Saturday, June 21, 2008

How Green is My Kitchen – The Organic Community Garden

It’s not easy being green, but I’ve noted a touch of chlorophyll pulsing through my veins as of late. Determined to eat locally – to the best of my abilities – I’ve shunned produce from Chile, worshipped at the compost bin of Barbara Kingsolver and become an apostle of Michael Pollan. I even purchase Martha Stewart’s “Good Things for a Healthy Home.”

Yet practical solutions are far more challenging than embracing rhetoric. The produce demographic of the typical Long Island grocery store resembles a well-traveled TripTik from The American Automobile Association and it’s often wilted or even rotten, as well.

So, as is often the case, I go online for options and quickly find myself at LocalHarvest, a bountiful web resource for everything from farmers markets to organic produce. I type in my zip code and…it is as if the Red Sea has parted.

It must be divine intervention. Who would have imagined that among the strip malls and gridlock of suburban Long Island one could find an organic community garden? It is like manna from heaven, and just to push the celestial analogies to the limit, check this out – it’s run by an order of Dominican nuns.

Welcome to Sophia Garden, a little organic patch of God’s country in Amityville, Long Island and a mission of the Sisters of St. Dominic who have lived on the land and often farmed it since 1875. I rejoice to see that memberships are still available.

The next day I dial up and secure a share. For a very small price and a commitment to work 15 hours during the season in the garden, I will get 10 to 15 pounds of vegetables every two weeks. It sounds so easy, and the community involvement will be fun. I note the first Saturday garden work day on my calendar and plan to attend.

Almost immediately, my failings as a localvore become painfully obvious. I arrive home horribly late from a business trip and sleep through the first work day. For an entire week after, I live in fear of being disciplined by the nuns for cutting class. I am wracked with guilt, which is easy when the clergy is involved.

Then, I read the fine print more carefully and discover that the Saturday work days don’t even count towards my 15 hour quota. That means I’m going to have to take a few days off to meet my work commitment. I commiserate with a working mom colleague who is intrigued by such activities but bemoans the lack of time in her schedule. “Can’t I get my housekeeper to cover my commitment?” she wonders.

As the growing season moves on, I’ve not managed to log a single hour of weeding in the garden and conclude that I am guilty of the sin of organic omission.

Finally, I receive notification that my first pickup of produce is scheduled for mid-June. I plan carefully so I can be there to commune with the farmland…and another business trip comes up. So, I must impose on my parents to make the first pickup and deposit the harvest in my crisper while I am away.

My localvore experiment is already fractured and my parents are cutting into their gasoline budget to pick up my organic vegetables. During high school, they chauffeured me, and now they’re chauffeuring my vegetables.

Several thoughts begin to germinate. First, I offer my parents a cut of the initial harvest (no sense wracking up more guilt). I decide not to go to the grocery store, since my refrigerator will be overflowing with produce. Then, I recall that – according to Barbara Kingsolver – in the cool, early spring and start of summer, it is the season of tender leaves and shoots. On the airplane to the West Coast (not helping my carbon footprint, either) I obsess over whether I’ll be eating lettuce at every meal. How will I creatively prepare, eat and store the yield? I’ve got to make sure I plan my meals carefully so ten pounds of veggies don’t go rotten on me. Where is Clarence Birdseye when you need him?

I arrive home from San Francisco at 2:00 in the morning and head straight to the crisper. As anticipated, the yield is mostly salad greens. Peter Rabbit would have a field day. Do you know what 10 pounds of lettuce looks like? Mom can’t even fit it all in the crisper. But, it is divine! It is the wee hours of the morning, I am examining glorious produce, and my fingers are covered with dirt and grit. I could almost sing the “Ode to Joy!” It's like a little revival meeting right there in my kitchen.

I still have to do my penance – 15 hours of hard labor in the Garden of Eden – and I’ve already got a conflict with the next upcoming workday. I’ll have to let my conscience sort that all out. In the meantime, I must decide how to prepared my share of the first harvest – my bags of “vegetable love.” As always, Mom is detail-oriented and leaves me a thorough written inventory:

Red romaine lettuce
Green romaine lettuce
Butter lettuce
Garlic snaps
Haiku turnips
Mixed radishes
Snap peas
Sugar peas
Mixed field greens
A handful of mesclun greens

The next night, I get to work planning my plant-focused menu for the week. Thank goodness I didn’t let my Professional Declutterer dispose of the salad spinner during Spring Cleaning. Soon, my head will be spinning from excessive use of the salad spinner.

Among the menu items I’ve created are a Chicken Caesar Salad with leafy red and green romaine lettuce and homemade croutons:

A “composed salad” atop peppery, bitter field greens with sweet, tender radishes, raw slices of Haiku turnips, organic hard-cooked eggs and organic chick peas:

A salad of sliced apples, Roquefort cheese and homemade candied walnuts drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar:

Meantime, I’ve been working on getting my terms straight. It took me too long to figure out that CSA wasn’t a public accounting accreditation. I’ve also learned that Alice Waters’ “The Art of Simple Food” is my friend. The Queen of Romaine Hearts knows her lettuce, and I now know the appropriate ratio of vinegar to oil (1:4) for preparation of the perfect vinaigrette. I also spend a lot of time rinsing produce. My kitchen sink has rings of dirt in it, but that’s a very good thing.

