Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Tipping Point

I've reached a bit of a tipping point in my local eating. My fridge is stocked with yummy local left overs, my pantry is starting to shape up, and my "garden" is going full force. Today, my two best friends came over. We made a huge pot of pasta and basil with basil from my window box and enjoyed mojitos with the overgrown mint on my fire escape. While the many of the ingredients are not local, the meal was inspired by what I was growing.

I want to stock up by buying a bunch of protein, learning to make at least one type of yummy jam, and perhaps make some pickles.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Pictures from the "Garden"

One Local Summer- Week 3?

I lost track of some time over the past few weeks but I'm going to go with the estimate that this is week 3 (maybe 4) of OLS. My meal was once again inspired by my trip to the farmers market where I found some chorizo. I also wanted to take advantage of the last remnants of lettuce and radishes.

Corn Custard with Chorizo and Mushrooms (Adapted from Epicurious)

This is one of the more labor intensive dishes that I've made and I'm not certain its an early summer dish. I'm going to try it again in september when there is still great corn but the long over time and hearty dish might be better appreciated. As it is, its thunderstormy and humid. Part of why this worked so well is that it took advantage of what I had in the pantry.

Butter to grease baking dish
EVOO for sauteing
1/2lb Chorizo (Flying Pig Ranch found at FM)
3/4 lb mushrooms (I had shitaki on hand)
jalapeno (Not local but my hot pepper plants are doing well so these will come from my window boxes soon)
4 cups of corn kernels (frozen but not local)
4 oz Creme Cheese (I used local goat cheese that I had on hand)
1/3 cup cornmeal
2 tbs sugar
6 large eggs (PA Organic bought at Fairway)
1 cup whole mile (substituted skim bought at Union Market but also sold at Farmers Market)
Scallions (bought at FM 2 weeks ago)
1/2 lb Monterey Jack Cheese (not local)

This has three distinct operations.
1) Brown the chorizo. Take it out of its casing and brown it. Remove it from the pan with a slotted spoon. Saute the mushrooms and the jalapeno in the grease of the sausage. Reserve on paper towels to drain. I think you could probably do this with bacon instead of the chorizo.

2) Blend the cornmeal, sugar, goat cheese, and 2 cups corn kernals in a food processor.

3) Whisk together the eggs, milk and salt. Add the Blended stuff from step 2, cheese, chorizo, scallions and mushroom mix.

You can then pour it into a 2 qt ovensafe pan and bake at 375F for 50 minutes to an hour.

Roasted Green Bean Salad

I was also very excited to see green beans. I have 5 green bean plants on my fire escape and can't wait until they start producing. Its a shame to use fresh, soft green beans for roasting but I thought it might be good. I added them to a salad of local greens, radishes, and a apple cider vinaigrette with herbs from the garden.

I had a nice 2007 Rose from Wolffer on Long Island

Trip to the Farmers Market

Last week I wrote about my systematic trip through the market. I totally bucked that system and just bought what looked good. I ended up with lettuce, chorizo, green beans, beets, radishes, and apples. I guess I like both systems, one is great if you are trying to prepare a single dish and this one worked great to get me to think about multiple dishes.

The market was full of berries, lots of greens, and more veggies than last week. There are some tomatoes and peppers but those are all "hothouse" and there were only a few peaches.

My own garden is bursting with small tomatoes, a big pepper, lots of mint and basil.

Urban Garden Photography

As I was taking pictures I noticed that each frame contained both a garden and an architectural element. I was trying to take beauty shots of my plants but my house kept getting in the way in the tight space that I was working in. Like all things urban, there is no separation of the different elements and while its a different type of gardening and photography, its potentially beautiful.

A "New" Camera

Patio Tomato in Window Box

Chive Blossom in Kitchen

The First Tomato

Overwhelming Amounts of Basil

Mint and Basil on the fire escape

My dad and I spent a lot of time taking photographs and while I diligently stuck to my F2 he fell in love with the world of digital photography. I haven't taken make pictures in the past few years partially because I don't get as many chances and partially because I find the world of digital photography to be overwhelming. He fully embraced it and became an incredible photographer. One of the last gifts he gave me before he passed away was his very first SLR digital camera. I haven't been able to even look at it since he got sick but this morning I took it out and began to snap away. I loved that I could immediately figure out the basics of the camera and point and shoot. I also plugged it into my computer and easily downloaded the pictures to my computer.

