Archive for December, 2009

Greenhouse Envy

December 29, 2009

Still on MUSIC MOUNTAIN ROAD, Falls Village: About a 10 minute walk up from my parent’s house I discovered this new addition to the neighborhood. Small town gossipers (aka my mother) report a young couple moved in here last year to start a farm, and have been doing alright! I’m not sure when exactly they put up this greenhouse but I guess the back story is, they made some money out west and are now full swing into their “back to the farm” persuit on the east coast. Sounds alright to me.

Here are some other sights from my walk up the hill today…

I think I might like to be married here someday…

I have major barn envy as well… these stone structures are right up the street from my parents, but somehow I have never photographed the property until today…

It certainly is funny how easy it is to take the most beautiful parts of a day forgranted.


Over the River and Through the Woods

December 28, 2009

MUSIC MOUNTAIN ROAD, Falls Village: Home for the holidays raiding my dad’s archives of Mother Earth News. Get ready for some major linkage updates, like this one:! Getting stoked on growing onions and garlic and crunching around in the snowy woods with my dog. Day dreaming about the country life, as always. Only now I’m up here breathing the fresh air, so it’s all a little more real.

Everyone deserves a little country time.

There are still giant vegetables of the squash variety adorning random outdoor corners of the homestead, and surprising me. I love the things that are still green through the snow even though the season is over around these parts.

The mentality is different here from a city garden. Things are left standing to be blanketed by snow as supposed to desperately scrambling to harvest every last leaf before the first flake falls, like I tried really hard to do this year in Brooklyn.

Lastly, even though unrelated to gardening, I wanted to give my mom huge props for totally out doing it this year on her annual “gingerbread” house. She has long evolved away from the use of actually gingerbread for more creative edible mediums, but this is really something!

Photo courtesy of Gail Allyn: a reproduction of a traditional Thai home, created with the help of the exchange student from Thailand who is staying with my parents this school year. Holy moly, way to go mom. I am very impressed.

it snowed yesterday.

December 22, 2009

NYC: The first snow of the season is always worth documentation. Ellie Mae was loving it:

The official depth measured in at 10.9 inches – taken in Central Park- but it was hard to tell since the snow was so powdery and really drifting pretty deep in places.

Bringing the Outside In

December 21, 2009

HUMBOLDT STREET, Brooklyn: My dad scouted the woods around his house in the foot hills of the Berkshires and found this most perfect cypress tree. My mom drove it down to us in conjunction with a visit.
Here it stands naked as a jay bird. We rigged it in a planter and it got me wishing we had a tree growing in this spot all the time.

We are very lucky to have such nice folks who care about us enough to go through all the trouble it takes to supply a Christmas tree annually! The price of a cut tree from one of the many outdoor vendors in the area will run a good $60+ and this totally blew my mind when I first moved here. So the tradition of the traveling tree was started, and I am seriously considering going into the pine business. Or at least planning for the future a bit by planting a few of the evergreen variety up around my parent’s part of the world… you know, for later.

The entrance of a living (or pessimistically, dying) tree into the home has a way of changing everything for the better. A string of lights can be a cure for the winter doldrums, at least temporarily. The air becomes fresher, filled with outdoor memories from the branches. This tree is something to be celebrated. Somehow I usually manage to get a little glammed up for the decorating part – as captured only by cell phone:

Storage restraints around my apartment means a pretty sparse holiday ornament department, so this year my break through solution was to turn to my pin collection to fill in the gaps and add a little sparkle. As if the tinsel wasn’t enough…

This last one is an early creation from the talented and adorable Trish Andersen, one of the two part team that makes up Domestic Construction. Just to totally promote them, these two gals are currently set up at the Brooklyn Flea Gifted Market in Manhattan selling, among other things, hand crafted garland.

Which is gracing my boughs in the most delightful way.

The tree topper is not to be forgotten. This year the “star” is a birthday present flown from Arizona by the always thoughtful Lea Ann Wells. I think it does quite nicely.

So sentimentality has overtaken me at this point, but the finished product really is a present in itself, with little pieces from everyone I love. Esspecially this guy:

Aw. Tinsel Master.

