In Praise of Brassicaceae

If it’s winter, which it is, and if you’re eating a local foods diet, which I am, then all praise is due to the mighty plant family, Brassicaceae (bra-sih-kay-see-ay). You know this family better than you may realize: it includes kale, cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, radishes, turnips, and watercress. In other words, a huge chunk of a locavore’s winter diet because all of those plants are fairly cold-hardy.

collard greens

Today at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market in Brooklyn there were only a few tents, less than half the number of vendors I found there up until mid-December. We are in the depths of what used to be called “the wolf months”, a.k.a. that time of year when the wolf is howling at the door because his tummy is growling and he knows you still might have a little something to eat in the pantry. Meanwhile, you are wiping dry each newly emptied and washed canning jar and looking at the shelves with a calculating eye.

At the farmers market, the vendors looked cold and miserable. One stall had no one manning it and a note on the open cash drawer that read, “Please pay for what you buy.” Presumably the person who wrote the note was warming up in the truck adjacent to the tent. Either he or she had greater faith in the population of New York City than most, or the cold had won out over even the possibility of lost income.

But there was one stand that had two busy people working cashier duty and multiple tables heaped with fresh goods: most of those Brassicaceae I mentioned plus leeks, shallots, fresh herbs, and spinach. This was Phillips Farms from Milford, New Jersey. I have some of their collard greens in a pot on the stove right now.

Truthfully, I didn’t have to go to the farmers market today. It was cold, and my nose was running by the end of the walk there, and I still have a few greens in the freezer. But who cares? I wanted to cheer for those farmers supplying me with food in the wolf months by trading them some of my hard-earned cash.

Oh, and another thing: I read an article recently bashing local foods enthusiasts. It painted a mocking picture of would be environmentally concerned consumers driving their SUV’s to pick up their locally grown foods. I walked, okay? And most of the people I know who frequent a farmers market or are CSA members walk. Oh, well. I’ll try to be compassionate. Maybe the guy who wrote that article was just terrified at the idea of having to eat his greens like mommy once told him to.

Leda’s Collard Greens

Serves 4

1 large bunch collards

1/2 medium onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, sliced

1/4 cup rehydrated dried tomatoes, slivered

1 tsp. wine vinegar

2 slices bacon, cut into pieces (optional) OR 2 tsp. vegetable oil

1-3 dried hot peppers, depending on how hot you like it

1 tsp. honey


1. Wash the collard greens, cut out the tough midribs (compost those), coarsely chop.

2. Put the bacon or oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. If using the bacon, cook until most of the fat is rendered out, then remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. If using the vegetable oil, heat until shimmering.

3. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and starting to soften.

4. Add the garlic, dried tomatoes, and chile pepper and stir for one minute.

5. Pour 1 pint water into the pot and bring to a boil (you can use the soaking water from the dried tomatoes for extra flavor). Stir in the honey. Add the collard greens a little at a time, stirring them down as they wilt. Cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Stir in the cooked bacon if using. Toss with the vinegar and salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. These greens are even better reheated the next day.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules

The 250 in January

A few of you have emailed to ask what the 250—Mile Diet is like now that it’s January. And my answer is: easy. So easy that I’m almost embarrassed to post about it. Admittedly, GT and I are already getting restless cooped up indoors and with more than two more months before we can spend time in the garden.

gt at the garden door
I’ll also admit that I’m digging into my “pantry” (a.k.a. every known available space in my one bedroom apartment including under the bed) quite a bit. But that’s more a matter of trade off than something new imposed by my local eating regimen. It’s actually easier to take down a jar of my home-canned tomatoes than relying on Muir Glen’s Organic because I don’t have to go to the store.
Do I miss anything? Well, yes. I was a little too happy to get salad greens in my monthly CSA share last week. Those are already gone, but were much enjoyed while I had them. If I was really desperate for salad I could still get mesclun greens and sprouts at the farmers markets, but for a steep price. So mostly I do without salad, although I’ve come up with a couple of very good ones based on my homemade sauerkraut (cabbage is plentiful here in winter!) and chopped apples, plus some of the black walnuts I foraged in the fall.
But I’m not just relying on my pantry. Here is some of what I spotted at my local farmers market this past Saturday: collards, leeks, garlic, winter squash, scallions, kale, of course cabbage, and all kinds of root vegetables. Plus meat, eggs, cheese, wine, apple cider, and apples. I won’t be starving any time soon.
The most interesting thing about the 250 in January is not what I don’t have but how to use what I do have. For example, I ran out of tomato paste weeks ago. It’s a taken-for-granted pantry staple that I’ve found is easily replaced by reconstituted and minced dried tomatoes. They have a similar richness of flavor. Actually, I think the results are tastier, and I’m glad that I dried so many tomatoes during the season last year.
If you’re getting the idea that this local eating experiment wouldn’t be quite as easy without some food preservation skills, you’re right. But you may not realize that those are much easier to master than you probably thought.
Still, it’s an interesting point. I think most people have the idea that food preservation is about survival—making sure you have enough jars of canned food to get through the winter. What I can vouch for is that it is just as much about providing yummy ingredients to vary a winter menu. Like those dried tomatoes providing richness to a stew, or a chutney showing up on my plate to enliven a mundane chicken breast.
So how is it going in January? Deliciously!


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules

It Does Amount to a Hill of Beans

I never knew I cared about dry beans until it became possible that I would have to live without them for a year. Dry beans (and their cooked cousin, canned beans) are a cheap, ubiquitous staple. If you’ve got any.


When I started the 250-Mile Diet, I only had about a cup of black beans and a cup of white navy beans in the pantry. A fellow CSA member said “No worries, you can get them at the Grand Army Plaza farmers market in early fall.” So I forgot about beans for a while.

Then early fall came and went and no local dry beans were to be found. I searched online. I asked around at the farmers markets. I asked my CSA farmer. I started stockpiling shellbeans, cooking some of them fresh but letting others dry in their pods to be shelled later as dry beans. By the end of the season I had maybe a pint of locally grown dry beans, with the next potential harvest not until late-August.

In December I went to the one day only Wintermarket. It was snowing hard and the vendors and farmers, bless them, were standing outside under the awning of the former Fulton Fish Market. And there on one of the tables were white beans and pinto beans and black beans. Yay! I bought some of each and got the name of the grower, Cayuga Pure Organics. I emailed them that night thinking my bean woes were past.

I’ve been emailing back and forth with Shamus at Cayuga Pure Organics ever since trying to figure out the most cost effective way to get me some locally grown beans. They are a wonderful company, very supportive of my local eating commitment, and eager to find places to sell their beans in New York City. But it’s tough because beans are ubiquitous and cheap and heavy (think shipping cost) and nobody really thinks about them until, well, until they do.

These are delicious beans, by the way, with a shorter cooking time than those dusty bags of Goya pebbles on your supermarket shelf. In case you didn’t know (I kind of did, but hadn’t really thought about it), the older dry beans are the longer they will take to cook, even after an overnight soak. After soaking my first batch of local black beans overnight I had to run to work and didn’t get around to checking on them until the following evening. They had sprouted. We’re talking fresh, people!

three bean salad locavore style

Today I made a three bean salad using two kinds of Cayuga’s beans, a jar of my dilly green beans, and some of my home-canned corn relish, plus homegrown dried chile pepper for kick. Delicious!

P.S.-If you live in New York City and would like to go in on some locally grown Cayuga beans with me, we could split the shipping cost and save a bit. Let me know.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules

Winter Classes with Leda

I finally got around to posting my Winter schedule of classes. Better late than never: the first classes are part of next Saturday 12th’s Houseplant Extravaganza! at The New York Botanical Garden. More info is in the blogroll to the right, or right here.

