Sunday, January 31, 2010

The New Versailles?

Some new sustainability architecture seems to me to be bringing us closer to the Gardens of Versailles than sustainability. A short article in the NYT about a federal building in Portland, Oregon lacks enough information, it but did make me question the efficacy and efficiency of such designs. Maybe they should use Kudzu to climb its 200 foot facade.

SERA Architects

Saturday, January 30, 2010

NYC Garden Soil Testing

For any questions regarding the ESAC soil testing service, click on the link below. I have used this soil-testing service, and you can see how I put my sample together here and the results of my tests here. For other thoughts on lead in our soils, read this post and that post.

Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center SOIL TESTING SERVICE.
Any Questions:
Contact: Dr. Joshua Cheng
Phone: (718) 951-5000 ext. 2647
Fax: (718) 951-4753
Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center
2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11210

Home Reno TV vs Garden TV

When I woke up this morning it was 16 degrees F. The strength of the sun was limited by the icy crystals suspended in the atmosphere. When both happen, my apartment is quite cold and I tend to want to leave the house, or at least my cold corner of it. In order to warm up I stood in the shower extra long. We know how the shower is conducive to thoughts, even silly ones, and I found myself musing on the success of home renovation TV shows versus the relative failure of garden shows.

It appears to me that gardening TV does not reproduce the experience of the garden or gardening well at all. Gardening is a total body experience, as it includes, rather obviously, the scents of the plants, but also the qualities of the air, the humidity, the sensation of the seasons, the breezes or lack of them, the feel of your tools, the minutiae seen along the way, and the big picture as you step back to take in your environment. The TV screen, even in HD, reduces the textures of leaves to murky green masses. The camera seems to only pan or zoom. The talki-ness, the bad music, and the motion all diminish our ability to dream while watching. This is why still imagery and writing manages to overpower video as the dominant form for gardening information. Its stillness and quiet gives us the time to absorb, drift off to dream, and recall with our powerful sense memory.

The home renovation show on the other hand succeeds quite handily on TV. Still images and writing are essential if you actually want to do the work yourself, but the action of TV moves viewers through a process most do not really want to take on themselves. After all, who would considering the loud screeching saws, the constant hammering, the clouds of silica dust, the dead rats in your walls, and carrying countless gypsum sheets? The TV program moves us through a several months or years-long process in a half an hour or a couple of episodes. This engages our dreams, our fantasies of limitless money and cherry wood floors without all the hard work, displacement, and time. We watch these programs for the experience of catharsis.

So that's it. Home renovation TV succeeds because we really don't want to and gardening TV fails because we really would like to!

Monday, January 25, 2010

A fascinating post over at the Journal of an Amateur Naturalist about a small bird, a Shrike, that impales its prey on thorns and barbs. After looking at those photos, go down a post to watch the video of a snake fighting a woodpecker.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Well Traveled Ham

This is the extra large ham that my father-in-law gave to us as we left his home in Minnesota this past holiday. He wants to give us a ham every year. One year, I am ashamed to admit, the ham only made it as far as a rest stop garbage can in Pennsylvania. This year, since the ham was recently purchased and the air was so cold the ham remained frozen for the whole trip in the car's trunk, I decided to keep it.

When I was searching for a white wine at a local liquor distributor, many of the tags on the shelves read "Good With Ham." I do not know why ham is the meat of choice around the holidays in Minnesota, but it is (maybe all the time?). No matter, I decided to cook its 11 pound ass last night.

I am a fan of ham and eat many varieties. My main complaint about this kind of ham is that it is way too salty. I washed it off and cooked it for 2.5 hours at 300 degrees even though it was 'pre-cooked.' So now the question remains, what to do with all that ham? Any ideas?

Below was my first idea. A casserole, which I am learning to appreciate. It's the meal of choice in my wife's Minnesota homeland, and I feel that the best way for me to get accustomed to casseroles is to start making my own. I even convinced myself that baked ziti is a casserole.

 Portuguese Peas, Parmigiano, and potatoes.

