Thursday, July 29, 2010

Garden Update July 2010

 I thought it was about time to share some garden pictures from this summer. The garden has survived the heat wave, and we are past our first crop of summer foods. My backyard plot gets limited sun, so many things grow a little later than normal. Our strawberries are long gone, sugar snap peas are just finishing, snow peas and shelling peas are done, tomatoes are just starting to ripen, the first round of lettuce is getting tall, but still edible, and the second crop is ready for some picking, the green bean plants  are small with a few moderately edible beans showing their faces, the cucumbers have exploded everywhere, zucchini plants are large with lots of flowers but no squash (hmmmmm,...?) carrots and celery are growing well, the raspberry plot is huge and heavy with unripened berries and bumblebees, the herbs are flourishing, the apple trees are struggling along, the grape vine has gorgeous leaves and sad fruits, and the blueberry bushes are happy to be in their new spot out of the shadow of the abundant raspberries. So far it has been a productive season for our little urban lot, with some good harvests, a few diseases, some great dinners and snacks, and a lot more good food to look forward to. 
I sometimes dream of spending my days working on a farm. I have done enough short stints on farms to know that my day dreaming about farm work is not entirely grounded in reality, and that the idea that working a farm would be less stressful than the work I do now, well, it is just a different kind of stress.  I am very thankful that my lively hood is not at the whim of mother nature everyday. The fungus or drought or bugs that infest our organically grown backyard garden, have a small impact on our lives. If I have to pull out all of my yellow grape tomato plants due to fungus (as I did this year) I haven't lost a percentage of my income. If my zucchini plants keep not producing squash, I can still pay my bills. If all my grapes are turning black and shriveling up, I haven't lost this year's wine crop, I just read up on grape disease and try to prevent it next year. 
The fungus that wilted my yellow grape tomatoes, and the black rot on our grapes. This year's losses.

I have been gardening in pots for many years, but in a yard, in the earth for only 4 years. Each year there are some great successes, and a few losses. Having a backyard full of food is exhilarating, beautiful, delicious, nutritious and cheap. This year we made the investment to build raised beds which I describe in detail in this post from May, that investment will last us for years. Each year we purchase a few bags of manure or compost to enrich the garden and harvest some from our own compost pile. I buy a few packets of seeds and some seedlings from the Common Ground School Spring Farm Festival or from some local garden shops, and then add water and weeding. A few of the plants in our garden were gifts from friend's yards (thank you Doug). A small stem of raspberries quickly turns into a patch, and a small grape vine will grow to cover a fence in just a few months. The marigolds are grown from dried flower heads picked off the Edgewood School Garden last year. They are an incredible variety, robust and hearty (they also help keep some bugs away from our plants).
The raised beds, soil and compost which were our start up costs for this year were about $250. The plants and seeds, about $30. In a normal year when we are not building the garden beds our annual costs would be somewhere around $50-$75 dollars, and could be a lot less if I started learning how to save seeds and if we paid a little more attention to our compost pile.

I have been entertaining ideas of growing food through the winter, using plastic sheeting as row covers. I'm starting to think about which hearty greens to grow through the winter, like spinach and kale, and maybe some carrots or other root crops as well. I took a workshop at a CT NOFA conference a few years back with an incredible farmer from Lebanon, CT who covers most of his farm land in row covers and hoop houses and grows food all winter long. He was an inspiration, and I have been promoting his work to every home gardener, school garden and farmer I know, so maybe it is time that I do it myself!
So, the point of all of these ramblings is to say that growing food in your backyard or in pots on your stoop is simple and inexpensive, and it can add an enormous amount of pleasure and delicious healthy food to your life. I hope you all are growing something good to eat, or at least entertaining the idea...

For resources on how to grow your own food contact your local garden center, organic farming organization, master gardeners program, farmers' markets, state extension program, or maybe try asking your neighbors.
You can also check out the resource guide in the cookbook I created: New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven, available to purchase on the CitySeed website.

Please share about food you've grown this year, successes or losses, 
first tastes or other fun garden  related stories.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"The Easiest Chocolate Ice Cream...Ever", no machine required, thanks to David Lebovitz

Just thought I'd share this ice cream recipe from David Lebovitz that popped up in my in-box. It is a nice way to make ice cream without an ice cream maker, and you don't need to open the freezer 20 times to stir it. It contains alcohol, which is what keeps the ice cream from freezing solid. He writes with wit and pleasure, so is always fun to read. Notice the 196 word instructions on how to peel a banana, and then the disclosure to follow.