An East Coast Locavore Spends the Holidays Out West

I just spent two weeks visiting family in Northern California. Almost as soon as the plane landed I asked myself, “What do I get to eat today that is local here but not back East?”

After I’d unpacked, I headed for the supermarket and bought locally grown limes and avocados. Back at my dad’s, I made some guacamole, washing it down with a glass of Napa valley Sauvignon Blanc.

If you take a peek at The Rules, you’ll see that I gave myself an olive oil exemption, so that is not something I’ve been deprived of since starting The 250. But the olive oil I use at home, though organic, is produced in Spain. At San Francisco’s Ferry Market I was able to buy oil pressed from the recent crop of local olives (early winter is olive harvest time). Yes, that flew back with me in my suitcase, along with:

A bag of Meyer lemons and other West Coast fruit my mom’s neighbors gave me. Mom also sent me home with pomegranate, which is in season now but doesn’t like harsh winters.

pomegranate seeds

A container of organic raisins from locally grown grapes (I know I should be able to get raisins in New York because we have local grapes and somebody could make raisins, but I haven’t found anybody who is. I tried making my own and it took four days with my dehydrator running nonstop to get one cup of raisins—hardly energy efficient).

California grown rice.

More local olive oil, this time from Corning, a town we visited on the drive north to my mom’s home in Yreka.

california olive oil

It is in The Rules that I can bring home food that is local to places I travel, so long as I can carry it in my suitcase without adding any baggage overweight charges. Mailing stuff back to myself is not permitted, because that would definitely burn additional fuel. My suitcase was heavy, but not too heavy. I stuck to the rules.

The day before I flew back, I made lunch in SF for two fellow Brooklynites and CSA members, Ruth Katz and Scott Blakeman. They were in SF because Scott was performing as part of a Jewish stand up comedy show in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas (no, seriously). I wanted to feature some ingredients that wouldn’t be local for us back home, and once again I turned to avocados and citrus. I used leftover holiday turkey in a tortilla-lime soup served with avocados and local sour cream (recipe below). My dad co-hosted the lunch, and I’m hoping he enjoyed a new level of appreciation for the avocados and limes that are local to him.

I was surprised to find out that it may cheaper to be a locavore in New York City than in San Francisco. Although the variety for this time of year was more impressive in SF, the fruits and vegetables on offer at were much pricier than those at home. I’ve come back with an even greater appreciation for the Greenmarkets in NYC.

Two days after I flew back I turned around and took a bus to Massachusetts to spend New Year’s Eve at the home of Jenny Giering and Sean Barry, along with other friends. We enjoyed Jenny’s wonderful cooking and Sean’s excellent wine cellar, but especially each other’s company. The weather obliged with a hefty snowfall, creating a postcard-perfect New England winter landscape.

new year’s 2008

I’m back.

Tortilla Lime Soup
Seves Four (recipe can be halved)

2 quarts turkey, chicken, or vegetable stock
2 cups chopped leftover cooked turkey or chicken meat (optional)
1 c. chopped canned tomatoes (preferably those you canned yourself back in summer ;^)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 small chile peppers, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 limes
1 large handful cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste
2 avocados
¼ c. sour cream

1 c. tortilla chips

Over medium high heat, reduce the stock by half.

In a medium sized soup pot, sautee the onion in the oil over low heat until starting to turn golden, 7-8 minutes. Add the garlic and chile pepper and stir one minute more. Add the reduced stock, chopped turkey meat, and tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes more. Add salt to taste.

Just before serving, stir in the juice of two of the limes and half of the cilantro. Place half an avocado, cut into pieces that will fit on a spoon, in the bottom of each bowl. Ladle the soup over the avocado. Spoon a tablespoon of sour cream into each bowl. Break up a few tortilla chips over the sour cream. Sprinkle remaining cilantro on top. Serve with additional lime wedges for those who want them.


Not sure what this is about? Read Getting Ready for the 250-Mile Diet and The Rules