Tonight’s Harvest

July 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

This year was darned cold. Despite growing up outside of Chicago — or perhaps because of that — I have never enjoyed winter. And this past NYC winter was brutal.

Even now, near-August, the days have been cooler than this time last year. The evenings have been downright chilly at times. All this means that my rooftop garden is fruiting much more slowly.

This time last year we had gaggles of cherry and heirloom tomatoes. We lugged a tray of them to Martha’s Vineyard. This year I’ve harvested a pint — total — of cherry tomatoes and the few heirloom tomatoes on the vines are still hard and green.

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But we have had gaggles of jalapeños this year…

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And tonight I got to harvest three of our first eggplants and use some of our cherry tomatoes, cinnamon basil and lemongrass for a home-grown, home-made Thai green curry with lemongrass-coconut rice. There’s nothing quite like coming home, picking veggies and herbs, and cooking dinner for yourself on a Wednesday…in New York City.

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Copenhagen (EATS)

May 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

It’s been an unintentional year-long blogging hiatus. It was a year of experimenting with rooftop gardening in NYC — you can grow a heck of a lot on a rooftop. I’ll share more about that this season.

I decided to relaunch Together In Food with delicious eats we experienced on our trip to Copenhagen to visit my little brother, who’s studying abroad in the same program my husband did 15 years ago.

Nearly a decade after my first trip to Denmark, we were delighted to find that Copenhagen’s food scene has improved dramatically. On our last trip, we subsisted on Carlsberg beer, Fanta soda, and their admittedly delicious hot dogs with spicy mustard. This time, it was a whole new world. And that world began with Noma, the #1 restaurant globally.

Noma setting

We had 20 courses crafted from ingredients grown or foraged in Scandanavia. A sampling of the most unusual (clockwise from upper left): the “Nordic coconut” with nearly meat-like warm beet broth sipped through a straw; fried moss with creme fraiche; a beautiful hen egg with foraged herbs, fiddlehead ferns and flowers; an apple cooked for 12 hours in sloe berries; and new elm seeds with yeast sauce.

Noma food

But the strangest experience was this:

Noma ants

You may have looked twice. I did. But yep, those are ants. As there’s no citrus in Scandanavia, a Brazilian chef dispatched his knowledge to the Noma team that ants impart a lemony burst. So the cooks traipse through the forest to forage ants, then they rub ‘em with salt and adorn your dish with them. I have to admit, they were surprisingly citrusy and delicious.

Noma’s service, atmosphere, and experience definitely made the 4.5 hours and dollar amount I don’t want to think about at the moment worth it. But honestly, the best meal we had was at Amass, located in the middle of nowhere and run by a Noma alum who was also a chef at Per Se in NYC and hails from San Diego.

We loved the graffiti art, the use of our favorite glassware, the open kitchen..

Amass

…and the straightforward set menu that was more California in its cooking style: high quality ingredients, preparations that helped those ingredients shine, and lovely yet not highly constructed presentation. We sampled (clockwise from upper left) sour pancakes with foraged herbs, fermented potato flatbread, salad gathered from the garden out back, and monkfish.

Amass food

Of course, we tasted more basic aspects of Copenhagen cuisine. We trekked to Torvehallerne Food Market, where we tried Coffee Collective (laughing that they had a very Blue Bottle-like approach); delicate, perfumey local strawberries and peas that tasted like spring; and ice cream cones as big as our heads.

Torvehallerne Market

We had the classic Danish smorrebrod, freshened up by a shop called Aamaans. The best were the avocado and the sirloin with fried onions.

Aamaans

And it wouldn’t be a trip to Copenhagen without sampling classic fare: a traditional Danish meal at my brother’s host family’s lovely home (apples with jam, cabbage, potatoes and roast pork); toasted malt at the Carlsberg factory tour; those famous hot dogs; and a new discovery, sea buckthorn berry tart at an excellent seafood restaurant, Kodbyens Fiskebar.

Danish delicacies

Truth and Beauty

May 5, 2013 § 3 Comments

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”-Anais Nin

I’m writing to recall the atypical heat and sun of early May in San Francisco. To remember the bright flowers that reached for the rays, and the early blueberries forming.

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To see the arugula and red lettuce that self-seeded from last year and have pushed their way through the dirt again.

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To see skinny asparagus forests populate our vegetable bed when no one is around to cut and eat the young spears.

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While I miss California, having to be away for a month or more at a time has allowed me to find something new in the garden each time I return. Two and a half years ago, I wrote about artichokes. With our garden renovation and our move to NYC, I didn’t have time to plant artichokes until this past winter. But five months later, the plants have produced a fountain of silvery foliage. On this last trip west, a deep purple artichoke was emerging. And I realized in that moment of finding what “truth and beauty” means — that true beauty, the kind that delights, is often unexpectedly discovered.

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Joy Returns on a NYC Rooftop

August 19, 2012 § 7 Comments

A little over a year ago, my husband and I left San Francisco — our renovated garden, the eucalyptus-scented air, the freezing summers — to create a second home in NYC.

