Monday, July 31, 2006

Heirloom Season

This morning I got up at 7am, biked all three bridges of lower Manhattan (BKLYN/MANHATTAN/WMSBRG), cruised to the farmers' market, and bought these beautiful locally-grown heirloom tomatoes. I showed them to a customer at the cafe I work at on 74th street, and in defense of their gorgeous tie-dyed skin, she cried, "How beautiful! Please don't juice them!"

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Mint Meal! July 19th

Wow! Ten guys in one class! A large crowd meant we could tackle the five-recipe menu I had planned: zucchini pasta with mint and rocambole garlic, a salsa salad with spearmint, cucumber granita with mint and Kim’s chives, herbed lemonade with mixed mints and lavender blossoms, and a honeydew melon sorbet with lime and chocolate mint.

Mint is a fantastic plant, but highly invasive. There are two ways to fix this in a tidy garden: make mint a home of its own in a solo pot, or plant it in its nursery container.

Buy local!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Seasonal Sushi

Today we discovered some succulent purslane growing wild about the yard, pressing its flat, fingernail-sized leaves in a starfish shape to the earth. Puslane is often given the bad rap as a weed, but it’s quite delicious, with a strong, juicy flavor and good dose of A and C vitamins. I often snack on it while gardening at the Botanical Gardens—a truly organic weeding method!

I’ve always been intimidated by sushi-making. It’s such a beautiful food, I thought it had to be difficult to make! I had picked up some beautiful rainbow carrots: purple and red, rich in antioxidants, and sweet, pale white and yellow Belgian varieties. The carrot root naturally grows in these beautiful colors, although like many other foods, have been commercially cultivated in familiar orange for marketing purposes. We were delighted to discover that the purple carrot, when diced, actually has an orange core, delivering us beautiful, purple-rimed coins with each slice.

In the end, the only ingredients I couldn’t skip and couldn’t find locally were dates, avocadoes and sesame seeds. Avocados are awesome. Native to Mexico, their buttery texture was the lure for large mammals to eat them, carrying the cumbersome pit in their bellies until deposited (the usual way food is, ahem) in fertile pats of manure. The Aztecs called them “ahuacatl” or testicle. Cortez (purposefully or not) heard it as “abogado,” and to this day, the Spanish call them peras de abogado, or lawyer’s pears. You can actually grow avocado plants on the East Coast simply by cleaning the pit of an avocado and sprouting it suspended with three toothpicks over water. Once the leaves are established, it is safe to pot it up in a good soil mix. As a New Yorker, it will take about three to five years to bear fruit, and even then temperamentally. In sushi, they make a filling substitute for rice if you want to stick strictly raw—and their delicious, fatty content is nutritionally far superior.

The rolls turned out beautifully. We packed them with the paste and avocado and thin strips of veggies and topped them with sprouts and amaranth so that the last roll cut had a beautiful bouffant of little leaves. They were sweet from the dates and plums, salty with seaweed and sesame, savory with avocado, and carrot-crunchy.

Eat Flowers!

July 5th Lesson Summary

Making an edible-flower-salad is easy. First, we washed all our greens in a salad spinner. Kevin cut the caps off the strawberries. Madeline’s good design eye put together the lettuce around the bowl, the French crisp’s curly edges scalloping like a beautiful crinoline skirt. Brian and Arthur set the table and got everyone water. Layering the flowers was the best part! The sweet pea blossoms tasted just like peas, the nasturtiums were sweet and lettuce-like until they suddenly released a spicy kick on our tongues, and the pansies, too, were like lettuce until you swallowed the nugget of pollen, and suddenly they tasted like spearmint! Even a smalls sprinkling of the onion flower’s tiny white blossoms was potent, and worlds easier than cutting up a tear-inducing onion! Borage and strawberries completed the colorful salad. Our table was completed with our pesto and brown rice pasta, as well as a beautiful flower arrangement of lavender, garlic scapes and onion flowers.

July is a great month for produce. From Keith’s Organic Farm in Union Square, I picked up garlic scapes and a bundle of pom-pom onion flowers. Keith cuts the flowers off his onions and trims the garlic scapes in order to force the plant to concentrate on producing a rich bulb. I also got a headily fragrant bunch of lavender flowers—delicious in honey infusions, or sprinkled across a salad. From Windfall Farms stand, I got spicy, bright orange and gold nasturtium flowers, a package of female zucchini blossoms (unlike their plain male counterparts, the female flowers had tiny zucchinis already beginning to form!), violet-hued sweet pea blossoms, and purple, star-shaped borage flowers. (*Unlike Keith, who has organic certification, Windfall Farms chose decades ago to forgo the expensive, labyrinth process. They feel the word “organic” is misused to describe processed, preserved food shipped over a great distance. Instead, they rely on pursuing organic practices and transparency with their customers to mean the same as an FDA label. I think it’s a pretty good plan. When I visit the abundant, beautiful Greenmarkets throughout New York City and up in Connecticut, I’m struck by how silly it seems that about 60% of the organically-labeled food in supermarkets is shipped all the way from California.)

Garlic! Pesto! Perfect!

June 28th Lesson Summary
Prepping a garden bed and preparing pesto

Wednesday was a beautiful day, hot and sunny. In the early morning, I biked to the Greenmarket in downtown Manhattan to pick up some fresh spring garlic from Keith Stewart’s organic stand. I worked for Keith all last fall, and this garlic was some of the 800,000 cloves we planted in October right before the frost hit. Rocamole garlic is a hardneck variety (sometimes called topset garlic), with large, non-overlapping cloves radiating from a hard central stem. It’s far more savory than traditional California-grown softneck Gilroy-garlic, but has a shorter shelf-life, making it ideal for the small-scale local farmer.

Most store-bought garlic is just the head, but to make our vegan-four-part-pesto (oil, nuts, basil and garlic), we had to learn to twist the cloves off the hardneck stem, peel the paper, and chose a fat, tasty clove to mince. We cut off the basal plate from the bottom of the clove, and talked about how garlic, a self-cloning plant, will grow genetically identical garlic from each clove, rather than through sexual reproduction with flowers. Garlic’s “flowers,” which have no pollen, grow at the top of the flowering stem, or scape. Because plants focus their energy on one thing at a time—flowering, growing leaves or roots, producing fruit—it’s important in the spring to remove the flowering scape to force the garlic to concentrate on making a hearty bulb. The farmers’ markets are full of flavorful scapes right now, which can be blended into pesto as easily as garlic cloves.

We washed, scored, julienned and diced the local, organic zucchini and summer squash to dip in the pesto, and prepared brown rice pasta. Brian and Jackson teamed up to make a mixed-nut Globe-basil blend that came out with delicious nutty chunks; Natalie used broad-leaved Mediterranean basil to produce a creamy, dark spread, and Madeline took a tasty turn with pine nuts, basil and bright pieces of carrot! I added blanched broccoli and almonds to mine. All told, a delicious and nutritious locally-grown day!