A Farm, A Foraging Foray, & Crutches

This past Saturday I taught a food preservation workshop at Genesis Farm. I went up the night before, and got up early so that I could spend some time before the workshop hiking the grounds. Gorgeous!

I felt like I’d had a mini-vacation before I had even gotten halfway up the slope to the spectacular views from the top. Genesis runs a CSA farm along with its workshops, and powers itself on some impressive solar panels.

The workshop went well–it was a joy and a privilege to share food preservation know-how with genuinely interested participants. We canned fire-roasted tomatoes, blueberries, pickled carrots and green beans, and got tomatoes into the food dehydrator and talked about lacto-fermentation and other preservation methods as well.

The next day I led a foraging class for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I don’t get to collect much on such jaunts because I’m usually too busy teaching, but I did manage to add some elderberries to my stash and spot a fruitful stand of spicebush that I’ll be getting back to in a few weeks when they are ripe. There is an excellent blog post with photos about our day by one of the participants at supereco.

Sadly, I won’t be traipsing off for any foraging walks anytime soon. This morning while teaching a dance class I slipped and dislocated my right knee. Won’t know more until I see the orthopedist, and that is currently delayed under a fog of workers’ compensation legalities. Meanwhile, I’m on crutches.

My garden is nine steps down from my back door. It desperately needs watering. Not going to happen any time soon. I guess I’m about to find out whether it really is true that holding off watering on ripening tomatoes makes them sweeter.

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith

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


Machete Woman

Her real name is Cameron, but I still sometimes think of her as Machete Woman because of how I met her.

I had just moved into the one-bedroom garden apartment rental I still live in. The fence between my yard and the neighboring one was just calling out for vines: morning glories for a pretty maybe? Or something more useful like grapes or hops? I opted for hops, knowing that they are voracious growers and climbers and could easily cover the fence in a single season.

So I was baffled when weeks passed and the hops vines made no headway on the fence. Every morning I’d come out and they’d be in a sorry little pile on the ground, not at all climbing and twining the way I expected them to. The mystery was solved one morning when I came outside and saw a woman in the neighboring yard carefully untwining my hops vines from the fence. She didn’t notice me. “Don’t like nothing on the fence,” she muttered, “…nothing on the fence.”

Her head was wrapped in a bandana and she was wearing what my grandmother would have called “a kitchen dress,” one of those nondescript floral print gowns that could as easily have been a nightgown. Beside her feet was a shiny, obviously well cared for machete. Machete trumps garden design plans. I moved the hops.

I wish I had a picture of her, but she is camera-shy. I can show you her tomato stakes, made out of old mop handles

and her ties, made out of old nylon stockings.

That machete seems to be her sole gardening tool. I have seen her in a wide-legged stance with the machete raised over her head. Thwack! The machete dives into the ground. Then she jimmies it back and forth. That is how she digs the holes her plants go into.

That first year, she didn’t speak to me much. I didn’t learn her name until a conversation when she asked me if I was going to grow any food. She thinks I’m just some white chick who’s going to put in nothing but flowers, I thought in response to her disapproving expression. When I replied that yes, I was growing food, and pointed out the vegetables and herbs I’d already put in, her face softened. “I’m Cameron,” she said. We’ve become friends, and each fall she generously shares some of the figs from her fig tree. I give her some of my basil, mint, and other herbs, which she doesn’t grow but shares lots of recipes for. I guess she doesn’t have to grow them since I grow them for her, just like I don’t need to plant a fig tree.

I’ve been here for five years now, and have gone from having an exclusive-access lease on the garden to sharing it with folks in the apartment next to mine (with no notice and no new lease) . The last neighbors had dogs who left “offerings” that their owners regularly neglected to clean up. The dogs also tore up my strawberry bed, so I ended up having to put little fences up around everything, which didn’t look great. On the bright side, they were content to let me do the gardening and grow whatever I wished.

They moved out three weeks ago, and my new garden-sharing neighbors will be moving in any day now (my lease still says I have exclusive access, but whatever.) I haven’t met them yet, so I have my fingers crossed.

I happened to be out in “my” garden at the same time as Cameron was in hers yesterday and explained the situation to her. “I remember before you came, there was nothing in that garden. Whoever moves in, they should be happy that you’ve done something with it.”

Let’s hope.
Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith


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

Parties, Foraging, & Stocking Up Again

Today I collected several cups worth of elderberries in the park. Last week I got some in the community garden, and the ones in my own backyard are a few days away from perfectly ripe. All free, all delicious, and not usually available even at farmers’ markets. I’ve got a deal with Ellen that she’s going to turn them into wine that we’ll eventually share (I collect the fruit, she ferments it–I don’t have room in my apartment for fermentation jugs that have to sit around for months).

Bactracking a bit here, I promised a party update from the last night of The 250. We started off with what has become my go-to appetizer for entertaining: pickled sour cherries with Hudson Valley Camembert (thank you Anne F., for coming up with that unlikely but scrumptious combination!). You can get the recipe for the pickled cherries at the end of this post. It’s a bit late in the season for cherries, but the recipe works equally well with small plums.

The main course was moussaka. Moussaka is slow food, labor intensive and definitely not something you’d make for a worknight meal, which makes it all the more special for celebrating. The recipe is in my book, but I’ve also posted it here. My dad was visiting from SF, so I had a willing sous chef (thanks, Dad).

We also had skordalia (Greek garlic dip), homemade sourdough crackers, an heirloom tomato salad, and a ginger cake (made with wild ginger, Asarum canadense, and spicebush, Lindera benzoin–both plants native to our Northeastern U.S. woodlands) with peaches and whipped local cream. We washed it all down with some lovely local wine pairings suggested by Darrin of Red, White, & Bubbly.

