATE, industrial harvest, industrial harvest flour, report-back, residency, wheat, whole wheat
Today’s snippets all come from the so-called blogosphere. I have been amazed at the profusion of cooking / eating / food-related blogs that exist, and tracked down quite a few posts that detail baking adventures with Industrial Harvest flour. Bonus: food bloggers, if I may generalize so crudely, appear to be quite dedicated. They take lots of pictures. They provide lots of loving background detail and backstories. They also often include recipes!
Some of these have made it to the Industrial Harvest facebook page already, so excuse the repeats if you’ve seen them already. But let that be a reminder to you: if you’re on facebook, said page is a great way to let me know what you’ve done with the flour. Another option: post photos to our still-underutilized flickr group!
Moving right along: this blogger made whole wheat biscotti using Alice Waters’ recipe
ECO, a cooperative household in Pilsen, runs a CSA and a co-op. They did all kinds of stuff with the flour and took wheat berries to plant a cover crop on their rooftop garden.
Last year around this time, I was wrapping up a residency at InCUBATE, which may have been the tipping point at which this project became a reality. InCUBATE (and I, as resident) shared their Congress Theater storefront with the Chicago Underground Library, and that was how I met Thuy. Thuy is a pretty serious baker, and turned me on to the magic of pure wheat gluten (if you’ve never tried it, it is a miracle cure for too-dense, heavy bread). So I knew Thuy would do something awesome with the flour and was thrilled to re-connect with her this fall. Her beautifully written post is not to be missed.
The Cuentos Foundation had a fundraiser / bake sale in October to raise money for Oaxaca mudslide victims at Danny’s, a classic Chicago watering hole.
My buddies Gina and Jerry in Seattle have been all wrapped up with opening what will surely be a super-delicious, authentic and unpretentious Italian restaurant. But they still took the time to adopt 50 pounds of flour and bake a huge batch of bread for the local food bank…in their backyard brick oven that they built themselves.
And then there’s this. Your mouth will water looking at these pictures (click “next post” all the way at the bottom of the page for the finished product).
Filed under: baking, project updates, where the flour went | Tags: beer, Chicago, industrial harvest, industrial harvest flour, pie, pizza, report-back, wheat
Continuing the report-back from the flour giveaways, here’s three more. There is no real theme for them other than they pleased me: one because it had to do with beer, one because of the connection to my Washington state home, and one because it’s just super sweet. Actually, they are all super sweet and in different ways exemplify the sharing I hoped would come out of this process. Hopefully it’s not too annoying to read these email threads; I like presenting the reports the way they actually came to me (I have made minor edits to correct for typos and such).
The first is from N. who bravely took home several pounds of wheat berries to use to make a wheat beer. She is, so far, the only person who committed to using the wheat in the brewing process, although I haven’t heard a final report from her on how the beer turned out. I recently started brewing up my very first batch of homebrew so finally understand how it all works. The flour N. took ended up feeding the annual Brew Not Bombs fundraiser in Chicago this past September:
From: N –
Date: Thu, September 30, 2010 9:19:26 PM
Subject: Re: industrial harvest update & upcoming events
So….You gave me flour and whole wheat berries. I haven’t yet used the berries but I plan to roast them and then make beer. With the flour, I made a huge batch of caraway almond biscuits for Brew Not Bombs and they were devoured by ravenous anarchists and beer lovers. My friend also used some of the flour to bake loaves of sourdough bread which was also DELICIOUS and served to kids at Brew Not Bombs to allow the beer drinking to continue late into the night.
Thanks so much…I also put little notes out at Brew Not Bombs about how the wheat came from Industrial Harvest. I’ll keep you updated about the beer.
Next up, these notes from a couple who brought the flour on a trip to Washington state and shared it with their host:
Date: Tue, October 5, 2010 9:56:18 AM
Subject: Industrial harvest flour!
Hi, Sarah! This is E. My girlfriend contacted you earlier. We received some of your flour from Edible Alchemy in Chicago and used it to make this handsome apple pie while couch-surfing with T. in Walla Walla, WA.
Thanks so much for the flour and the fun!