This is a good recipe to use as a base for experimentation. Have fun!
photo by David Lebovitz

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blue State Coffee -A sneak peak at one of my new projects

A glimpse of my desk at Blue State Coffee. Endless spreadsheets and product catalogs for pricing and sourcing all the basics for a commercial kitchen. Almost done and ready to get in the kitchen and cook!

There is a lot going on in my professional food life these days. I haven't been blogging much about it, because well, at night when I'm blogging it is nice to get lost in thoughts of my garden and family, not spend more time thinking about all the many things that need to be done during the day... 

My professional life seems to be occupied by numerous unpaid projects that I try to squeeze in between paid work and parenting. One very exciting development in the past month is that I am now the Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council, which I have been a member of for the past four years. Becoming chair has made me feel reinvigorated about the important work the council does and working with this great group of people! More on that later...
Fortunately, I have a cool paid job at the moment as well. Blue State Coffee recently took over the cafe spot next to Ashley's on York St. They hired me to help them develop a locally sourced fresh menu of sandwiches, salads, and baked goods for their York St and Wall St locations. The cafe is already up and running with great fair trade and some single origin coffees and teas. The food is still the menu from the Public Cup which has some nice items on it that many people have asked me not to change, like the Curry Tempeh Wrap and the Spinach and Strawberry Salad. There is so much to consider in developing a new menu, and sourcing local and seasonal foods. For example, the delicious salad I just mentioned has strawberries in it, which are in season in the northeast for all of about 1 month, after which time they are trucked in from across the country, often from California, or grown in green houses heated with oil in other closer locations. So, do we make an exception and have strawberries year round because the salad is so popular, do we substitute with other seasonally available fruits or just carry the salad when regionally grown strawberries are around in the spring, and early summer? The answer is not so easy. 
 Tasting local fare. Burrata cheese from Liuzzi's in Hamden, a thin layer of fresh mozzarella surrounding a creamy salty center, locally made using hormone free milk. Rustico roll from Judies, a crusty ciabatta, and some honey and greens....maybe the start of a new sandwich....

Now, try thinking this way about every ingredient on a menu, also taking into account, flavor,  farming practices, genetically modified foods, small family businesses vs. large corporations, the bottom line, and a short time line. Needless to say it is a complicated and interesting challenge. At the moment I am finishing up price checking every single item we will purchase and cataloging all the product numbers so that we can order food from distributors, tasting bread samples from Judie's and Fabled Foods, checking on produce availability with a bunch of cool local farmers, some through the CitySeed farmers' markets. Helping to redesign the kitchen, trying to find time to get in the kitchen and work with staff, and about 1,000 other things. Fortunately, there are a lot of great creative and hardworking people at Blue State and they have welcomed me into the kitchen, and occasionally let me use the espresso machine!
Brioche hot dog buns...hmmmmmm could there be a delicious local hot dog made from CT grass feed beef on the horizon......?
Theese guys are crazy about coffee, and I mean seriously serious! They even lopped off the little metal spouts on their espresso machine (above right) to achieve a more pure crema untainted by flowing over stainless steel. So, for now, I get to work with some nice people, drink delicious coffee and espresso, as well as some new limeade made from fresh squeezed juice (one simple change that was a "no brainer" as they say) and keep plugging away at the big puzzle that is local food.

Did you catch the irony of that statement? Local limeade in New England....or lemonade for that mater. Local? No. Expected and delicious? Yes. hmmmmmm.....

Monday, July 19, 2010

Lemon Verbena Blueberry Ice Cream

This simple ice cream involves no cooking or custards, just some delicious fresh ingredients, a blender and an ice cream maker. Raw food at it's best! Ha Ha!!

This Ice cream was an experiment. I had a big lemon verbena plant growing outside my back door in a pot, some cream in the fridge and some blueberries leftover form weekend picking. I blended the verbena leaves in the cream (which started to whip, so I had to add some water, since I had no milk to blend the herb into). Blending the herb into the cream, or milk releases the oils in the leaves which have all the flavor. If you don't have verbena, you can try using some fresh lavender which is a little more common. To be honest, the combination of lemon verbena, cream and sugar was incredible, so I kind of wish I had put the blueberries on top of, rather than in this ice cream. Regardless, it was delicious, and there were far from any complaints, so try it which ever way you like.