I also noticed that many of the good bloggers also had great photos so I wanted to add beautiful pictures to my blog and try to reignite my passion for photography.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My Lunch

I'm back at my desk after a bit of a hiatus and eating my lunch. During my time away the kerfuffle over tomatoes happened. I hate tomatoes and didn't really think very much about all of those poop covered red balls of oook. But as I ate my lunch today, a colorful salad that I put together in our employee cafeteria I asked myself "Where the heck did this come from?" The lettuce is sliced in almost perfect 3/4 inch strips, the carrots and peppers are sliced to the same exacting standard, and my eggs came preshelled. How far away did this stuff come from? How did it end up in its current perfectly sliced form? and How much grossness is on it?

I finished my salad (no need to let it go to waste) but I couldn't help think that I needed to treat it like I would treat a meal in a country with an unsafe water supply: with a few shots of tequilla to kill any fecal bacteria that ended up in my gut.

Tomorrow I think I may bring my own lunch.

Who Are You and What do you Eat?

I was just reading through the OLS entries for this week and everytime I read about someone's zero mile meal I got a bit jealous. I thought to myself "It must be so much easier for people with large back yards or even farms!" It took me a few minutes to realize how silly that statement was, how much easier could it get for someone in my position? If I want local products I get in my car and drive to fairway or walk down the block. I don't have to grow, milk, breed, or haul anything anywhere.

I had mentioned early on that I wanted to lay out some curriculum ideas for OLS and this is going to be my starting point: Start any lesson with any child with where they live and what they experience everyday. Start with who they are and how they nourish themselves and you can bring them on any science journey they want. So let's start with the question "Who are you and what do you eat?"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Start of Summer

Some of my haul from the market.

Our local wine store, Big Nose Full Body, had a bunch of NY wines to try out. I used the red in my sauce and look forward to the LI Rose. The store also gives you handy reusable 6 bottle bags that are much easier than boxes or plastic.
Well, summer is officially here and I decided it was time for comfort food, lasagna and grilled peaches.
My lasagna was inspired by my trip to the farmers market today and probably doesn't deserve to be called lasagna. It has no cheese and uses squash and noodles to make the layers. I love making it because it lasts all week, can be made cheaply and easily, and packs a lot of veggies. You can easily adapt it to add locally made cheese or a different set of proteins and veggies. The biggest surprises were the sweetness of the tomatoes and the mellow flavor of the local garlic. I am constantly amazed at how different fresh, locally grown food tastes from its mass produced counterparts.

One note: Russo's makes their noodles and some cheeses on site but I don't know the provenance of the ingredients. I think the recipe is still somewhat local because I didn't use noodles from a box. I would like to add pasta making to my cooking skills but today was not the day to try.


2 squashes sliced thinly lengthwise (Farmers Market)
Assorted veggies- broccoli, peppers, spinach (all present at the FM)
Lasagna noodles- fresh pasta from Russo's

1.5 lbs Tomatoes (FM)
1 cup Long Island Red Wine (Big Nose Full Body)
1.5 lbs ground turkey (FM)
4 cloves Minced Garlic (Union Sq Farmers Market)
Basil, Rosemary, Chives, Parsley from Fire Escape and window boxes
1 tbs Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

I start by making a basic tomato sauce. Most people should start with browning onions in EVOO followed by the garlic and then brown the turkey. Turkey is very different than red meat but I appreciate the health benefits and like the texture if properly browned. The only way to learn to love different substitute proteins is to play around with them. Once the meat is browned, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer. I do this all by feel and have no real set time or methodology. My tomato sauce always tastes differently and I can play around with different spices and basically empty my cupboard or fridge into the recipe.

The highlight of the sauce are all the spices. I pruned all of my herbs today and did a rough chop before throwing them in. I sometimes add cinnamon to the sauce but chose not to because it was so sweet already.

To make the lasagna I layer the noodles with sauce and veggies. My sister is trying to cut down on carbs so I hit on using squash a few years ago. I end up with 2-3 layers of noodles instead of 5-6 and my lasagna is very chunky and unlasagna like. I usually end up baking it for 45 minutes on 450 but again, I go by the floppiness of the noodles. Since the noodles were fresh, I made sure to slice the veggies really thin to make sure they would cook.

Grilled Peaches with a Lemon Verbena and Honey Goat Cheese Custard

I experimented with grilled peaches last summer and fell in love. Half them, take the pit out, and brush a touch of EVOO and sugar on them. I think they're done when you can squeeze them really easily with your tongs. They will also really stick to the grill so try some tin foil. This also works great in a grill pan and would probably work with poaching or roasting. I often add a bit of ice cream or creme freche to the top with a drizzle of balsamic reduction on top.

Tonight, they were topped with the goat cheese custard. Actually, you should top the custard with the peaches. I adapted the recipe to take advantage of the lemon verbena I planted in April. It is a beautiful smelling plant and I had written that the custard would be good with lemon zest. I followed the recipe already in the blog but added the lemon verbena by pulsing it in the food process with the sugar to break up the leaves. I added the honey for an added flavor component.

All of these components except for the sugar can be found at the local farmers market and other stores. If you don't usually make desserts this is an easy custard to get you started and will give you lots of ideas of toppings. I think next time I will try a brown sugar and ginger frozen yogurt.

Local Lunch

Nothing says summer to me like a mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad. My husband loves it but I don't eat tomatoes and can only have a bit of cheese so its really something for him which is why he made it for lunch. The tomatoes came from the farmers market, the basil from our fire escape, and the mozzarella was made fresh at the Russo's across the street. Its a perfect, easy lunch especially when you have excess basil to use.


Sorry about the giant picture. I love this picture that my dad took and wanted to make sure it was at the top of the blog. I couldn't figure out how to size it properly.

Grand Army Plaza Farmers Market

Its the first farmers market of the summer! It feels like a somewhat artificial distinction between spring and summer given the week of 90+ temperatures a few weeks ago but the summer solstice has come and gone and its officially summer. And it showed at the farmers market at Grand Army Plaza. There was still rhubarb, strawberries, sugar snap peas, and lettuces but they were being crowded out by the first blush of summer: green beans, peppers, tomatoes, blue berries, squash, and more hearty greens like collard greens and swiss chard.

I usually just wander around and buy what looks good but I decided, about half way through my visit, to try a system. I would look at everything that they had and then put together a meal in my head before buying anything. As I wandered, I was inspired by the squash. I know, how could squash, the most pedestrian and downright overabundant summer veggie inspire me to do anything other than drop a bag of them on my enemies door step? Well, I use squash in my lasagna so I decided to try and find the rest of the ingredients. Garlic, ground turkey, tomatoes in abundance, and fresh lasagna noodles from Russo's across the street were all available. All of the herbs that I would need were also available but I have more parsley, basil, rosemary, and chives in my garden so I didn't need to buy those.

I also wanted to make dessert and heard that there were some first of the season peaches. So grilled peaches with a lemon verbena (in garden)and honey goat cheese custard it is! I was able to find goat cheese, yogurt, and milk as well.

Not bad for an early after noon dash to the market and a fire escape for a garden. Oh, did I mention that I implemented my system half way through my shopping? I also came home with some cukes and bok choi which will hopefully be used at a later date.

Garden Update

After spending most of the past month ignoring my garden, I was happy to return home and see it still flourishing. Being new to container gardening I've been surprised by the constant need for watering and worried about the need to feed the soil. Many of these plants are in tiny containers and since they're growing really quickly (in some cases) I wanted to make sure that the soil provided enough nutrients. I added some vegetable fertilizer to one and some liquid plant food to some of the non-edible boxes and plants. We'll see how they do with the new food.

