Sometimes, if you’re lucky, all that’s required to call it a good day is sunshine and a sink full of seductively gnarly carrots, just plucked from the earth.
By KIMBERLY WINTER STERN
Not your Costco carrots — but glowing-sunset-orange, gloriously imperfect, caked-in-dirt carrots.
That was my happy fortune a couple of weeks ago when Debbie Glassberg, an accomplished raw chef who lives in a house constructed from shipping containers — but that’s another story — invited me over to The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah’s kitchen in Overland Park.
Glassberg and a small team were preparing food for ARTicipation: Abundance Garden Tasting and Sukkah Crawl — a partnership initiated by Marcus Cain, the executive director and curator of the Kansas City Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art, along with folks from the Mitzvah Garden of Greater Kansas City and B’nai Jehudah.
Although I would miss the early-morning harvesting of produce from the 15,000-square-foot Mitzvah Garden on a hilltop behind B’nai Jehudah, Glassberg guaranteed a visual veggiepalooza destined for a raw menu at the Sept.22 Sukkah Crawl.
And Glassberg — or should I say the Mitzvah Garden — did not disappoint.
Following Glassberg through the kitchen’s swinging doors, I first meet the B’nai Jehudah duo that each week makes triple-braided challah to sell on Shabbat. They are intensely focused on the final stages of creating perfect loaves from undulating, sweet-smelling dough.
As my nose quivers at the pungent, yeasty scent, I am assaulted by a much more primal perfume: vegetables, unplugged.
At the back of the kitchen, in a tiny room crowded with Glassberg’s quartet of sous chefs, a deep, stainless steel sink brims with carrots.
Marble-sized cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and chard interspersed with clumps of dirt are scattered in pans on every available surface.
The vegetables Glassberg and her sprites picked this morning still claim roots — clinging, trailing tendrils that, until just hours ago, had anchored them to life.
The smell is riveting: September Kansas earth — rich, sensuous, full-bodied like a well-aged wine.
Canning jars layered with vegetables in various stages of pickling glisten and petite cups of raw soup garnished with edible flowers are arranged vignette-style, waiting a quick taste test.
Beautiful, raw falafel drizzled with a tahini dressing nestle inside garden greens.
Glassberg gives me one of the wraps.
“These will be served in the Art Sukkah Installation site, in the Mitzvah Garden,” explained Glassberg, describing the savory and sweet menu custom-designed for guests to enjoy in the Sukkah Crawl’s temporary structures.
Closing my eyes and lifting the falafel sandwich to my lips, inhaling the familiar mingling of Middle Eastern herbs and spices, I sigh.
Glassberg offers a shot of soup, which I down in a nano-gulp.
“Ready to see the garden?” Glassberg is already on her way out the door, exchanging her shoes for dirt-splattered clogs.
The morning is humid as we climb the slight incline to the Mitzvah Garden. The soil underfoot is soft and cushiony from the previous day’s showers.
Marcus Cain and two of the sukkah artists greet us. He and art therapist Sherry Jacobs and Kansas City fresco artist Joy Baer are troubleshooting one of the four sukkahs.
Cain is a visionary who thrives on gathering people, disciplines and thought-provoking art through innovative events and exhibitions.
The temporary public art installations being built in the Mitzvah Garden for the Jewish celebration of Sukkot, sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles, are an example of Cain’s creative inclinations.
The buildings represent the Israelite’s fragile dwellings during their 40 years of travel in the desert after the exodus from slavery in Egypt.
“Throughout Sukkot, meals are eaten inside the sukkah and blessings are recited,” said Marcus, surveying the four dwellings including the Recycle Reclaim Reuse; Eco; Suk-kit; and the Art Sukkah where he, Jacobs and Baer huddle.
“We want to showcase and raise awareness for the Mitzvah Garden’s ongoing efforts to grow and harvest local produce for people in need throughout the community.”
Cain is a master at juggling complex projects where myriad organizations are involved, like the ARTicipation Abundance program.
“The support we’ve received from B’nai Jehudah staff Jeanne Kort Adler and Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, and the whole B’nai Jehudah community, is amazing,” said Cain. “They are enthusiastic partners.”
Launched in spring 2013, the ARTicipation Abundance program is a volunteer effort spearheaded by Kansas City Jewish Museum of Contemporary Art Board members Glassberg, Merry Quackenbush, Alan Edelman and Lynn Intrater; staffers Cain and Heather Lustfeldt; and ARTicipation Coordinator Jacobs, also president of the Kansas Art Therapy Association.
The group oversaw development of four teams comprised of 21 local artists, designers, architects and volunteers who imagined, designed and built site-specific, temporary outdoor art installations based on a given theme for the Mitzvah Garden.
The Mitzvah Garden, co-directed by B’nai Jehudah members Ken Sonnenschein, Larry Lehman and Andrew Kaplan, was selected as the third partner in this ambitious project.