I am a big fan of custard based ice creams: yolks, cream, milk, sugar. I first learned to make these during a brief stint at Gramercy Tavern in NYC where pastry chef Claudia Fleming had created an incredible dessert menu and dozens of fabulous ice cream flavors, some of which you can find in her book The Last Course which has just been reprinted, but I think you have to contact her to get it at the moment (it's going for mucho $ on amazon). This is one of the best pastry books of all time. If you google "Claudia Fleming ice cream recipe" lots of great custard based recipes will pop up: buttermilk, sweet corn, basil, chocolate malted etc... you just can't go wrong.
When you make a custard based ice cream you heat the cream and milk which gives you a chance to infuse the milk with flavor by steeping it with herbs, spices or tea. You then whisk it into the yolks to make the custard and chill it, usually over night before freezing the ice cream. Sometimes there just isn't time for that, and you may want some immediate ice cream gratification. So, as I've mentioned before, if you have an ice cream maker (you can get one these days for about $30-$50) you can make a smoothie and pour it into the machine, and if you eat it within a few hours of going into the freezer it will still be a great creamy ice cream. For an ice cream that holds up better over days in the fridge, try a custard base and puree and then steep the herbs in the warm milk for 30 minutes and then follow the rest of the recipe. Milk based ice creams are popular in Philly, and allow small ice cream shops to open up and make ice cream from scratch without needing a very expensive pasteurizer, or without buying a pre-made ice cream base as almost every "home made" ice cream shop in the country does.

Lemon Verbena Blueberry Ice Cream (the quick version)
3 cups cream
1 cup milk*
10 leaves lemon verbena (or 3 sprigs lavender)
1/4 -1/2 cup sugar (or other sweetener, I'm guessing on this amount as I did this to taste. When frozen it will taste a little less sweet, so adjust accordingly)
2 cups blueberries

*note: you can change the milk to cream ratio, if you want a lower fat ice cream. You can also replace the milk with some non-dairy milk and coconut milk.
  1. Put cream, milk, sugar and lemon verbena in a blender and puree till the herbs are finely chopped, but the cream has not gotten thick. let sit for 10 minutes or longer. Strain using a fine mesh strainer. discard herbs.
  2. Pour cream mixture into a ice cream machine and freeze according to directions. 
  3. If you want to add blueberries to the ice cream, puree them in a blender with a tiny amount of milk or water to get them blending, or mash them by hand. When the cream is nearly frozen, pour in the blueberry puree and continue freezing until thick. Transfer to a container and freeze for 30 minutes to 3 hours. Serve.  If you are happy with your delicious creamy lemon verbena frozen cream, just serve the blueberries on top.

 If you are having trouble figuring out the custard based recipes you find on google, let me know, and I'll put together an ice cream tutorial post. good luck, and happy ice creaming!!!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cooking from the Backyard Garden

It is July and the raised beds we sweated over in spring are bursting with plants and food. The boxed garden beds have helped to bring some order to my messy style of gardening. I can rarely believe when planting seeds or seedlings that they will actually grow as big as they do by mid summer. So I often plant them too closely together and end up with a tangled mess of plants fighting for light. The hardiness of nature usually wins out over my impatient plantings and we always manage to harvest some good food from the packed garden. Cucumbers, sugar snap peas and two kinds of lettuce are a daily harvest at the moment. We have limited sun in the yard, so the peas and lettuce are lasting longer than expected.
Cucumbers, snap peas and lettuce are all delicious and pretty easy to add to any meal or snack, especially in this weather when I don't feel much like cooking anything that requires heat. For a quick meal with friends I did a little more than the usual piling of the garden veggies on the table for munching. 

To make a quick pickle, mix a simple dressing of vinegar, finely chopped onion, a little salt, a pinch of sugar and a bunch of fresh herbs if you have them. (I used basil, oregano, and some celery leaves.) Pour this over a bunch of sliced vegetables like cucumbers, snap peas, corn, or slivered beets and let them marinate for 10 minutes. (I added some small cubes of tofu to the mix for some added protein as well, white beans would also be good.) Then, pile this on a big bowl of lettuce and you have a delicious flavorful meal. I hadn't realized till dinner was done that we had a totally raw meal, including the lemon verbena blueberry ice cream we had for dessert (look for a post on it soon). No need to add heat to the 90 degree weather.

A delicious meal for a hot night. 
So satisfying to grow food to feed family and friends. 

