Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It Is So Warm

But you knew that. It feels like new clothes. It feels like youth. Winter has no teeth, only gums.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Eating Peppers Temporarily Mothballed

Two weeks ago I was shopping at Fairway. I needed red peppers for a recipe I was making that night, but Fairway didn't have any. Hmm, well I was off to Court Street to pick up something else, so I stopped into the Italian grocery and they had this incredible deal on just the kind of pepper I was looking for. If you can believe it, I bought the last two pound bag of long red peppers for $3.99! Almost too good of a deal for me to trust, but then I needed the peppers.

When I began to prepare the meal I tasted the fresh peppers and I thought there was an odd flavor to them, definitely not pepper, although they were highly sweet as the label said they would be. I kept coming up with manure, but the wrong kind of manure. Yet that never satisfied me, what was that flavor?

Two weeks later I decided to use the rest of these peppers. Boy, they sure held up well in the fridge. I chopped one and tasted the bottom tip. Bang! Mothballs! That is the flavor, however much milder than the mothball-flavored candy my grandmother used to have around the house. But truly, mothball-flavored peppers. OK, not going to use those, but I did google just that. I came up with very little, except a vegan blog post from 2007 where the author mentions the very same phenomenon. A modest number of commenters who googled the same found that site and posted their experience.

There appears to be a Canada connection. Ok, out-of-season red peppers, mothballs, Canada. It's funny enough to mention that I took the above photo to post about what a great deal I got on these peppers in Brooklyn and what it ends up doing is illustrating how these incredibly cheap peppers from Nicaragua via Canada taste a hell of a lot like mothballs - naphthalene or 1,4-dichlorobenzene (guys, you know this one -urinal biscuits).

I contacted Sunset and I will let you know what, if anything, they have to say about it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Warm Has It Been?

I sit in our dutiful van, rocking, nose running, both due to the brisk wind coming from the southwest that brings in the damp coolness of the ocean. We feel cold under it, but the plants don't seem to mind.

Sunny and in the forties, today became an opportunity for my midwinter visit to the beach farm. Last year around this time the beach farm was covered in several inches of snow.

How warm has it been? Well, all the broccoli that I didn't pull last November has continued to put out side shoots. The garlic, fortunately, stopped putting on new growth. Take a look at that earthworm -it's warm enough that they are active above the surface. The down side is that all of the undesirable creatures have not been killed off by several hard freezes. White flies that came in on my nursery-grown brassicas have hung on quite tenaciously. After pulling four heads for tonight's dinner, I placed them on the fence, where the white flies, irritated by the stinging wind, began to move about to find safer quarters.

We enjoy the warmer than average winter, but afterwards we will curse it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

If You Do Not Come For Winter...

You'll miss the spring. It's too early for this. Yes, a warmer than average winter indeed.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wrath of Winter

After litter mobbing I went through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden on my way to the subway. What blooms there were.

A Blanket of Christmas Trees

On my way to litter pickup in Prospect Park, I was greeted by this most welcome scent.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I make an effort, a rather minor one, to keep the seed tray small. Catalogues aren't as exciting when there is no room to grow. This year, I focus. Brassicas for the fall in the garlic beds. Tomatoes, tossing out the less than stellar, trying new varieties. Herbs: cilantro, basil, fennel seed (yes!), and parsley. Snap peas and cucumbers in their place. One or two eggplant.

There is no room any longer for peppers in my life. Greens? Oh, I did buy some head-forming lettuce. Where will that go? And carrots? I know what I did wrong last year, but where? Oh, yes -the bed of weed garlic! That's where the carrots can go. Vineale is pulled in late spring.

Did I say focus? I bought 5 varieties of french filet beans. Why? Something or other about outdoing myself. I've always had success with bush beans, so when someone says that filet types are too much work, I need to see for myself. Three greens, one yellow, and one purple.

But where will they go?

The orchestration, the choreography, of a small plot is no small affair. It is a complex logistics dividing space and time, condition against condition. City gardeners know this, where limitations are posed by outlying parameters, not one's will to turn more and more soil.

The seed tray holds the future, but it is the worry of January.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I'm back in NYC, have been for nearly a week. It's good, but there is always an adjustment when you've been away for three weeks.

I read recently that gardening, itself, was nostalgic. I was surprised by this. Really? Not just modes of gardening or styles of design? Gardening itself. Maybe I am more startled by my own surprise than by the notion that it is nostalgic.

We live in cities -dense concrete and steel environments sprinkled with trees and shrubs. More often than not the plants in our daily lives have been an afterthought, plunked in a sidewalk cut by giant wet saws. Parks are our refuge, environments that, through aging design, appear nostalgic, but are kept vibrant by constant and changing use.

Is gardening nostalgic? I've often joked about our current phase of back to the land. I call it back to the potting soil. This cyclic manifestation of perceived imbalance and corruption, is it nostalgic? I don't have the brain power to think to deeply about this right now, but I'll ruminate on it for awhile.