Olive oil underneath, sliced potatoes 1/8-inch thick, grated parmigiano.

Small chunks of ham, minced shallots.

More potatoes, then peas, cheese, and shallots. Repeat until dish is full.

On top, one last set of potato slices, cheese, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil.

The result was tasty, but I forgot one ingredient: funghi! Well, I think a casserole is defined by what you have on hand, and mushrooms were not. I still have 9 pounds of ham left. Now what?

Friday, January 22, 2010


I sent off my Ft. Tilden proposal after my bout with jury duty yesterday. That's all you'll ever hear about that if it is rejected. If it accepted, then you will hear endlessly about it. I hope you can bear it.  I went to plead not guilty to my art to storage parking tickets today. A sympathetic judge took one away, the small one, but it felt like minor vindication. I knew, somehow, that the location in Red Hook would not be unfamiliar to a judge in Brooklyn. Of course, he's been to the Fairway and the glass studio at the end of the pier. So he was not so sympathetic to me parking on the "sidewalk" even if it's a warehouse and those bays are used for loading and unloading. Ahh, the cross purposes that neighborhood is at. He didn't hesitate to suggest I go into teaching (like any uncle) because, you know, you're not gaining in this art career -are you? I'll just take his advice to consider any space between a building and a street a sidewalk.

At least I saved 45 bones. Or was that spondulicks. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Not Enough Phos For Us

An interesting post on the shrinking reserves of mined phosphorous at Infranetlab. If you've never thought of where that P in your N-P-K fertilizer was coming from, think now. Go over to the site and check out the photos of strip mines. As for us gardeners who aren't wholly dependent on a high output of vegetables, we can continue to use bone meal, or possibly use pee for our P (the element was discovered in urine).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Jury Duty

Guy hits a car with his car. Man says injured, man sues. Hours spent picking impartial jury. To be continued...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Thaw

Just thought I'd take a moment to note the January thaw as it neared 50+ degrees today in Brooklyn. The compost pile, still in shade all day, has not quite thawed from its icy hardness (makes for tough turning). In my spring jacket, I strolled down my short street , and noticed work going on at a couple of houses, no doubt taking advantage of the weather (and made me wish I could afford one). At the last house on the right I spotted a pile of dirty snow, a remnant from the holidays, and it seemed so out of place. Otherwise the soil has thawed from the hardness of just the other day. The plants looked greener, the chrysanthemum and the iris never get brown, and the soil seemed alive. All it took was a day near 50. It's a fool's moment.

That said, we're probably thinking about our seed starting.

Grandfather's Lasagna (adultered!)

I was about to make the meat lasagna, well known in my family as the one that was 8 inches tall and served for lunch(!!) on Thanksgiving day when my grandfather was still cooking. At the last minute I discovered that a guest I assumed was a carnivore was actually just a ichthyovore/crustaceaovore! Never take shrimp eating for meat eating. So, I jumped into college mode and adapted the meaty lasagna to a portobello mushroom and spinach one. I think the last, but first, time I made this was in grad school, to host all my artistic peers at my little place near the Rio. The only difference then: I grew my own spinach -and that spinach was fantastic.

The Vegetables

First I heat up a cast iron skillet, add a drop of olive oil and add the sliced mushrooms.

Mainly, I am looking to pull some moisture out.

I love how these look, like handlebar mustachios.

The same for the fresh spinach, but in a saucepan with a teaspoon of olive oil for each batch.

The Cheeses

The fresh mozzarella: I used salted, but I think it's a matter of preference.  I used one pound and this lasagna was HUGE. Cube it, roughly at 1/2 inch.

Then there's the ricotta cheese, which you all know we say like "ri gaw ta." One pound will probably due for normal people making normal lasagna. I added maybe two pounds to my cheese mixture.  Add to this grated pecorino romano, the salty kick the ricotta needs. We go by taste on this, but I could say add a 1/4 to 1/2 pound to the mixture, depending on the quantity of ricotta. Then add the cubed mozzarella to the mixture and stir it up real good. Put the mixture in the fridge until your ready to layer.

