Category Archives: food

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!


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A Feast of Dumplings

I woke up yesterday intending to make cheese. Then, somewhere between the shower and breakfast, I changed my mind. From some obscure corner of my brain, the idea of making home-made dumplings all of a sudden broke through. Mmmmm dumplings – I challenge you to find me a person who doesn’t like a good dumpling. Or, find me a culture that doesn’t have its own version: dumplings, gyoza, pot-stickers, kreplach, wontons, etc. etc. etc.

As usual, when I decide to make something I haven’t tried before, I resolve to make the whole thing from scratch. So, I had two tasks: the wrappers or “skins” and the filling.

Part I: Wonton Wrappers

I’ve seen the wonton wrappers or “skins” in the Asian grocery near my house but I wanted to make the wrappers by myself. Like most things, it turns out it’s a lot easier than you would think. All you need:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • Water
  • Salt
Dumpling dough

Dumpling Dough

A found a good recipe at Petitchef.com

Basically, just add hot water to flour and mix it with chop-sticks and then knead it until it’s a silky ball. Then, let it sit and rest for an hour or so in a covered bowl. On the right is my dumpling dough just after basic kneading.

wonton wrappers

Finished Wonton Wrappers

Next, fashion a few logs or cylinders out of your dough and then roll out each “log” using a rolling pin or, if you don’t have one, you can use a long glass. Once the dough is rolled out as thin as possible, use a a glass to make circles of dough. Then peel out the circles and there you have your wonton wrappers.

On the left is my stack if finished wonton wrappers. (Don’t forget to sprinkle flour between them so they don’t stick!)

Part II: The Filling

Making Dumplings

Filling Dumplings

I decided to fill some of my dumplings with vegetables and some with shrimp and vegetables. I took my time finely mincing a small pot full of vegetables that included scallions, carrots, asparagus, sprouts and red peppers. I also added some finely minced fresh ginger. For the shrimp, I peeled and de-veeined about a half pound of medium shrimp and minced them as much as possible.

Then, the fun part – taking a small scoop of filling, I filled all of my dumplings and found interesting ways of closing them up – I made some round and some oval-shaped. The dough closes nicely just by pinching it together or you can slightly wet your fingers to ensure the dough is really closed.

Finished dumplings

Finished Dumplings

I ended up with about 25 delicious dumplings. To cook them, I went for a mix. I steamed some of them, boiled some of them and pan fried the rest. They were all good, but the boiled dumplings were too dough-ey. So, I pan-fried ’em for guests at the last minute.

To make the meal complete, I made an easy Miso soup with Shitake mushrooms- just boil some vegetable broth together with Shitake mushrooms. Remove from heat and then add fresh Miso to taste. Last, as a “salad,” I steamed Kale with tofu, red peppers ,and soy sauce.

All in all, a success! Now that I have dumplings “out of my system” I can get back to cheese….

October in Napa, California

I just came back from a great weekend from one of the meccas of all things food and wine: Napa California. I went to visit my friend Ari who is a winemaker living in both Napa and Israel. I had the pleasure of staying in an incredible house on the top of a mountain called Twin Sisters. If you have about $10 million handy, the house is for sale. Check out the house’s website: http://1700twinsisters.com

Below is a slideshow of the house and of the new vineyard where Ari is making wine:

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One great winery and vineyard we visited on this trip was Palmaz Vinyards. It’s a gorgeous winery and their wine is great.  I’ve been to lots of wineries in Napa and this is at the very top. If you visit Napa, I recommend getting a tour. Their website: http://www.palmazvineyards.com

Brooklyn Chevre’

I’m back on track making cheese after a little hiatus. It was raining yesterday in Brooklyn so I decided to make some goat cheese. Chevre’, meaning goat in french, is technically the term for all goat cheese but we think of chevre’ as the soft, cream cheese like goat cheese we are often used to in the USA.


Goat's Milk

I decided to make chevre’ with dill and garlic. I bought a half gallon of pasteurized goat’s milk and used my chevre’ starter from New England Cheesemaking which I keep in the freezer.

At left is the goat’s milk right out of the bottle in a pot on my stove.

I heated it to around 80 degrees (fahrenheit), added the starter and a few tablespoons of dissolved vegetable rennet. Rennet helps to coagulate milk. Rennet is traditionally made from the stomach lining of an animal but I prefer the vegetable variety. If you want to learn more about rennet, check out this article.

After mixing the milk for a few minutes, I covered it and just let it set for around 12 hours, waiting for the curd to form. After 12 hours, I had a nice curd in the pot – the milk becomes a custard-y consistency and there was a little bit of clear liquid at the top.

Dill and Garlic

Next, I minced some dill and 1 garlic clove and mixed it all up with the curds. Then, I ladled the curds into a butter muslin (cheese cloth) that I lined inside of a colander. Last, I tied the four corners of the muslin together and fastened the whole “bag” to my kitchen faucet, handing over the sink.

I let the bag hang, draining slowly, over the sink, over night.

