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ImageThe tomatoes in my living room are doing beautifully. Right now, I have 4-6 little ones ripening beautifully and several more yellow flowers on the vines. My garlic is growing in a hanging basket of herbs. My basil, both green and red, is healthy and strong and in fact, I’ve lately noticed that it’s surrounded by a whole host of little baby basil plants. In the patches of empty spaces of my windowsill gardens, I’ve planted chili peppers from seeds I pulled from a red and green jalapeno I got from a CSA share. All and all I’m pretty pleased with my indoor garden.

 When I first decided to eat local in a more regimented way, I was worried about tomatoes. I’ve been toying with the idea of hydroponicsfor a few years.And when I’d heard about Windowfarms a few months ago, I thought it sounded pretty interesting and a good way to try my hand at hydroponic gardening. But I never managed to get it together to find the instructions, get a bunch of bottles, or figure out what else I needed to make the Windowfarms from scratch. Apparently I’m not alone.

 Windowfarms is a hydroponic system, inspired by a NASA design for hydroponic gardens in space. It’s the brainchild of Britta Riley, who founded Windowfarms in 2009 as an open source community art project inspired by Michael Pollan and Clay Shirky. In just a few short years, the project has grown to include a broad range of designers, engineers, socially-minded business people, and of course the worldwide community of 22,000+ Windowfarmers.

 Windowfarms let you grow fresh vegetables at home by taking advantage of natural light and climate control indoors. The roots are bathed in nutrients from the sea, preventing food plants from getting root bound (as they do in traditional soil filled containers). According to their Kickstarter info, you get healthier roots, and fresher, more nutritious vegetables without dirt.  It all sounds can grow all the things I grow in my window boxes, but apparently, there are some people who are growing strawberries – year round. 

I don’t buy strawberries much. Conventional strawberries are often reported to have a ton of toxins on them. Check out What’s On My Food if you want to know the dirty details.  Local organic strawberries are often prohibitively expensive. I buy them once in a while and occasionally they come in the CSA, but it’s a rarity. So, we eat a paltry amount of the berries.

Strawberries, like many berries are incredibly nutritious and very low in calories. It’s a good combo to begin with. And of course, fresh strawberries are really delicious.  The idea of growing strawberries, all winter long, well, that basically sold me.   Sure I’ll grow lettuce and arugula,  but I definitely plan to have a whole farm dedicated to strawberries.

I ordered my Windowfarm through Kickstarter. And if you order before the 30th you can get a discount on a farm. But, even more importantly you could help to make sure the farms are produced locally. 

The project has met its goal of 500 backers, which means they will have enough money to create the molds. But if they can get 2000 backers, they will be able to get the Windowfarms produced here in the US. 

Last but not least, did I mention, the design is beautiful. I might actually hang them in the boy’s rooms. The initial design was based on hydroponic garden designs developed by NASA and the final product looks pretty space age and cool.  I may even end up hanging them in each of the B and Z bedrooms.  Then, not only canmy strawberry producing beauties cut down our carbon footprint and bring us fresh fruit all winter, but they can also help filter toxins from the air my children sleep in. All and all, the whole thing is pretty sweet.

Windowfarms Links 

• Britta’s awesome talk talk on R&DIYon TED:

The Windowfarm community (I joined!)

• How to get your Windowfarm through Kickstarter. (Hurry, deadline is tomorrow. Yikes!)

 

It’s Alive!

Last week John sent me a photo (see below) from home. A virile green shoot had burst through the tiny portal in my once-Ikea, toy bin now homemade kitchen composter. When I got home and lifted the lid, I saw that it wasn’t alone. In addition to my family of fruit flies (which are thankfully dying down as the weather gets colder) I also had a seedling farm. I wondered what I could be growing? Cantaloupe? Acorn Squash? Baby apple tree? Green pepper? I have wanted to add peppers to my indoor windowsill garden. Currently the garden is bursting with tomatoes and basil and I think a spicy jalapeno plant might be a nice and doable addition.

