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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.


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Bagels for Break Fast

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?

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We don’t buy bread. We make it. Well, mostly we do. On occasion, as a special treat I buy either whatever is on sale at Whole Foods or a local organic bakery and very, very occasionally I will buy bread from the Bodega — they sell Arthur Avenue Italian Bread. It may be industrial, but it’s local and has local flavor.

Bread is just about as basic a food as you can get. In fact, it can literally mean food or money – whatever it is that personally gives you substance. I grew up on neatly sliced white bread – the neat slices turned brown some time in the 70s when my mother learned that Wonder bread was less than wonderfully nutritious.

Bread was one of the first foods I decided to stop buying and explore making. It was partly because I thought buying bread made garbage. Making bread at home increases the nutrition of the product (at least allows me to really control it) and decreases the garbage output. I”m probalby not taking a lot out of the landfill but home-made bread is not packed or shipped to a store. Sometimes, when I am very flush, I even buy the flour from the farmer’s marke — that makes it super healthy and super sustainable and costs less than a loaf of the organic bread I used to buy.

But I also wanted to make bread  because there’s something about the idea of bread that has always fascinated.  Like cheese and wine, bread is a science experiment that someone had to develop. It fascinates me that yeast, this hidden magic bug. Yeast is like a real  version of the Star Wars  magical Midi-chlorians, the intelligent microscopic life forms that lived symbiotically inside the cells of all living things that give humans the power to become Jedi. Yeast, like the Midi-Chlorians, are the keepers of the force.

Although I love yeast breads, and will make them if I have the time, my daily staples are quick breads. I usually either make Irish Soda bread, which I load up with lots of oatmeal (can you say protein) and just a little sugar or a quick bread using a recipe I learned from Mark Bittman. Both use the combination of buttermilk and baking soda to create the amazing force of rising. And both are very versatile.  We make bread about twice a week. I used to do more Irish Soda bread, but it is heavy and harder to make toast or sandwiches with. The Bittman bread, on the other hand, slices well, and makes delicious sandwiches. It it most definitely one of my sustainable staples.

Note: This is part of the That’s How We Do It: 2011 series of blogs which give a top line overview of the “sustainable basics” or measures I am taking to live sustainably in NYC.

Irish Soda Bread

I first blogged about Irish Soda Bread last year, I realize now I never gave my recipe. Here it is:

(Prep time: 15 minutes. Cook time: 40 minutes)

Ingredients

3  cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups oatmeal flour

2 TBSP sugar

1 TSP salt

1 TSP baking soda

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

1. Make the oatmeal by grinding regular oatmeal into flour. You can use a coffee mill or actual flour grinder. I use the blender. If you grind extra by mistake, you can store it in the cabinet in a closed jar.

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Mix two types of flour, the sugar, salt, and baking soda into a large mixing bowl. I like to use my hands.

3. Make a well in the middle of the flour. Add the egg and buttermilk and mix in with a wooden spoon until dough is too stiff to stir. Dust your hands with a little flour, and  gently knead dough in the bowl. Form the dough into a ball. I like to split the dough into two balls at this time.

4. Sprinkle a little corn meal on a baking sheet. Place the two loaves on the sheet, giving each enough room to breath. Cut an x in the top of each loaf (if you’re baking with children, tell them it’s to keep the fairies out!)

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes until  bread is brown. The best way to test if it’s done is to pull it out of the oven with a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the bread sounds hollow it’s done.

I’ve made this recipe in a baguette pan. The slightly sweet bread looks impressive and it’s a more sustainable alternative to store-bought crackers.

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Earth Day brought a swirl of activity. There was so much to read and sort through and figure out.
But I spent Earth Day putting my electronic recycling together, jarring Kombucha (round two) and thinking about what else I could be doing to do my part in keeping the world from spiraling into environmental destruction.

I wasn’t exactly on the Earth Day bandwagon. I worry that rather than heighten everyone’s awareness of the uncomfortable or inconvenient changes we all have to make, it’s become a marketing opportunity. I know it’s both — and I guess nothing wrong with free coffee at Starbucks especially if it makes someone realize they should use reusable cups. But still something about the whole day makes me a little cranky. I can’t put my finger on it — maybe it’s that  most people, earth day or no earth day are still taking home  leftovers in big massive Styrofoam steam ships or buying cases of bottled water for their kid’s lunch boxes.

