Loving the Earth from a Rooftop Garden

My rooftop garden has been a meditative journey, just like my yoga practice that teaches me: patience, freedom, strength, balance, flexibility, gratitude, self-determination, awareness, courage, respect and love. That is all a mouthful — but it is true. My challenges and joys are real, similarly to my farmers who I have become in awe of. Once I started growing my own food, I began to feel more connected to the earth, even though I'm gardening from a 360° sky view. Loving the earth from above has its advantages. Sometimes I feel as if I'm in a tree house, gardening with the birds who will sit on the trellis at times while I snip and clip. The bees always find their way to the top and buzz around the chicory puntarella that I let flower for pollinators. When I look below I see the wild turkeys and deer look-up with curiosity as they go about their business eating yard bugs and clover. If they only knew what was growing on the rooftop; the turkeys might know because they do perch in the trees at times. The deer, no chance, unless Rudolph is real.

I'm sure some of you are wondering why my husband Chris and I decided to create a rooftop garden. When we began designing our sustainable home Sheridan Green we always knew we wanted a garden. As we got to know the property intimately we noticed many deer and an abundance of other wildlife that would have enjoyed a free salad bar. Instead of fighting with Mother Nature's creature's (who we are very fond of) we raised our garden to the roof.

Last year, was the first season we began to grow our own food and it surely was a learning curve. I was not focused — so much— on the varieties (heirloom vs. hybrid) I was planting, but more of the what's in season, when and how. After that growing season I pondered on varieties and the: why does it make more sense to plant an heirloom (open pollinated) tomato over a hybrid? My go-to farmer Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms, the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium and Salt of the Earth Seed Company is my mentor and friend. She grows rare varieties of vegetables for her farm, for seed trialing and preservation, and seed breeding. I'm in awe of her perseverance to resist the usual and plant to preserve food diversity as an action and a practice.

Heirloom for me means: more nutritious, open-pollinated so I can save the seed from year-to-year, locally-adapted to our terroir (seeds that have been selected to grow well in our region), exceptional taste, and the historical and culinary stories of these varieties that have been grown for many centuries from around the world that we can cherish for years to come.

This year, my (two) 5' x 18' garden beds are filled with rare heirloom varieties like: eggplants, beans, snow peas, tomatoes, greens, leeks, peppers, fennel, tomatillo, chicory and kale. The majority of the plants and seeds are provided by Stephanie, and a handful are seeds I saved from last year. Soon, a fall crop of carrots, beets, kale, greens, and radishes will be planted.

I'm passionate about varieties that are on the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of endangered heritage foods that are maintained by the Slow Food movement that is designed to preserve at-risk foods that are sustainably produced, unique in taste and history and part of a distinct ecoregion. The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin is a local variety that is on the Ark of Taste and was saved in the 1970's by a local seed saver Ken Ettlinger. I partnered with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium as an Ambassador and Coordinator for The Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Project to spread the word about this pumpkin through educational events and grow outs to revitalize this variety from the farm and garden to the palate.

Aunt Molly's Ground Cherry (part of the nightshade family, tastes like a tomato crossed with a pineapple and a strawberry) is on the Ark of Taste and is being grown in my garden, along with the Shinnecock Currant Tomato that was grown by the Shinnecock Indians here on Long Island and a variety that I will be nominating to the Ark of Taste when I proudly attend as a Slow Food East End delegate at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Turin, Italy. Stephanie Gaylor has adopted this orphan variety that is on the verge of extinction, (only one or two people in the world have this seed) and has been cultivating its viability for the past four years in hopes to be released in 2017 (it takes approximately five years to cultivate a seed; grow, save the seed and repeat).

Terra Madre Salone del Gusto is the most important international event dedicated to food and gastronomy that is composed of exhibitors from five continents, numerous events dedicated to the wealth and diversity of global cuisine, conferences examining issues around food production, forums of Terra Madre’s food communities and how our food is made, preserving biodiversity and securing a better food future for everyone.

The theme of this year's edition is Loving the Earth.  A perfect theme for a girl who loves the earth from a rooftop garden.

 

Reaping the Benefits of a Farmers' Great Mistake

What's in season is directed by mother nature and nurtured by the farmer whose soiled hands tell a story of what's being tilled, sown and harvested. A farmer's watchful eye and deliberate planning starts well before the sun rises and into the dark of evening. And through it all there are trials and tribulations, sweet successes, and sometimes great mistakes. Stephanie Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms and Ken Ettlinger of the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium, are reaping the benefits of a great mistake.

Imagine this. A kale, that Stephanie Gaylor affectionately named, Tough Mother, that overwintered in 2014 and prevailed polar vortex temperatures, had crossed with an heirloom rutabaga that gave birth to a tender like rapini foliage that stems from a crunchy and sweet root that tastes just like a rutabaga.

Stephanie and Ken named this serendipitous happenstance — The Great Mistake Rapini. And what's greater than that? They are selecting out the best varieties to save the seeds to grow in years to come for chefs like Ignacio Mattos of Estela, Marc Meyer of Cookshop, and Stephan Borgadus of North Fork Table and Inn, who are serving this at their restaurants for its tremendous flavor.