Any luck in your own garden? please share by posting a comment below.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chef Tim goes to Dallas - School Nutrition Conference

Check out Chef Tim's latest blog post on the School Nutrition Conference in Dallas, Texas, where he spoke about Michelle Obama's new initiative "Let's Move". Check out his blog for info on the New Haven, CT school district's food program as well as info on federal legislation and action that affects school food programs across the country.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Picking Bluberries in the Rain

Just had a fabulous morning picking blueberries in the rain. I don't mean a little sprinkling, I mean a completely drenching downpour, and it was wonderful. We headed to Jones Family Farm again and arrived just as the gray clouds were starting to roll in. We got about 10 minutes of picking in before the drizzle came and just kept picking. We hung a piece of fabric over the edge of one bush and tucked the kids beneath it to pick, eat and stay slightly dry. My heart was racing with excitement from the moment we arrived. All the berries, the kids (who's attention span would limit our picking time), and  the impending rain. My thumbs worked quickly dropping berries as fast as I could. The bushes were heavy with berries, growing in clusters like grapes, branches sagging to the ground. It was just thrilling. 

In the end we only picked for  20 minutes or so. We got about half a flat filled, and only a few hours later have eaten many handfuls off the top. Hoping we can save some to bake a pie (by request of my 6 year old), freeze some for smoothies or use some to make one of these other great desserts (below). Blueberries and nectarines or peaches make a wonderful combo (although the peaches around here aren't ripe yet).  

Blueberry Buckle
An old fashioned cake with a great name! I first came across these treats almost 15 years ago at a farmers' market in Cambridge, MA. Two young pastry chefs from Salamander restaurant where I was working at the time started selling baked goods at a local market held in the Harvest Coop parking lot. The buckle is a square of buttery coffee cake, thoroughly stained with fresh blueberries and a sprinkling of coffee cake crumb top. I haven't made this in years, and just found this recipe online, it looks like a good one, but let me know what you think. I'll try it as soon as it cools down enough to turn the oven on.

Blueberry Dumplings
I'm probably one of the last people you'd think would recomend a Paula Deen recipe, but I happened to see her do these blueberry dumplings a few years back, and they looked (and are) delicious. Easy to make, fun, and not so heavy or sugary as some of her other stuff.

Check to find picking locations near you! look for places that use IPM (Integrated Pest Management) or are organically grown or ask if the berries or bushes have been sprayed. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

City Dwellers Getting Their Farm Fix

I will never forget the years I spent working in a school in downtown Brooklyn where a bunch of first graders raised in a concrete wonderland tried to tell me that the florescent blue "juice" drink labeled blue raspberry flavored was actually the color of real raspberries. These same kids when asked where the meat in their hamburger was from had no idea it came from a cow or even an animal. Now, granted, they were only about six or seven, but still it was kind of shocking to hear them say those things. While I grew up in New Haven, CT, which was a fairly rough city when I was a kid, thanks to a committed single mom and a great scholarship fund, I was fortunate to go to an amazing summer camp in Vermont called Farm and Wilderness. This place changed my life. I spent days working on an organic farm, learning how to build a house, hike through the woods, get lost, get found, build a fire and cook meals on it, and sit in silence in Quaker meeting in a circle in the woods. I made some of the best friends of my life there, and the feeling and experience of being in that place, that harmonious connection with nature that I never would have gotten growing up in a city, changed me forever. I'm still a seriously urban girl, but I love me some good dirt, so am thankful for all the cool farms and farm schools that are sprouting up around the cities in this country!

Giving kids a chance to interact with the natural world is a important and exciting learning experience. Just thought I'd post some pix of some cool farm adventures we have squeezed in this spring and summer. I hope this inspires you to get out and visit a farm, a farm school, or even help start a garden at a local school. A few moments of nature in the middle of our busy city life is a good thing, and everyone deserves to experience it!

There are so many interesting, delicious and beautiful farms out there, here are just a few:

Common Ground School New Haven, CT
Common Ground School is an urban charter high school with a functioning organic farm. Students learn to grow food that they then eat for lunch. They also sell food at the CitySeed farmer's markets, and at a Wednesday market at the school during the summer. They run lots of great community events and host a summer camp for elementary aged kids. These pictures are from their annual seedling sale and farm day. Throughout the summer they have an open farm day on Saturday's where you can stop by and visit the animals or check out the gardens. It is located on Springside Ave, on the back side of West Rock, one turn off of Blake St.
everyone watching the sheep sheering. very exciting moment.

