It's a tradition at our house: Stay in on New Year's Eve and host an "Open House" for friends and family on New Year's Day.
Garden update, East Side of Syracuse, June 25, 2014:
No sooner had the pole beans sprouted and started to take off, something dug them up. Bam! Gone.
Fortunately, the six San Marzano tomato plants in that small plot are untouched and coming along nicely. I see red sauce in our future -- supplemented with tomatoes from one of our local markets. We do not have enough space for a sauce garden.
Two kinds of cherry tomatoes (super-sweet reds and pear-shaped golden tomatoes) are also coming along well in the elevated garden box Robert built last year. The garden box is the perfect height for deer to enjoy a smorgasbord -- but they don't, knock wood. At least not so far, fingers crossed.
We've been enjoying romaine, arugula and leaf lettuce salads from the garden box, too -- to the point where I almost overdosed on salad last week, if that is possible. I love a salad with greens, arugula, local strawberries, toasted walnuts, balsamic vinaigrette and blue cheese this time of year.
The basil in its own planter box is deep green and gorgeous. As always, we'll use it to make pesto. And when local tomatoes are in season, we will feast on Caprese salad. But not before then.
When gardening space is scarce, you need to plant where you can to take best advantage of the sun. These planters hold green bell pepper plants. If everything grew as well as that ground cover, we'd be all set.
As the lettuces fade in the garden box, we might add some more herbs, or some Swiss chard, which will grow well into the fall. Got any suggestions?
How is your garden growing, Central New York? Let us know in the Comments section, below. Happy gardening - and harvesting!
At our house recently, broccoli had a moment, when both of us came home with big green bunches of it.
We could have blanched it and stuffed it in the freezer for later use. Instead, we enjoyed it as a side dish and came up with a couple recipes to spotlight it.
There are worse things to OD on, right? Broccoli is a good source of protein, vitamin E, vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium and iron and an excellent source of fiber. It's versatile, and works well in soups and salads, on pizza, in omelets and in other egg dishes.
Got a a lot of broccoli in your veggie drawer? Here's a couple recipes to add to your repertoire.
1.25 to 1.5 pounds broccoli florets (and stalks, sliced)
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a combination
1 medium onion, diced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
1 plump garlic clove, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
Black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
Salt if needed
3/4 cup rice
1/2 to 1 cup milk
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat butter or oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrots and cook about 6 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and saute - do not brown. Add broth and water to pot and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and bring everything to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Add rice and cook until tender, about 10 minutes more. Broccoli should be very tender, as well.
Puree soup in pot using an immersion blender (or transfer to a food processor and puree in batches, then return to soup pot). Add as much milk as needed to thin the soup to a consistency you like; you can also add more broth. Add a couple tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, if you like. Taste soup and adjust seasonings as needed. Makes about 6 servings.
Pastry for 9-inch quiche
1 cup Jarlsberg, Gruyere or cheddar cheese, or a combination
1 cup smoked ham, cooked and cubed (see note)
1 generous cup cooked broccoli, chopped
3/4 cup half and half
Black pepper, salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll crust out and place in pie plate. Trim as needed. Crimp edges and prick crust all over with fork. Bake for 7 minutes, or until light golden. Remove crust from oven. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.
Break eggs into a bowl. Whisk together eggs and half and half. Stir in cheese, ham and broccoli. Add pepper and salt to taste. Stir again.
Bake quiche for 55 to 60 minutes, or until set. Let rest briefly. Serve with a green salad. Makes 6 servings.
Note: I used smoked ham from W.W. Longhorn Ranch, Bernhards Bay, in this recipe. It is excellent. Find it (and them) at the Central New York Regional Market.
Our garden isn’t overflowing with zucchini, but we happily accept donations (especially of small- and medium-size zucchini and yellow squash) and buy it at farmers markets. At three for $1, usually, zucchini can’t be beat.
National Zucchini Day is not to be confused with National Zucchini Bread Day (April 24).
Here are a couple savory ways to get your zucchini on.
1 cup brown or regular rice, cooked
3 medium zucchini, ends trimmed, sliced vertical
1 pound ground beef, optional
1 medium onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
2 plump cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
Half a pint of grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, halved (or a half cup of tomato sauce)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
Handful of fresh basil, cut in thin strips
Parmesan cheese for garnish
Cook rice according to package directions. Put aside. This step can be done in advance.
