Category Archives: food science

The Rooftop Garden in Brooklyn Thrives!

We have a great garden growing on our rooftop in Brooklyn overlooking the construction of the new stadium at Atlantic Center. While watching them build the stadium, we’re growing some good ol’ Brooklyn produce.

At first, we planted in clay pots and plastic pots. We have cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, green-beans, green peppers, serano chiles, and lots of herbs.

Tomatoes and Squash

The best growth we’ve had is with our kale. It grows wonderfully on the roof. Here’s a shot of the kale growing and a shot of cooked kale with garlic and hot red peppers:

kale

Brooklyn Kale

Kale with Garlic and Hot Red Peppers

Kale with Garlic and Hot Red Peppers

I also tried a new method of growing tomatoes using a Sub Irrigated Planter (SIP). The idea is to water the plants from the bottom instead of the top. It’s far more efficient and you use a lot less water.

There are a lot of websites that help teach how to make your own SIP system. I like Global Buckets a lot. There’s also a company called Earthbox that sells kits. It’s not that hard to make one yourself – I recommend it so that you can really see how it works.

We made our SIPs out of plastic buckets. In the photo at left, you can see Anya (wearing safety goggles of course!) drilling a large hole into one bucket. A smaller hold is also drilled next to the large one.

In the photo at right,  you can see that a chinese food container with little holes drilled in it, is inserted into the large hole in the center of he bucket. A plastic PVC pipe is inserted into the smaller hole. It’s important that when you cut the plastic PVC pipe, one side is cut at an angle. The side with the angle is inserted into the bottom of the bucket. The angle is important so that water can flow through the tube into the bottom bucket.

The bucket is then inserted into another bucket. We drilled two holes into the lid — one for the PVC pipe and one for the plant to stick out of.

The top bucket is filled with soil and whatever you are planting. You water by pouring water through the PVC tube. It fills up the bottom bucket and wicks into the soil through the chinese food container and then up to the roots of the plant. At left is a finished SIP.

We have two SIPs working with cherry tomato plants that are doing wonderfully. It’s really not hard to build them and it’s a fun construction project. Anyone interested in container gardening for your rooftop, deck or even backyard should try to build these. Our finished SIPs are at right.

Below, I’m including a youtube video that explains how the construction process of a SIP more clearly than I did above. Enjoy!


The Glorious Red Pepper

Have you ever taken a bite into a red pepper and felt like you’ve gone to heaven? Unlike it’s earlier plucked green cousin, the red pepper packs a delicous punch of sweet and savory. Our Brooklyn rooftop garden has about 5 pepper plans that are all doing well in the after the hot summer. The peppers are all on the small side and I’ve eaten a few delicious green ones. I’m leaving the rest on the plants to mature into reds. I just picked a glorious red pepper off of my Brooklyn rooftop garden. Here she is:

A Brooklyn Rooftop Red Pepper

So – what does it take to grow a red pepper? Although many people eroneously believe that red peppers are a different species or type of pepper than the green pepper, they are actually the exact same plant – the capsicum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsicum). Red peppers just stay on the plant longer and turn red as they mature or age. That’s why they are more expensive at the supermarket. They take more work and water to grow.

The pepper or capsicum is indigenous to the Americas and was cultivated first in South and Central America. Columbus noticed peppers being eaten by Native Americans and named it a “pepper” on account of the sharp taste which reminded him of black pepper. Columbus and other explorers brought peppers back to the “Old World.” Colonists then spread peppers throughout  North America. An interesting history of the pepper can be found at the Texas A &M Agricultures Site.

One of the Brooklyn Red Peppers

Interestingly, a red pepper has 10 times the amount of Vitamin A and double the amount of vitamin c as a green pepper. And, both green and red peppers have more vitamin c than a whole orange.

If you want to grow your own peppers, wait until next Spring and then go for it – it’s easy. Here’s an easy guide for pepper growing: http://www.gardenersnet.com/vegetable/pepper.htm

Last but not least, a quick video guide for roasting red peppers. So many good recipes have roasted red peppers. This video shows you 3 easy ways to roast ’em:

The Brooklyn Rooftop Garden

This year’s rooftop garden in Park Slope, Brooklyn is a major success.I can’t write the name of the street or the address because, strictly speaking, we’ve never been on the roof since it’s not allowed and the owners of the building probably don’t want us traipsing around up there.