Date: Tue, September 28, 2010 10:46:55 AM
Subject: Wheat tracking
I think your wheat project is wonderful. I hope everyone who gets word of your project appreciates the nourishment as much as I do. My lover, E. and I got about 3 lbs of flour from your wheat from ECO and took it with us on our summer vacation which began in mid August and lasted for three weeks. During our trip, we visited Walla Walla, Washington for the first time. Also for the first time, we couch-surfed with a collage student there, T. It was a new experience for us and to show our appreciation to our host, we used a bunch of your flour to make a beautiful apple pie which we all shared. It was delicious. Thanks!
to thine own self be true
And lastly, I talked to this woman at the Hull House and she, her father and her son were all dedicated bakers. She was very excited to have three generations of her family participating in this project, and later forwarded me this sweet email from her father (note the awesome review of the flour’s performance!):
From: R –
Date: Mon, August 30, 2010 7:50:46 AM
Subject: Fwd: Pizza
I saw your talk at the Lill Street Art Center and got some flour from you. I gave it to my dad, who is a retired chef, and has more time to bake than I do. He absolutely loved it. Thanks so much!
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Sat, Aug 28, 2010 at 8:23 PM
I thank you for giving me the experience of working with the best flour I’ve worked in my chef life for the last 12 years.
The natural gluten and the freshness of the flour gave me a perfect dough. I’m sorry you are not here to enjoy this wonderful Marguerite pizza.
Just the other day, Rob reminded me that I have yet to do much reporting back on the responses received from the Industrial Harvest flour recipients. He told me (quite emphatically), “you need to get on it before people forget completely.” Spoken like the archivist he is. He’s so right, of course, and so should be properly credited with giving me the kick in the ass I needed.
So, without further ado, here’s a selection. I’m going to try to make this a daily thing for the next few days, just to catch up and to get everybody in the holiday spirit of sharing and giving and stuff. These first few emails are from the folks at WormFarm Institute in Wisconsin, a rural art and agriculture center. They took several hundred pounds of flour when I came into town as part of the “Women In Grains” show this summer (and they may still be using it!).
From: K –
Date: Tue, August 24, 2010 7:38:30 AM
Subject: industrial harvest
Here are a couple of pictures of what we have been making with your flour back in the barn. We have been enjoying it immensely, and every time we make something new I am determined to remember to photograph it, but have only been successful these two times. But, we have made peach cobbler, apple crisp, bread (constantly), biscuits, english muffins, pancakes, pies, Pete made pasta from scratch, which I think he documented, I will get those images from him. Just wanted to let you know it has been nourishing us, and others on the farm. I’ll send more pictures as I remember.
From: K –
To: sarah kavage
Sent: Sat, August 28, 2010 10:29:25 AM
Julia, our newest artist in residence made these kolaches for a communal dinner — filled with a date almond filling!
On 9/1/10, sarah kavage wrote:
thanks for sending this & the other reports on the flour! I’m so glad you all are able to use it – and the results look delicious. My husband is Czech, and their kolaches are larger flat round 1-tier cakes with fruit mixed into the cake batter. This must be the Polish version? Date
almond filling – yum.
From: K –
To: sarah kavage
Date: Wed, September 1, 2010 3:05:03 PM
Subject: Re: kolache
Julia, one of our residents, who made it is actually half-czech. She said that two of her great grandmothers made two different kinds of
kolaches … so I guess there are multiple kinds. It was delicious! Just dropped off flour at the food pantry today.
To: sarah kavage
Date: Thu, September 2, 2010 7:16:36 PM
Subject: Fw: Amish Bread
Below an attached is information and an image for Industrial Harvest. Kenneth Yoder’s family made 50 loaves of bread for one of the local food pantries. This is the second delivery. Another sack will make pastries for a Catholic Rural Life conference I’ve gotten involved with (there’s a local food component). I’ll try to get some pix from that.
One of our CSA shareholders (3# bags) works at the Boys & Girls Club and showed kids how to make healthy cookies. She said she would send you a note.
—– Original Message —–
From: M –
Sent: Thursday, September 02, 2010 5:10 PM
Subject: Amish Bread
This is for J – I took this photo Wednesday morning of the Food Pantry officers with the 24 loaves of bread that the Amish made and donated to the Food Pantry. They are from left to right: JF, PN, MD and GJ.
We went out to the Amish farm on Tuesday late afternoon to pick it up. Hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, M –
If you are were a recipient of flour, consider this inspiration and a reminder to send me pictures and emails of what you did with it. You can also post to the Industrial Harvest Facebook page OR to the flickr group. Thanks to the many folks who have already sent me their reports! They make my day every time.