I received a pile of books for the holidays. Halfway through Karel Capek's The Gardener's Year, but then there are the heavier titles: The Machine in the Garden (Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America) by Leo Marx, Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape by Dennis E. Cosgrove, and Landscape and Power edited by W.J.T. Mitchell.

Meanwhile, it's back to school, back to the studio, back to bi-weekly tuesday trash in Prospect Park, back to website work for the garlic farm, and back to blogging on a computer, instead of the less than ideal mobile device.

Snow storm this weekend?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New City Parks

We always miss it, but not this time.

Minneapolis has a parks district called Three Rivers. Within this district, at its most western boundary, lies a park named Gale Woods Farm. Mr. Gale donated his property to the city with the condition that it remain a working farm. These days you can see the animals being raised, watch the corn grow, and buy some of it in season.

This is a very powerful concept: buy meat and produce at the city park. On every visit I have missed the slaughter and consequently missed the opportunity to try the meat. But not this year. Because of my Iowa exhibit I stayed in town longer and, because of that, I was around long enough to find some roast pork at their store.

I say store, but it is really just a reach-in fridge. I bought a shoulder roast which was delicious, although not quite cut in the way familiar to me. The flavor was simply more powerful and very moist but without the salt solution most pork is bathed in today. I will buy that city parks meat again if I am again around during the slaughter.

Could you imagine something like this in NYC?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Gravel Pit At Sundown

A reminder that Minnesota is a glacially formed landscape. A pit full of gravel and others that look like river stones. Its steep sides host cedar, birch, and grasses.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Black Earth

Around here, and for a stretch into Iowa, the soil is a rich, dark, almost black, earth. Not just the farmlands, but in the woods as well. It's full of carbon.

What is it used for? Mostly corn, and lately, for building more and more “executive homesites.” But that is a digression.

I can see that some fields have been plowed quite recently. This is unusual. The fields are typically under a few inches of snow and deeply frozen.

It's been exceptionally warm thanks to the Arctic Oscillation. It is normal in my experience for the high temperatures to be around 15 degrees and the low near zero, but we've remained above freezing most every day. Some days reach the mid-forties. That's coastal weather, yet it feels much warmer here than it does in NYC when it is the same temperature. Maybe it is because there is little to no wind and little dampness to soak your bones here. I've been outside working on my van in temperatures I would scoff at for the same activity in NYC.

In a few days time I will be off to Iowa, hopefully with a working heater, charger, and dash lights. From there, cats in tow, I will dash back to NYC.

It's time to get rolling again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mi Caucus e Su Caucus

If I were a candidate for president running in Iowa, I would not be talking about ethics, or business savvy, or trustworthiness. No. I wouldn't bring up manufacturing jobs either. They're not coming back the way we imagine. What would I steer the conversation toward? Farming.

Iowa is American agriculture. An entire third of the state is designated a national heritage area in partnership with the National Park Service. It's soil and climate are ideal. I see too little reason why we are not looking for Iowa made products and no reason why we are not clamoring for Iowa grown produce. Except that Iowa, with the exception of a few forward thinking farmers and producers, is caught in the conventional agribusiness mindset and unwilling to unravel itself.

There are millions in this country willing to pay more for better quality, better agricultural standards, better livestock practices, and better labor practices. Most of us cannot buy pork from Flying Pigs, it's just too darn expensive. We need larger producers who are willing to maintain higher standards, use less additives (salt solutions for instance), enact much better labor practices, and charge 25 percent more (or even more) per pound. I can't afford Flying Pigs bacon, but I certainly can afford higher cost pork and do not think that I am alone.

Why can't Iowa be the heart of grass fed beef (and bison) in this country? Millions of acres of feed corn are waiting to be converted to the more sustainable practice. Consider lamb and goat while you are at it.

I think of all the discriminating Italian markets and other quality grocers who are already selling Iowa produced, value-added agricultural products like la Quercia pork. Check out what they have to say about their farmers and pigs.

Iowa, your state will never be a manufacturing hub, a cultural center, or a financial powerhouse, but you could have a piece of all those things if some visionary leadership was taken. Imagine people looking for that IOWA stamp on the side of cured ham, grass fed beef, or organic produce.

If Iowans can't see it now, they may very well never see it. The Romneys and Gingrichs and Santorums of the world don't care much for these ideas, but I tell you what- they sure as hell know good pork when they see it.

Good luck Iowa.

After Before

The red eggplant I was encouraged to take at the Minneapolis area farmers' market had lived on Rex's shelf and shriveled to its current state. I had forgotten about it and didn't recognize it upon our return. What a beautiful fruit- dried or fresh.

Incidentally, I've been posting on my other blog Letters From The Big Woods. Find it in the left hand sidebar. Unfortunately, links are not easily added in the blogger mobile application. Maybe next year.