But traipse we do, and we’ve managed to build quite the garden up there. We have tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, green beans, snap peas, snow peas, Serrano chiles, bell peppers, mint, parsley, rosemary, cilantro, dill and basil. For a look at other Brooklyn gardens, check out http://brooklynroofgarden.com

Just the other night, we ate two salads with all of the ingredients coming from our Brooklyn rooftop garden. The  first is a cucumber salad with dill and the second is cucumbers, tomatoes and basil with olive oil. Delish.

cucumber salad

tomato and cucumber salad

The best part of the garden is watching the plants grow and seeing the vegetables ripen.There’s nothing like eating your own, home grown vegetables. We water our garden by running a hose from the kitchen sink out into the hallway and up the ladder to the roof. I’d love to to a massive, roof -wide garden like the huge garden in Greenpoint brooklyn. Check out this Daily News Article for more on that.

I’d love to hear from others who have good “urban farming” experience.

Let The Great World Spin

The rooftop garden in Brooklyn is flourishing: spinach, zuchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, snap peas, green beans and a whole bunch of herbs. To get to the roof there’s a ladder and then you open a hatch and out into the blinding light. It feels like leaving a spaceship and walking on a whitewashed moon.
We have a view of the statue of liberty and all of lower Manhattan.
We got sick of lugging bottles of water up for the plants and bought a hose. Now, we run the hose from the kitchen sink, out the door, down the hall, up the ladder and out the hatch. For a secret rooftop garden, we have a lot going on. Hopefully the landlords won’t catch on. We’ll probably end up like that children’s book and have tomatoes growing in our closets.
The plants love getting drenched. There aren’t enough bees in Brooklyn so Anya had to pollenate a lot of the plants using Q-Tips. Too bad city pigeons can’t be taught bee tricks so they can have a use. We’ve harvested the first tomatoes and snap peas- delicious. I’d like to grow sunflowers too. It would give the people on Flatbush Avenue something nice to look at.
On a side-note, I just read a beautiful book by Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin. If you live in NYC, ever lived in NYC, or hell, live anywhere, it’s a good one. It captures a lot.

More cheesemaking soon….

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Avi Bars

Granola Mix

After being inspired by #3 from my office, I decided to try my hand at whipping up a batch of Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars. I love anything with peanut butter and I’ve never tried my own granola bars before, so what the hell.

It turns out, they’re SO easy to make. I reviewed a bunch of recipes on the internet until I settled for Emeril Lagasse’s recipe on The Food Network:

Recipe at:

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/peanut-butter-granola-bars-recipe/index.html

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch baking dish and set aside.

In a small saucepan melt butter with honey over low heat, stirring.

In a large bowl stir together oats, almonds, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and stir until combined well.

On a large baking sheet, spread the granola evenly in a thin layer. Bake, stirring every 5 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. (Do not overcook; the granola will crisp more when cooled.)

Cool the granola in the pan on top of the stove and stir in the raisins. When the granola is completely cooled, place in a large bowl.

Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, and peanut butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is at a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the granola, stirring to coat well. Cool slightly and press into the prepared baking dish and let cool completely and harden. Cut the mixture into ten 1 1/4 by 4-inch bars and serve at room temperature. (The bars may be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

Peanut Butter Granola Bars

The whole thing, from “soup to nuts” takes about 40 minutes total and you can do three other things while you are making these bars.

If you’ve ever found yourself getting by on Clif Bars or Lara bars or any other high-tech protein or energy bars, do yourself a favor and make some kind of bars on your own to see how easy it is. You can pack lots of nuts, fruits and energy together with any binding agent (peanut butter, corn syrup, agave nectar honey, etc. etc) and get a nutritious results.

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Preserved Lemons

At the Hazon Food Conference (see last few posts), I heard a talk by food writer Joan Nathan. Nathan is famous for her award winning cookbooks including the 2005 release The New American Cooking and the PBS series Jewish Cooking in America.

At the Hazon conference, Nathan gave a few different talks including one on foods of Israel. She claimed that Falafel is probably one of the oldest foods ever made (either the chic pea variety favored in Israel  or the fava bean variety favored in Egypt). I don’t have an opinion on the origin of falafel but I’ve  tasted some that could have been made by ancient Egyptians. See this article for a few falafel tidbits.

Nathan e also talked about a nice recipe for Preserved Lemons which I just finished making at home. If you like Moroccan food, the “secret ingredient” in a lot of the recipes is preserved lemons.

Nathan’s Preserved Lemon recipe from the NY Times is as follows:

“Classic Moroccan Method for Preserving Lemons

12 lemons
1/4 cup kosher salt (about)

1. Quarter 8 of the lemons lengthwise, leaving them connected at one end. You can also slice them thin.

2. With your fingers stuff about 2 tablespoons salt inside the lemons, close them and place in a sterilized wide-mouthed quart jar. Squeeze the juice of the remaining 4 lemons into the jar. Allow to stand, covered, at least one week on the counter, shaking the bottle each day. Then add more lemon juice to the bottle if necessary and if you like, olive oil to cover.

