Friday, May 30, 2008

Some newbies

In an attempt to slowly phase out the window box pansies, I added
- Eggplant
- Habenero Peppers
- Hot caribbean peppers (apparently the hottest ever created, I've never seen a plant tag with so many warnings!)
We'll see how they do in the wind.

Lost Finale

We often have people over to watch our favorite TV shows, usually of the scifi variety. Last night we watched the Lost finale and ate some really good locally grown food. I did the chicken and ramps dish that I've already written about. The ramps had been sitting around for a while so were less pungent but still really good. I love this chicken recipe because even if you overcook it the cooking method keeps it moist.

I made two new local dishes, a bacon, egg, and roasted asparagus salad and a rhubarb crisp. I am still using some non-local ingredients, lemons, flour, sugar, etc but I'm not about to throw our my pantry items so I'll take the blame of fudging a little.

Bacon, Egg, and Asparagus Salad
This is a lovely, easy to prepare wonderful spring salad. You really need to get all the components on the fork at once to see how they really sing together.

Makes 4 servings
6 pieces bacon (you could always, always use more bacon)
2 hard boiled eggs (would be great with a warm poached egg on top)
salad greens (I used mixed lettuces from the giant bin at the farmers' market)
1 large bundle of asparagus

1/2 olive oil
1/2 vinegar (I use a mix of rice wine, cider, and balsamic)
juice of one lemon
fresh herbs from the garden, finely chopped
1 tbs spicy mustard
2 dashes tabasco

Cook the eggs and bacon. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus and lightly coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I put them in the over with the chicken at 350 F for about 30 minutes but the original recipe had them at 500 F for 7-10 minutes. I cook by temperature and sight, not by time so I took them out when they were shriveled and slightly brown. Dress the salad and put the asparagus on top. Its tempting to cut the asparagus into smaller pieces so that you can get one in each bite but the full asparagus is really pretty on top.

Rhubarb Crisp
All rhubarb really needs is a bit of sugar, but butter and flour aren't so bad. I've made this a couple of times now and basically cut the rhubarb into 1/2" cubes, put them in an appropriately sized glass or ceramic baking dish and cover them with the mixture. Last night I used an equal amount of flour and sugar and butter and it was a bit dry. I think using a 1:1:2 ratio may work better. So mess around with it and see what you get.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Garden Update

Almost all of my plants made it through the cold snap but many of them are now indoor plants. It turns out that my fire escape and window boxes are subject to high wind gusts and it doens't seem to do the potted plants any good. I have 7 boxes and they all seem to get different amounts of rain and wind so I'm still learning what will be good where.

My greenbean sprouts are booming and I'm not sure what to do with them next. I can't imagine they will enjoy the wind very much but I can't really leave them indoors. I think I will get them trellised and then go from there.

Omnivores Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I've either liked or loved Pollen's books. He writes great stories but often gets too mired in somewhat wacky theories. Omnivore's Dilemma takes his wonderful storytelling ability and combines it with a journalistic look at the food industry. His idea seems gimicky but ends up being a wonderful way to unite his shorter magazine pieces into a coherent book.

Unlike Fast Food Nation, his history of the industrial food system doesn't vilify farmers and does a good job describing why human nature and commodity prices have created the perfect storm of an abundance of soy and corn.

His best section is about Polyface farms in VA. If someone ever fantasized about returning to the land this is your holy grail. It combines a practical, fuck the current system look at farming with the hard work and inginuity that we all believe that we possess. It also shows Pollen's everyman qualities to their best and makes his seem a bit like a Woody Allen character taken out of new york.

The book doesn't shock anyone into changing their eating habbits but makes us realize how wonderful eating locally can be. It also captures the joy and pride of cooking and the shared pleasure of a dinner party.

View all my reviews.

The United States of Arugula

The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an insiders look at American food culture. The two most interesting aspects are the evolution of food from french to its current state and the history of the organic and local food movements. Its chatty and easy to read.

View all my reviews.

The $64 Tomato

The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden by William Alexander

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is a very lighthearted look at the romantic idea of living off the land and growing your own food. The author has a regular job and his garden is his hobby so eating locally isn't his full time job/obsession/ gimmick for a book idea.

Anyone who has tried to garden or grow anything in a rural or some suburban area will appreciate his battles with the deer and the woodchucks.

Its an easy, quick read and I think a good book for anyone that would like to get "back to the land".

View all my reviews.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Not so smooth sailing...

I was working on a nice little post last night about my lovely salads. I had two not so great dinners in a row but they were saved for me by a really nice arugula and herb salad. I pruned my herbs the other day and had sprigs of everything and just threw it into some greens that I picked up. I made a nice dressing and it saved my dinner.

The past week has brought some cold and very windy weather and I thought the herbs on my fire escape were doing alright since I was bringing them inside when it was at its worst. Everything was doing really well (my tomatoes have some nice blooms on them) but last night I didn't bring anything in and today it was really windy and about 50F. I'm sure the cold temperature would be okay but combined with the strong wind many of the herbs were not looking very good.

I think the mint and rosemary will be okay but I'm not sure anything else is going to make it. The tomatoes are still inside and still look great.

I also planted some green bean seeds from my mom and two have sprouted.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Local Products

The wine shop up the street, Big Nose Full Body, carries a few New York state wines. They come from the Finger Lakes Region and Long Island.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My first official local dinner...a bit early

I have a bunch of family stuff coming up so I thought I would try some yumminess a bit early...
1) Roasted chicken, potatoes, bacon, and ramps
2) Goat cheese custard with roasted beets and a red wine pepper sauce for dessert

Roast chicken is a staple in our house and is an easy adaptation to use local ingredients. I used a combination of two recipies in this dinner. The first is listed below and I found on epicurious. The second is from the January and February 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated- French Chicken in a Pot

1 Whole Chicken (giblets removed, patted dry, with salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
A small amount (1 cup total) of aromatic veggies (celery, carrots)
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch ramps (separate bulbs and greens- without ramps try leeks)
1 spring rosemary (I got this from my balcony)
1 lemon (quartered and stuffed in cavity)
1 cup potatoes (quartered)
2 strips bacon (cut into 1 inch pieces)
3/4 cup white wine (I went with a chardonnay but only because it was the only white from NY that the shop had)
3/4 chicken broth

Preheat the over 250-250 F.
1. Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a 5-8 quart (what ever size will comfortably fit a whole chicken) cast iron dutch oven. Brown both sides of the whole chicken, carefully (usually comically) flipping the bird when the first side is browned. Place all the ingredients except for the ramp leaves around the bird once you start to brown the second side. I usually start breast side down.
2. Once you have browned the bird, place a sheet of tin foil over the top, then the lid, and place in the oven.
3. It usually takes 80-110 minutes but use an instant read thermometer to tell you when its done. The thickest part of the breast must be at 160F and the thickest part of the thigh at 175.
4. Take the chicken out and let rest until ready to carve. Take the potatoes and ramp bulbs out and put on serving plate. I also threw out the bacon. I love bacon but its pretty gross when its soggy.
5. The recipes that I used both had you remove the chicken fat but I'm pretty impatient and don't have a good tool to do this.
6. Drained of fat or not. Add a 3/4 cup white wine and the chicken broth. Once those have come to a boil and you've scraped up all of the brown bits, add the ramp leaves and wilt them (probably 7-10 minutes). Remove with tongs and serve.

Goat Cheese Custard with Roasted Beets in a Red Wine and Pepper Sauce
I adapted this from David Liebovitz and the link to the original one is below. This is an easily adaptable recipe for seasons since you can pretty easily change what ever you put on top. I thought that the custard was really good and loved the roasted beets. My husband thought the beets were a bit overwhelming. The red wine sauce didn't intrude but I would have liked to try this with a balsamic vinegar reduction or maybe a touch of lemon curd on top.