Slice the zucchini vertical and hollow out the zucchini to make boats. One way to do this is by using a melon baller or the edge of a spoon. Put the zucchini flesh in a large bowl and break it up some with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
Heat some olive oil in a large pan. Brown the beef and season as desired. Drain well and set aside.
Add the onion and red pepper to the same pan, adding more oil if needed. Add a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat for about seven minutes, until onion is translucent. Add the garlic toward the end of cooking time. Don’t let it brown. Add the zucchini flesh, stir to combine, break it up further if needed and continue cooking until zucchini is soft. Toward the end, add the halved grape tomatoes and continue cooking until they are wilted and soft.
Combine the vegetables, beef, rice, mozzarella and basil in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and cayenne (if using) to taste. If necessary to bind everything together, add an egg, some vegetable broth, tomato juice or tomato sauce. Spoon the filling mixture into the hollowed out zucchini halves, mounding it. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until heated through. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Pasta with Summer Vegetable Medley
1 medium onion, diced
1 or 2 carrots, peeled and diced (optional)
1 red pepper, diced
1 medium zucchini and 1 yellow squash, ends trimmed, diced
2 plump cloves garlic, minced (or to taste)
2 portobello mushrooms, cleaned well, stems removed, diced (see note)
Half a pint of grape tomatoes, halved or half a cup of sun-dried tomatoes, cut in strips
Half a cup of oil cured or kalamata olives, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Pasta cooked according to package directions
Shredded asiago or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Basil leaves or Italian parsley, to garnish
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots (if using), and red pepper and a big pinch of salt. Cook until vegetables begin to soften. Add zucchini and cook until it begins to soften but still has some bit to it. Add the garlic and combine well. Add the diced mushrooms and continue cooking. Add the grape tomatoes and cook until they are softened. Add the olives at the very end and combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Depending on your appetite, serve about a cup of the vegetable mixture with your favorite pasta, cooked how you like it. I have been using Barilla’s vegetable farfalle (carrot and squash) lately and really like it. Top with some cheese and garnish with basil leaves or Italian parsley. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Note: Use eggplant in place of portobellos if you like.
But less space outdoors equals less space to garden. And less space to garden equals little to no opportunity to grow food, with the exception of basil and other essential herbs.
I happened on this garden box on legs (above) while browsing the Williams-Sonoma website. My first thought was: How cool is this?! What a great option for space-challenged people like us, who have no back forty -- just a hill and trees and gravel drive. My second thought was: Oh, $300 – soil and plants not included.
Fortunately, I live with a very handy man, who makes art and builds things. I asked him if he could design and build something like the Williams-Sonoma garden box – compact and on legs -- for us. As you can see, he rose to the challenge.
The box is made of larch, a locally grown hardwood noted for it strength, durability and ability to resist water. The lumber cost $40. The frame was custom-made and welded by Robert's cousin, Ben Poormon, of Steelfab in Weedsport. It cost $100.
At the base of the box are a couple grids of concrete reinforcing mesh. On top of that went hay and the soil.
All we need now is plants, sun and rain. Robert picked up three pepper plants at the Central New York Regional Market last weekend. We're thinking tomatoes, some lettuces, herbs and – well, we're not sure what else, exactly.
We'll let you know what we decide to plant -- and how our little vegetable garden-in-a-box grows this summer.
It’s that time of year: The farmers who grow our food can’t wait to get outside on a daily basis, feel the warmth of the sun, dig in the nutrient-rich soil and plant their first crops.
And then there are those who can’t wait to get outside because they’ve been inside all winter, where it’s balmy and 70-something degrees, growing Swiss chard, pea shoots, salad greens, herbs and other produce.
“It’s always spring in here,’’ says Mark Doherty, the founder of Aqua Vita Farms, an aquaponic farm launched in 2011.
For the uninitiated, aquaponics is a sustainable system of food production that combines aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) in an interactive indoor environment. The wastewater from the fish tanks is used to fertilize the plants and the plants, in turn, clean the water. The purified water is then circulated back to the fish.
At Aqua Vita, row upon row of grow beds are stacked in tiered systems resembling bunk beds in a 13,000 square foot building that was once part of the Oneida Limited manufacturing facility in Sherrill.
The advantages of aquaponic growing are many, Doherty says: It uses far less energy and far less water than traditional agriculture. The food is fresh, tasty and pesticide free, designed to be used in surrounding communities, so it doesn’t travel far.
Thanks to aquaponic growers, even if it’s snowing outside – and the first of our local tomatoes are still months away – you can enjoy fresh, local greens in your salad bowl.
The greens on plate or on your sandwich at Turning Stone Resort and Casino and restaurants like Circa in Cazenovia this time of year are probably from Aqua Vita Farms. Aqua Vita's tilapia, meanwhile, has been featured on the menu at The Tailor and the Cook, in Utica.
The “clamshell’’ containers of Boston lettuce you’ve seen at stores such as Wegmans, Tops and the Syracuse Real-Food Co-Op? Those are from Ithaca’s Finger Lakes Fresh Food Hub. The supple spring mix and bright butterhead lettuce that may have caught your eye at the Central New York Regional Market this winter is probably from Main Street Farms, Homer, or Refresh Farms, East Syracuse.
Jamie O’Hern, who owns Refresh Farms and runs the emerging venture with help from family and friends, harvests her lettuce early each Saturday morning and brings it to the market. She usually sells out before noon.
“It doesn’t get any fresher than that,’’ O’Hern says. “The taste is amazing.’’
Six ounces of lettuce packed in an eco-friendly bag with the root ball still attached costs $3. Stored properly, it will last for almost a week. The whole fish on ice at her market stall is equally fresh: That’s the tilapia raised in tanks as part of the aquaponic process. The tilapia sells for $5 a pound.
“Most people have never seen what tilapia really looks like,’’ O’Hern says.
It’s pretty new to O’Hern, too. Tilapia is firm fleshed, mild flavored and versatile – it can be adapted to many styles of cooking. The tilapia raised in aquaponics reach full maturity (one and a half to two pounds) in about a year.
O’Hern got her introduction to aquaponics at Sunset Hydroponics and Home Brewing in Syracuse, where she worked as a manager. She grew tomatoes, basil and lettuce in the basement of her family’s house in Syracuse before moving to a small space in the building occupied by Syracuse Tile and Marble in East Syracuse.
She says with a smile that she learned how to fillet fish by watching a YouTube video. She recommends that customers bake the tilapia whole. Clean and scale the fish, slit it in several spots and marinate it for a short time in a vinaigrette dressing made with oil, vinegar and mustard. Stuff the cavity of the tilapia with herbs and bake it in a sealed foil pouch (or parchment paper) until the fish flakes easily with a fork – about 18 to 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven.
O’Hern, who also works part-time as a server at Ironwood Pizza in Manlius, has high hopes for the future of aquaponic farming – and for Refresh Farms.
She would like to build a greenhouse aquaponic system to reduce the use of artificial lighting and add solar panels to the building to help reduce electrical expenses. She also would like to add more grow beds in order to supply restaurants with fresh produce. She also would like to help restaurants grow their own food.
“I don’t have it all figured out,’’ she says, “I’m learning a lot as we go, by trial and error.
“I do think this is a lot better way to grow food. We need to rethink how we farm. This is more sustainable.’’
Note: There are several aquaponic farms of varying sizes in Central New York and the Finger Lakes. Most welcome visitors and offer education programs. Some, like Aqua Vita Farms, offer aquaponics training and consulting. Call or email to inquire about visitor programs and rates.
Do you know of an aquaponic grower not included here? Please leave details in a comment (below) so I can add them. Thank you!
Aqua Vita Farms, Sherrill
Phone: 315-941-3535; email, firstname.lastname@example.org
Products: Lettuce and other salad greens; Swiss chard, sorrel; basil and other herbs; pea shoots; tilapia
Retail: Oneida County Public Market; Westmoreland Summer and Winter Farmers Markets; Arnie’s Produce and Craig’s Kegs, Oneida.
Refresh Farms, East Syracuse
Products: Butterhead lettuce, green and red romaine, basil, pac choi; tilapia
Phone: 315-447-4315; email, email@example.com
Retail: Central New York Regional Market (Saturdays)
Products: Lettuces, spring mix, Swiss chard, kale, herbs, etc.
Phone: 607-218-2101; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retail: Syracuse Real Food Cooperative, Natur-Tyme, Green Planet Grocery, Central New York Regional Market and other locations.