The compost is pretty mature. As I dug around I thought about how some life is desperate to continue, while other seeds and peels happily rot and return to the earth. The compost felt clumpy like clay, with a few sharp eggshells cutting through. It’s true; I inadvertently killed a few little green sprouts, but managed to extract one or two in tact. I replanted them with the herbs in the living room. It wonder if they will take. And if they do, what will the become? I guess time will tell.

In the process of my seedling excavation, I discovered the above treasure –– an errant whole clove of garlic that had been tossed and was clearly thriving.  If I never mentioned it, I don’t just love garlic, I’m a little in love with it. If I don’t have it, I crave it. But I had never thought about growing it. Until my compost bin served me this little offering.

I carefully extracted the garlic from the rest of the stuff. I re-potted the small, gnarly and tentacled thing in my hanging basket that had once held baby lettuce. According to a botanist friend, garlic does not need that much room. But in case, the Internet is right and it needs more room, the pot is pretty deep. Of course, it will take 6 months or so for me to find out if it will work, since garlic has a long maturation period. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Because if I could grow garlic and tomatoes in my living room, I would really be a happy renter.


I wish you could smell my house right now. The air is pungent with that unmistakable smell of – bread. My mouth is watering even as I write this.

Today is Yom Kippor, a day of fasting. In truth it is not the only Jewish fast day but it is the most known one among American Jews. The fast ends at sundown with a traditional dairy meal. Kosher Jews don’t eat milk and meat at the same time. So by dairy, I mean food that is not meat. And for many of us that means a spread built around bagels.

It’s always boggled my mind how bread was invented. Who thought of taking yeast, grinding it up letting it rise and punching it down? But with bagels it’s even more baffling. Who thought of boiling the bread before you bake it? Probably someone who was in a hurry to eat. Bagels, only have one real rising and then after a minute of boiling, they only need to bake for about 25 minutes.

Bagels, like hot sauce, are one of those food items that seems to have sprung up magically from the store or in this case, bakery shelves. I’ve never heard of anyone baking them from scratch. And I had it in my mind that it would be complicated and time-consuming. Actually it wasn’t. It took about as much time as it might take me to make dinner, excluding the hour when I left the dough to rise. It’s not something you would want to tackle on a work day, but even on a Sunday morning, you could conceivably make  home-made bagels in time for an 11 am brunch without getting up at the crack of dawn.

Ironically, even though I have not been working, I have not been baking very much. My anxiety has been filling up all the extra spaces and I’ve felt like I have had less time to write this blog and document how I’ve been managing to keep up sustainable practices like baking. Lately the choices that seemed difficult before, to buy the more expensive local or non-industrial foods, now seem irresponsible. So the new question becomes, can I sustain sustainability on a much more  limited income. In the next few weeks I want to start really looking at what I buy and how much it costs. Home-made bagels, actually are an affordable alternative to the store-bought variety. Compare 7$ a dozen which is the amazing Fairways price, to probably under a dollar. The recipe I used called for 3 cups of flour — a pound of King Arthur Flour is only around $4.

I used the recipe for Les Bagels d Jo Goldenberg which has been reprinted here.  The technique they use is to make a ball, punch a hole in the middle and then roll the ring of dough into a bagel shape. I think it worked pretty well.

This video says to roll a coil and tie it. We tried one and it didn’t  quite work. But perhaps with practice it might not be a bad way to do it. This guy certainly is fast.

The ones that I rolled to be a bit on the thin taste more like sweet Montreal bagels (traditionally cooked in a brick oven) — more delicate and not as doughy as traditional New York bagels.  Of course, the bagels I made are not whole wheat. I need to find a whole wheat recipe. But now that I see how doable it is, I will.

P.S. –  Next up on baking challenges. How to make English muffins. Right now Z is eating them instead of hamburger buns. They are expensive, make garbage (bag and box) and are probably easy to make. At least compared to a bagel right?

Is there something called Bloggers block. If there is I’ve had it. I’ve been whirling in circles, writing and deleting blog posts in my head and never quite making it to the computer to get anything down. It’s partly because I’m not sure what I have to say. Because I’ve been having a hard time to stay true to local, local, local, even in the middle of the summer. For example, last week I bought eggplant from a street vendor on St. Nicholas Avenue.  I have no idea where it came from. I have no idea if it was local or organic. But it looked really nice. It was there and it was $1/lb.  I felt like a bit like a renegade. I also bought avocados, which are never local.  I know, I’m a real rebel.