After successfully fighting off the aphids I found a few on one of my super hot pepper plants. Another spritz of soapy water and a meeting with my finger tips seems to have gotten rid of them for now. We still have lots of little gnats but they don't seem to do any damage and I also have seen bees, carpenter bees (who eat our roof), wasps, spiders, and a dragon fly.

The "garden" is producing tons of basil, mint, parsley, chives, and rosemary and I have been giving the stuff away. There is also one tomato and one pepper. The peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes continue to flower and the green beans are growing like crazy.

On a final note, I was walking down the street towards my apartment and saw how wonderful the flower boxes looked against the red brick of the Liberty Building.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Pictures from the "Garden"

My latest addition, the chive plant lives inside for now. I'm always hesitant to put a new plant outside because of the wind and the sun. I get anxious for a few days and then convince myself that gardening is a big experiment and I need to find plants that can withstand the local growing conditions (ha!). The chive plant is very perky and is flowering so I'm keeping it indoors not for its own safety but because its really pretty.

Our first tomato has come really early from the patio tomatoes I put in in May. My three plants have shot up and are doing well. While the flowers have bloomed and are falling off, this one little guy is almost ready to pick. We don't get many bees or other pollinators so I'm not sure if any of my veggies have been pollinated? If not, I'll hand pollinate them , Mendel-style, next year.

It took me a while to figure out the mint which is funny since its usually seems weed-like when ever I've grown it normally. It originally went outside with everything else and then was blown over and almost died. It was pretty leggy and I didn't pinch the buds off the top. Now that I have, it is getting much more bushy and I think this one will pull through.

Its been a really rough few weeks here in Brooklyn, probably the most challenging of my life, but I take some comfort in my small little garden and knowing that the combination of dumb luck and trial and error has led to a pretty healthy looking set of plants.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

More Pics

Eggplant Flowers and the remaining pansies

Out of Control Basil looking over the 7th Ave Street Fair

Our original plant (named Plant) he's a lemon tree

My "balcony" - I often wonder if there are rules about the amount of plants you can keep on your fire escape. You can also see some of my window boxes in the distance

The garden gnome- a homage to Kelley

Some Pics

A new visitor and my new succulent hens and chicks.

Basil Explosion

With all of the heat and sun this week, my small cache of basil really took off. The plants responded really well to pinching and I was able to harvest two pretty big (its all relative of course) bunches of basil. So when it came to planning my local meal, I had to make something basil- centric.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

I love gnocchi but often find them heavy and certainly too difficult to make. I found this recipe on and made it with local ingredients a few times. We have a great Italian specialty store across the street (Russo's) who makes fresh ricotta. I cut and pasted this entire recipe from the website and have used it without any adaptations other than adding an additional egg instead of the parmesan.

The original link: Easy Ricotta Gnocchi
Serves 4
1 (16-ounce) container of whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 - 1 cup flour
Set a strainer line with three coffee filters or paper towels over a bowl. Add the ricotta and let the cheese drain for about an hour. (This can be done several days in advance.)
In a large bowl, mix the strained ricotta, egg, cheese, and 3/4 cup of the flour until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Check the dough by rolling a bit in your hand. It should be a bit tacky. If it clings to your fingers like bubble gum, incorporate more flour one tablespoon at a time until you reach a tacky, workable consistency. Refrigerate for another 15 minutes.
Before shaping, put a large pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil. Sprinkle a baking sheet with flour and set it close to your work space.
Sprinkle your hands and work surface with a little flour. Break off a tennis-ball sized piece of the dough and roll it into a thick log about 3/4-inch thick.
Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the log into 3/4" pieces. You can leave them as little 'pillows' or shape them into the traditional grooved gnocchi by rolling them off the back of a fork with your thumb.
Transfer this batch to the baking sheet and toss with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat rolling process with the remaining dough.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and half of the gnocchi. Gently stir the gnocchi to make sure they don't stick. Once they bob to the surface, let them cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set over a bowl to finish draining.
Repeat with second batch of gnocchi.
Toss the gnocchi with sauce and serve immediately.