Winter Reading

December 19, 2009

HUMBOLDT STREET, Brooklyn: The 2010 Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog arrived in the mail yesterday!! Page after page of sweet luscious vegetal porn. See the bounty for yourself:

Man oh man these folks have been busy! Last year they sent out $50,000 worth seeds for a program they call “Seeds for Peace” donating packets to schools, orphanages, and other humanitarian projects around the world. This year they are aiming for $100K, and the coolest part is you support their cause just by placing an order. It’s not like an extra they are asking for a dollar on the side, they just freakin do it.

They also opened a “Seed Bank” this year in Petaluma, CA converting an old bank building into a literal archive of seed. Check out their website, I wont explain it all here… but it is very inspiring.

As I flip through the pages of Chanteny Red Core Carrots and Quadro d’Asti Rosso Peppers I realize the cold weather is  upon us. Even though I was still seeing green after Thanksgiving, my marigolds are now black and anything remaining standing is crispy. Although I do have to do one more sweep of the perimeter to tie a few loose ends before winter hits us hard (it hasn’t snowed here yet) like dragging in my terra cotta and making sure there aren’t any straggling but salvageable edibles out there… what does a gardener do in winter?

Take Stock. The tomatoes are cooked down and frozen in plastic zip locks in my freezer. The carrots are pickled on the shelf. The onions and potatoes are getting cozy for a long winter. And there are also apples (bought, not grown here) ready to tough it out in cold storage (aka my fridge.) In the olden days, this is what people had to live off. For a good five + months. Think about that for a while.

Daydream. Philosophize. Theorize. Research. This is a gardener’s time to hibernate and plan, thinking about what worked last year and the year before to make the upcoming spring… and summer, and fall… as gratifying as possible.

I wish I had more earth. I wish I had a picture of the amazing castor bean plant that grew 10′ tall the first year we moved here. I wish the cold frame hadn’t been such a bust so I might still have something growing outside to tend to… but for now all I have is my house plants, a new seed cataloug, and the internet…

Hey, life’s not so bad. I think the inevitable nostalgia for longer days and growing plants that sweeps in this time of year, might all be remedied with a Christmas tree…

Good News for Bees?

December 18, 2009

As seen in the Daily News:

Only good news for all those bees wishing for the big city life, i guess.

i love pie

December 13, 2009

HUMBOLDT ST, Brooklyn: What better thing to do on a cold rainy Sunday in December but bake? As promised, how to make a vegan apple pie:

Pre heat oven to 425. Open a Woodchuck Cider, it will help you relax and enjoy yourself.


1-1/4 cups all purpose flour

3 tablespoons COLD dairy free buttery spread (Earth Balance or equivalent)

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

3+ teaspoons very cold water

(Times these quantities by two for a 9″ pie with top.)

Sometimes I think my “how tos” on here must be very unhelpful because I tend to explain just about everything as intuitive. This recipe is no exception. Pie crust is a very intuitive thing. So, when you find yourself up to your elbows in flour wondering what the heck to do next, don’t hesitate to call me for guidance and I will do my best to steer you right.

With that said, get ready to get your hands dirty…er… floury? In a big bowl cut the “butter” and shortening into the flour. This means about teaspoon sized chunks. Handling time  is key, in my opinion, the best most flakey crust is achieved by minimal touch time. Roll up your sleeves and start pinching all the buttery stuff in with the flour until you have no more chunks to pinch and the consistency is even. It should still be pretty floury with tiny pea sized dough balls.

This is where intuition kicks in, adding the super cold water a little at a time. I usually make a cup of water with a couple ice cubes in it for easy access.  Dribble the water slowly while turning the mixture with a fork. Use your best judgement to determine if you need to add a little more or a little less. The dough should be evenly moist and sticking loosely in a rough mass.

Throw a splash of flour down on your work surface to lay the dough ball out. I never refrigerate mine because I feel like it makes the crust tougher, but maybe I just making things harder on myself. Roll it out using flour on the pin so it doesn’t stick. I don’t have a rolling pin, so I use a giant wine bottle! If it is not rolling out right the first time you have about one more chance to roll out this batch of dough. After that it will become super dense and lead to a hard crust. I mean, it would be ok if it was your first time trying, but I am crazy about getting the flakiest crust possible. Google “Pie 101” for more detail on transferring the dough and fitting to the pan.


Apples, lots of them. Actually just 5 big ones.

