Cooking for the Mob

February 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm 7 comments

They made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Bring shovels, rakes and rubber boots to a designated location and be prepared to load and dig manure into a series of shallow (and slippery) muddy pools. And we went for it.

Jason, far right, demonstrates how to level the rice paddy.

Good thing this invitation came from Crop Mob, that loose-knit, now famous band of local growers, field hands, interns and sustainable ag enthusiasts who show up for mass work days at members’ farms about once a month.

Sunday’s Mob drew about 100 people, a record, to help Jason and Haruka expand their Edible Earthscapes rice paddy near Moncure. Building the terraces is a dirty, labor- intensive job that would ordinarily take weeks. Perfect for Crop Mob.

My first assignment was to work on the lunch crew under fearless cook Camille (a.k.a. Cookie-san). Local Greek goddess Angelina gave us the run of her Kitchen (Greek food with a local twist) and joined the fun along with foodie friends Susan and Ann (who baked those delicious tarts at the recent I Love u Lunch). Yours truly (a.k.a. Sweet Potato-San) was there to follow their instructions and try not to do too much damage.

Camille says, "Come and get it."

Cookie-san did the heavy lifting: came up with a recipe for AnPan, a popular Japanese concoction of sweetened Adjuki bean paste stuffed into fresh buns made with coconut milk. Some 90 volunteers had already signed up for today’s Mob, so we would need to bake a gigantic batch of grub.

Camille had already cooked up about 8 pounds of beans and 16 1/2 pounds of dough ahead of time. We ground the beans into a smooth paste, added sugar and cooked them on Angelina’s commercial-grade range. We kneaded the dough in several batches then calculated how much dough should go into each bun (2.5 oz), and measured each roll carefully on Angelina’s ounce-calibrated scale (which I only knocked on the floor twice). We dropped the rolls on four massive pastry pans to rise, then rolled them out to be stuffed with bean paste, returned to the pastry tins and baked in the convection oven for 15-20 minutes. Whew, we had a blast and got it all baked up by noon without blowing up the kitchen, following Cookie’s brilliant plan. (See the recipe below).

Then Angelina, she of the devilish laugh who must be obeyed, decided we needed dessert. Yes ma’am. Ann and Angelina whipped up a bodacious batch of triple-fudge brownies in no time flat. Angelina threw in a platter of her very own Baklava for good measure, definitely not vegan.

When we arrived at the farm, just five miles down the road, Jason was showing the assembled Mobsters how to dig manure into each terraced paddy, working the compost into the mud with shovels, hoes and rakes, so that the water would be absorbed and the terraces would be smooth and level. Volunteers were trucking manure down the hill in wheel barrows and slipping and sliding their way carefully across the mud pools.

Ann was already hard at work, barefoot and shin deep in a mud bath. I put on my rubber boots and began digging compost into a paddy with Debbie, also barefoof, our intrepid sustainable agricultural extension agent. Gray (a Crop Mob regular) labored in the adjacent terrace. Debbie and I experienced paddy envy: we couldn’t get our terrace to look as smooth as Gray’s, but Jason eventually pronounced our work sound.

By 2 p.m. more than 100 Mobsters had converged at the farm, trailed by reporters from the Los Angeles Times and UNC Public Television, among others. (It didn’t hurt that Crop Mob was just featured on Public Radio and in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.)

It was finally time for our high-protein authentic Japanese bean buns. While Haruka, Rachel, Kristin (another regular Mobber, from Circle Acres) and others prepared dinner from Edible Earthscapes farm ingredients (mixed salad greens, frittatas and chick-pea soup), Mobsters scarfed up our AnPan buns, brownies and Baklava with Haruka’s green tea.

By 4 p.m., most of the acre had been sculpted into credible terraces, and half of them were now grade-A smooth, level and soggy.

Jason was happy. “This would have taken us at least 10 days,” he said. “When you get this many people showing up, there’s no way that you don’t get a whole lot of work done. And it’s a lot more fun.”

Now all they have to do is finish off the paddy, plant the rice seed, get someone to bring the rice huller over from Japan, harvest, thrash and hull that crop. Thanks to a grant from RAFI-USA, they’ve got the funds to pull it off. If they succeed, we may see “Five-Mile Rice” rice in our local co-op this year.

Meanwhile Crop Mobs are sprouting up all over. There’s one in Wake County, another forming in Atlanta, interest in New York and Seattle, and inquiries coming from as far away as Spain. And it all started right here in North Carolina’s Triangle foodshed, ground zero for innovative, grassroots, sustainable farming.

— Dee

Recipe: Cookie’s AnPan (16 servings, which we multiplied six-fold for The Mob)


1 T active yeast, 1.5 cups of whole wheat pastry flour and 3 cups of unbleached flour, 1 can (2 cups) of coconut milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 T salt.

Mix yeast and flour, add warm coconut milk, stir into wet dough, cover loosely and let rise 30 minutes.

Add salt and sugar, knead for 10 minutes, and let rise in loosely covered bowl for 1.5 hours.

Knead dough, cut into 16 equal pieces, knead briefly and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness.

Place 3 T bean paste mix into center of each (see recipe below), fold sides over and pinch, let rise 20-30 minutes.

Bake seam side down 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Bean Paste

1.5 cups of red adjuki beans, rinsed well; 4 cups of water, 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening, 1 cup of sugar.

Place the beans and water in a saucepan, cover, bring to boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 1 1/2 hours, or til beans are very soft. Strain the water from the beans, and blend them into a puree in a blender or food processor. Press the puree through a sieve, discarding the skins, which will be left in the sieve. Place the puree in several layers of cheesecloth, and gently squeeze to remove excess moisture. Place the thickened puree back into the saucepan, together with the sugar and vegetable shortening, and heat over low heat, stirring until it becomes a thick paste. Stir and scrape vigorously so that it does not stick to the bottom. [The paste is ready when you can easily see the bottom of the skillet when you swipe the spoon through the paste.] Remove from heat and let cool before filling buns.

They came, they dug, and they ate.

Entry filed under: Learning, Recipes, Sustainable Farming, Sustainable Food, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. edibleearthscape  |  March 1, 2010 at 10:16 am

    What a day! Thank you Sweet Potato san for helping with An Pan (they were delicous!) digging rice paddies and documenting the event!

    • 2. sustainablegrub  |  March 1, 2010 at 6:02 pm

      It was amazing to see how much work could be done in one afternoon. The rice paddies are going to be awesome.

  • 3. Green Eats  |  March 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    […] The Triangle’s very own band of agriculturally-minded brothers (and sisters!) were featured in this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Check out the article, Field Report: Plow Shares and learn more about how you can mob with the best of ‘em at the Crop Mob website. Also check out Dee Reid’s account of cooking for Sunday’s Mob on her blog, Sustainable Grub. […]

  • 4. Rachel  |  March 1, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks for all of your help and great blog post too!

    • 5. sustainablegrub  |  March 2, 2010 at 11:46 am

      Thanks, Rachel. We had fun.

  • 6. Twenty-Five Top Five « sustainable grub  |  May 27, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    […] We already have more than 25 vegetables and herbs growing in our garden and have yet to add artichokes, cabbage, or sweet corn. And we’d need a bit more acreage to grow enough beans and grain to replace what we currently buy.  Lucky for us our neighbors at Edible Earthscapes are growing black beans and rice. […]

  • 7. Dream fulfilled: local rice « sustainable grub  |  November 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    […] took a village to grow this nutritious food. Last Spring, Crop Mob showed up with 100 volunteers who worked barefoot in the mud, shoveling manure into the paddies, leveling […]


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