During the winter in NYC, we worked on our plans to renovate our apartment, overcoming the various hurdles required when you change anything in a landmarked building. We escaped the chilled concrete to tromp through snow at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Tractor in snow, Blue Hill at Stone Barns

I missed San Francisco, deeply. I got to visit my garden in San Francisco a few times. Beyond the herbs, like this bushy sage, the edibles mostly fed the chirping birds or ran wild and spindly in a chilly, windy spring.

Sage

But the ornamentals thrived.

Camellia blossom

Shadow and light, spring garden

And as sunshine, longer days and warm weather emerged on the east coast, I began to experiment, growing a garden in pots on our tar-paper roof atop our apartment-in-renovation. In anticipation for The Farm that we’ll build eight stories up in the sky, I wanted to see what I could cultivate.

It turns out, a heck of a lot more than in our San Francisco garden. While I always knew this in my head, seeing the evidence of heat and sun has made me feel a joy I wasn’t sure I’d feel living in NYC.

Tomatoes and cityscape

Tomatoes actually grow. Despite erratic watering and life amidst a construction zone, my plants produced juicy, sweet, delicious tomatoes…nothing like the sad, moldy cherry tomato plants I struggled to keep alive in San Francisco. More on the zen I learned from that experience here.

I’d always read that growing basil near tomatoes would keep insects away and make the tomatoes tastier. Perhaps this thriving basil is, indeed, doing its job. It makes a delicious basil lemonade (recipe here). And it delights visitors to the roof with its scent.

Basil and sunlight

The half a dozen shallots I planted from this past spring’s harvest — just to see what would happen — have grown faster in two months than they did in four in San Francisco.

A mop head of shallot greens

Of great delight is the eggplant experiment. We picked up a couple of seedlings at a nursery en route from Maryland to NYC one weekend. The beautiful, fuzzy plants thrived on the roof, surviving even a violent thunderstorm that bested our apartment pipes but left the plants with just a few leaf holes.

Eggplant injuries

And this week — the first few fruits have emerged from the lavender, parasol-shaped flowers with yellow centers. Tiny, purple. Perfect.

Emergent eggplant

Transforming Difficulties Into Inspirations: What I Learned in the Garden

December 17, 2010 § 10 Comments

“Our limited perspective, our hopes and fears, become our measure of life, and when circumstances don’t fit our ideas they become our difficulties.”–Benjamin Franklin

My yoga teacher gave us that quote after kicking our butts in a class that left me soaked in sweat and bone-tired, but in that good way where your arms feel so tired you can barely raise them to wash your hair in the shower, so you know you had a fantastic workout.

And, through this particular yoga practice, I experienced how to take what Benjamin Franklin said and flip it on its head (quite literally, at certain points in the class!). I was able to transform those difficulties into inspirations. I’ve always struggled with balance, but by breathing into it, I was able to rise up from the ground straight into tree pose less wobbly than I’ve ever been. Even though my mind said “heck no,” my body somehow jumped back into a one-legged downward dog when my teacher invited us to do so.

So I thought, why not apply this concept to other areas of my life? For instance, the rainy, chilly weather we’ve been having lately has been bumming me out. Every morning I’d get up, make my cup of tea, and be itching to go outside and garden, but the drizzle would dissuade me.

The other day, though, when there was a lull in the downpour, I decided to get over it. I thought the soil may have dried out just enough for me to get the garlic and favas in the ground, so I grabbed my trowel and tromped outside.

I was able to plant the garlic and favas. But the thing that was even more exciting was seeing that the rain had painted beauty in the garden. Fat water droplets hung on the bronze fennel, decorating it into something reminiscent of a Christmas tree (highly appropriate for this time of year).

Bronze fennel frond

The sage I planted recently in our potted herb garden on our patio (for easy access from the kitchen) seems to have settled in happily with the rain, unfurling fuzzy new leaves from its deep purple stems.

The sage

The cyclamen’s color intensified against a backdrop of black pots slick with wet and the misty air.

Cold-weather cyclamen

The shallots and mustards must be loving the moistness, because they’ve exploded with growth. (I need to figure out some good mustard greens recipes for next week’s dinners!)

Shallots and mustards

Experiencing this day in the garden brought what I believe Franklin’s point was home for me. We each have the power to transform circumstances that can seem difficult, irritating, depressing (or whatever) into something easier, fun, or inspiring. We just have to change our perspectives: turn upside down, push ourselves outside, and see the world just a little bit differently.

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The Garden Returns: Playing With Our Food

December 6, 2010 § 6 Comments

Sometimes you don’t realize just how big a part of your life something has become until it goes away and then comes back. When it’s gone, you might not even notice the void; you fill it up with other activities, people, outings. But as soon as it returns to your life, you feel more centered, happier, and like the world’s a better place.

Have you ever felt that way? For me, this realization occurred when I finally got to go out and garden, after a summer of our backyard being carved up, tromped all over, and rebuilt. I’ve been monitoring the weather for any respite from the rain; as soon as the drops stop falling, I dart outside.

In between the showers from the sky, I’ve managed to plant some fruits and veggies, which we’ll enjoy primarily next spring, though some will offer themselves up for winter meals. Digging in the dirt, giving edible plants new homes in our veggie beds, even cleaning up fallen apple tree leaves: suddenly, I felt a sense of peace and fun that I didn’t realize I was missing these past few months.