I tasted The Great Mistake at Stephianie's Farm. My brain was expecting a bitter like broccoli rabe bite, but what I experienced was surprisingly different. It is sweet, mild, tender and easy to eat raw — from root to foliage. I made this two ways: A raw salad with manchego cheese and endive, and a quick sauté with garlic that is topped with the root shaved raw.

Stephanie hosted her first Seeds & Suds (video here) talk (a video series focused on seeds — what is growing on the farm— and drinking good beer) at her farm where we discussed the interspecies rutabaga/kale cross that overwintered and created The Great Mistake Rapini, while we drank a St. Feuillien triple style abbey ale.

Perhaps great mistakes like these can create a new local variety on the East End of Long Island that we will reap the benefits from for years to come.

 

recipe

the great mistake raw salad

Directions

Chop the foliage of The Great Mistake and the endive; place in a bowl. Mix the olive oil, lemon, Dijon mustard, honey and a pinch of salt and pepper for the vinaigrette. Then pour on top of the greens and toss. If needed, add more salt and pepper to taste. Then add the shaved Manchego cheese.

Ingredients

  • The Great Mistake, 1 bunch chopped
  • Manchego cheese, shaved
  • 1 endive, chopped
  • 1 lemon, squeezed
  • Olive Oil, 3 tablespoons
  • Dijon Mustard, 1 tablespoon
  • Local Honey, 1 teaspoon
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Rooting for Rutabaga

Rutabaga Recipes

Have you ever noticed that the root crop rutabaga usually ends up off to the side at the farmer's market? I guess most people find the appearance of these giant Brassicas intimidating, and quite frankly ugly. But, what’s inside should count, right?

Let’s get to the root of the matter.

Rutabaga is part of the cabbage family, a cool weather crop that has phenomenal storing power: about 4 – 6 months and is often times confused with a turnip. Rutabagas are also known as swedes (from “Swedish turnip”) or as yellow turnips known as (neeps in Scotland). Technically, rutabaga is a direct cross between cabbage and turnips. When eaten raw it has a slightly sweet mild taste, less bitter than the turnip. When rutabaga is cooked it has a golden appearance that tastes earthy sweet, creamy and buttery. Rutabaga is great mashed, roasted with other root vegetables for a breakfast hash, shaped into spears for fries, pickled for sandwich toppings and layered into a gratin. Another bonus: the rutabaga is easy to peel because it has a smooth surface. Tasty and easy.

I’m rooting for rutabaga to push its way to the surface of the — I want to eat you list. Even well seasoned cooks shun the thought of a rutabaga in their CSA box. But worse yet, are the stories of rutabaga being turned away by food banks and soup kitchens because no one knows how to cook with it.

That's a shame.

According to Feeding America, 1 in 7 Americans struggle to get enough to eat; 283,700 people on Long Island receive emergency food each year – that’s 64,900 people every week, according to Long Island Cares, an organization whose mission is to bring together all available resources for the benefit of the hungry on Long Island, and to provide to the best of their ability for the humanitarian needs of the community.

They provide food when and where it’s needed, sponsor programs that promote self-sufficiency and educate the public about food insecurity, the root causes of poverty, nutrition, and the ongoing fight to end hunger on Long Island. “We partner with just under 600 food pantries and food banks in Nassau and Suffolk Counties,” says Peter Braglia, the Chief Operations Officer for Long Island Cares. 

My wish is for the less lovable vegetables to have a fighting chance to join the ranks of: squash, potatoes, onions and apples to help feed the hungry. Long Island Cares is a perfect organization for farmers to partner with to help fight hunger on Long Island. Hopefully, the rutabaga will have a chance.

3 RUTABAGA RECIPES

Mashed Rutabaga

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds of rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • Pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated). You can omit if you don’t have or substitute with cinnamon.
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Splash of heavy cream or milk
  • ½ teaspoon of fresh sage and thyme

Directions

In a large pot, cover the rutabaga with 2 inches of water that is salted with the sea salt. Bring to a simmer. Once the rutabaga is fork tender (approximately 30 minutes, maybe less), drain and return them to the pot.

Over medium heat dry the rutabagas. Mash with a potato masher, then add in the butter and cream/milk. Mash until coarse and a puree forms. Add a pinch of the nutmeg, herbs and fold together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Rutabaga Fries

Ingredients

  • 1 rutabaga peeled and sliced into spears
  • 1 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 1 large sprig of rosemary, chopped
  • Generous amount of sea salt

Directions

Coat the rutabaga spears with the olive oil, rosemary and sea salt. Toss until evenly coated. Lay rutabaga spears onto a baking sheet, leaving space between for even crisping. Bake until rutabaga fries are cooked through and crisped on the outside, about 30 minutes.

Quick Pickled Rutabaga

Directions

Peel the rutabaga skin and discard. Then peel the rutabaga and the carrots into strips. (size does not really matter)

Place the rutabaga and carrots in a 1-quart mason jar. Then add the garlic, mustard and cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes. Leave at least 1/2 inch of room at the top of the jar.

Place the vinegar, sugar, water, and salt in a small saucepan, whisk to dissolve the sugar and salt, and bring to a simmer.

Once the sugar and salt dissolve, pour the brine over the rutabaga and carrots. Cover them completely but leave 1/4 inch of room at the top of the jar. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Cover the jar with the mason lid and give the jar a shake to evenly distribute the brine. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 days, better yet, 1 week before using. Can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of rutabaga, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled
  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 garlic sliced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes