Chicago City Farm – Field Trip

City Farm SignI arrived in Chicago yesterday for an annual conference with a few hours to spare so I took the opportunity to go see City Farm in person!  I have been looking forward to seeing this fantastic piece of urban farming/city renewal since I wrote about it in January, unfortunately the three days I am here are the three days they are closed to the public.  Undeterred, I figured i could at least view it from the outside and see how the new location at W Division Street is coming along.

The very warm, but tired Farm Director, Meredith, saw me taking pictures and came out to chat with me.  Despite being at the farm since 5 am picking produce for the Farmer’s Market, she gave me a micro-tour and we chatted about growing food.

The lot looks even bigger in person and wraps north and east sides of the Chicago Fire Department building – the brick building to the right.

Cabbage and CollardsIt could not have been a more beautiful day to visit.

Cabbage and Tomatoes at the City FarmMeredith was very excited about the tractor that will help the workers and volunteers accomplish more on this sprawling lot.

It is wonderful to see young people engaging in a type of agriculture that doesn’t just build farms, it builds communities.  If you are ever in Chicago, preferably Wednesday-Saturday make this a must-visit!

Posted in Cabbage, Chicago Farm, City Farm, Collards, Farms, Sustainable, Tomatoes, Urban Farm Business, Urban Farming, Urban Renewal, Young Farmers | 2 Comments

Mangia – Seconda Parte

Recently I wanted to find some great make-ahead recipes that I could prepare in batches and freeze for fast and easy, but still homemade meals that I would feel good about on those “I don’t feel like scratch cooking” nights.  Stuffed pastas kept catching my eye as something highly versatile (options including but definitely not limited to: cheese, spinach, squash, beef, tuna with a bechamel sauce) and are super easy to freeze and reheat.

I already had a great homemade pasta dough recipe (for use with the KitchenAid stand mixer and pasta roller attachment) and ravioli filling recipe but wanted to do some research and see if some varieties freeze better than others.

While doing searches for freezing homemade stuffed pastas my results kept turning up all these recipes and ads for pasta maker machines…hmm.  A few dozen YouTube videos and reviews later, I decided a pasta maker was just what I needed both to make fast and easy ravioli for my make-ahead meals as well as ditching the boxed, dried stuff in my pantry for fresh, on-demand pasta made with high quality wheat*.

I found the pasta maker I wanted on sale at Williams-Sonoma – the Philips Smart Pasta Maker.  I liked this one in particular because in addition to the weighing function which helps you fine-tune your liquids if you are using more or less than a perfect single or double batch of pasta flour, it comes with 8 shaping discs meaning no accessories to purchase later.

I had to try it right away after it arrived so I made a simple angel hair pasta to get a feel for the machine and process.

Making Angel HairThe adverts say that you will have fresh pasta in 15 minutes, I am pretty sure they mean when the last of the noodles come out because this machine begins extruding pasta in just 3 minutes!

Fresh Angel Hair NestsI made a double batch which was double the amount I needed.  The other 1/2 can be dusted with flour and refrigerated for a few days or frozen for a longer storage time.

The pasta was fantastic – delicious and with great bite, perfect al dente!

Mangia* A note on the pasta flour I use – as much as possible, I buy my grains from Anson Mills.  I could do a whole series of posts on Anson Mills and founder Glenn Roberts and how they are reviving lost tastes through heirloom grains.  If you haven’t read it yet, a great way to get to know Glenn is through Dan Barber’s seminal book The Third Plate.  I became an instant convert based on what I knew about Glenn’s grains.  Tasting them only further cemented my ardor.

Posted in Anson Mills, Basil, Dan Barber, Food Preparation, Kitchen Implements, Non-GMO, Organic, Pasta, Pasta Maker, Technology, The Third Plate | Leave a comment

Big Finish – Glass Gem Corn

The Glass Gem Corn is winding down and I will have a couple more ears to harvest over the next few weeks but today was really the big finale with 4 ears harvested and two that were almost* entirely in the blue spectrum.

Last Big Glass Gem Corn HarvestI plan to make some popcorn from this year’s harvest, but also plan to double my planting for year’s crop from saved seed.  This is a exponential goal/reward because for every one corn plant I plant two black eyed pea plants to nourish the corn and climb the stalk for support and I am enjoying the still growing store of homegrown black eyed peas to cook up for good luck on New Year Day and would like to have even more for New Years 2018.

Black Eyed Peas Stash*the bottom right cob has a single green kernel that only makes the rest of the cob look all the more blue.

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Black Eyed Peas, Companion Planting, Corn, Flint Corn, Glass Gem Corn, Heirloom Varieties, Organic, Sustainable | Leave a comment

I Can’t Even – Glass Gem Corn Harvest

Glass Gem Corn HarvestYes.  It is just that beautiful!

Posted in #Food(Growing)Porn, #NoFilters, Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Corn, Glass Gem Corn, Heirloom Varieties, Organic, Sustainable, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Pomodori Aplenty

I had my largest one-day harvest of Roma Tomatoes at a little over 3.5 lbs, a similar weight in Amana Orange and Mortgage Lifter Tomatoes were ready to be picked along with some cherry tomatoes, a nice bowl of figs, more black eyed peas to add to the jar and four more cobs of Glass Gem corn.

Thursday HarvestI can’t get over how pretty and varied the glass gem cobs are, each seems to have their own color theme.

Glass Gem Corn Close UpI have at least 5 more cobs to harvest and I can’t wait to see their variations!


Posted in Amana Tomato, Black Eyed Peas, Cherry Tomatoes, Corn, Figs, Flint Corn, Glass Gem Corn, Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry Tomato, Heirloom Varieties, Mortgage Lifter Tomato, Organic, Paste Tomato, Roma Tomato, Slicing Tomatoes, Sustainable, Tomatoes | Leave a comment

First Glass Gem Corn Harvest

I harvested my first ear of Glass Gem Corn yesterday and it is beautiful!

Glass Gem Corn

Posted in Companion Planting, Flint Corn, Glass Gem Corn, Heirloom Varieties, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Mulligan Fire Roasted Cherry Tomato Salsa

A few weeks ago I finally had enough cherry tomatoes to give the Fire Roasted Cherry Tomato Salsa recipe I wrote about in February a whirl.  The cherry tomatoes I had in abundance were two varieties of yellow tomatoes and I thought that would work nearly as well as the red.  I was mistaken.

The salsa was flavorful and had the perfect amount of heat, but without the red tomatoes it lacked the acidic tang this salsa needed to balance the sweetness of the fire roasted onions.

So last week I tried again with farmer’s market red cherry tomatoes.

Pre-Fire Roasted SalsaThe kitchen smells unbelievably good during and after the fire roasting step!

Fire RoastedAnd the finished product!

Salsa and Cherry TomatoesThe mulligan Fire Roasted Cherry Tomato Salsa was delicious and I will need to rethink my yellow/red cherry tomato planting ratio for next year.

Posted in Chef John, Cherry Tomatoes, Farmers' Market, Food Preparation, Salsa, Sustainable, Tomatoes | Leave a comment

Imma Be – Black Eyed Peas In the Garden

So maybe the July garden isn’t classically beautiful, but it does have a quirky beauty…

While bolted lettuce is a tall, straggly creature on its own, the Tom Thumb lettuce is also a bit elegant against the backdrop of collards:

Tom Thumb LettuceThe glass gem corn is doing incredibly well (note, strawberry popcorn is not nearly so prolific):

Glass Gem CornThe blueberries are abundant this year:

BlueberriesThe figs, while still green, are also abundant this year:

FigsThe asparagus is still throwing up occasional spears:

Late AsparagusAnd the tomatoes…all those tomatoes!

Tons of TomatoesBut the star of the late July garden for me is my first ever harvest of California Black Eyed Peas!  These cowpeas were planted to fix nitrogen for the corn they are growing next to and up, but now that I am seeing the beginning of what looks to be a good harvest I am excited about them for their own sake:

First Black Eyed Peas

Posted in Asparagus, Black Eyed Peas, Blueberries, Cherry Tomatoes, Collards, Figs, Glass Gem Corn, Slicing Tomatoes, Tom Thumb Lettuce, Tomatoes | Leave a comment

July Garden Update

Under the best of circumstances July is an awkward time for the garden.

Spring greens (spinach, lettuce, cilantro) still in the garden have bolted or browned, strawberries have stopped producing anything but dozens of straggly runners and asparagus has transmogrified into its less known, fuzzy small tree form.  Between these only-a-mother-could-love-them beauties are the bare spaces where sugar and snow peas and pak choy have been removed but it is still too early to sow fall plants, July may be the worst time to have a garden guest.

I have a garden guest coming next week.

The wonderful REALTOR that patiently waited and watched while I stood in potential back yards mentally calculating full sun hours and painstakingly measuring for raised beds that were at the time, stored in a rented garage, is coming to see what I “have done with the place” and late July is the date we picked for dinner and a garden tour.

This post is half garden update, half convincing myself that there are still beautiful things to be seen even in this straggly season.  Here goes:

The blackberries are huge and I should still have a good mix of ripe and unripe next week.

First Year BlackberriesI always overseed plants like basil so I can use the thinnings on meals while letting the main plants mature.

BasilThere is only one butternut squash on the vine so far, but many blooms.

Butternut Squash on the VineI picked my first round of Envy edamame with only a handful left in the garden, but I had left the wonderful nitrogen fixing plants in the garden as companion plantings to everyone else.EdamameAnd the rest of this story is tomatoes, the beauties of summer.  These are some of the Blue Cream Berries cherry tomatoes before they ripen and take on that creamy yellow color.

Blue Berry Cherry TomatoesThe roma tomatoes are thick on the vine and ripening at a steady rate.

Roma on the VineA pretty average harvest day with a double handful of roma tomatoes, a  couple of Mortgage Lifters, a bowlful of Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry cherry tomatoes (the most prolific and tallest of my cherry tomato plants this year) and my first Black Beauty zucchini of the year.

Today's HarvestHere’s hoping she really likes tomatoes 😉

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Cherry Tomatoes, Companion Planting, Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry Tomato, Heirloom Varieties, Mortgage Lifter Tomato, Non-GMO, Organic, Paste Tomato, Raised Bed Gardening, Roma Tomato, Slicing Tomatoes, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Tomatoes, Zucchini | Leave a comment

Roma Wasn’t Built In a Day

Roma math:
A decent batch of homemade tomato sauce with enough to freeze or can for future use requires a minimum of 15-20 lbs of roma tomatoes.
The average day on the urban farm (with 16 roma tomato plants in high season) results in anywhere from 1-3 lbs of roma tomatoes.

I struggled with this math last year as I watched ripe romas edge toward over-ripeness while waiting for enough companions to be ready at roughly the same time to make a batch of sauce.  Out of desperation I started searching “freezing whole tomatoes” and low and behold:

Fresh and Frozen TomatoesNot only CAN you freeze whole tomatoes, there are a couple of benefits to doing it.  Freezing, especially for short term storage doesn’t have to be particularly fussy.  Just clean, pop in a bag, remove most of the air and voila – a partial batch of sauce!  Also, when frozen tomatoes are thawed to make sauce, the skins just slide right off, saving the blanching step.

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Food Preparation, Food Preservation, Paste Tomato, Pro Tip, Raised Bed Gardening, Resources, Roma Tomato, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Tomatoes, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

(Nearly) Nose to Tail Cooking

Chef John from Food Wishes (on YouTube and BlogSpot) has become a permanent presence on my laptop and in my kitchen over the past 6 months.   In addition to being an award winning chef, he is a gifted educator and my go-to guy for recipe ideas for farmer’s market finds, cooking techniques and new takes on old dishes.

Recently I have made two of his recipes that were particular standouts for me.  They were easy, delicious and used parts of the vegetable or animal normally thrown away without a second thought.

I have been cooking with broccoli stems for years, but it is not often I see them in recipes.  For his broccoli angel hair pasta recipe he calls for simmering the diced stems until soft as part of the garlic sauce and for his paella recipe, he calls for sauteing the shrimp shells to add extra flavor and body to the sauce.

Briefly my results followed by Chef John’s fantastic recipe videos:

Posted in Broccoli, Chef John, Food Preparation, Paella, Pasta, Recipe, Resources, Seafood, Shrimp | Leave a comment

Eating Local Never Tasted So Good – Seafood

I grew up in America’s rural heartland calling catfish and crappie ‘seafood’, but in truth, it would be far more accurate to call it riverfood or lakefood.  Real seafood was reserved for restaurant dining and with cautions from in-the-know types to not order on certain days of the week based on restaurant order delivery norms.

When I moved to the Raleigh area 3 years ago, one of the bragging points about this region is that we are 2.5 hours from the mountains and 2.5 hours from the coast.  But knowing that still did nothing to prepare me for this sign at my local farmer’s market:

Carolina Catch SignMost Saturdays, Carolina Catch Seafood has a stand at the Apex Farmers Market, selling fresh fish and shellfish, caught the day before and packed on ice, but never frozen.  It’s like winning the Local Food Lottery!

The NC Catch organization has this handy chart of seasonal availability of NC seafood which will be used like the seasonal produce charts to help me meal plan around the season’s best.  I love shopping the farmer’s markets to supplement what I grow and support local, sustainable food producers.  Getting to support local fishermen (and women) is a new concept for me, but one that I (sorry, mandatory bad pun) will take to like fish to water!

Posted in Farmers' Market, Food Preparation, Seafood, Sustainable | Leave a comment

Food With a Story – Mortgage Lifter

When was the last time you ate a tomato and considered the intrigue and controversy surrounding it’s provenance?

Mortgage LifterThis big guy, sold by Baker Creek under the name Mortgage Lifter is almost ready to harvest and when I save the seeds after enjoying my first taste of this storied heirloom fruit, I will be thinking of the dueling stories of where it originated.  A little food for thought 😉

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Farmer Facts, Heirloom Varieties, Mortgage Lifter Tomato, Non-GMO, Organic, Raised Bed Gardening, Slicing Tomatoes, Square Foot Gardening, Sustainable, Tomatoes, Urban Farming | Leave a comment

Towering Tomatoes

My View NowThe view standing next to my Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry Tomato.

Tall TomatoThe view a few steps back.  This tomato plant has already over taken the 8 foot bamboo support pole and I need a step ladder to access the top with many months of growing still ahead.  Watch out Charles Wilbur

Posted in Backyard Gardening, Cherry Tomatoes, Hartman's Yellow Gooseberry Tomato, Heirloom Varieties, Organic, Raised Bed Gardening, Square Foot Gardening, Tomatoes, Urban Farming | 2 Comments


Miniature cooking is a thing.

Posted in Food Preparation, Humor | 2 Comments