Now I bought way too much ricotta. I had some frozen because I planned to make this lasagna a month ago, but I wasn't sure the freezer didn't kill it. So I bought Caputo's store-made at 6.99 a container -a good price considering the container is 3 pounds! I froze the remaining unused ricotta, and with the remaining unused mixture, spread it on some semolina and sunk into fatty heaven.

Incidentally, this is the cheese grater I use for grating the Pecorino or Parmigiano. I never liked the kind that makes the cheese into a powder. Also, I've been trained by family to insist on this simple knuckle scraper.

Pasta Interlude

There are only so many choices of dried lasagna pasta. I used Ronzoni -it was on sale. I've never used the no boil kind -I don't know why. For my embarrassingly large lasagna, I needed three pounds. I use a large stock pot, 2/3 full of water, salted, with a drop of olive oil. Get that water boiling real good. Cook the pasta till near done, but not al dente like you expect of your pasta dish -a little harder, because it will cook in the oven some.

I remove the lasagna strips from the water with a spoon and a slotted spaghetti spoon, putting them in another nearby pot. I leave the cooking water in the pot, get it up to boiling again, and put in the next batch. Repeat until all three pounds are done. Of course, normal folks who use a pound or pound and a half, will not need to repeat.

After the pasta is removed, let it cool a bit (some will water rinse cool, but I don't). I lay the strips on a plate or cutting board flat just to keep them handy for the layering.

The Layering

I start will a little olive oil rubbed on the pan (in this instance a fairly hardy aluminum pan, doubled, from the corner store). A drop of sauce, made previously, is added to the pan too. Then I lay the first layer of pasta, twice. All pasta layers are double, covering the seams from the layer immediately below. Lengthwise, crosswise, no one cares -go crazy.

On top of the first layer I lay the spinach and globs of the 3 cheese mixture. I add grated Parmigiano  because, well, why stop with three cheeses? Incidentally, I cannot show you the whole pan because it is too large!

After adding another two layers of pasta, I add the mushrooms and some sauce. I don't want a sloppy lasagna, so I emphasize keeping the water out of it. For this reason I don't add too much sauce because it's mostly water and because sauce can be added later at the plate. I also do not mix my sauce with the cheeses because I believe (maybe wrongly) that the sauce will turn the cheese quicker when stored in the fridge. Lasagna doesn't have a long fridge life, for me two to three days at best. Freeze for long term storage.

Add another two layers of pasta, gently pressing down with a wooden spoon, and repeat until the layers have overflowed their banks. On top, I slice some more mozzarella, thinly, and lay it across the final layer. I add some sauce. I cover the pan with some aluminum foil and place in the oven at around 275 degrees and cook for about an hour. If you like crispy edges, take the foil off in the last 15 minutes. Cut and serve.

If this were a meat lasagna, it would be filled with something we call fennel meat -which is basically a beef meat loaf filled with fennel seeds, and pork, which can be loin or even country ribs. Both are cooked prior, in tomato sauce (I cook it in the oven, but mom does in a pot), cooled and cubed and layered much like the spinach and mushroom. You can use this sauce for your lasagna, since clearly you're cooking for carnivores.

Any recipes you see here, and others added by friends, can be found at The Meal Husband in the side bar.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sovereign Nation of Broccoli or Let Them Eat McDonalds

Last night a friend called me, inviting me to Beaver St. to what seemed like a secret rendezvous of people discussing their food sovereignty action plan. The panel of 5 focused primarily on urban farms and gardens, a bit about GMOs and town hall discussions, and touched on healthy food scarcity. I didn't learn much new at this event, but then each panelist was limited to only 10 minutes of introduction to themselves and what they do.

Annie Novak, operator of Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, was on the panel. My friend whispered to me that she was rated as the hottest organic farmer by Huffington Post readers, beating out First Lady Michelle Obama. Looked it up this morning, and there it was.







Not that that has anything to do with food justice or sovereignty.