In the morning, I united the bag and here is what I got:

Finished Garlic and Dill Chevre

From half a gallon of goat’s milk, I ended up with one small tupperware carton of chevre’. It’s delicious, fresh and not too “goat-y.” It’s a great starter cheese for anyone interested in cheesemaking. I’m going to bring mine to a dinner party and we’ll eat it on crackers and bread with olives and fresh vegetables.

Avi's Brooklyn Chevre

In America, Chevre’ only became popular in the 1980s. Laua Chenel is known as the mother of American goat cheese. She pioneered artisan chevre’ production in California and reigned as the doyenne of American goat cheese for more than 20 years. As the NY Times reported, Chenel’s business was bought out by a larger company in 2006.

Last but not least, have a look at some great chevre’ recipe suggestions from this Chowhound page.

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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 117 Year old Piece of Cheese

If you didn’t think cheese can be a window into culture, family history and identity, then think again.

From this week’s  New Yorker:

SAY CHEESE

This is the story of a hundred-and-seventeen-year-old piece of cheese. The cheese has lived in an apartment in Brooklyn for the past year. Prior to that, it travelled the world, or more of the world than the average piece of cheese has travelled. The cheese is small—four inches long, one inch high—and it is an orangey-brown color. A person who comes in contact with it might not recognize it as cheese. Its shape more resembles that of a heart or a teardrop, or something that you would want to have a hazmat suit on to touch. Its owner, Clare Burson, a Tennessee-born singer-songwriter by night and a docent at the Tenement Museum by day, is aware that the cheese evokes visceral reactions. When she gives tours at the Tenement Museum, she sometimes cites the decades-old bagel that was discovered in the building when it was renovated, in the nineties, which disgusts people. “You think that’s something?” she then adds. “I have a hundred-and-seventeen-year-old piece of cheese!”

Burson, who is thirty-four, recounted the cheese’s history the other day at her apartment in Cobble Hill, where she lives with her husband, a criminal-defense attorney, and their cat, Kreplach. She carried the cheese carefully from her bedroom to a table in the living room—she is reluctant to travel any greater distance with the cheese. “I worry about it,” she said.

The cheese was a going-away present for Burson’s paternal great-grandfather Charles Wainman (née Yehezkel), upon his emigration from Lithuania, around 1893, to Johannesburg. For reasons lost to history, he never ate the cheese but kept it in a trunk that travelled with him while he worked as a trader among the Zulus, and then when he fought, on the Dutch side, in the Boer Wars. About 1904, the cheese travelled to Memphis, via Leeds, in England, and Galveston, in Texas. Wainman opened a grocery store, and then, after the Great Depression, was a security guard. He died in 1944. The cheese was stored away until 1971, when Burson’s mother discovered it in the old trunk.

Burson first learned of the cheese in 1999. She had just returned from Germany, where she was on a Fulbright, researching identity politics and the Holocaust. (Her maternal grandmother, born in Leipzig in 1919, escaped Germany on the morning of Kristallnacht, and ended up in Memphis.) When Burson returned home to Tennessee, her paternal grandmother, Jojo, presented her with some more history. “Apropos of nothing, Jojo brought out the cheese,” Burson recalled. “She said, ‘Have I ever shown you this? It’s a cheese!’ ”

At that time, the cheese was wrapped in tinfoil and stored in an unmarked envelope. “Every time I went to visit after that, I checked on the cheese,” Burson said.

In 2007, Burson went to Lithuania, hoping to learn more about the history of the cheese—her grandmother knew only that it came from a place she called Pushville. In Vilnius, looking at a pre-Holocaust map, Burson surmised that Pushville was Posvol, which is now Pasvalys. She discovered that no one there spoke English except for a guy at the local agricultural museum. He took her to see the site of the old synagogue, now a housewares store, and then mentioned that one of the town’s main industries is cheese. In a supermarket, she found cheese that looked a lot like her cheese, if it were a hundred and seventeen years younger: it had the same dolloplike shape. The cheese was a fat-fermented variety called Svalia, for the local river. According to a modern producer, it is “a tasteful component of sandwiches” and “goes very well with beer.” Burson bought a small chunk of it, but it did not make it to Tennessee for her family to taste. “I took it back to Riga, and I basically ate cheese and crackers in the hotel room for the next two days,” she said. “It was kind of nutty. It was good.”

When her grandmother died, in 2009, the cheese went to Burson. She flew down from New York to take possession. When she got to the house, the cheese was not in the box on the shelf in the closet where it usually resided—her aunt Linda had put it in the freezer. “I was a little freaked out about it,” she said. The cheese flew back on a Delta flight to LaGuardia. It breezed through security, probably because it smells only when it is close to your face. “It smells like old cheese, stinky feet, that sort of thing,” Burson said. Her husband was fully supportive. “He takes issue with me having a lot of stuff,” she said. “But I wouldn’t exactly call the cheese a tchotchke.”

Last summer, Burson took the cheese on a subway to Manhattan, where Tenement Museum employees helped her seal it in a jar. She feels the cheese is preserved now, which pleases her landlord. But Burson worries that it seems less like a relic and more like something in a lab. “I’m a little conflicted about it,” she said.

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.