my sidewalk garden

Winter dreams swirl with visions of my next sidewalk garden. Big plans, ambitious ideas, and general improvements are all part of the expanding agenda. Although a busy winter saw me getting a late start on my seedlings, by the start of April,  seeds were sprouting.



Under the impression that the frost date for Brooklyn was mother’s day, i have been dutifully counting down the days till my tomato plants would be safe out in the elements. Till that day arrived, tending tulips, coveting the southern climate and their early planting schedule

spring planting

spring planting

The recent spat of warm weather and today’s record-breaking 90 degree weather got me sweating thinking, log-jamming some Spock-like logical thoughts into a little fact-checking. So it seems i was a little off; While the Hudson Valley, Upstate regions, and other Northern netherworlds still have some risk until May 20th, home-sweet-Brooklyn has been frost free since around April 10. Guess that means Saturday is a good day to start this year’s sidewalk garden.

Last year’s was good times…

After 5 years of a backyard-less life, i decided to no longer deny my green thumb and invade the ample sidewalk space in front of my ground floor loft space for some gardening. I learned a lot about urban gardening and can’t wait to bust out version 2.0. Gonna go twice as big with lots more herbs, lots more tomatoes. My seeds aren’t quite big enough for their outdoor planters, so i will go to the farmer’s market @ McCarren Park and buy some starter plants. The Garden of Eve stand always has a good selection of heirloom tomatoes and herbs. My Stevia and Lemon Verbana plants were from them, part of the last year’s flower shares. This year I plan to expand into Mint and maybe Sage. Lots of thoughts, lots of plants…

tomatoes getting bigger

tomatoes getting bigger

baby chamomile

baby chamomile


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Seckel Pears [aka That Cute Little Pear in my CSA share]

Seckel Pears. So damn cute. Tasty too.
Seckel Pears. So damn cute. Tasty too.

Seckel pears have been in our fruit share from the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA last week and this week. One of my favorite fruits of the CSA [i have a soft spot for the little fruit cuz i absolutely adored those “donut” peaches too…], it is also known by the moniker Sugar Pear and Honey Pear, which can give you a little hint of how these things taste. [Damn good. Nice & sweet. Flavor to kill for…]

A little background on the mini pear that packs a punch: Seckel pears are touted in many circles as an “American” product having been cultivated in the USA since the early 1800’s and are believed by many to be the only truly American variety of pear in commercial production. Of course, there is a little “controversy” regarding the pear’s origin. (who knew there could be any drama around food…)

According to some sources, the first Seckel pear tree was discovered growing near the Delaware River in Pennsylvania around 1800. Unlike other varieties developed in the U.S. from a cross or bud spore of other European cultivars, Seckels are thought to have originated as a wild seedling near Philadelphia. This may or may not be true, it is possible/probable that German immigrants traveling westward through the area dropped fruit or left seeds behind. According to the book Industrial History of the United States, from the Earliest Settlements to the Present Time: Being a Complete Survey of American Industries, Embracing Agriculture and Horticulture by Albert Sidney Bolles the Bishop White narrates a story from his boyhood, circa 1760, that a German cattle-dealer used to sell some small but particularly delicious pears around Philadelphia. Apparently he wouldn’t tell anyone where he got them from. Eventually the cattleman, “Dutch John” raised the money to buy the parcel of land from which he was poaching the pears eventually selling the farm to a Mr Seckel. Bolles claims that it is doubtless that the pear tree was a seedling raised by German settlers, but while the Seckel somewhat resembles certain known German varieties, it is distinct from them, and is a strictly American fruit. Another source claims the fruit to be a hybrid of European and Asian varieties. Helen, a volunteer at the soup kitchen told me that they are from Poland so clearly everyone has their own opinion.

Regardless of their origin, they have become an American favorite, found at tons of farmer’s markets from September to January. These little guys are the smallest of the pear varieties. Olive-green in color and often sporting a red cheek with flesh creamy white and sweet. Pears ripen from the inside out, so you can’t judge their ripeness by looking at the skin. To test if a pear is ripe, apply gentle pressure near the stem end. If it gives slightly, it’s most likely ready to be eaten. Pears are one of the few fruits that don’t ripen successfully on the tree. They’re picked when they have reached full size, but before the onset of ripening. If they’re left on the tree to ripen, they become quite mealy and unpleasant in texture.