3. Close the jar and leave out on the counter for at least 3 weeks before using. When using the lemons, merely rinse with water, remove the seeds, and chop up for your recipes.

Yield: 8 preserved lemons

Note: For a flavorful variation, I sometimes add 4 crushed garlic cloves and 1 teaspoon of sweet paprika to the lemons. And for a short cut, freeze the lemons first, then defrost and proceed as above.”

Here’s a video explanation replete with funny Moroccan background music:

You can buy preserved lemons at specialty shops, but it took me all of 20 minutes to pack my jar full of lemons, salt and lemonjuice. Now, all I have to do is wait about a month for them to get preserved.

Here are a few Preserved Lemon recipes;

1.From Serious Eats: Preserved Lemon Citrus Chicken with Chervil Gremolata (There’s a good story by the recipe’s author on this page as well)

2. From The Food Network: Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon

3. From The Washington Post: Sauteed String Beans with Garlic and Preserved Lemon

4. From Recipe Zaar: Pine Nut and Preserved Lemon Couscous

Enjoy!

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The Bees and The Bees

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Although we see them all the time, it’s easy to take the honey bee for granted. We avoid them or shoo them away, but rarely do we take a moment to appreciate what the honey bee does for us.

The honey bee, apis melifera, is one of our most important partners in growing fruits, veegtables and nuts. According to the National Resources Defence Council, “the list of crops that simply won’t grow without honey bees is a long one: Apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds … and it goes on.”

The San Diego Zoo website has a good explanation of bee pollination:

“Bees were very similar to carnivorous wasps millions of years ago. But when flowering plants appeared on Earth, bees became vegetarians, eating only nectar and pollen taken from flowers. Pollen is a well-balanced food with many of the essential nutrients bees need to survive. Female bees have a structure on their legs that no other insects, including wasps, have: a pollen basket. The basket is made of rows of stiff hairs that arch to form a hollow space on the outside of the bees’ legs, usually her back legs. When a bee visits a flower, she combs grains of pollen into her baskets. Pollen from the flower also sticks to the bee’s hair. Males do not collect pollen, so they don’t have this special body part. Leafcutting bees carry pollen in a brush of hair on the underside of the abdomen. And a few species, such as parasitic bees, have no pollen basket.

What about the flower’s nectar? Bees have a special tongue that sucks up the sweet nectar and a crop in their throat for storing it until they get back to the hive. Here the nectar is turned into honey. They can store large amounts of the honey in their hives to use as food.

All bees fly from flower to flower, sipping nectar and collecting grains of pollen. Many plants depend on bees to spread pollen, helping them to reproduce. Fruits and vegetables we like to eat, such as oranges, tomatoes, and squash, need bees to distribute the important pollen. When these crops are ready to produce their flowers, farmers often hire commerical beekeepers to deliver bees to their fields. The beekeeper places bee hives near the field for a few weeks. The bees harvest pollen and nectar for their hive, and the plants get pollinated in the process.”

Even in this age of big agribusiness, we still need and use bees to pollinate most of our vegetables. In the United States, there are large commercial bee-keepers. The National Honey Board reports that there are “approximately 1,600 commercial beekeeping operations in the United States which produce about 60 percent of the nation’s honey.  Many commercial beekeepers migrate their colonies during the year to provide pollination services to farmers and to reach the most abundant sources of nectar. ”

Commercial beekeepers truck their hives all over the United States and are paid top dollar for their bees’ pollination services. The almond harvest in California is perhaps the most impressive “bee operation.” The San Francisco Gate has a great story about how in February more than 40 billion bees are broughton semi trucks to the California Almond country.

In 2006, beekeepers began to report an alarming trend: the bees were disapearing. Unexplainably, masss of bee hives were empty and the bees were nowhere to be found.The phenomenon was termed Colony Collapse Disorder and it’s estimated that up to 1/3 of all honey bees in the United States have disapeared. What’s going on?

Watch these two 60 Minutes clips to get the latest thinking on what is happening. It’s so disturbing…

As of yet, there is no officially diagnosed cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. A lot of the papers and scientific research suggest that CCD could be caused by a confluence of different factors — articificial hives and breeding, chemicals that are used in beekeeping, chemicals and fertilizers that are used in agribusiness, and more.

For a full list of resources on Colony Collapse Disorder, see The MidAtlantic Apiculture website.

For a good explanation of the life of bees and of the functioning and social order of the hive, have a look at the National Honey Board website.

After learning about bees and their travails, I doubt I will ever look at them the same again.

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