Greater Goods April 14, 2009

Gardening in the city-and recipes for the cookies we ate during the discussion.

I spoke about urban gardening as it fits into the practice of everyday living, at Greater Goods a fantastic store that sells items to help you live sustainably. They sell well designed and consciously produced gardening tools and have the best selection of urban composters that I have seen anywhere. Our worm composter, our amazingly soft bamboo bath towels, a well designed market cart and many other items essential to everyday living come from the store.

I spoke to an engaged and well informed group who had lots of questions and valuable information to share. The group was an ideal size because it was possible to have a conversation.

Very abbreviated notes from the talk…..
When preparing for this talk or any talk I re-examine my everyday practice and in this case my gardening practice and how it relates to my life in so many different ways…

Started with a Michael Pollan quote that I have used in the past.

“...reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen.”

I started gardening in earnest when I lived in one floor of a Victorian house at the corner of 3rd and M streets NW. I started with flowers, lots of them on a fire escape but within weeks started taking over the yard of the rented house planting herbs, vegetables and fruit trees. At the time I owned a restaurant and it was very satisfying being able to supplement the food that we served with food that I grew in my own garden! This excitement about growing and harvesting food has not diminished over the last 15 years since I planted that first garden.

This year in addition to planting my own garden I am planting about 15 other gardens of various sizes which all incorporate some edible elements.
Some in a minor way such as a couple pots of herbs mixed in but many are more substantially productive. In a house in Wesley Heights we have plowed a large plot that will be dedicated to growing vegetables and fruit. In a house in Spring Valley several huge pots in a poolside back yard march towards the kitchen brimming with herbs in this same garden three large beautiful pots with different varieties of cherry tomatoes produce more than enough tomatoes for the family to eat. Last year there was a small plot of land where we planted corn……this year it will probably be blueberries.
On a small Georgetown brick patio we have lined the perimeter with planter boxes and are growing herbs, lettuces and will shortly plant some summer crops including tomatoes and cucumbers. We are also doing worm composting there which is an excellent way to compost in a small space.

All this to say….
Look at your available space. Think about what you would actually eat and enjoy and go from there.
Are you more of a few herbs in a window box type or are you ready to rip out your front lawn and plant rows of vegetables? How can you incorporate aesthetic considerations into your plan? Since we are talking about intimate urban spaces the way they function in regards to care, maintenance, productivity and beauty are all important.

I am particularly interested in growing food and flowers that I want that are not readily available. This brings me to lettuce, herbs and figs…the main stays of my home garden. Just picked lettuce is different from lettuce even purchased at the farmers market. It is fresher since you can pick it minutes before a meal and you can choose tender varieties that would not survive the trip to market. By choosing varieties thoughtfully and planting small crops often you can have lettuce from late winter until at least the first frost.

I use lots of herbs in cooking so for me my herb garden is essential. Usually walking in the door, especially this time of year through the fall, I grab a couple handfuls of herbs from my front yard herb garden and that is the beginning of my next meal. I am able to use hearty herbs such as rosemary, sage, bay and lavender throughout the year. Also by growing my own I have access to herbs that are favorites of mine but are rarely find at the market such as lemon verbena, lemon balm, chervil, salad burnett….

Did you know figs thrive in the DC area? We get buckets of figs from late August through the third week in September. All summer long I use the branches for flower arrangements. I enjoy the figs on their own both raw and roasted, in smoothies, salads, and with dark chocolate.

I am excited about my newest addition to my garden, three persimmon trees, Hopefully there will be a large crop to enjoy this fall and I look forward to watching them grow in the meantime.

I also have a large cutting garden that I use for my cut flower business…and again am interested in flowers that I cannot buy. Garden roses, special varieties of hydrangea and viburnum, white spring lilac, butterfly bush and specific varieties of peonies.

That is my garden but what about yours? What do you want to grow, how much time do you have, how much space and sun do you have?

This was followed by lots of questions about gardening specifics. Hopefully I provided some helpful answers and I also learned several things including that one of the participants mothers dumps her coffee grinds on the spot where she plants tomatoes every year and has the most beautiful tomatoes.

In conclusion, how can gardening best fit into your everyday practice to enhance your life?

The cookies-

Salty Rosemary Biscotti

2 3/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup sugar plus 3 tablespoons extra for rolling
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
8 tablespoons non hydrogenated shortening such as earth balance
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
1/2 cup pureed silken tofu
2 tablespoons water
1 cup rough chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons excellent quality medium ground salt such as pink Himalayan salt

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.In a food processor combine sugar and rosemary until sugar is green, about 1 minute.
3.In a mixer combine flour sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, salt.
4.Add shortening cut in 8 pieces and process until the consistency is like sand.
5.Add tofu and water then walnuts, mix until just fully incorporated, about 45 seconds.
6.On a large plate combine the extra sugar and the salt. Roll batter into 3 logs and roll each log in sugar and salt.
7.Bake until dry to touch and barely golden brown, about 15 minutes, remove from oven, turn oven off and let cool for 5 minutes.
8.Move biscotti to a cutting board and cut into slices that are 1/3 of and inch thick. Return cookies to baking tray and place in oven until they dry to your liking, 1 hour for fairly crispy cookies as long as several hours for extremely crispy cookies.

Lavender Oatmeal Cookies

2 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon honey or agave nectar
3/4 cup sugar in food processor
2 tablespoons lavender leaves
Pinch of salt

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.In a food processor puree sugar and lavender.
3.In a mixer combine oatmeal, soy milk, grapeseed oil, baking powder, honey, sugar and salt in a mixer with paddle attachment for 2 full minutes
4.Drop cookies on baking sheet and flatten with moist fingers
5.Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.