I started the beets first and then the custards since the beets can take forever.

Makes 4 (if you don't dump one in the sink)

5 Ounces fresh goat cheese (lots of this at the farmers market)
1/4 cup sugar (you could use less)
1/2 cup milk, creme, half and half
2 egg yolks
vanilla extract to taste with a splash of almond extract

1. Preheat over to 350 F. I added my water bath + custards to my 300 F oven at the end of the chicken roasting to save some time. You want the custards to set up so that they barely shake when you jiggle them.
2. Combine goat cheese, sugar, milk, eggs, and vanilla until you get a smooth consistancy. I used a spoon to break up the chunks and then a whisk to smooth it out. (I'm usually very effecient with my tools but not last night)
3. Pour into ramekins (I found mine at Ikea and Fishs Eddy) and set into large ceramic dish. Pour warm water into ceramic dish (not ramekins which is how I lost one last night) and place into oven.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until done.

Roasted Beets
1 large beet (cut into 1" cubes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, pepper, fresh ground nutmeg, almond extract and a pinch of sugar

1. Cube beets and toss with rest of ingredients.
2. Spread out on foil- lined cookie sheet and roast until done (30-40 minutes)
3. I know they're done when I can easily pierce with a fork.
4. Definately let them cool.

Red Wine Reduction
1 cup red wine (I used what ever was open on the counter)
1 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons of sugar

Place everything in a small sauce pan at a low simmer until the sauce thickens (the bubbles should start to get trapped in the liquid).

After the custards cooled I spooned the sauce into the dish and added the beets. I would have added candied walnuts but didn't have any maple syrup (Its likely packed in a box somewhere, probably with my nice winter work clothes).

Union Square Farmers Market

While Brooklyn has a great farmers market, I know and love the Union Square one. We used to live over there so I know a lot of the vendors and products. Unfortunately the cute bread guy is no longer there...

I wanted to scope out the place for meat, local flour, honey and some other pantry things. I found a guy who had lovely looking pork but he was from Vermont which is our of my 100- mile radius. I again have to consider whether this breaks my rules or not. I made a pretty quick decision: If I found it at a farmers market I can feel pretty good about buying it. I didn't buy it because I had just stocked up on a ton of meat. So supplies I can get there:
- some meats
- some fish
- some dairy (lot of cheese)
- salad greens
- wine
- whole grain flours
- honey, jams and sweet stuff
- lots of plants

Things I couldn't find
- a wider selection of meats
- milks
- strawberries (yet)

I did find two things that I was looking for: Ramps and local goat cheese. Ramps have a somewhat legendary status so I wanted to try them out.

I found both of these and think that I'm going to try the chicken on tomorrow night. I actually have the ingredients to do it locally so why not start early.

I am also going to try a goat cheese custard with strawberries and red wine sauce.
There are a couple of places where you can pick your own strawberries so we may try to do that this weekend. There may not be strawberries so I may do a variation on it using beets.

Murray's Cheeseshop

So I asked someone at Murry's Cheese Shop about any local cheeses and they sent me this link to an upcoming class...

In particular, we have a class coming up called "Born in the USA" to feature all American cheeses (and most of them from the northeast). Otherwise, we have other products that are local as well (milk from upstate new york, yogurt from a small creamery in new york, piri piri hot sauce made in NJ to name a few, gelato from Philly).

I uploaded a picture...

And then I figured out how to put it on my profile...

Local Eating So Far...

In order to eat locally I need to figure out where to find local things to purchase. I'm looking for a place to get local meats and to build up my pantry. I'm hoping to stop by at the farmers market this afternoon but I have a pretty full house after my trip to fairway.

Here's what I've figured out so far...