Sonnenschein founded the Mitzvah Garden 14 years ago with raised beds totaling 640 square feet at Village Shalom, B’nai Jehudah’s neighbor.
Four years ago the Garden was expanded to a plot of land behind the synagogue, with Kaplan and Lehman collaborating with Sonnenschein to make the community garden one of the best in Johnson County.
This year the Mitzvah Garden produced and donated about 8,000 pounds of food — including spring, summer and fall crops of radishes, carrots, lettuce, spinach, chard, garlic, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes and more — to nonprofit organizations such as Jewish Family Services Food Pantry, Grandview Assistance Program and Blue Valley Multi Service Center.
The Garden, tended to by a corps of volunteers, is not only an instrument of sustenance, but also a learning tool for all who encounter it, incorporating Torah lessons with growing and teachings emerging from that process.
Glassberg and I embark on a self-directed sukkah tour.
“The Sukkah Crawl is a natural extension of the Mitzvah Garden’s mission to nourish the community,” she said.
As we enter the largest sukkah, titled the Suk-kit Installation, Glassberg pointed to a long row of totes that catches rainwater and then distributes it throughout the Garden’s rows via an Israeli-invented drip irrigation system.
“It’s called Project Matar and Ken, Larry and Andy devised this system to solve the high costs of watering the Mitzvah Garden, which was generously donated by B’nai Jehudah,” said Glassberg.
The Suk-kit itself was conceived by the resourceful team of artist/designers Mike Lyon, Debra Smith, Jo Kamm and Glassberg, tasked with creating a sukkah-inspired “kit-of-parts” that could theoretically be manufactured, branded and distributed to the public.
Laser-cutting tools turned sheets of plywood into interlocking, intricate, modular three-dimensional designs. Inspired by classic folded and cut paper snowflakes, the team also created lacelike, laser-cut panels of silk and cotton fabrics for both a ceiling and wall-panel design.
“We’re serving cookies and farm-fresh popcorn with vegetable-flavored salts, halva coconut lemon macaroons, almond Mandelbrot and mint tea in here during the Sukkah Crawl,” said Glassberg.
Leaving the Garden, Glassberg and I slip off muddy shoes in favor of clean ones and head back to the kitchen to check on the progress of the vegetables’ transformation.
Eileen Kershenbaum , Aimee Bernstein , Mimi Taylor and Debra Smith are bustling about like elves, scrubbing, chopping, slicing, dicing.
Glassberg hands me another falafel with a soup chaser, followed by a halva cookie.
“We need to get back to work,” she grinned, gently shooing me out the door. “Have a good day.”
Grabbing a clean, wet carrot for the road, I emerge into the sunshine, full of the art of abundance.
Good day, indeed.
For more information on the Mitzvah Garden of Greater Kansas City, visit mitzvahgardenkc.com .
Raw Chef Debbie Glassberg sings the praises of raw food — cuisine that is often misunderstood.
“It’s simply pure,” she said.
And although raw food takes some planning, the connection the cook receives to the food being prepared is priceless. Here are two of Glassberg’s favorite raw recipes which she prepared for guests at the Sept. 22 ARTicipation: Abundance Garden Tasting and Sukkah Crawl at the Mitzvah Garden on the grounds of The Temple, Congregation B’nai Jehudah.
Raw Pistachio and Herb Falafel
Makes about 120 falafel
Special equipment: food dehydrator
20 cloves garlic
40 sprigs of fresh parsley
40 sprigs of fresh mint
7 1/2 cups pistachio nuts
10 cups sprouted chickpeas
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon dried lime
1 cup hemp seeds
Salt and pepper
In a food processor, pulse the garlic and herbs together for a few seconds. Add in nuts and pulse until well combined. Add in the rest of the ingredients and pulse until mixture is almost smooth, but still a little rough in texture.
Roll into balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in dehydrator for 2-3 hours at 115 degrees. Serve with pickled vegetables on a lettuce leaf; drizzle with tahini dressing.
5 cups tahini (sesame seed paste)
5 cups water
Juice of 10 lemons (or use bottled lemon juice)
20 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sea salt
Splash of chili sauce
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Whisk ingredients together.
Halva with Pistachio
1/2 cup organic raw white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon pistachios
Small dash of Himalayan sea salt
3-4 tablespoons raw honey (or agave nectar)
In a mini food processor, first blend/grind the sesame seeds, pistachios and sea salt. Then add raw honey (or agave nectar) and blend again. Add more sweetener if the mixture is too dry. The mixture should be moist enough to roll into small balls, about the size of a walnut. Store in the refrigerator on wax paper.
Kimberly Winter Stern — also known as Kim Dishes — is an award-winning freelance writer and national blogger from Overland Park and co-host with Chef Jasper Mirabile on LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen each Saturday on KCMO 710/103.7FM. She is inspired by the passion, creativity and innovation of chefs, restaurateurs and food artisans who make Kansas City a vibrant center of locavore cuisine.