Bilen Berhanu, the outreach coordinator for Greenthumb, spoke most interestingly, but briefly, about her years as an Ethiopian child in a major city,  where she first learned of the bloated, hungry bellies of Ethiopian children on tv, via LiveAid!  Ben Grosscup, event organizer and fundraiser for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, or NOFA, spoke about organizing town hall meetings where communities can discuss and create non-binding resolutions on things like banning genetically-engineered vegetable seeds in their towns and whether or not farmers should have a say in the direction of agricultural science. Another speaker, who I will call Ms. Leiner because I cannot recall her first name, came from the south Bronx, which she described, tongue in cheek, as SoBro. Her perspective was from the ground up, activism, fighting to empower the citizens of her neighborhood. For her, capitalism is the problem (along with systemic racism), and this could have been a point of contention amongst the group's participants had they had a chance to argue.

For instance, Ms. Novak is participating in a capital-intensive food project -any rooftop is an excellent flat and sunny locale in these here boroughs, but access to them is a privilege in most circumstances. It takes social privilege or organizational prowess (capital) to gain access and the legal permissions to use this resource. On the street level, we have rubble strewn lots, fenced by chain-link and razor wire, with no obvious contact information should someone have the initiative to plant a vegetable garden. Owners and possible gardeners live in different communities, often have class barriers between them, and different ideas about social justice. Beyond these simple classifications, access and empowerment appears complicated by a large number of factors. The question remains, how do we provide the same quality of food for all people? After the panel, I didn't feel any closer to an answer.

A woman in the audience made a good point about farm land in what she termed "the global south." She said how the disenfranchised have lost the best farming land to corporations who now use that land with intensive practices, shipping all the produce to places like the United States. Our need for low-cost produce has helped prop up social systems where people cannot grow their own food in their own countries. Adding that growing one's own food is one major way to alleviate this social disaster.

This morning I received an email from Christina, who authors Bowsprite: a New York Harbor Sketchbook, and coincidentally, it was all about her visit to hear Michael Pollan speak about his new book, Food Rules (incidentally, I wonder if this will be his last on food for awhile). Anyhow, I put some of the points from the talk below:

I wrote out some points of the lecture for a friend who was working on a tug and could not be there. Just thought I'd send it to you because some of it is funny!

from Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" : 

Don't eat food your grandmother wouldn't recognize: that plastic tube of Gogurt, is it food? is it toothpaste?
Don't eat food that doesn't rot. The bugs want it for a reason!
Avoid food advertised on TV.
Eat food cooked only by human beings, not corporations.
"Who do you know who cooks with high-fructose corn syrup?"

Don't eat food prepared by humans who have to wear a surgical cap.
Eat it if it is a plant, not if it came from a plant.
If it is passed through the window of your car, it's not food.
Don't eat it if it is called the same thing in all languages.
Don't eat cereal if it changes the color of the milk.
Pay more, eat less (as grandmother says, "better to pay the grocer than the dr")
If you're not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry! (this one made me really laugh)

The banquet is in the first bite (also known as the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility to those in finance). Eating more gives you more calories, not more pleasure.

Spend as much time eating as it took to prepare the meal.
Rule #55: eat meals. It's so obvious, but it's so hard. People eat bkfast, lunch, dinner, and the 4th meal that lasts all day: snacking. Cut on snacking, eat sit-down meals. Studies found 1/5 of young adults' meals are eaten in the car.

Don't get your fuel from the same place as your car. They are processed corn stations.

Cook. Corporations can never cook as well as you, even if you do not cook well.

Christina asked what I thought of Window Farms. I checked out their website and my initial thought is, "please don't call these farms, at best -gardens." Windows in many apartment buildings and houses are terrible for growing for a variety of reasons. I'll list a few:
  • Light is not constant, and its intensity reduced
  • Temperature near the glass is often too hot or too cold and drafty
  • Poor air circulation often leads to diseased plants
A key photo on their home page is the hanging apparatus in a greenhouse window, which is an entirely different environment from a home.