The pear’s unusual ripening process also has its advantages, especially for the fruit-challenged; it offers you the opportunity to ripen pears as needed. You can store pears in the fridge until a couple of days before you plan to eat them, then placing them in a brown paper bag on the counter. The bag will capture the ethylene, a gas that most ripening fruits give off, hastening the ripening process. After a couple of days in the bag, the pears should be just right. Be aware, once the pears are ripe, they have a relatively short shelf life so eat them right away or refrigerate immediately.

If you feel likegetting a treefor the street or your backyard, the Seckel Pear tree sounds like a good one for a Brooklyn orchard. The tree is naturally semi-dwarf which means it could survive in a wine barrel, street pit, or small backyard. Hardy, resistant to fire blight, and with very few natural pests the Seckel seems readily able to survive and prosper in Brooklyn. And the tree is self-fertile so it doesn’t require a science degree or several trees to get fruit. So, if you are lucky enough to have room for a tree, it sounds like the Seckel may be the way to go.

Sept 13 GWCSA Fruit Share

Sept 13 GWCSA Fruit Share

So, we received a handful of peaches, nectarines, pears, and plums in our share last week. We have been devouring the fruit with our oatmeal all week long. We have used a few of the pears but i still have a whole stash waiting for some special dish; i haven’t been baking any of my fruit for a solid month or so I am in the mood to be inspired in the baking department. Cruising the internet for some good ideas, naturally i came across a few winners:

Despite all these great ideas floating through my head, Yo Lim was in the mood for something chocolate-ly. A google search with chocolate and seckel pears yielded this gem: Chocolate Pear Upside Down Cake Sounded good and since we had all the ingredients on hand, we were in business. Yo Lim followed the recipe exactly using 7 Seckel pears.

Yo Lim seperating eggs

Yo Lim separating eggs

Yo Lim whipping it up

Yo Lim whipping it up

the flip

the flip

Chocolate Pear Upside-Down Cake

Chocolate Pear Upside-Down Cake

The cake was super good. Since i am not the biggest chocolate fan (i would much rather have a lemon bar than a brownie which is enough to get me kicked out of my chocoholic family) this dessert really hit the spot for me. Not too rich or sweet, the chocolate was perfect showcase for the pear. It was the perfect end to a tasty seasonal meal.

So, i highly recommend digging into seckel pears as a raw treat, a baked delight, a poached wonder. Good for pickling, preserving, and small enough to be canned whole, these pears can be any way you can dream up. So dream big…and enjoy.

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Put up or Shut up; Canning Tomatoes for the Winter

What to do on a rainy Friday night when your boyfriend is sick in bed?

Rainy Friday Night (View from front "porch")

Rainy Friday Night (View from front porch)

& you have a counter full of tomatoes and tomatillos calling your name?

Gorgeous Heirloom Tomatoes grown by Margaret @ Garden of Eve Farm

Gorgeous Heirloom Tomatoes grown by farm intern Margaret @ Garden of Eve Farm

Heirloom Tomatillos; Margaret's Secret Stash!

Heirloom Tomatillos; Margaret's Secret Stash

You make sauce! Lots and lots of sauce! Some for dinners next week and some to be canned and put up for the dark days of Winter. Ain’t nothing better to take the chill off a January night than a pasta dinner made from Summer’s bounty.

This particular night, I wasn’t in the mood to make a giant batch of sauce. Me and a giant vat of sauce just didn’t seem right. Plus, I had several ideas and flavor profiles floating in my head. So I decided to go crazy and make 4 different sauces, one for each burner. I was thinking something Mexican with the tomatillos, something Indian with the Green Zebra tomatoes, and 2 Italian sauces with the Rainbows, Yellow, & Orange varieties.

Purple Tomatillo, a mexican heirloom variety.

Purple Tomatillo, a Mexican heirloom variety.

I decided to start with the tomatillos. These gorgeous specimens were grown by Margaret on her plot of land up at Garden of Eve farm. I personally love tomatillos, but these were by far the best I have ever tasted. They were sweet and tangy to a degree that I have never experienced; they were so sweet I even ate some raw which was definitely a first for me.

In the past, I have had amazing success with roasting tomatillos and so I decided to go that way again. I shucked the husks off of all the tomatillos and threw them in a roasting pan. I added two heads of garlic and a couple of red peppers to the mix which I planned to use in my Italian sauces. I had preheated the oven to 4oo degrees; Tomatoes roast quite fast and were ready in about 15 minutes. (At that point I took the tinfoil that covered the pan, wrapping it around the garlic and peppers which needed more time in the oven to fully roast.)