1/2 cup apples sauce

1/4 brown sugar

3 table spoons flour

1 teaspoon cinamon

1 shake nutmeg

Optional if you have it around to be extra delish: 1 teaspoon vanilla and/or 1 teaspoon orange zest

Man, my dog is cute. Here are some apples we got from the farmers market. Here is a close up picture, in case you need reminding what an apple is:

The rest is simple, the dough is the hard part. PEEL APPLES. cut into mouth friendly sized pieces. I like mine pretty chunky, but you can also go tiny or do thin slices. Mix everything together!!

Put it all (including juices) on top of the dough you just rolled into the pie plate! Make it heaping!

Cover as desired. I always do a lattice pattern…

Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 350 and bake another 50 or so minutes.

(i know I already posted this pic in the thanksgiving post, but it is such a good closer.)


Holy Cow

December 10, 2009

In the Depths of Autumn

December 5, 2009

HUMBOLDT ST, Brooklyn: It was 53 degrees here  yesterday. Unbelievable. Just when I thought we were full swing into fall, this past week has been too warm to be December. Even so, things are starting to dry up in the garden. The last beans were picked in October and the vines have withered. I saved the seeds from these unpicked stragglers to plant next year.

The sunflowers have been long gone, my experiment of planting the dried seeds from last year led to a really short blooming period, but I am determined to try it again, only harvesting the seeds of the biggest flowers this time.

I am curious if I keep saving generation after generation of seed if eventually I will end up with a purer unmodified sunflower. Do the genetic modifications of seeds linger in the offspring or does the seed eventually revert back to it’s natural state? I don’t know enough about it…

In other news, the tomatoes turned red! FINALLY.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with them all. We have been using them on sandwiches as much as possible but have hardly made a dent in the pile, so I think I will have to do some kind of longer term storage tonight so they will keep. Same thing with all my basil. Tonight I make pesto:

Is this normal? A December 5th harvest date for basil & tomatoes!? I don’t think so…

Just as retrospect, here is what was happening this time last year:

The only thing left at this time last year was these little tiny brussels sprouts, photo care of Halston Bruce. I blanched them and then pan seared with olive oil, salt and pepper, garlic and pine nuts. They were so good! The b.s. crop this year was a complete flop due to my neglect of pest management (see previous post does anyone know what this is.) All the little nubbins were devoured, but the stalks are still standing just for aesthetics. Regardless of yield, they are pretty cool looking plant – especially when there isn’t much else going on out there this time of year.

Gone with the Wind

December 3, 2009

HUMBOLDT ST, Brooklyn: My worst fear about the cold frame has already happened. No, it is not finished. And as you can guess by the title of this post, we have had a pretty substantial set back.

Basically all the plastic blew off. Luckily (surprisingly) the frame was mounted pretty well to the exterior wall, so really it was just layers of plastic sheeting bursting from the staples and nothing was actually air born. It doesn’t seem like too big a deal, but it took us a while to get that far so we were both pretty bummed this weekend.

It’s fricken windy in Brooklyn! Our street is like a wind tunnel with a giant tall hospital on one side and a giant even taller apartment building on the other side. Our backyard falls somewhere in between these two as an awkward inlet for bursts of air from the wind tunnel to tornado around in. In short, I had a sneaking suspicion this was gunna happen.

But I still have hope this project will work! Even though I was trying to save all images for the one unveiling “how to” post, here is a sneak peak at some progress pics taken prior to the storm.

We attached the top layer of plastic to the roof (the whole thing is intended to have double layer, one on each side of the studs) prior to mounting because I couldn’t figure any way to access it once it was up there. That is what is illustrated above and was all fine and good sitting like that for a whole week. Here is where we went wrong… the next weekend we started putting up plastic on the walls and got as far as both layers on either side wall before running out of plastic. At this point it was Saturday night and the hardware store was already closed. So we just left it, the two walls finished and one layer on the roof, with the front open to the elements. Essentially we had created another inlet for the wind to tornado around in, and that is exactly what it did. Ripping the plastic to shreds.

However, I think if we had been a little smarter at purchasing time and had enough plastic to do the whole thing at once and completely weather sealed it (as originally planned,) the wind would not have been able to swoop around at every possible angle and rob us of our dreams! Or maybe I am being totally naive and stupid and this whole idea is complete waste of time and money. BUT – for the love of watching things grow, I’m willing to find out.