First, I wanted to get in our strawberry patch. After doing the exact opposite of what I was supposed to last year (click here for the life lessons I learned from that), I thought I’d actually plant them when and how I’m supposed to this time around. So following Golden Gate Gardening’s advice, I planted a patch of 18 plants in November, six each of Sequoia, Seascape and Albion varieties; the first is a “June bearing” type that should produce a short season of strawberries next spring, while the latter two are “day neutral” types that should bear next summer and fall.

The new strawberry patch

A month later, after I’d pinched off all of the flowers to let the plants put their energy into growing versus producing fruit, most of the plants look vigorous and are growing new leaves…

Strawberry soaking up autumn sun

…though a few Seascapes look just plain sad. (Any advice on how to perk this baby up? Please let me know in a comment below.)

Raggedy-Ann strawberry. Hope it's not giving up already

We put in five blueberry bushes, two types so they’ll cross-pollinate. I’m supposed to strip off all flowers the first spring to let the plants grow, but it’s going to be very hard to forgo those berries for a year.

Blueberry bushes

And whenever berries do appear, I’ll have to be good with critter control so the birds and squirrels don’t eat them before we get to. I already had to stare down a squirrel this morning. Perhaps bird netting and an air pistol should go on my Christmas wish list. Hmm.

Blueberries producing the beginnings of flower buds

I tucked French shallots into tiny berms of earth…

Shallot bulb getting a home in the dirt

…and a mere two weeks later, the first green shallot shoots pushed their way through the dirt. You can cut the shoots to use like chives, which I’m excited about as I always need chives but never seem to have them around.

Shallot shoots

Next summer, I’m hoping to be able to dig up a basketful of bulbs to mince for salad dressings, slice for shallot and red pepper curry, and crisp in oil to top fried rice.

We had to put the majestic artichokes in pots while the backyard was dug up, and they didn’t like it much.

Droopy artichoke

But I’m not giving up — and apparently, neither are they, because you can see they’re still producing little green shoots. So I’ll replant these in the ground and see what they manage to do. (Have you done this before? If you have any advice for me, please leave it in a comment below!)

New leaves emerging in the artichoke pot

I also put in a row of ruby streaks mustard greens. Thanks to their prodigious growth, soon I can snip them for salads and stir fries.

Spider web of mustards

I’m also curious to see if the hot-pink roses parading along our path produce enough hips to use in tea and maybe rosehip syrup, for pancakes and cocktails (breakfast of champions, right?).

Hopefully the rain remains at bay tomorrow so I can plant favas for ground cover and garlic for next summer’s harvest, dig in those kitchen scraps I mentioned in my recent post here, and renew my collection of herbs and flowers in patio pots. Because now that the garden’s back, I can’t wait to go out and play.

What peaceful and/or fun thing could you bring back into your life this week?

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Transformation Complete: From Dirt Mountain to Autumn Garden

December 2, 2010 § 18 Comments

“The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.

The ground is hard,
As hard as stone.
The year is old,
The birds are flown.

And yet the world,
In its distress,
Displays a certain
Loveliness—”
–John Updike, November, A Child’s Calendar

It’s cold and damp outside. The maple that we’ve recently planted is losing her scarlet leaves just as Updike poeticizes, a garnet skeleton against a steel sky. The dirt is dark and thickly clumped together from the afternoon rain.

And yet, also as Updike expresses, it’s beautiful. Curvy paths and soft bushes, golden and green, offset the dusky, geometric edges of the two newly-installed vegetable beds. Carpet roses, bougainvillea, and hydrangeas glow hot-pink in the waning light. Strawberry plants and mustard greens wave in a syncopated rhythm in the wind. Shallots are sending up their first electric green shoots from the black earth. Blueberry bushes are forming the very beginnings of rust-red flower buds.

Yes! Our backyard is finally finished: It’s been transformed from…

A weedy jungle

to…

A mountain of dirt and trenches

finally, to…

A real garden complete with veggie beds...

...and flowers and a patio from which we can...

...enjoy the beautiful Bay view from our backyard*

I’m delighted that our backyard is no longer a muddy mess, that I can get back to gardening, and that we now have more space to plant edibles. I’ve been browsing seed catalogs and dreaming of what I’ll plant when the rains stop and that we’ll harvest next spring, summer, and fall (Romanesco broccoli, leeks, Swiss chard, kale, collards, Bull’s Blood beets…yum).

However, I have to admit that I’m not as motivated to be in the garden during this rainy season (which is making the 50 degree weather feel damp to the bone) as I was on sunny spring and summer days. But I managed to plant some fruits and veggies on dry November days that we hope to enjoy when it warms up next year. And I have to say, while the clean, new layout of our backyard, the flowers’ pops of color, and the varied textures of our plantings offer loveliness in autumn, there’s nothing quite so beautiful to me as seeing plants thrive that we’ll soon eat.

More on that and our winter garden plan next week. Happy Friday!

*A big thanks to my dad for taking this beautiful shot.

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