Another organization Christina mentioned was Growing Power, Inc., which I have heard of and have been inspired by their work. Will Allen, the CEO, recently won a Mac Arthur Fellowship (the genius prize). He's made this transformation look easy!

The battle over food wages on...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So Hard, Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah, So Hard...

Catchy. Icy. The garden soil is hard like it hasn't been since, maybe, 2004. On Long Island, USDA zone 6a, as a child, I remember winter soil, rock hard, bleached by cold wind's parching. This isn't that, but closest it's come in a long while. I got lazy, took averages of late for new norms. Ah, throw a twist into it, wontchya! It'll be fine, really and of all those pathogens in the soil, maybe some'll die off. Here's to hoping. The big question is, will the salvia elegans survive the deep freeze? Its roots are probably pretty deep by now, but if the crown doesn't make it...And what about those potted herbs?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Take A Word Of Advice...Serve Real Florida Orange Juice...Orange Juice On Ice

I think this photo says it all.

 Citrus in Altoona, Florida. Image taken Sunday, January 10, 2010 by wunderphotographer CAVU.

Personally, I'm happy to have a winter where I don't have to worry that a high pressure ridge will set up over Greenland, blocking the easterly flow of weather systems,  allowing cold air to settle deep into the south while freezing my lemons off!

I can imagine all those global warming conversations now... but the reality is that it's been as warm in Greenland as it has been cold in Florida. A few days ago it was actually warmer at 10 am in Narsarsuaq, Greenland than in parts of Florida. Yesterday, you'd have a nicer time at the beach in Antarctica than you would have had at Daytona Beach. This is all part of how climate is not weather, but you knew that.

When Real Things Happen Virtually

Awhile back I came across this post in The Daily What and thought to post it now in the dead of winter. Apparently the vehicle photographing for the Street View on Google Maps hit a deer. The cameras captured the incident and it went up on Google Maps -for awhile.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fodder or Folly

I landed on this video presentation regarding a fairly well-worn topic these days: local food production. I watched it primarily because I am putting together a proposal for a, how should I say it, "micro-park" that takes the form of a food garden. Inherent to this project (folly?) is my life long interest in gardening, an interest in park design, our current obsession with food origins, and nagging thoughts that we have an increasingly abstract and aestheticized view of the farm and food garden. A quiver of doubt slung over my shoulder, I go back to my proposal. Below, the presentation:

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fish and Chips

This weekend is Mulchfest, the annual treat for seeing small trees rapidly sucked in and spit out as wood chips. From 10 am to 2 pm at various locations around NYC. Carry bags to certain locations so you can bring the remains home. See the link above for all locations.

And please, tackle your tinsel.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

But It Could Be Worse

January 6, 1988 will always be remembered as a bad day for chickens. Nearly 3.5 million chickens died at Heber Springs, AR on that day as 16 inches of snow fell on the town. Snow and ice up to three inches thick claimed another 1.7 million in north Texas while an additional two million died in Alabama.

The Ups and Downs of Being Back

Now that I am back from the pleasant quiet and sleepy pace of the Big Woods, I'm tossed right into the thick of NYC. Today, moving my old paintings and art supplies from my wife's studio to the storage (how miserable that is on its own), I promptly received two tickets from the Traffic Dept of NYC. One for an 'unattended commercial vehicle' and the other for parking on the sidewalk, for a total of $160. I was going as fast as I could, only damaging my stuff in the process! Since when must you be with the truck you are loading (and how can you be?) and since when can't you park on the sidewalk in front of commercial loading bays on extremely commercial Van Brunt in Red Hook? Must be all part of the retail-ization of the waterfront area. So my four hours with a rental truck cost me $200 instead of $45 doing something I really hated doing anyhow.

Thanks NYC, for kicking more dirt in the face of working class artists.

That aside, it is nice to be back. I am looking forward to making some lasagna (essentially the same recipe as my grandfathers- I make it so little, little chance for evolution) for some friends this weekend. Looking forward to the snowy weather on friday, I am actually beginning the meal that day.