I know I sound self-righteous, but the truth is I want what most normal folk want — to be thin (or healthy if you want to be PC about it), rich, have nice clothes, a great house, an awesome car (yes, I really like cars despite the fact that they consume fossil fuels and pollute) and have luxurious creature comforts not to mention the luxuries of convenience.  Like air conditioning in the summer. Oh, and clean air when I’m walking down the street.

What rose up for me in the earth day soup of information is  that Mayor Bloomberg is planning on putting solar panels on  3,000 acres of covered landfills with solar panels. businessGreen claims that this will potentially providing enough power for up to 50,000 homes.  The New York Post reported that  Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor said  that the program “could cut the reliance on emergency generators that burn petroleum-based fuel on hot days when electricity demand peak.” Ok, this is a lot of second-hand reporting. And there’s so much more. It’s all part of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC update which he announced last Thursday. I downloaded the 68 page report to try to skim it for some first hand info, but it was too much for me to take in and report on in one evening.

The world is unravelling and being knitted back together in more ways than I can keep track of. I find just watching it and trying to understand how and why exhausting. When I knew the report was way too much for me to handle tonight — but it just made me  feel completely overwhelmed and depressed. But then when I got home tonight I remembered that I had two bunches of ramps in the fridge that I’d picked up on Saturday at the market. Ramps are special. They feel to me like a secret discovery. I am a forager at heart and I love that they are wild food. And  l love that their season is fleeting. Just holding them in my hands in anticipation of preparing them made me feel a little bit calmer.

I sautéed them with a local potato and served them with the speckled butter beans that I’d cooked up over the weekend and leftover cornbread from last night. The whole menu calmed me down, made me feel  rooted, not just on terra firma but in a terra firms in Spring. I may not be able to keep up with the whirlwind of information but I do know this. Tonight my meatless monday was a little bit magical.

Sautéed Ramps with Fried Potatoes

2 bunches of ramps
1 medium potato diced small
2 -3 tablespoons  olive oil
2-3 tablespoons red wine
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the ramps.  Shake them dry, but  leave a bit of dampness. Trim off the roots and then chop into thirds.

Heat the olive oil. Saute the potato until it’s lightly browned. Toss in the ramps. Continue to saute until the ramps are wilted and dark. Add the wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Personally, my mother bought Streit’s brand but a few years ago, I started to expand my matzoh repertoire beyond that nostalgic red box. First I bought Whole Wheat matzoh. But then last year, I also sprung for the organic kind. This year, since I have been moving toward locally sourced products, I wondered if there was anyone making matzoh in the tri-state area. That’s when I discovered shmura matzoh. It turns out Jews have been doing artisanal matzoh since before Christ had his bris.

Shmura is a type of small batch matzoh mostly made in Israel and Brooklyn. Shmura literally means watched from the harvest. According to my research, the watching has to be done by a rabbi. In order for this matzoh (or any apparently) to be kosher for Passover the whole process has to happen has in no   more than 18 minutes. That’s because if the flour and the water mix for longer han that short period of time, spores of yeast from the air could get in the mixture and cause impromptu leavening. That would make the matzoh chametz or not kosher for Passover.

According to the CityCook.com there are about 6 shmura matzoh bakeries in NYC – all of which are in Brooklyn. It does seems fitting that artisanal matzoh would be made in the locavore capital of the 5 boroughs – Brooklyn.

The factories or bakeries look very cool. The pictures show big brick ovens that remind me of the bagel bakeries I used to go to in Montreal when I was in college. Many of these matzoh factories also have tours. Here’s a link to help you figure out where to go.

You can get also get the Shmura matzoh at some grocery stores. I called around a bit and found that you can pick up the Brooklyn kind at Zabars (they have whole wheat, and spelt), Fairways and Eli’s on the upper east side.  Of course, like all things artisanal, this matzoh is pricey – somewhere between $24 and $45 a pound. Although if you go to D&T Shmura Bakery on Albany Avenue, Crown Heights, you can get a pound of broken pieces for  the bargain of $13.50/lb – call to verify if the price is still accurate. (718-778-7914).  Just to put these prices in context, matzoh is normally a few bucks a box. At Fresh Direct, for example, you can get 6 boxes of Yehuda matzoh for 15.99 (They also have HolyLand brand for 24.99 which is, not surprisingly, not local but from Israel)

I called around and tried to see if I could find Shmura flour to make my own blessed bread. So far no luck. But still, even without the rabbi’s authorization, I’m going to skip the $40/lb matzoh and try to make my own. I never really thought about it, but matzoh by its very nature has got to be easy to make. After all, it’s the proverbial quick bread.

Passover is a holiday filled with symbols. Charoset , the delicious mix of apples and nuts, represents the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt. The salt water on the table represents the tears of the Jewish slaves. The roasted egg represents the cycle of life.

Commercial matzoh is square, but Shmura matzoh, and my homemade matzoh, is round like the earth. I plan on making these rounds matzoh with the kids before the seder next week. This new tradition and symbol seems a fitting addition to our Passover holiday – especially since Passover falls smack in the middle of earth month.

HOMEMADE MATZOH

From http://www.koshercooking.com/resource/matzoh.html

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Spring water

(If you want to be kosher for Passover, clean your oven before you start._

Preheat oven to 450 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix two flours together and add water until you have a soft, kneadable dough. Knead about five minutes. Let dough rest a couple of minutes.

Break off egg-sized portions of dough. Stretch as thinly as you can before rolling into thin, oval slabs that are as thin as possible. Prick each slab with a fork or pastry docker. Place on baking sheet and as soon as sheet is filled with matzoh, place in oven, and bake until crisp and buckled, about 3 minutes. Cool and eat.

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday and Real Food Digest Passover

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We were upstate looking for  maple sugaring. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going. B was asleep in the back of the car and the fuel guage was dipping dangerously below E. Then, like a beacon in the fog, I saw a sign. “Nettle Meadow Farm and Farm and Artisanal Cheese.” I had to stop.

Nettle Meadow Farm was originally founded in 1990 and is the home of 300 goats, several dozen sheep and a variety of farm sanctuary animals. I saw a few goats wandering in the pasture as I  drove up a spring muddy road and stopped in front of the old farm house. The side porch was almost completely covered. B was still asleep in the car as I parked the car in the muddy parking lot and stepped up to the front door and rang the bell.

A girl with braids like bumps on the side of her head answered the door. She wiped her hands on her apron as explained the types of cheeses.

Their prize cheese Kunik is a brie like cheese. In their own words: “Kunik is a white mold-ripened wheel made from goat’s milk and Jersey cow cream. The blend makes Kunik far richer and more flavorful than a brie-type cheese yet more subtle and sumptuous than similarly ripened goat cheeses.”

Goat cheese tends to have a bite. I like it but there’s a sharp bite that I thought was characteristic. Not on Nettle farms. The Kunik is trully amazing. It’s rich and creamy. Yes it’s like a brie but a brie that bursts with dimension. I think it’s literally the best cheese I’ve ever eaten.

They also had several spreadable goat cheeses, all hand crafted, in a variety of flavors. The spreadable cheeses are also delicious. I tasted the horseradish at the farm and liked it a lot and thought would be a nice to put out before the Seder, but they were out. So I went on their recommendation and bought one garlic and oil and one lavender and honey. The garlic and oil is delicious – it’s what that commercial Alouette cheese wants to be when it grows up. The lavender and honey has almost a ricotta like sweetness. I want to try it as the center of a buckwheat billini. I think that would be a perfect pairing.

In the cartoons, goats stand on church spires or eat their way down a mountain of tin cans. Nettle Meadow Farm capitalizes on the goats natural instinct to eat what other animals, including people, find unappetizing. The farm has been developing a pasturing program where they graze the goats on patches of forested land that normally are un-grazable. The goats end up eating nettles and raspberry leaves and other prickly or weed like substances – the forest junk. Which is why I call their cheese, the most delicious and nutritious junk food you can find.  This “junk” is actually quite nutritious not just for the goat, but also for the lucky folks like us who eat food made from these goats milk.

For the easiest but special brunch, try this super delicious open faced sandwich. It’s so easy, it barely warrants a recipe, But here’s one anyway:

Super Easy Open Faced Goat Cheese & Egg Sandwich

1 slice bread (per serving)
2 eggs (per serving)
2 tbs milk
Chives (optional)
1 -2 tb Nettle Meadow Fromage Blanc  (I used the garlic and oil flavor)
A bit of butter for the pan
Sliced tomato

Toast your bread. Crack and beat the eggs with the milk.  Add the few chives if you have them). Slice a tomato.  Spread the Fromage blanc on the toast. Add the slice of tomato. Top with scrambled eggs. Enjoy.

If you live in “the city”, you don’t have to drive to Thurman to buy this very special cheese. In NYC, it’s available at the following locations:

• Provisions, NYC, NY
• Vintage NY, Manhattan, NY
• Murray’s Cheese, Manhattan, NY
• Saxelby’s Cheese, Manhattan, NY
• Fresh Direct, NYC, NY
• Westside Market, NY, NY
• Bedford Cheese Shop, Brooklyn, NY
• Forager’s Market, Brooklyn, NY
• Manhattan Fruitier, NY, NY
• Gourmet Garage, NYC, NY
• Barzini Market, NY, NY
• Blue Apron, Brooklyn, NY

For other locations in the north east and even California visit http://www.nettlemeadow.com/find.html

This post is part of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday.

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We eat a lot of beans. At least twice a week I make a big pot of some sort of bean. I make white bean and escarole soup, lentil stew, black and pinto bean chili, or sometimes we just eat the beans solo. I get a lot of heirloom beans from both Rancho Gordo (not local) and Cayuga Pure & Natural.  And last fall, I hit pay dirt when one of the farmers at the Green Market brought in a big crop of cranberry beans. Turns out I LOVE Cranberry beans. We eat lots of red and black and yellow beans – but for some reason, we rarely eat chickpeas.

It’s not that I don’t like them, I do. I love them alone. I love them in recipes– Harira, hummus and falafel. And according to The World’s Healthiest Foods, they are super good for me partly because they have a lot of insoluble fiber which helps to clean out your system

And apparently, according to The World’s Healthiest Foods, the darker varieties of these peas are even better for you:

“Researchers have recently determined that many of the antioxidants present in garbanzo beans are especially concentrated in the outer seed coat that gives the beans their distinctive color. Darker-colored “desi-type” garbanzo beans appear to have thicker seed coats and greater concentrations of antioxidants than the larger and more regularly shaped cream-colored garbanzos that are regularly found at salad bars and in canned products.”

If that’s true, my Black Kabuli Chickpeas have got to be good – they are as black as charcoal on the outside.

I bought my Black Kabuli Chickpeas when I picked up my Jersey Fresh Canned Tomatoes from Primizie when I bought my Jersey Fresh Canned Tomatoes.

An heirloom variety with roots tracing back to South Asia, they are grown by Timeless Foods,  a group of four organic farmers from central Montana.  The guys were among the first organic farmers in Montana to remain committed to crop rotations, natural fertilizer, and alternative agriculture. Not local but worth supporting in my book.

But the big question is what do black chickpeas taste like? Well, cooked up, they create a thick soup stock which had a nice consistency and flavor. Alone, they taste like regular chickpeas. Maybe a little bit more earthy but not significantly different. Still, the black color is quite lovely. They remind me of large pips from a papaya plant and look great in my green salad. I can’t wait to try black  humus. (Tonight for dinner I’m going to try this no-tahini necessary recipe). But for starters, I took one of my favorites and added these basic black chickpeas to the mix.

Black Chickpea Tabouli

2- 4 cups of chopped parsley

2-3 chopped tomatoes

1 rib of celery diced small

3/4 cup of black chickpeas, cooked in water and salt

1/3 cup crumbled feta

Dressing:

Juice from 1 lemon

3 tablespoons of olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

Mix all the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Add the chick peas and feta cheese.

Chop the garlic as fine as you can. Then using the back of a knife, make garlic paste by pressing the chopped garlic into the sea salt. Whisk in the olive oil. Add lemon juice and stir. You can add a teaspoon or two of the feta brine if you want to thin out the dressing.

Mix with salad. Serve.

Note: This salad keeps well overnight. In fact, the flavors blend nicely when it sits.

How to cook chickpeas?

Black, brown or tan, cooking chickpeas is pretty easy. Soak overnight if you can. If not, simply add to a pot with 3 times the amount of water to peas. Bring to a boil. Lower heat. Simmer for two hours or until tender.



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