Homegrown Basil Pesto

Nothing is quite as simple as a nice fresh herb pesto. I also didn't have much on hand so a pasta dish that only required a small amount of sauce was perfect.

2 cups fresh basil (washed and well dried)
I skip the pinenuts but you would use 1/4 cups, toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (not local)
Small (2 tbs) extra virgin olive oil

I put everything in the food processor or blender and whirl away.

Red Wine Sangria Sorbet

2 cups red wine (or white) I always use the last of a bottle
1/2 cup fruit (strawberries and apples this time)
2 cups water
1/2 cup well chopped basil
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 bayleaf

I love to bake but it gets too darn hot in the summer. So after last week's heat wave, its time to take out the ice cream maker. I have a separate ice cream machine that takes up way too much room but I've also heard that the kitchenaid attachment is good. I don't eat a lot of milk but do love to make sorbets and frozen yougert. They are easier and give you the opportunity to really play with flavors. David Liebovitz (my go to dessert guy has inspiration on his blog).

The Red Wine Sangria Sorbet is a really easy dessert that is perfect for a really hot evening. Its pretty simple. Make Sangria (I used a mix of local red and white wines that I had around the house) and make a 1:1 ratio of sangria to water. I am also not a stickler for consistency and my sorbets rarely stay frozen for long. I added farmers market strawberries and apples. You can add what ever you have on hand. I also add cloves and a bay leaf for flavor and because I had it, I threw in some basil that I pulled out of the "garden". You can then make the sorbet according to your ice cream maker's directions or just drink it.

Strawberry and Mint Frozen Yougert (also Strawberry Basil is really Good)

Frozen yougert is almost as easy as sorbet. There's no heating and you don't have to perfect making a custard. You could probably do this without the maker, just mash up the fruit and herbs and throw them in a cup of yougert and in the freezer they go. I really love the combination of fruit and plain yougert and this recipe can be modified in a ton of different ways.

2 cups strawberries (Farmers' market) - some mashed in the food processor and some cut into chunks)
1 cup fresh mint leaves (out of the "garden")
4 cups plain yougert (I used the 2% but the full fat kind is really good)

Just mix in the ice cream maker according to directions. I didn't this time but you could make a simple syrup with the mint or basil to put over the top.

I didn't make these this week but wanted to post them with my very highest rating: Basil Rhubarb Cocktails

Monday, June 9, 2008

Really Urban Gardening

In case you're wondering how one gardens in a 4th floor walk up with only window boxes and a 3' x 3' fire escape, here's a clue. Its messy and requires a number of passes with the vacuum. You just need to be sure that you pay attention to the soil that you originally put in there. I also put a lot of glass and plastic bottles in the bottom of my boxes to take up space and to give the water a place to go in case the holes in the bottom clog.

I also put together a succulent box for my all sun, no rain box on the southwestern exposure. For some reason this never gets any rain.

Buying Local

It was time to switch my spring plants out for summer plants so I went down to the local nursery yesterday. I passed both Lowes and Home Depot and turned into Gowanus Nursery. Its a beautiful little spot filled with a great variety of plants that do well in Brooklyn. Its also very expensive. $6 for a single petuna? $17 for a 10" rosemary bush? I know I could get a flat of petunas for $12 at the big store but I want to support local businesses and buy plants that aren't swamped in stuff that bad for me. Given that I eat half of what comes out of the "garden" I want to be extra careful about what goes into the plants.

So we're almost summerized for the plants. The veggies and herbs are still here but most of the pansies are gone. I also put in a succulent window box in the corner box that gets full sun and no rain. I have 10 window boxes and they are all their own little microclimate (sun, wind, rain, pollution) so we'll see how I did matching the plants to the box location.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

More Aphids

I'm getting ready to switch my pansies for more heat friendly flowers and I've ignored some of my boxes that just have flowers in them. I've had some aphids on my parsley and mint but seem to have mostly controlled it with soapy water and my fingers. When I checked on my peonies yesterday I found that one box was covered in green aphids and some little black flies. The pansies were covered in them like a fuzzy wool sweater. The spicy peppers in there had some as well. There were also some small black flies in the soil.