Next the tomatillos found their way to the food processor. I combined all the tomatillos, the juice from roasting pan, 3 jalapenos, and about 4 garlic cloves. After about a minute of metal whirling, the mix was ready for the stovetop. I cooked the sauce down for about an hour and then packed it into the fridge to be used in an enchilada dish sometime in the near future. (Look for a post on Vegan Enchiladas with a Spicy Tomatillo Sauce sometime soon.)

Green Zebras.

Green Zebras.

A damn fine heirloom, Green Zebras are often confused with an unripened tomato. Au contraire! These babies are sweet and ready to eat. I know to some people cooking heirloom tomatoes is something close to heresy. I however have a different philosophy; I happen to love cooked tomatoes and find that heirlooms make some of the best sauces around and don’t require major seasoning to be absolutely divine. Granted, due to the fact that me and Yo subscribe to a MegaCombo share on Saturdays and a Full Veg share on Wednesdays plus we ordered an Heirloom Tomato subsciption we were receiving close to and sometimes more than 15 pounds of heirlooms a week. Naturally, we HAD to cook up some of them; this girl can only eat so many raw salads…

The idea of a tomato curry had been rolling around in my brain for awhile. Cruising for recipes online, I found an entry for Baked Pierogies with Tomato Curry Sauce on the Shaman; Mumblings, Rumbligs, Spells… blog. I am filing this whole pieroiges and tomato curry thing away for later; sounds tight. For now, I modified the recipe a little, mainly bailing on the water because I didn’t feel like adding it and the green peppers because I didn’t have any on hand. Here is my version of Shaman’s Tomato Curry:

  • 5 Green Zebras, quartered
  • 1 Green Zebra, liquidized in the food processor
  • 2 onions, cut into rings
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala

Caramelize the onion slices and sizzle the garlic in some olive oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and the liquidized tomato. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Stir in the garam masala. Salt to taste. Simmer another 5 minutes. This turned out to be crazy good. (Stay tuned for more details!)

4 sauces; Clockwise starting @ top left with Roasted Rainbow Sauce, Italian Red Sauce, Green Zebra Curry Sauce, & Roasted Tomatillo Sauce.

4 sauces; Clockwise starting @ top left with Roasted Rainbow, Italian Red, Green Zebra Curry, & Roasted Tomatillo Sauces.

My third creation of the night was a sauce utilizing all the orange and yellow heirlooms I had on hand. I wanted a bright sauce with a rich in your face flavor. To this affect I added the 2 roasted garlic heads (about 16 cloves of sweet garlicky flavor) into the mix. This sauce was comprised of 3 large orange tomatoes and 4 smaller yellow tomatoes together with about 16 roasted garlic cloves. I put the mix on the stove and added the roasted red peppers, all nice and diced, and set it to simmering. This sauce was definitely my favorite of the night, bright color with an even brighter taste. (This sauce was gone in 2 days flat; 1 can was put up for winter and will be a savored treat no doubt.)

A good night's work; the finished product.

A good night's work. The finished product.

The final sauce was a good old red sauce. I pureed every red heirloom on hand and then set to simmering with a handful of chopped purple basil and lots of onion. People say that you can’t use heirloom tomatoes for sauces. these sauces are simple proof that that theory is dead wrong. No need for sugar or salt or anything fancy. Just heirlooms, a food processor, and some heat and you will have a meal that will make your taste buds sing. Heirlooms seem fancy to us, since we have been bored silly by the produce in our grocery stores, but in general these are just seeds from other regions of the world or garden favorites and I have no doubt that the people who originally grew them were cooking up some mean tomato dishes with their tomatoes. Trust me when I tell you that you should do the same.

Pictured above is a nice bounty for a night at the stove. On the far left is the roasted rainbow sauce, followed by green zebra curry (topped off by some quick radish pickles I whipped up for kicks). Next is the pyramid of red sauce for winter, and then the tomatillo sauce.

There is still time to go out and get some tomatoes–no more in the weekly csa shares but there should be some beauties left at the market–and can some of your own goodness for winter. There is plenty of advice online on how to put up sauce. (Search You Tube for some amazing tutorials) All the varieties that I was going to can had the added ingredient of a tablespoon or two of lemon juice in order to increase the acidity and prevent botulism. (Don’t live in fear of botulism. Our grandmas all used to put up tons of things for winter and they survived….)

So heres to a taste of summer sometime this winter. Hurrah for Heirloom Tomatoes!