In case you didn’t notice. I’ve taken a tiny  break from blogging. In fact, I noticed it’s been more than a month since my last post. I’ve been doing more or less what I have come to do – my sustainable practice – but I’ve been less than perfect. I’ve eaten a lot more take out than I should have which has made garbage. I haven’t been reading as much and  I’ve been more interested in writing about other things.

It’s hard to decide what to share in the blog and what to keep private. Even though I know most of my readers are actually people I know, the open conversation when it comes to more personal matters makes me a bit squeamish. I guess I’m showing my age. In a post-everything world, nobody really cares. But I do.  So, the reason I stopped posting is pretty much economic. I left my job. It was time and I am glad to be moving on to new opportunities, but still, it was a shake up. And without the security of a paycheck, it has really made me think twice about the expense of organic and local food. Which brings me back to my eggplant and avocados on St. Nicholas Avenue.

Up and down the streets of 181st and St. Nicholas Avenue, there are street vendors with fresh fruits and vegetables being sold for super cheap prices — a buck for a cantaloupe, 2 avocados for a buck fifty – what impact does it make on the food infrastructure does it have to buy from them. Is it better to buy organic from a big corporation like Whole Foods? There’s got to be some value in supporting people who may have limited ways to make a living and who are bring fresh produce to an inner city neighborhood

Think twice does not mean abandon. Because the truth of the matter is that I love going to the farmers market, meeting farmers and getting tips.  We have lost a lot of our know-how when it comes to cooking and sustaining ourselves. But, as I’ve been spending more time looking for a job, I’ve had even less time to beef up on the latest. It’s another reason behind my blogger’s block. Still, the fact is, I’m still composting, cooking from scratch and more or less buying local. Writing about it, helps me remember, that it’s worth the trouble.


A corny question:

Most people think corn in the husk keeps the corn fresher. But according to a farmer at the Tuesday market, it’s better to husk the corn, put it in a Ziploc bag and store it in the fridge. She said husking delays the sugar breaking down and keeps the corn fresher and sweeter. I can’t seem to verify this on the Internet – I’m getting conflicting opinions. All I know is that I followed her advice, husked the corn on Tuesday, ate in on Thursday and it was pretty freakin’ good.

To husk or not to husk? Any other opinions out there?

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I have a funny relationship to my window-sill gardens. They are more like pets and less like food. Hence, my maternal pride for this lovely little beauty growing on southern-exposure living-room ledge. Last year, I grew a tomato and it was so gorgeous I didn’t pick it. It shriveled on the vine. This year, I still have my pot of chard, tons of herbs and some mint  — the mint and chard are doing very well in the shade of my sofa. I know it’s just a matter of habit. I have gotten into the habit of using my herbs — I used them all the time. But the tomato, since it’s rare, seems special. I promise I’ll pick it this year. Especially since, my other tomato plants have many other yellow flowers.

On Friday, we discovered this grapevine dangling next to Robert Jackson’s new office — the sign said it was also the Washington Heights Chamber of Commerce. First mulberries. Now grapes.  I guess the point is that many of us want to make things grow, despite the fact that we live in this highly urban concrete jungle. On the Fourth of July my friend Jamie and I bemoaned the fact that we couldn’t turn our roof into proper gardens — we all agreed that it would be mutually beneficial to both our landlord and ourselves. But we also agreed, it wasn’t going to happen so quickly.  I guess we need to continue to push to make it happen. And in the meantime, we will continue to fill the nooks and crannies of the city with soil to make things grow.

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Mulberry boys

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Saturday morning, bright and sunny, we went to Inwood and the boys wanted a few bucks for treats. “I’ll give you a few bucks if you pick some mulberries.”They groaned a little. But only a little. Then they started to pick.

“We can go to our good tree,” Z said to B. Then to me, “I’ll show you.” He led me down the path that runs parallel to the Isham into a grove of fruiting mulberries.

