Book Review, Growing Food

Book Review: Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington

A couple of months ago, I moved into a different bedroom (same apartment) with a balcony. It’s a very decent-sized balcony and has a fun view of Manhattan, a cemetery, and an insane boulevard. What a privilege to have an outdoors space in the city! I’ve been patiently waiting out the cold New York winter to take advantage of it. While we were blessed with a mild winter, hanging outdoors is still no fun when it’s under 50 degrees. My balcony got no love the past three months. The only thing chilling out there was my roomie’s groceries cart.

But as Spring has started to arrive, I’ve been busy prepping for my plan to make the most of my balcony. I ordered chairs, moved the shopping cart to its new home under the couch, and began doing research on balcony gardening. I’ve never grown anything. I don’t even have an understanding of.basic plant care that may seem like common sense to most. I bought two indoor plants and killed them both within a week. (Overwatering…what is that?!) Needless to say, I’m intimidated, and need all the guidance I can get.

Amy Pennington started a biweekly series on how to start growing your own food, City Dirt, on a blog I read religiously: Food52’s The A + M Blog. I noticed she just published a book in early March called Apartment Gardening: Plants, Projects, and Recipes for Growing Food in Your Urban Home (my Amazon affiliate program link). I ordered a copy of the paperback version, thinking there would be a lot of photos. Turns out the book and is black and white with cute illustrations. So if you have Kindle, go for the Kindle version.

I like that the book is short and sweet, and doesn’t overwhelm a beginner like myself. Amy suggests a few vegetables, fruits, herbs, and edible flowers that are easy to grow, and includes directions and recipes for growing and eating them. (Yes, I’m comfortable with pretending I’m on a first name basis with authors.) As she lives in the Pacific Northwest, which has an even shorter growing season than we have here in NYC, I thought it would be safe to follow her suggestions on what to grow. I ordered seeds for strawberries, zucchini, and arugula. She didn’t recommend tomatoes, but as a) it’s warmer in NYC and I have a sunny balcony, b) I got a Topsy Turvy planter from my wonderful boyfriend for Christmas, and c) I effing LOVE tomatoes, I’m going to take a stab at it.

Amy  writes about what you need to begin your apartment garden, seed starting, how to take care of your plants, and DIY garden ideas for you crafty people out there. It’s a fun read and a good beginner’s guide. I recommend this book for new gardeners like myself. Experienced growers may not get as much out of it, unless you wish to learn more about organic/natural options, or want some recipes and DIY ideas. My only disappointment was that, given this was my first gardening book, I didn’t feel like it broke it down for me quite as simply as I hoped for. I really should have started with a Gardening for Dummies type of book. If you’re completely new to growing like I am, pick up a copy of Amy’s book, but be sure to continue to seek out other books and resources!

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Growing Food

Spring is Here + An Experiment in Urban Gardening

It’s ironic that I’m writing this on a day that started with 30 degree weather, but Spring has arrived early and is here to stay in NYC! I’m going to assume today was the exception and that I will not be breaking out my winter jacket from my under-the-bed storage again. Mother nature must be PMSing because the weather has been a little crazy. It started off like Spring, then jumped to hot, hot summer weather, then it was freezing the past 2 days, but the next several days should be in the 50s and 60s. Let’s hope we get proper Spring weather for a while so I can maximize window of opportunity for outdoor running. I’m a diva and don’t do anything outside of the 50 – 70 degrees range. Don’t judge.

But the most exciting part for me is that Spring produce is a-comin’. (See previous post about eating with the seasons). I’ve spotted flowers and herbs at the farmers market I volunteer at…and more importantly, SPINACH. I love squashes and potatoes, but this girl is ready for some greens.

I moved to a new room within the same apartment back in January, and guess what…I have a balcony! I’ve been busy doing research on how I can start a balcony garden and start growing my own produce. It’s going to be a challenge because I have never grown anything. Ever. In fact, I bought my first plants (tulips and irises) earlier this month and killed them both within a week. It’s going to be an interesting experiment. I’ll be documenting my attempts at urban gardening here so do stick around. Fellow beginners, let’s figure this out together. Experienced gardeners with mad skills, I need your help!

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Local Food, Lunch and Dinner

Eating with the Seasons

I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (Loving it so far. Pick up a copy.) It’s about her family’s story of how they committed to eat local for one year. They only consumed what they bought raised in their own neighborhood or grew themselves, and learned to pretty much live without the rest.

The idea wasn’t new to me–I’m an advocate for local food, and both volunteer and shop at farmers markets. I know I’ll never take it to the extreme that Kingsolver did, but I felt good that I bought local more than most people do. What was new to me was the thought of living without what you can’t get locally. I shop based on what recipe I want to make, meaning I’ll buy what happens to be available at the farmers market and get the rest from the health food store, not caring where it traveled from nor whether or not it’s in season.

Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve decided to commit a little further to local food. Or at least get in the habit of eating with the seasons. We’re currently getting this bizarre hot weather for March here in NYC. I left work on Tuesday feeling like it was a summer’s evening. I kept imagining going home and making myself a big sexy plate of salad greens and lots of juicy raw tomatoes, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I loooove tomatoes. They’re my fave. But then I thought of the book and it occurred to me that it wasn’t remotely close to tomato season here in New York. I wanted a tomato, and while I could technically get one, it was grown far, far away. I would go without that night.

You know what is in season, though? Kale. I adapted this recipe from the Kitchn using kale instead of collard greens. I cooked it up with onion and bacon while I simultaneously made some leftover quick-cooking polenta I had in the cupboard. I topped the polenta with the kale and bacon mixture and a fried egg, threw some parmesan and a few drops of hot sauce on top, and had an extremely satisfying meal. This is a well-balanced dish (especially if you’re generous with the kale), and would make a delicious breakfast too.

I see why they call it food porn. It feels so dirty getting all up in my dish to snap sexy pictures of her bits.

I’ve gotten rid of everything on my to-make recipe list that isn’t mainly comprised of food I can get locally right now. Moving forward, I’m planning the recipes around the produce and not vice versa. No, not all parts of this meal was local, and yes I will probably end up buying a tomato or two next winter. But hey, it’s a start.

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Dessert

S’more Inspiration

I had the fam over for dinner last weekend and thought I’d try this Hot Chocolate Popover recipe. I don’t know much about popovers; I’ve only had them once at the Popover Café in the Upper West Side with their delicious strawberry butter. Despite my limited popover experience, I would like to think mine came out pretty good. I was a little skeptical about how liquid-y my batter looked at first, but sure enough, they popped over! My only difficulty was toasting the marshmallows without burning the pastry a little. I liked the fact that they were light and airy–a nice change from the dense desserts I tend to eat.

So, I had a ton of marshmallows and chocolate chips leftover the next day. I didn’t feel like making popovers again, but wanted to treat myself to a small single serving sweet treat. Using what I had in my cupboard and inspired by the marshmallows and chocolate, I created some S’More Oatmeal.

First, I combined quick-cooking oats (’cause I’m lazy), water, and unsweetened cocoa powder in a little bowl, and cooked it in the microwave.

Then I took a heaped (heap as much as possible) tablespoon of dark chocolate chips…

…then I mixed the chips in the hot oatmeal with a small splash of milk.

Finally, I topped my chocolate oatmeal with a big fluffy marshmallow and stuck it under the broiler for a minute. There you go. An almost guilt-free dessert! Or a really bad breakfast, depending on how you look at it. It’s super simple to make. The hard part is only eating one bowl. I already want s’more S’more Oatmeal.

S’More Oatmeal
Makes 1 serving
Aboout 340 calories per serving

1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground flax seed (optional)
1 (heaped) tablespoon dark chocolate chips
1 tablespoon milk
1 honey graham cracker (optional)
1 large marshmallow

Set your broiler on high and move an oven rack to within 5-6 inches of the broiler flame.

Combine oats, water, and cocoa powder (and ground flax seed if you want a small nutritional boost) in a ramekin or small oven-safe bowl. Microwave for one minute.

Add chocolate chips and milk to the oatmeal, and stir until chocolate has melted and is mixed in. It should look like one big, delicious chocolate mess. Top with crumbled or chopped graham cracker, if you wish.

Put the marshmallow on top of your oatmeal and put the bowl under the broiler for about a minute until toasted to your liking. Dig in immediately.

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Veggies

Rediscovering Brussels Sprouts

The cool thing about a) being and adult and b) developing my palate is that I can start going back to all the foods I used to hate growing up, and pleasantly rediscover how great something can taste. Like 99.99999% of the rest of the world’s population (not a real statistic), I used to loathe brussels sprouts. I felt kind of guilty about it ’cause, c’mon, these little dudes are repping the capital of my father’s country! When I started getting curious about cooking a couple of years ago, but lacked any actual cooking skills, I attempted to steam brussels sprouts.

Barf.

That reaffirmed my belief that they are just gross. It wasn’t until last year when dining at an Italian restaurant with friends that I discovered how good can they be! I guess it’s just one of those foods you need to cook right.

I love any excuse to roast things, so when I saw this recipe for Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts, I jumped on the opportunity to prepare some slammin’ sprouts and wash away the sins of that stank steamed mess I created two years ago.

First, you need quality ingredients. Don’t get that fake syrup at the supermarket. Lucky for me, the maple syrup guys just came back to my farmer’s market that week.

I crisped some pancetta while my brussels sprouts were roasting.

Then I tossed everything together, et voilà! Glorious, sweet brussels sprouts.

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