Okay, if you want to be a purist, I know I’m not a complete localvore. Who knows where the chicken and anchovies came from for the Caesar salad, right? And, I still have to visit Sophia Garden and get my hands dirty to make it all real in my mind. But, tonight I took my big bowl of salad outside with a glass of Chardonnay from a New York state vineyard and ate dinner at twilight to celebrate the Summer Solstice. The lettuce is piled a mile high in suburban Long Island and I am loving it!

©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Kathy said...

This is now officially my favorite post of yours. I can hardly quit laughing. Your salads look absolutely delicious. It is worth the trouble, isn't it?

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Even small steps toward a more green lifestyle are significant, so don't worry if your involvement in your CSA isn't off to a perfect start. You are being the change you want to see in the world. And you're getting tons of great salad fixing, too!

Nupur said...

What a wonderful post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Playing hookey from business meetings and working in a garden instead sounds like fun!
Your salads look delicious.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

OOh, I'm so happy you have found a green paradise in the city.

~~louise~~ said...

Hi T.W.

Thanks for the Heads Up on Sophia Garden. I had heard about it years ago and never could figure out where it was.

Did you save any shreds of those awesome looking salads for the folks?

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Kathy - I accept your "favorite post" designation! I was suprised how labor intensive it actually was to prepare salads, but you are right - it is worth the extra effort!

Lydia - that's me, King of the "small steps." Fortunately, it tastes great!

Nupur - Thanks so much! I'll probably accomplish more in the garden too!

Hi Susan - I've always been jealous of your farmers market bounty on the west coast, but now I feel like a contender!

Hi Louise - my parents got a nice share, and they have been preparing some wonderful dinner salads at their house this week. Hopefully, I'll be able to report on a work day at Sophia Garden soon, with pictures.

Anonymous said...

salad spinner blues

hiya - one of my favorite food blog stops - really.

I don't have and never used a salad spinner.

I do what my mother did. Wash the greens the day before, wrap in a non-terry cloth kitchen towel (linen's best, no lint at all), and use later that day or the next. It lasts a day or two less in the fridge than unwashed lettuce, but is wonderfully crisp.

No need for the crisper drawer, either. Use a tupperware type container or not, too. Mom had a celery container with a rack at the bottom to drain off any extra water, but that's unnecessary. Just let the greens drip dry for awhile and refergerate several hours to over night.

really, it works.

Cindy Smith

wheresmymind said...

Martha Stewart book, eh? I just can't get into here

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Cindy - thanks for visiting! Great advise - I'll give it a try, as I know there is more lettuce on the way.

Jeff - what can I say? It was a weak moment. It's actually a pretty thorough guide to green products, food, etc.

Rochelle R. said...

I loved the humor in this post and your salads look delicious. How did you keep the greens from wilting before you could eat them?

Thistlemoon said...

It all looks delicious! I couldn't agree more with your philosophy! I can't wait to check out the Local Harvest website! All of your salads look amazing! I just love how local greens stay crisp for absurdly long periods of time!

Stella said...

lucky lucky you! I love this beautiful salad of yours!

Rachel said...

Laughed out loud at your despair at having your parents chauffeur your salad greens. Great post! I have a home garden and love this time of year when I can step out "to market" in my own backyard and pull in tender salads.


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Rochelle - As Jenn mentions, it's amazing how long the lettuce has held up - I'm still eating it and it's very fresh. Much better than what I get at the grocery.

Jenn - You should absolutely spend some time on Local Harvest - it's a great resource for farms, farmers markets and even restaurants that focus on locally grown food.

Stella - every night, I think how lucky I was to get a membership. I can't wait for the next pickup!

Rachel - Thanks for visiting! Your garden looks great - I really wish I had the ability to care for a garden at home, but the community share is a great alternative!

Andrea Meyers said...

(laughing) You have quite a collection of lettuces! Your story sounds so much like me intentions gone awry with other commitments. That's great that you could find something like this in Long Island of all places!

LocalHarvest is an awesome resource.

Cakespy said...

Oh, this post just screams summer! And you kept me laughing through the life of these greens til the sweetest ending of all, with a glass of wine and a heap of them ready to eat. :-)

Anonymous said...

Another great post, TW! Ten pounds of lettuce IS a humungus amount!
Love all the salads you made. Watch those nuns. They'll give you a rap on your knuckles with a yard stick ;)

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Hi Andrea - Your garden adventures have inspired me, but it seemed like the nuns would do more nurturing of the lettuce than I would!

Hi Cakespy! Happy Summer! Do you think you could invent a lettuce cupcake?

Hi Maryann - I'm watching out for my knuckles, but being a good boy and eating my vegetables!

Tiffany said...

Wow, what a great blog, and thanks for the LocalHarvest tip- who knew we had so many little markets all around us!

I'll definetly link up to you on my site :)