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.


Slow Food East End's Snail Supper brings out the Mardi Gras in all of Us

Snail Supper_SFEE_lluciano.jpg

How does a Potluck style themed dinner sound with like-minded food enthusiasts: a diverse group of friends and strangers who are passionate about good, clean and fair food for all? And what if I told you that the ingredients for each dish is locally sourced or perhaps in someone's own backyard? If I have piqued your interest these communal dinners on the East End of Long Island are called Snail Suppers, by Slow Food East End. This local chapter of Slow Food USA created these dinners to help fund ($15 members, $20 non-members) their Edible School Garden program while celebrating food as a cornerstone of pleasure, culture and community. “We currently have 27 schools on the East End that have applied for and received funding to develop a school garden program,” says Linda Slezak, Events Chair of Slow Food East End. The money provides the schools with garden equipment as well as a master gardener to teach and oversee the gardens and greenhouses all year round. For those of you not familiar with Slow Food, it is a global network of over 150,000 members in more than 150 countries whose mission is good, clean and fair food for all. Through a vast volunteer network of local chapters, youth and food communities, they link the pleasures of the table with a commitment to protect the community, culture, knowledge and environment.

Snail Suppers are themed and each dish tells a story about our food and beverage producers, and home cooks from the North and South Forks of Long Island. I think it is one of the most affordable and charitable ways to enjoy a locally inspired meal amongst interesting company.

Mardi Gras was the theme for this Snail Supper and with over thirty people in attendance there was plenty of Fat Tuesday to go around. 

Kim Dyla of Southold, New York is a woman after my own heart. She made a Jalapeño cornbread with Cherokee white eagle corn that she grows on her property. She dries the corn on the cob, shucks, and then grinds into a cornmeal. Kim grows a variety of items on her property such as holy basil and kaffir lime because they are hard to find. “I’ve always been obsessed with food, cooking from scratch and getting as close to the source as I can with everything I eat,” says Kim. “When I told a Slow Food member that I made a cake from flour that I had ground from my own acorns, they thought that was cool." It does not get more local than that.

Photographs by Courtesy of Kim Dyla

Photographs by Courtesy of Kim Dyla

Jalapeño cornbread

Jeri Woodhouse, founder of A Taste of the North Fork made a cranberry-horseradish chutney for yam biscuits and a creamy shrimp risotto.

cranberry chutney with yam biscuits
shrimp risotto

Earl Fultz, one of the founders of cHarrisa, a Moroccan-influenced condiment, made a muffin popover that encased a spicy cHarrisa meatball. Was a hot and tasty surprise.

cHarrisa spicy meatball encased by a muffin popover

Linda Slezak made a Browder's Bird chicken with preserved lemons. I was fortunate enough to get a jar of Linda's preserved lemons around the holidays and I cannot wait to try her recipe. She brines the chicken in salt for an hour and then air dries in the refrigerator. She then adds garlic, thyme sprigs, half a lemon squeezed and a generous amount of cracked pepper and convection bakes at 375 degrees for 1.5 hours. Once done, let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before cutting into pieces and top with the preserved lemon. This dish was so yummy and was one of my favorites. The preserved lemons were so good; lemony and briny, you just eat them whole.

chicken with preserved lemons

I was so thrilled to see that someone made a Mardi Gras King Cake. This cake is similar to a coffee cake, ring-shaped with sugars in the royal colors of gold (power), green (faith) and purple (justice); this honors the three kings who visited Christ the child on the 6th of January. Traditionally, the King Cake is baked with a small plastic baby hidden inside (our version was a horseshoe), the person who gets the slice with the baby in it has to host the next party. To play it safe the person who made the Kings Cake pulled the trinket out. I guess she hosts the next Mardi Gras Snail Supper in 2015? 

Kings Cake_lluciano

Eileen Duffy, Deputy Editor at Edible East End Magazine, hosted the Snail Supper and made two round loaves of her infamous sourdough bread that paired with my egg salad, made with Browder's Birds eggs and a Mecox Bay Dairy London broil, sigit cheddar and caramelized onion Muffuletta sandwich. Eileen’s sourdough bread is something to savor and this combined effort really made our dish something special.

mecox bay london broil
mecox bay london broil muffuletta

I also made jalapeño cheddar corn muffins with homemade Cajun pork sausage. The cheddar cheese is from Mecox Bay Dairy and the pork sausage is from the meat and fat trimmings from the butcher class I attended at Mosner Family Brands.

Jalapaño Cheddar Muffins with Sausage

There is something to be said for slowing down and discovering the simple pleasures of a shared meal amongst folks who care about what we put on our plates and how those daily choices shape the future of our environment and society. If you are interested in attending or hosting a Snail Supper, be sure to make your reservations at a cheetahs pace—these dinners book fast. 

Recipe: Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins with Homemade Cajun Pork Sausage

Jalapeño Cheddar Muffins with Sausage


Cajun Pork Sausage

  • 2 pounds boneless pork cut in 1/2 inch pieces (any lean pork would work)
  • 1/2 pound pork fat, cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/3 cup of white wine

note: Store bought sausage is perfectly fine. 1 pound of ground sausage would work for 14 muffins. The recipe above is for 2.5 pounds and you can freeze half for later use.

Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins

  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow corn meal
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Pinch of nutmeg


Cajun Pork Sausage

  1. You will need a meat grinder with a coarse or fine die (I used the fine for this recipe). KitchenAid is my tool with a grinder attachment, however an old fashioned hand-crank meat grinder will work.
  2. Cut the pork (fat and lean meat) into 1.2 inch pieces. Place cut meat and fat in freezer for an hour. It is important that the meat is very cold before grinding.
  3.  In the meantime prepare your spice bowl. Mince the garlic and onion. Then add all the spices and seasoning.
  4. Take meat out of freezer and grind using the fine die. Once in bowl add the spices and the wine. Fold the ingredients together until incorporated. Do not over mix. Then place the meat in the refrigerator to sit for up to 3 days. You can use the day after; however, I like to let the spices and wine marinade.
  5. When you are ready to make the muffins you want to do the sausage balls ahead of time. Simply roll on the palm of your hand a 1/2 teaspoon size ball and fry in a pan with a little olive oil, about 3-5 minutes until lightly brown. You will be making approximately 42 little sausage balls, three for each muffin.
Cajun Pork Sausage

Jalapeño Cheddar Corn Muffins

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Prepare a muffin pan with butter.  Sauté the chopped onions in olive oil until translucent about five minutes.
  2. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Together In another bowl beat the eggs, milk, honey and melted butter.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and fold until just moistened. Stir in the onions, 1.5 cups of the cheddar cheese, and the jalapeños.
  5. Pour the batter half way into each buttered muffin tin. Then place two sausage balls into each . Then top will a tablespoon of batter and one more sausage ball right in the middle. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese and Bake for 20 minutes or until crusty brown.

Slow Food East End Feasting on the Future

We all have heard of the word Fast Food and surely can name a dozen or so of these chains that participate on this fast track; however, Slow Food is a newer concept that started in Italy in 1986 by Carlo Petrini who founded the organization in 1989.

So what does Slow Food mean exactly? Well, it is quite simply the opposite of what Fast Food means and this is their philosophy:

Slow Food stands at the crossroads of ecology and gastronomy, ethics and pleasure. It opposes the standardization of taste and culture, and the unrestrained power of the food industry multinationals and industrial agriculture. We believe that everyone has a fundamental right to the pleasure of good food and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of food, tradition and culture that make this pleasure possible. Our association believes in the concept of neo-gastronomy - recognition of the strong connections between plate, planet, people and culture.

This concept counters the rise of fast food, the disappearance of local artisanal traditions and the disconnect of where the food comes from, how it tastes and how the choices we make affect our own local communities and the environment worldwide.

Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries, 1,300 local chapters, 2,000 food communities who practice small-scale sustainable production of quality foods and 100,000 members worldwide.

Slow Food East End

Slow Food East End is feasting on the pleasures of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. I experienced this recently at their Potluck and Annual Meeting which was held at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton, NY in Jeff's Kitchen, which is a professional grade kitchen and classroom with classes in nutrition, food science and cooking for both children and adults. I found it fitting to have such a gathering at a school which promotes health and nutrition through gardening and culinary arts for children.

How amazing is it that these kids can plan their menu and lunch for the day? They go to their school garden, pick out their vegetables, and visit with the chicken coop to get their eggs and then partake in the making of it! When I was a child lunch was a mystery. Vegetables were not of the primary color, spaghetti floated in a neon maroon oil substance and Sloopy Joe's was just that slop on a cardboard bun.

I met with passionate Slow Foodies of the East End Community and together we did a tour of the Hayground Facility and grounds given by Arjun Achuthan who is one of the Founder's and Director of the Hayground Culinary Arts Program.

Arjun Achuthan who is one of the Founder's and Director of the Hayground Culinary Arts Program with Pizza Oven.

Slow Food East End first School Greenhouse at the Hayground School, Bridgehampton NY

After our tour we were able to feast our eyes and palates on local delights prepared by the members of Slow Food East End and friends. Mingling amongst like minded folks we shared stories of our own heritage and discussed the bounty of the East End Community. 


Mary Morgan, president of Slow Food East End kicked off the Annual Meeting. We were introduced to three New School Garden Coordinators which were given by Slow Food East End and funded by the generosity of the Josh Levine Memorial Foundation.

Jeff Negron and Peter Priolo spoke about their experience, unfortunately, KK Haspel had a prior engagement, however I am very much looking forward to meeting her in the near future. The common link amongst these three individuals is undeniably obvious. They are environmental stewards within their local communities, influencing the next generation, our children on what it means to nurture a local garden and the positive impact it has within its community. You can read about each Garden Coordinator here.

Top: Mary Morgan, President of Slow Food East End Bottom Left: Jeff Negron Bottom Right: Peter Prioli

Top: Mary Morgan, President of Slow Food East End
Bottom Left: Jeff Negron Bottom Right: Peter Prioli

School Grants were announced by Bryan Futerman the chef and owner of Foody’s in Water Mill, NY and Slow Food East End educational coordinator. It has been Slow Food East End's mission since their founding in 2004 to help local schools start and develop school gardens. Grants of $500 each went to eight area schools: Bridgehampton School, East Hampton High School, Greenport School, Hampton Bays Middle School, Sag Harbor School, Southold School, Springs School, and Tuckahoe School. You can read about Bryan Futerman here.  

Bryan Futerman the chef of Foody's in Water Mill, NY and the Slow Food East End educational coordinator.

Bryan Futerman the chef of Foody's in Water Mill, NY and the Slow Food East End educational coordinator.

New leaders were elected at the annual meeting. They are Jeannie Calderale, Sheryl Stair, Ivo Tomasini and Joan Turturro. You can read about these leaders here.

After the Slow Food East End Annual Meeting I realized how fortunate I was to be living amongst passionate and like minded individuals with a commitment to community, the environment and the future of our children. I am proud to say that I am now an official member of Slow Food East End. I made new friends, tasted some fabulous fare and met passionate individuals who are doing incredible work within our local communities. 


If you would like to become a member of a Slow Food Community here is where you can start: Slow Food International, Slow Food USA and Slow Food East End.