Monday, May 21, 2012

Friends vs. Foes

I grew up as far from rural land as one can -- a product of the post WWII subranization of the areas surrounding America’s metropolitan centers. The closest I ever got to farming was praying the apple tree in the yard would bare fruit --in eighteen years it never did.  Or, watching my father, attempt to start a vegetable garden to no avail.  The soil in our yard was not very glorious -- we lived along the Long Island coast in homes built on land-filled marshes.  It seemed the only thing I ever got to taste ripe from the earth were radishes.  Yet, in me yearned a person with the desire to dig, nurture and water.  I fantasized of being a genteel farmer with fields of copious flowers, vegetables and herbs getting groomed for the table.  Alas, this was not to be my fate, and I spent my time looking at nature's product envisioning the trail that brought it to me.

One summer participated in a community garden at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, and thought this was a prefect situation to satisfy my need to reconnect with my ancestors and till some dirt.   There on the eastern edge of New York's iconic expanse dark, moist, worm laden earth was shipped in and then prepared by a small army of urban farmers.  Apparently, I was not the only one who carved that loamy connection. 

Within a month, this spot that previously supported weeds, trash and your average urban blight glowed with  young sunflowers reaching toward their name sake; a plethora of  tender, aromatic herbs promising a wonderful note to future dishes; tomatoes putting out small yellowish flowers a harbinger of a later joy, and squash blossoms buzzing with bees helping to ensure a bountiful harvest.

 The garden was inhibited with not only all these young, epicurean plants, but also insects -- and I do not mean the variety us city dwellers dread to see.  There were ladybugs, grasshoppers (not so welcomed, but tolerated nevertheless), praying mantis and butterflies -- I marveled at their presence for they were nowhere to be seen while we prepared the garden.  I mused that there must be some insect emailing list that alerts these garden friends and pests of a new plot, and its potential feast, or perhaps there was a twitter hash-tag I did not know of.  How, here in Brooklyn, with the dramatic Wall Street skyline as a backdrop, did these hopping, gliding, buzzing critters get here? I really saw a butterfly or grasshopper in Central Park, and spotting a ladybug seems virtually improbable. Not to mention the plot that was being mined did not previously shine with that come thither look. I was glad to see all these creatures, both foes and friends of the garden for whatever guided them to this place they helped complete this summertime tableau of mine.

Bug Spray
1/2-cup chili pepper
6 garlic cloves crushed
5 eye-drops full neem oil
2-teaspoons liquid soap
1-tablespoon sesame oil

In a half-gallon container place the ingredients, and fill it completely with water. Place in the sun for about four hours.


To use dilute the chili concoction at a ratio 1 part concoction to 3 parts water. Mist over your plants and on the ground surrounding them.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking time to smell the roses

For the last few weeks I have been stirred from my sleep by the increasingly earlier rising sun and the wafting aroma of the star jasmine that, at two years old, is now abundant with blooms. It seems the whole world is redolent, rife with pleasure: the trellising honeysuckle, my deeply scented rose bush, the lemon verbena that has rebounded after a worrisome winter, and the lavender and hyssop that is growing at an alarming rate.

After a scentless period, save for the rising of spices from my stew pot, I now walk through my yard or the market taken in by the assault of spring’s seduction. The whiff of an herb is a thrill not just to my nose, but my imagination and desire as well. Simple is the pleasure of torn mint, parsley and tarragon leaves tossed with once snuggling peas, feta, olives and red onion that screams, hello spring. Now also starts the march toward a cupboard merchandized with jars preserving this and future moments. 

My first vinegar of hyssop and red wine; desiccating in sugar rose petals will scent a cake and soon lavender buds will be drowned in almond oil that might be used in cooking, or perhaps, be massaged into my partner’s aching muscles. This is just the distance rumble of the stampede that is coming of more heavenly delights to be found to be enjoy right then or, pickled or preserved to help lift one's spirit out of the bleakness of winter’s inevitable repast.

**When preserving any flower or herb in sugar or salt first make sure they are organically grown in order not to concentrate pesticides as well fragrance in the jar. Sprinkle a layer about 1-inch thick on the bottom then layer a thin layer of whatever you are desiccating. Repeat this layering ending with a layer of the sugar or salt. Store in a cool, dark spot for a few weeks, or longer, before using.**

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What I have learned.....

For years I have been the guide through markets around the country helping food enthusiasts negotiate their local farmer’s markets. Never go with a shopping list or any expectations apart from being in the moment has always been my mantra while surveying the jewels laid out. Never really sure what went into the production of the treasures I would find, taking for granted that a seed is dropped into the soil, and watered, and presto.

If it was only that simple – if you are trying to grow organically there are plagues of weeds and insects you are constantly battling. Are the conditions right for the plant to take root, sprout and deliver the part we are looking to eat? While one tomato seed may produce enough fruit for numerous meals from a carrot seed comes a carrot. Have many seeds do farmer’s plant to be able to give me the selection of that subterranean, nutrient packed vegetable? Herbs are definitely from the other end of the spectrum pretty easy to maintain as long as you don’t overwater or underwater; making sure the sun is ample enough or not, and you snip those budding flower heads as they develop in order to take the plant at it maximum fragrance.  If you succeed some of these plants will voluntarily return the following year, a bit stronger, for our embrace. My loveage for example, I thought it was given the right conditions for a strong life but never really took-ff. I wrote chalked it up as an experience, and assumed it was going to be brought into the house by the bunch. A few weeks ago in the spot where it limped through last year it erupted and stands bushy and tall radiating celery-like perfumed leaves – does my favorite herb farmer plant a year or two in advance? Tending my own plot of earth has given my great pleasure, and an appreciation for the planning and work that goes into a working farm and the delight I get upon receiving the bounty of their efforts. Never again will I consider the price too expense considering the labor involved, just perhaps out of my budget. 

Lamb Burgers – yields 8 burgers
¼-cup amaranth
1 small onion – minced
1-pound ground lamb
2-tablespoons Italian parsley leaves – chopped
1-tablespoon tarragon leaves – chopped
1-tablespoon loveage leaves – chopped
2-garlic cloves – finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a 2-cup saucepan over a high flame, and add the amaranth. Toast the amaranth, stirring occasionally, until it starts to pop. Be careful not to burn it. Lower the heat to medium-low and add ½-cup water. Place a lid on the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the flame and allow the amaranth to cool completely.

In a large bowl mix together all the ingredients to thoroughly combine. Divide the lamb mixture into eighths and form into patties.

Cook on the grill or a sauté pan for about 5 minutes on each side.