Archive for October, 2009

Apple & Green Tomato Time

One thing about being a locavore is that I welcome the change of seasons. I never thought I’d get tired of the sweet corn, cucumbers, and other summer bounty, but I cheered when we got pumpkin and leeks instead of those summer veggies in this week’s CSA share.

The Virginia creeper is brilliant red on the wires over my garden, almost making me forgive it for being so invasive that I had to constantly weed it out this summer.

red-creeper

The Montauk daisies are in full glory, reminding me that it was worth stripping the yellow leaves off their lower stalks and keeping them around for this last burst of bloom in the garden.

montauk

The acorns I collected after the last Green Edge urban foraging expedition have been boiled and peeled and dumped into the freezer until I get around to doing something with them later on. Once boiled, they look something like chestnuts. I won’t kid you: they are labor-intensive. But now most of the labor is done and I’m looking forward to acorn bread next year (probably won’t get around to them before then).

boiled-acorns

I had a couple of tomato plants that didn’t succumb to this year’s awful blight. Today I took them out, first collecting the green tomatoes (didn’t compost the vines, just in case they did have a touch of that blight). I’m making green tomato chutney tonight, which I may or may not puree into a ketchup.

My cat Ella is purring in the window. She’s got a loud purr and it doesn’t require my attention to get it rumbling. Her purr is good cooking music.

ella-window

Meanwhile, it’s apple time. I love the crisp apples of fall, but I also know that aside from the occasional pear,  options for fresh local fruit will be apples, apples, and more apples from now until spring. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of other fruit canned or in the freezer. And then there’s applesauce, dried apples, apple crumble, apple butter…

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

The Locavore’s Guide to NYC

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No Impact Week & Acorn Bread

Recently I led the last foraging tour of the season for Green Edge NYC. We found spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

spicebushamong other delectable wild edibles. The pulp and skin can be dried separately from the seed to create two different spices (the skin/pulp is similar to allspice, the seed peppery). To be honest, I usually take the lazy route and dry them whole.

I’ll be leading foraging tours for Green Edge again starting up next spring.

Meanwhile, it’s been a great autumn so far for foraging wild edible plants and mushrooms. I’ve found maitake, puffball, and ringless honey mushrooms, those spicebush berries, and much more. Check out my friend Ellen’s incredible recent foraging haul.

The oak trees are having what is called a “mast year,” which means that they are putting out copious amounts of acorns. They are labor-intensive to prepare, requiring numerous changes of boiling water. You can cut down the labor quite a bit by only harvesting acorns from the white oak group, versus the black and red group. How to tell the difference? White oaks have rounded margins on their lobed leaves; black and red oaks have pointy lobes. The white oaks have fatter nutmeats, fewer tannins and require less processing.

Anyway, the basic process is similar to preparing chestnuts. Cut a slit or an X in the semi-soft shell. Boil. Peel while still hot (both acorns and chestnuts get harder to peel when cool). Keep boiling in changes of water until the water is fairly clear.

Is it worth it? Well, I once gave a sample of my acorn bread to a local gourmet foods store and they wanted to know if I was interested in going commercial. And at a recent wild edible plants tour most people came back for seconds of my acorn spicebush bread.

acornspice-bread

Yeah, I’m bragging but also saying that yes, the acorns are worth the time, especially when the trees are having a mast year like this one.

I’m on Day Four of the No Impact Experiment Week. Today is Eat Local day. That is my way of life, and not really a challenge to me, so I went back on The 250-Mile Diet on Day One last Sunday.

It’s unexpectedly fun to be back on The 250. I can’t remember why I thought I needed those non-local lemons and raisins that were on my shopping list before No Impact Week started.

Hope you’re having a great fall so far!

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

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Leda Doing the No Impact Week

Today I taught two classes at Adelphi University, finished choreographing Petrouchka except for a few transitions and side bits (in case you’re wondering why this is in a local foods blog, check out my other life), and got through several chapters of the copyedits for my next local foods book. Including commute time, it was a thirteen hour day–too long. But I did have two breaks: during one, I took a nap. During the next, I took a walk and scored several pounds of ringless honey mushrooms (Armillariella tabescens). A good day!