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Eggplant Curry, Yo Lim style

Last Friday afternoon as a storm was approaching, Yo Lim declared his hunger. “I’m hungry”, he whined. “Let’s go get something to eat”. As much as I would have loved to run out and grabbed a burger at Dumont or something like that a nagging voice in the back of my head was reminding me of all the vegetables in the fridge and all the veggies we would be picking up on Saturday. “How ’bout we go to the grocery store, stock up for the weekend, and get some meat?” I offered as a compromise. (Yo, in true Texan style, is easily bribed with meat.) With the prospect of a meaty meal on the horizon, Yo happily agreed to head to the grocery store.

We have been raging Italian cooks lately due to an abundance of heirloom tomatoes; we subscribe to two vegetable shares and an additional tomato share which nets us an average of 10 or 11 pounds of tomatoes a week. This day we were craving something different which had led us to think we wanted to eat out…However, one simple cruise of the grocery store and we were newly inspired. In the aisles of Tops, the closest grocery store to my house, Yo found some organic steak cubes and some spicy Japanese curry roux that had his name written all over it. [ Japanese curry is nearly always prepared by using a commercial curry roux and in fact I have yet to find a decent recipe for making your own. Curry roux can be found in any Japanese shop and are largely indistinguishable. Tops carries the popular brand Golden Curry which we find delightful.]

A short time later he was in the kitchen “chopping up every vegetable” he could find in true csa member style. Eggplant, green peppers, onions, green beans, and of course some tomatoes found their way into the rich curry base. Organic steak was the special extra. We busted out my roommate Zoe’s rice cooker from where it had been mothballed under the counter making a permanent space for it up top. Half an hour after arriving home we were dining finely on some of the best eggplant curry around. It would have been easy just to order up some lunch/dinner, but we were certainly glad that we took the extra step to cook that meal.

Eggplant Curry, Yo Lim style

Eggplant Curry, Yo Lim style

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What we are doing here…

For the past year I have been writing the newsletter communications for the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. I am a big supporter of CSA’s and I know that joining one changed my life to a degree that is very positive and palpable. And while I readily admit that the end result is a girl with a thousand new recipes up her sleeve, a much healthier diet, and a smaller carbon footprint, the transition was challenging and there were mishaps along the way. (Lots and lots of rotting fennel in the fridge…)

In the first few years as a CSA member I struggled alone with my fear of fennel, the experiments with new types of kale, and a new found love of winter squash. When I became a member of the core group of the GWCSA I believed that one of the main ways I could help in organizing the group was to aid in communication and share the things I had learned from myself, friends in CSA’s, and other members I would talk to at distribution. I started writing a weekly newsletter to help people understand what they were actually signing up for (ie, not the Costco of organic foods), giving advice on how to prepare for the life transitions that CSA membership will involve (like receiving food you would really never buy), offering up new recipes for unfamiliar vegetables and fruit, and acting as a conduit of information between our members and our farmers. It was a job that I loved and I really got into writing these weekly guides to CSA living. Due to random life circumstances, I am no longer a part of the GWCSA core group and therefore not writing the weekly communications, however, I still wanted to keep writing my little diatribes…

…and so was born the “if Yo can cook” blog.

Yo Lim is my boyfriend and partner in all things CSA. And believe me, if he can survive CSA membership, anyone can.

The first year I joined, he willingly (and rather naively) jumped on board with me and my roommate Phil as we purchased our first share. We had decided that the MegaCombo share (with its weekly vegetable, fruit, egg and flower deliveries) was the best deal but we kinda wanted/needed another person to share it with. He wasn’t a real big cooker, eating out regularly, but it seemed like a good idea to him. Little did he know that he would be swimming in vegetables and expected to actually cook bok choy on a regular basis.

The first year was “easy” with 2 couples splitting the loot and our more adventurous roommate Phil tackling the fennel and kohlrabi. However, the next year Yo and I decided to buy our own share and soon found ourselves struggling with some parts of CSA membership. That year we never quite used everything (celery root be dammed!) but we made major steps to really embracing a local, seasonal diet and began to use all of our share on a regular basis. 4 seasons later we have become a rather good team in cooking up our CSA shares in delicious (and maybe even nutritious) ways, rarely adding more than cooking scraps to the compost pile. We have expanded our repertoire, learned a lot about the Northeast growing season, experienced the pitfalls of small-scale organic farming, and developed some new opinions about eating green.

This blog will be our sounding board for all things food related. A sort of survival guide to the Greenpoint-Williamsburg CSA, a how-to guide on living green in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and our own take on personal sustainability. We hope you enjoy.

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