I am still amazed that these prolific trees grow all over NYC and for the most part, the only beings who indulge in their sweet-sweet fruit are the pigeons. Now that I know they exist, the birds have competition. From me and my bucket. But from Z and his insatiable appetite. We picked together for a while, Z eating more than he dropped in our recycled yogurt container bucket. Then I left them to continue while I shopped on the street.

You have to remember, we live in the middle of NYC. When I was their age I had a secret imaginary world of fairies who lived in a patch of violets in the back of my parents. backyard. Sometimes I worry that they are not having that experience of the world being filled with hidden secret places. But clearly they are.

That’s another thing I love about going to the farmers market in Inwood on a Saturday morning. They can actually go off by their own — run and play on the hill and the thicket behind Isham Street.

The way they reacted to my request to berry-pick said a lot about where we have come as a family. Mulberry picking, even though we only started last year, is now a tradition. And like any 11 and 9-year-old boy, they are experts.

“This is the best tree,” one chided.

“No, look you have to pick it this way,” the other reprimanded with great authority. I sent them off with two yogurt containers and they came back with one ¾ of the way filled. Then I sent them back to fill it – John and I helped

“What will we do with the berries this year?” Z asked.

“We could make a pie like last time,” B said.
“Maybe we’ll try jam,” I suggest.

My mother used to make microwave jam. I am sure a microwave strips food of nutrients, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m pretty tired these days. I perused some other recipes that called for boiling and pectin and I just wasn’t up for it. This recipe is basically how I remember my mother doing it.

And the mulberry jam – it’s to die for. Although I tried to send them out again today with the babysitter to pick more berries and I couldn’t get them out to the woods without me. I guess it’s a lucky day for the pigeons.

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Microwave Mulberry Jam

2 cups of crushed mulberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. butter.

Remove the stems from the mulberries. Crush in an 8 cup glass measure with a spout. 
Let stand until juices forms – about thirty minutes.

Cover with a piece of wax paper. Then 
microwave on high for 10-14 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes. 
Spoon out 1 tbsp. of jam, refrigerate for 15 minutes and test consistency. 
If the  jam is too runny, re-heat it in microwave for intervals of 2 more minutes until it has the consistency you’re looking for.

Makes a jam jar full.

Last weekend, I didn’t make it to the green market. I went to yoga instead. Last week I blogged about how the overabundance of veggies is overwhelming. This week, I admit it, all my life is overwhelming. It’s true a lot in my life has changed and is changing and I’m having a harder time that usual getting more than the basics done. I’ve written this blog three times this week (on paper)and never managed to type it up.I haven’t baked bread in over two weeks. And I even got take out twice and threw out the plastic containers. I admit it, I’ve slipped a little bit.

The point of this post was that the point of eating local, healthy food is to be healthy and keep the planet healthy. But keeping up with everything I need to do had really kicked my butt, not to mention added a few pounds to my thighs. (Have I mentioned in this post how delicious local, home-made chocolate chip cookies are!) So getting exercise back into my life is a new priority.  So if finding balance — and yoga is not just about exercise, it’s about both.

Luckily, biking is also green. So on saturday, after yoga the kids and I biked down the west side bike path to the 72nd street pier. We played a pop up piano on the pier and had a drink with a friend. Then we biked over to Central Park. The whole time B kept saying, “This is great! Can we do it again next week?”

In the words of our illustrious prez, I told him, “Yes, we can.” But the cost of not doing my sustainable chores on the weekend was that during the week, our meals have been thrown together with whatever we could find in the fridge. Even with the CSA, the larder was a bit bare and we ran out of a lot of the basics because I didn’t go shopping on Saturday. But truthfully, we ended up with a few pretty delicious dishes. Sure, the mushroom and barley stew was ok but my favorite creation was spelt with oven roasted cauliflower, goat cheese, basil and mint. I’ll probably even make it again and even post it when I’m more up on my game.

Figuring out the right choices is a task in itself. Keeping up with it all is even more exhausting. So this week’s post barely happened. There are no pictures. Not even a real recipe. But in this case being ok with what I had and could manage was actually delicious and when I think about B and Z biking down to Central Park, totally worth it.

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