Finger Lakes Fresh, Ithaca
Products: Boston lettuce, romaine, arugula, baby pac choi, salad bouquet
Phone: 607-347-6767; email: email@example.com
Retail: Wegmans, Price Chopper, Tops, Syracuse Real Food Cooperative, Green Planet Grocery
Grindstone Farm's CSA display at the Pride of New York Harvest Festival, 2010
What does CSA stand for? Coffee Supply Agents? Nope. Guess again. Cake-Bakers Specialty Association? Not even close.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. But what does that mean, exactly? If you don’t know, don’t worry. The eat-local and buy-local movement is growing in our region, according to the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, but most people are still not familiar with CSAs.
CSA means making an up-front, out-of-pocket investment in local farms and farmers for the growing season – and bringing home the benefits in the form of a weekly box “share” of fresh, local produce, usually from late spring to fall.
To give a shoutout to CSA farmers, encourage investment and promote tasty, homegrown food, NOFA-NY is holding a series of CSA Fairs across the state during March and April.
A Syracuse CSA Fair will be held 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (March 10) at Erwin Methodist Church, 920 Euclid Ave., Syracuse. Representatives from a dozen or more farms will be there, explaining their programs, growing schedules, pricing, pick-up and delivery options and more.
Investing in and supporting a CSA farm is something we have talked about at our house, but ultimately decided against.
The pros: We love vegetables. And we like to try new things. So we’re certain we would eat all those vegetables and freeze and/or can what we couldn’t get to. Many CSA farmers provide helpful tips and recipes, either with their shares or on their websites – or both.
The cons: Would we get tired of squash and salad greens? We love to go the farmers markets and roadside stands that dot Central New York and the Finger Lakes. Would our friends at the Regional Market in Syracuse wonder what has become of us?
As with any investment, it’s a personal decision. That’s why the CSA Fairs are a great idea. Educate yourself and ask questions. Some CSA farms offer installment payments and half-shares for smaller households. There is bound to be a CSA program to fit your needs and budget and allay any concerns.
I asked my friend Barbara, who got her introduction to CSA life last year, to share her experiences. This is what she had to say:
“We loved our CSA but we aren't doing it again this year. Our schedules are so crazy now that we're often not here at the same time for dinner. … I don't think there's anything negative at all about the experience. It's pricey ($600 this season), but if you love and use all or most of the food, it's worth it.
“I love pretty much every vegetable, so I never felt overburdened. If I was getting tired of summer squash, I just didn't pick it up that week, but it was pretty rare that I got tired of anything.
“I know that we had a healthier diet -- I was so determined to not waste that beautiful food that we ate a lot more vegetables than we would have otherwise. And there definitely are things we now eat that we wouldn't have if not for the CSA -- garlic scapes and tomatillos come to mind.
“I also just liked the experience of driving to the farm every week -- it wasn't an errand at all but something I always looked forward to. (Isn't it funny how I hate, hate, hate going to the grocery store, but I never mind going to the farmer's market or the farm?)
“Anyway -- it was definitely a great experience, and I'm going to have to kick my gardening up a notch this year.’’
Zucchini is in abundance in gardens and at farmers markets right now. Ask your gardening neighbors for one or two, and they'll gladly hand over an armful of them. Yet rarely does zucchini get the starring role in recipes and on our plates.
We steam, saute and grill it to serve as a side dish, slice it into ribbons for salads, grate it for use in quick breads and stuff it with rice, tomatoes and cheese to make zucchini “boats.”
We shared some with my mother the other night, and she called to say a) how nice it was to not have to cook and b) what a nice change this pasta is from pasta bathed in red sauce.
Right she is.
Pasta With Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil
1 medium onion, diced
¼ cup plus 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
3 small-to-medium zucchini, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 cup fresh basil, cut in ribbons
1 pound whole wheat or multi-grain pasta
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on the stove for cooking the pasta.
Meanwhile, cook onion in 1-2 teaspoons olive oil until translucent. Reserve for later use.
In a large pan, heat ¼ cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until zucchini begins to brown. Reduce heat and continue cooking zucchini for about 15 minutes. The heat should not be too high; the zucchini should be crisp-tender, not mushy. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the garlic to the pan; stir well to combine.
Time pasta cooking to coincide with last 10 minutes of zucchini cooking. At the same time, heat a large bowl. To the heated bowl add the ricotta and about half of the basil. As the pasta nears the end of its cooking, reserve about a half-cup of pasta water and use it to thin the ricotta to sauce consistency, stirring well.
Add both cooked zucchini and pasta to the bowl holding the ricotta. Toss well. Add remaining basil and grated Parmesan cheese. Toss again.
Serve pasta in warm bowls. Makes about 6 servings.