Sweet Jesus this is nirvana (for anyone who can eat beer and cheese). Bierkraft has thousands of beers and a good selection from New York State. They also carry some local cheeses and I haven't asked about other local products. Given that I don't eat cheese or drink most beers (stomach goes gurggle) its sort of a false paradise for me but they do carry chocolate.

Fairway Market in Red Hook

Its another bit of paradise but you'll need a car to get there. I found different local products including the most important one, bacon. I need to do a little bit of a better census next time I'm down there. They also have the email addresses posted of their foragers so I may send them a queary about local products.


Russo's is a small Italian Market on our block. They make their own cheese, pasta, sauce, etc. This place makes me question whether I should consider this local food. Its made locally but the ingredients weren't grown locally. To each their own but I'm going to include this place because while the ingredients may not be local, I'm supporting a family run, artisan place and that sticks within my value system for all of this.

Gowanus Nursery

Lovely little nursery right by the BBT. Its pretty hard to find but its on the way to Fairway and they have a nice edibles section.

My family is out in NJ and there are a few places that I've frequented in the past that I want to include:

Abma's Farm
Produce, meat, eggs, plants plus a petting zoo

Demarest Farms

I grew up picking apples and taking hay rides here. They are a farm market but I suspect from the picture on their website (the one with the asparagus and giant tomatoes) that they probably don't pull everything from their own land. Maybe they have hothouses, I don't know...

Goffle Brook Farms

I think this is where we get our turkeys and other assorted poultry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More excited than I should be...

So I'm really excited to be thinking about local food again. It feels really luxurious to spent my brain power thinking about food and not leg infections, narcolepsy, blood or spleen cancers. Its nice to wake up in the morning and wonder where I can find locally grown lamb or whether we can take a weekend trip to NYS to find yummy stuff. Luxurious...

I want to do a few things in preparation:
1) Start to do some sort of survey of our neighborhood to see what is out there.
2) Pull together my thoughts on how a teacher could use the One Local Summer concept to strucutre a science unit. I used to spend a lot of time structuring cool urban experiences into middle school science units and this should be no exception.

Okay, back to work... for now

Monday, May 12, 2008

One Local Summer

I'm a bit of a frustrated gardener. If it helps, I'm so frustrated my husband didn't know that I considered myself a gardener. To be fair, I have that black thumb of death when it comes to indoors plants. I was lucky to grow up with a beautiful garden at my mom's house and soothed much of my teenage angst by weeding for hours. When I was teaching I had a little garden and we started a beautiful garden when I was running the science programs at a summer camp. But since my graduation and move to DC, I did nothing but kill the plants my mom gave me.

Now that we're getting settled in 11215 and I have window boxes and a small fire escape I can attempt my own abbreviated version of gardening. Doing Once Local Summer is a no-brainer for us. At worst it means eating at Blue Hill every week and at best it means prowling the Brooklyn streets for locally grown fair.

Brooklyn is a wonderous place. Old meets new as new transplants from Manhattan abut old communities literally fighting for their survival (If AY was brining baseball back to Brooklyn I may have been a little more supportive). But since we've moved here we find this strange utopia where people have opted out of traditional careers and opted into old world style trades. My husband found a carpenter who not only had a PhD in something exotic but also had a degree in engineering and had built himself a time machine to travel back to ancient Japan to learn woodworking there. Not quite but it was pretty close.

Brooklyn seems to be a place that will support any trade, bee keepers, superheroes, vintage clothiers, iron workers and ancient shinto woodworkers. It seems so strange to only be a lawyer and an educator out here. So we could easily find someone to grow us anything that we wanted.

But in this excess, do we have the time? Do we have the money? Organic Prospect Park honey costs a ton of money and that's always my biggest concern with supporting locally grown, sustainable, LEED certified artisans. I worked on a curriculum where we tried to teach kids from the City to be locavores and it failed miserably. Why? These kids were given $20 a week and the choice between a locally grown cheese and fresh baked loaf of bread was nothing compared to a bag of chips, a lemon pie and a movie with friends.

