Team Bad Skunks: Fig Newton Meltdown and the Great Prawn Harvest

Team Bad Skunks is a group of food exchangers in Los Angeles, near Highland Park, who like to have fun. Everyone in the group grows food—interesting things like nopal cactus, loquats, and burdock along with standbys like beans and peppers, as well as lots and lots of fruit. Team leader Max Wong raises bees and makes preserves from produce her neighbors forage from the area and bring to her. Then she delivers the jars to them as thanks. “It was a cinch to convince them that a summer’s-end block party challenge was a good idea,” says Max. “Who doesn’t need another excuse to have a party?” This post catches up with the team right before they had their end-of-summer feast, the final event in this year's One-Block Party contest.

Part I: In which Max Wong, team leader, plays with cucumbers and cookie dough.

Kristi and Tino are such showoffs. I asked if they had a spare cucumber that I could turn into aguas frescas for the dinner and they brought me this, a cuke that is literally as long as my arm. Even without the forced perspective, it was the size of one of those toy bats that kids use for whiffle ball.

On to baking. I make a gorgeous cookie. No. Really. My cookies are so perfect looking that you've seen them on T.V. (Ever wonder where prop masters get the Christmas cookies for "Very Special Christmas Episodes" that are filmed in July? Well, now you know).

So trust me when I tell you that normally my fig newtons are the supermodels of the jam-filled cakelette world.

As luck would have it, we scheduled our One Block Party for the hottest day of the year. It was 107 degrees outside and even hotter in my kitchen where I was busily roasting a duck for dinner.

As a result of the blast-furnace temperature of my house, my fig newton dough—which needs to be chilled in order for it to be rolled out, cut into three-inch strips, and folded over fig filling—immediately melted into a sticky mess that glued itself to the counter and the rolling pin.

I scraped the mess off my counter with my meat cleaver and threw the blobs of melted dough in the oven while I sweated my way through another apron, stressing about whether I was going be serving what looked like hand-sized cow patties for dessert.


Although ugly, these still tasted delicious. If I'd had access to milk for the party, I would've made ice cream, heated up some figs in a soufflé dish, and turned these ugly cookies into cobbler topping. Alas, that dessert will have to wait.

Here's the second fig newton attempt. They will be served as fig thumbprint cookies for the feast. They are far from perfect, but they're the best I can do in the heat.

Part II: In which Kristi Reed tells the story of the prawn pad's final hours.

SATURDAY (day before party): Time to do a little cookin’ and killin’. Well, mainly killin’.

Our prawn pad is on the right; the hydroponic gardens, fertilized by prawn waste, are below and to the left.

We began by trying to get the prawns out with nets. But they’re fast little suckers and that proved to be very difficult. So we decided to drain the tank. The water is really good fertilizer, though, and we didn't want to waste any of it.

Thus we built the great Fish Poop Pipeline. It took the tank water from the sunken area of our backyard up to the garden area via the pumps we'd used for the aquaponics system.

Thirty feet later, the Prawn Pad water irrigates the veggie garden.

After almost half the tank had been emptied, we began to have some luck catching the prawns. And that's when the process of helping our crustaceans shed their mortal coil truly began.

Tino (right) and me, netting those fast little suckers.

Once they were netted, we put them through a series of ice-chest dips. The first one was just clean water to rinse off the fish poop water. Although good for the plants, it is not so good for the human digestive system.

As you can see, we harvested prawns of all sizes. We planned to sauté the big ones and use the smaller ones in the green papaya salad.

After the clean-water rinse, we plunged them in ice water—their undoing. Within seconds, the little prawns we had raised from larvae were longer of this world.

After the ice bath came one more clear-water bath to rinse away anthing the prawns may have released as they were demising.Then we put them in a final ice chest to stay overnight until the cookin' began in earnest the following day. Final count: 45 prawns.

Next stop: kitchen.

Article by Max Wong and Kristi Reed

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