Town Farm, Norhtampton, MA
Town Farm is a short walk from down town Northampton, MA. They are a CSA farm (Community Supported Agriculture) so they grow food for people who have bought seasonal shares in the farm. Share holders come once a week to pick up their portions of veggies from the farm. The couple who started this farm also helped start a Tuesday Market in town, it is a fun event with farm stands, food, hand made shaved ice with homemade syrups and live music. check out this cool video of the market on YouTube.
"broiler" meat birds in their mobile chicken coop, farmer Ben moving the birds into another mobile coop in the fields so they can eat bugs and greens and fertilize the soil with their poop.

You'd be surprised by how many Farms are located in or near cities once you start looking. Added Value is a cool urban community farm in Brooklyn, not to mention the rooftop growers that are sprouting up everywhere, you can check out The Food Project in the Boston area, or for larger fully operational farms try googling "farms", and the name of your town or city.

Other ways to find farms in your area:
Check out a Farmers' Market and talk to the farmers' (when they aren't too busy)
Visit a CSA or Pick-Your-Own farm in your area, check out
In the north east, you can look up farms through NOFA, the Northeast Organic Farming Association
And, as always you can contact your state department of agriculture's cooperative extension program.
please comment below with any great recommendations of farms to visit in your area.

Also, I just have to mention this fabulous book I have been reading called "Farm City" by Novella Carpenter. She has an urban farm in Oakland, CA called "Ghost Town Farm". The book chronicles her adventures farming in a rough neighborhood on a vacant lot, complete with bees, fowl, pigs, watermelons, neighborhood characters, junkies, junk piles and all.  She also has a blog  She is an exceptional writer: edgy, sharp, smart, funny and engaging. I am most of the way through the book, and lingering over the last chapters because I don't want it to end.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I Love My Rice Cooker - yellow rice, green olives, red beans, trout, and spinach

I really do love my rice cooker. I got it at a yard sale in a student's apartment in Cambridge, MA on my lunch break from the kitchen more than 12 years ago, and it is still going strong! I rarely cook rice in a pan or pot anymore, since the rice cooker does it so much better! I figure if most of the Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese people I know use then, then it must be the best way to cook rice, and for more than a decade that has proved right.

I rarely do anything more than cook plain rice in it though. Brown, white, long grain, short grain, sweet, basmati, etc. But on occasion I decide to use it more like a crock pot and throw in a bunch of spices, some beans, onion or other seasonings, and cook a whole meal in it.

Tonight's meal:
Yellow Rice with Green Olives, Red Beans
and Broiled Trout with Fresh Herbs and Spinach

This is one of those "a little bit of this, a little bit of that" recipes. Nothing is really set, use what you have and make it your own. For this version I sauteed some onion in  a pan (you could try doing this in the bottom of your cooker too) added some turmeric, paprika, salt, pepper, and half a jar of tomato sauce (that was about to spoil in the fridge), then the water for the rice. (see the note about rice/water proportions below). I poured this over the 2 cups of rice in the cooker added some green olives, a can of drained and rinsed red kidney beans, shut the top and clicked "cook". when it was done about 20 minutes later it clicked itself to "keep warm" and I let it steam for 5 minutes before serving.

While it was cooking I thawed some frozen trout in warm water. rinsed it well, sprinkled with salt and pepper, a little olive oil and put it on a cookie sheet under the broiler when the rice was done cooking. I had to prop it up close to the flame to get it to brown a touch but not over cook, but it worked.

I served it up with some spinach (which could have been added to the cooker too), but I opted for fresh, and we had a great simple dinner on the front steps. My son declared it one of the best dinners ever, which made me smile, but I knew it was just because he was really really hungry, and everything tastes great when you are hungry!

Note: for white rice in a rice cooker I use 1cup rice to 1cup water, for brown rice I use 1cup rice to 11/2 cups water. When you add cooked beans to a recipe you usually need to add a little more water (not more than a few tablespoons). If you are cooking rice in a pan, try sauteing the rice with the onion until it becomes opaque, then add your spices and liquid. Cover and cook without removing the cover until the water is absorbed about 20 minutes, (add 20 minutes to the cooking time for brown rice) In a frying pan bring the liquid to a simmer and reduce heat to low, simmer covered until water is totally absorbed and rice is tender, turn heat off and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.