Given that the pansies are coming out anyway I just pulled them all out instead of trying to get rid of the aphids. I'm a bit worried about anything that goes in that box and am puzzled by how many different types of bugs are on my 4th floor very windy boxes.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

How exactly do you define spices?

Everyone defines what they mean by local. I like to stick to the tri/quad state definition meaning that anything from NJ, NY, CT, and PA are game. I also consider anything at the NYC Farmers Markets to be "local" as well. For the OLS, everything in our meal should be from within our definition of local except for spices and oil. So what exactly constitutes spices? Sugar? Vinegars? Fish Sauce? Citrus?
I'm a beginner home cook and have learned enough to know some very basic techniques and begin to improve with ingredients that look wonderful and are local. So for OLS, my biggest challenge is to adapt my favorite recipes to local ingredients. We took an asian cooking class and it totally inspired us to try new flavors and techniques. Asian cooking requires tons of prep (which my husband and his incredible knife skills love) so we usually prep for 2-3 meals worth of ingredients. For tonight's meal of flank steak salad, I think I did a pretty good job, except for the fish sauce, citrus, and spicy stuff.

Flank Steak Salad
1.5 lbs Flank Steak (Farmers' Market) sub tonight with skirt steak

1/2 Fish Sauce (not local)
1/2 Lime Juice (not local)
1 tbs jalapeno or other pepper adjusted to your spice comfort
1/2 cup combined basil, thai basil, mint, cilantro (my window boxes)
1-2 splashes Surachi (Asian spicy sauce) (not local)
Small onion, shallots, or green onion

Mixed Greens
Local Radishes sliced wafer thin

I like to begin with the dressing and squeeze the juice out of as many limes as I have. I match that in fish sauce. Fish sauce is kind of gross but like anchovies, imparts a wonderful flavor and saltiness that pairs so well with limes juice. My husband like this at a 3:1 ratio instead of a 1:1 ratio so play around and see what you like. Small dice the onion and pepper and chiffonade the spices. I am very excited that the herbs came out of my window boxes and I look forward to the super spicy peppers that I planted later in the summer. Put everything in a bowl.

Pat the steak dry and salt and pepper it on both sides. We ended up with skirt steak today but skirt, flank, or hanger steak all seem to work well. We use the grill pan and cook it on the stove. You can make it rare because it will "cook" in the lime juice so we skip the over step of the process and just let it sit in the dressing. Once it is rare, we let it rest and the slice it really thin against the grain. We let it marinate in the dressing for 30 minutes to an hour.

Once its marinated, assemble the salad and pile the meat on top, pouring some of the dressing on the greens. You can also make it with rice but that's definitely not local.

So, does this count as a local meal? I'm not sure but I did reach my goal of adapting a long standing recipe for local ingredients (namely the radishes and cut of beef I found). Its a darn good recipe...and I'm not sure its even legal to make fish sauce in the US.

Bacon + Roasted Asparagus = Love

For this week's meal we had breakfast for dinner. I'm a bit of a stress cooker, meaning that I cook to relax myself, and last night was no exception. I didn't have a lot in the house but wanted to see what I could throw together. It turned out that most of what I had in the fridge was local so I made a nice salad with poached eggs on top from my local ingredients.

Poached Egg with Roasted Asparagus Salad

2 poached eggs per person (PA via fairway)
Mixed greens (Union Sq. Farmer's Market)
Herb trimmings from my window boxes (my "garden)
Bacon (upstate NY)
Potatoes (Union Sq Farmers' Market)
1 bunch asparagus (Union Sq. Farmers Market)

I boiled the potatoes and dressed them and the greens in an apple cider vinaigrette. Roasted the asparagus, microwaved the bacon, and poached the eggs. I had never poached an egg before and was very pleased with the yummy gooey addition to my salad. I wouldn't say it was a quick salad but it could easily be modified by using hard or soft boiled eggs.