Okay, so that was the party, and judging by the lack of leftovers and the number of empty wine bottles, a good time was had by all.

(Both party pics photo credit www.tasteoflocal.com, a new local foods site that launches Sept. 5th)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

It’s stockpiling time again. The dehydrator is humming on the floor of my living room/kitchen/dining room (what do you call that kind of one-room combo anyway? You’d think New Yorkers would have come up with a name for it by now. Mine is a one-bedroom not a studio apartment, so the studio tag doesn’t fit. The Almost-Everything Room?). The first few jars of this season’s tomatoes got canned yesterday. The freezer is filling up with fruit and greens. I’m canning ratatouille tonight.

If you’re interested in food preservation (pretty much an essential for a locavore), I’m teaching a workshop on it at Genesis Farm. And if that mention of free-from-the-park elderberries caught your eye, I’ve got a wild edible plants class for BBG coming up next Sunday.

Last but not least, I got two bits of press this week. The NY Times made it sound like I’d never canned before The 250, which isn’t true, but it was still nice to get the mention. Alexa Schirtzinger asked very intelligent questions about eating locally, and you can read her interview for Plenty Magazine here.



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


What Here Tastes Like

Right after the local foods feast celebrating the end of The 250, I headed to Ellen‘s in PA for a weekend of local foods cookery. Kitchen Caravan was filming us for a piece on “What Here Tastes Like.”

Ellen lives in a beautiful wooded area of Pennsylvania, and some of our weekend included foraging near her home. (So good to get out of the city for a couple of days!)

We started out collecting the last of the season’s highbush blueberries,

and then lucked into a patch of blackberries laden with ripe fruit.

We also found some choice edible mushrooms, boletes and blewits. Sophia, from Kitchen Caravan, sauteed the blewits and served them up on toast alongside a salad for lunch.

We canned blueberries and dilly beans, and made an herbal vinegar with beebalm (a.k.a. Monarda, an indigenous herb in flower now). I also collected some sassafras leaves to dry and grind for filee powder to use in gumbos this winter.

The main dinner included quail wrapped in bacon and seasoned with rosemary and spicebush–put together by our friend Mark and grilled by Ellen’s husband, Michael. Alongside, we had potatoes that I sauteed in duck fat (no olive oil exemption for this meal!), spicebush ice cream made with all local dairy (from a recipe in my book) served with blueberry pie, and lovely local wines including Ellen’s homemade blueberry wine.

Emma, the camera gal for Kitchen Caravan, grabbed moments in between cooking frenzies to interview each of us. The topic, What Here Tastes Like, is an interesting one, and I look forward to viewing the piece when it is up on the KC site.

This was not a historical meal. We were not trying to replicate what the food of the region tasted like before other-than-indigenous cultures arrived. We were going for a blend of what is truly native to this place with what has been introduced but is now part of the landscape. Take that quail, for example, and its rosemary-spicebush seasoning. Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a plant native to the Northeastern U.S. that was and is used by people indigenous to this region. Rosemary is a European herb, but the sprigs we used were grown here. Needless to say, the quail and bacon were locally raised. The combination was delicious. Maybe this is a different kind of fusion cuisine, combining what is grown and raised here now with what was here all along.

This morning Michael made sunnyside-up Guinea hen eggs. We at these with toast and a variety of Ellen’s jellies plus Mark’s blackberry jam. For lunch, we had local spicy lamb sausage, roasted pattypan squash, several of Ellen’s chutneys, a salad with purslane from the farmers’ market, and blackberries with a zabaglione that Sophia cooked up.

Tonight I’m back in Brooklyn. After cooking for 17 people on Weds. and a weekend of contributing to the cooking for the KC spot, I’m thinking simple. So simple that I may not get much further than a salad with CSA tomatoes and basil from my garden, followed by locally grown popcorn and a Netflix movie. Hey, it may not be the most nutritionally balanced meal ever, but once in a while ain’t gonna hurt me. Think of it as a locavore’s version of fast food.

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

Botany, Ballet, & Dinner from Scratch: A Memoir with Recipes by Leda Meredith


The Day After

Yesterday was the last day of my 250-mile diet year. I celebrated with friends and a scrumptious local foods feast (if I do say so myself). One of the guests took a lot of pictures (I forgot), and I’ll post soon with some of those and some recipes from the menu. But now I want to write about what it is like not to be on The 250 today.

I do feel a sense of accomplishment for having done the whole year, but all morning I’ve been hit by waves of melancholy. I think I’ve figured out what that is about.

In many ways, The 250 simplified my life. I stuck to the rules I’d set for myself, and that meant that if it wasn’t a local ingredient, I didn’t eat it. I’d stand in line at the Park Slope Food Coop, and the people pulling things off the shelves that had lots of packaging and long ingredient lists seemed far removed from my life.

in line at the food coop

But now I’ve rejoined the world of choice. I went to the coop this morning and walked through the aisles knowing that technically I could buy anything I wanted to. Would I dare to eat a mango? Would it be worth the fuel burned and the most likely underpaid labor somewhere thousands of miles away? Did I even want to? No, not today.

My commitment to eating locally grown food remains strong. But now there are choices I’ll have to make every day that I didn’t even have to think about during The 250, and that is where the melancholy comes in. In a way, it will take more motivation to eat locally now than it did when I had a list of rules to follow.

There is some dip leftover from last night’s party, but we ate all of the crackers I made with locally grown wheat flour. My dad, who is visiting from SF, still has some non-local crackers left from the airplane snack he packed for his plane trip. Do we eat those with the dip, or do I opt for slicing up some local cucumber and using those instead (I don’t have time to make another batch of crackers today)? Choices.

Meanwhile, it’s tomato season and I know that I need to can at least 25 jars of them before winter…

first tomatoes from the garden

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