So, how does the choice shake out for me? Is my time worth the money? I guess we'll see... but I'll have nice herbs if the pigeons don't kill everything with their roosting.

I think my first meal will be locally grown protein (maybe pigeon) with a heavy dose of cilantro and Brooklyn Brewery beer. I wonder where they get their hops...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Picture Evidence

Some people have gardens, we have a small fire escape. The previous owner has a large planter out here that had a huge, medusa- like honeysuckle bush and rose bush. I hate rose bushes but allowed it to live (my small, understudy role as plant god). I planted some heather and pansies a few weeks ago and just added a few patio tomatoes, basic, and some mint. I also added lemon verbena, rosemary, and thyme to the large planter. I hope to add some green beans out there in the coming days but need to start some seeds (or get some from my mom). Why yes, that is a garden gnome out there.

I planted some basic, cilantro, thai basil, and parsley I hope the pigeons and bugs don't take a liking to it.
Picture of the "garden" from the living room window. You can see the two little patio tomato plants and another window box of pansies. I've learned some lessons with the pansies. They seem to like to be crowded together and really perk up with the addition of water. They've also managed to resurrect themselves after appearing to die.

Yup, magnetic knife strip in the kitchen. This used to be a phone and now its knives.

Its nearly impossible to take a picture of a tiny bathroom. This had been white, all white, and we added a nice blue paint. We have big plans for this little room and will post pictures when we're done.

Friday, May 9, 2008

To do...

All over-
Finish hanging pictures
Mop the floors really well

Hall bathroom
paint ceiling
fix grout
hang mirror back up
clean (finally)
touch up mirror

Hang knives
paint ceiling
paint edges
fix cabinet (ugh)
organize green closet, shelves

Clean floor
clean shelves
totally redo shelving
organize tools and stuff into boxes
put up peg board

Spare bedroom
hang pictures
get file cabinet
organize desk

Our bedroom
hang pictures
open fireplace
closet hooks

Living room
clean mouldings
book shelves
paint door
new lighting options

master bath
clean grout in floor
good cleaning

Progress and Captain Obvious

We've made some progress on the apartment. The living room is set up and all of the boxes are out of there. It is incredibly satisfying to have a box-free room even if half the room is unfurnished. We got some pictures (including the big map) up and are thinking about book shelves and a big table.

I also painted the hall bathroom and despite it being the worst painting job in the history of painting jobs, the overall effect is lovely. We bought some wonderful mounted bug specimens to go with all of the mounted butterflies and will turn it into our critter room.

The kitchen has been repainted. I didn't do a great job of this either (though I certainly get points for trying really hard and doing my research) but it is a real improvement over what was in there. I think the previous owner sort of stopped caring about his kitchen renovation and just slapped the cheapest, whitest latex paint on the walls. Since large strips were peeling off I had to neurotically pick and strip all of those places, spackle, sand all of the walls, wash, tap, and paint with a coat of primer and two coats of a new eggshell white. I can only account for the two coats because 1) I don't seem to be able to paint 2) it was a really glossy paint so it was kind of speckely with only one coat. What ever it is, its an improvement.

Given that money is tight, I resisted the urge to buy new stuff and tried to repurpose some old stuff. I repainted the cabinet and mirror frame in the bathroom and used some old ikea baskets to create spice racks in the green closet.

I have learned that I am not very handy and seem to make every mistake possible when trying something new. I don't think that anyone who knows me would be surprised by this observation (other than it took 30 years for it to happen) but I think I still get points for trying and sincerity.

Oh, my window boxes are doing well. Actually, most of them are doing really well and the pansies are very perky. One is mostly dead and one is totally dead. I am going to break my moratorium on spending and buy some plants this weekend and put in a tomato plant, some string beans, and a bunch of herbs.