Coming up this weekend, I’m teaching Putting the Garden to Bed at The New York Botanical Garden and Victory Gardens at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. If you’ve been growing some of your own food or are planning to do so in 2010, these classes will help your edible garden thrive.

Starting Sunday, I’ve signed up for the No Impact Week. What that means is that I’ll be back on The 250-Mile Diet for a week. Honestly, that part of it won’t be much of a hardship because even a year after The 250 officially ended my diet is still mostly local. But the No Impact experiment asks me to reconsider and reinvent how I use electricity, water, and many other things I take for granted in daily life. I encourage anyone who is up for an adventure to join me and (as of this writing) over 1500 others for the challenge.

The No Impact Week doesn’t actually get around to going local on food until Day Four, and describes eating local as “a toughie.” Since eating local is my normal, I almost feel like I’d be cheating to wait to go hard core on it until day four. So I’ll be reinstating The 250-Mile Diet rules on day one, which is Sunday 18th.

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

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Urban Gardening, Neighbors, & Unexpected Community

bklyn-view“Urban gardening.” It’s an interesting phrase, because both of its words imply the presence of people and yet we are also talking about plants and earth. An urban environment is by definition one densely populated by humans. A garden is not a wilderness; it is a co-creative endeavor between the gardener and nature, with the gardener imposing his or her preferences on the environment.

Recently someone on a wild edible plants email group I belong to posted some snide remarks about how little I was likely to be able to forage, never mind garden, in New York City. He was utterly wrong. In addition to wild edible plants aplenty there are green spaces in backyards, on roofs, terraces, windowsills, treepits, community gardens–show me an abandoned space and I’ll show you a space about to be adopted by city gardeners and foragers.

But certainly, green space in the city is different than green space in the country. There’s the noise, for one thing.

day-careMy own one bedroom apartment comes with a sizeable (for the city) garden. It is adjacent to a day care center. When I am home during the day the soundtrack is three and four year-olds asking repetitively and relentlessly “What are you doing?” as they peer at me through the chain-link fence that is mostly covered by my hops vines. Another part of the soundtrack is the delightful cackle of Elvie, one of the center’s employee’s, who never ceases to be delighted by her charges’ antics and always waves hello to me.

To my right as I step out into my garden is Machete Woman’s territory. I’ve already written about her, so I’ll just add that this year as last she generously shared some of the figs from her tree.

Caty-corner from me is a Hispanic family who planted insanely tall hybrid corn every year for the past six years. They didn’t plant any this year. My Spanish and their English aren’t sufficiently fluent for me to find out why their garden was bare this year.

Directly across from me there is a twenty-something couple. Most of their backyard is paved over, but they’re enthusiastic about the small patch of vegetables and herbs they’ve planted in the few feet of unpaved ground. They’ve taken to feeding the local stray cats because they feel sorry for them (never mind that I know the cats were already getting fat off the leavings in a nearby restaurant’s trash cans). This has led to the cats using some of my garden as a litter box, and I am still debating whether to tackle the problem via diplomatic conversations with the humans or direct actions aimed at the feline population. Before you think anything harsh, please remember that I am a lifelong cat-lover. But I also love my garden.

terrace-neighborsJust behind me is the small shady terrace of a couple I’ve said hello to many times over the years without ever actually learning their names. They say hello to me almost daily, and I bet they don’t know my name either. The next time I see them, I plan to change that. “Urban” implies people, but it doesn’t mean “stranger.”

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

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Wild Edible Plants in Brooklyn with Leda

My wild edible plants tour for Green Edge Collaborative this coming Saturday is almost sold out. Please sign up soon if you’d like to join us. Along with information on the wild edible plants in season now (and hopefully we’ll find some wild edible mushrooms, too), we’ll be sampling some of my acorn-spicebush bread. Hope to see you there!

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

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