The Best Part of My Current Office

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working at an in-house web editing gig. The offices are on the 15th floor of a typical, nondescript building in the 30s — there’s nothing remarkable about the space except for this feature: a tiny patio that looks out at water towers, rooftops, and other buildings. Sure, there are cigarette butts scattered around the floor and the railing and door are rusty. But it feels like such a luxury to be able to step outside and get a breath of fresh air every so often in a quiet spot in the middle of midtown.

Pisto: The Best CSA Dish, To Date

I was thrilled that last week’s CSA share included summer squash. It’s one of those vegetables that I often neglect to buy but enjoy every time I eat. Usually I just slice the squash and saute it with olive oil and pepper, but this time I wanted to try something new.

Enter NYT’s “Recipes for Health” series. I’m a big fan because the recipes are generally pretty simple, don’t require a ton of ingredients I don’t already have, and are, well, healthy (in theory). Plus, the series features recipes built around a specific ingredient, which makes searching a cinch. On the summer squash page, the “Pisto Manchego with Eggs” dish caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of pisto before, but according to the recipe, it’s “a savory mixture of summer squash, onions, garlic andВ tomatoesВ usually cooked down until the squash falls apart.”В 

That description, plus the fact that it included eggs poached in the pisto, sold me. As it turns out, it was the tastiest dish we’ve made with our CSA veggies yet. The squash, which was tender to begin with, was cooked until it melt-in-your-mouth soft, and the eggs were the perfect, slightly creamy offset to the tart tomato flavor.

Pisto1The ingredients: four chopped summer squash, one chopped onion, four minced garlic cloves, one can of tomatoes with the juice set aside.

Pisto2Sauteing the squash and onions

Pisto3The squash, onions, and tomatoes cooked for 35 minutes.

Pisto4Add four eggs directly into the mix, and Pisto!

Pisto5We ate the delicious dishВ with side of crusty rosemary-olive bread and swiss chard (which was good, but not a great accompaniment to the pisto).

Michael Jackson Remembered in Harlem

The Apollo Theater has become NYC’s unofficial Michael Jackson mourning spot. Soon after the King of Pop’s death, heartbroken fans transformed a makeshift wall next to the theater into a shrine covered with scrawled remembrances and photos. Yesterday, thousands of mourners attended an MJ tribute at the venue that included music, dancing, and a eulogy by Al Sharpton. Tonight, the Apollo’s Amateur Night will be dedicated to Jackson.

My gym is in Harlem, right across the street from the Apollo, and I stopped by after my workout. It was only 9 a.m. but people were already writing messages on the memorial wall; others were lined up outside the theater. Nearby, TV vans waited by the curb and vendors unloaded Michael Jackson merchandise onto folding tables.

It was hard to look at the makeshift memorial and not feel a little choked up. No matter how odd or freakish Jackson has been in the past years, there’s no denying the impact he had on music — or the impact his music had on the world — and an incredible amount of talent has gone to waste.

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A Weekend at Seneca Lake

Every summer, my friend Barb rents a house on Seneca Lake, rounds up a group of people, and heads upstate for a long weekend. Barb had invited me once or twice in the past, but I never made it up, owing, mostly, to a lack of vacation days. But this year, work wasn’t an issue. I received Barb’s invite just as I had finished a whirlwind month of freelance work and was itching for a vacation. A few days on a lake sounded good to me!

My carpool of four departed NYC on Wednesday afternoon. To get to the Finger Lakes region, we drove through New Jersey and Pennsylvania before cutting back into New York. Once we left the city behind, the scenery was beautiful; green mountains framed the road near the Delaware Water Gap, and we rode past valleys and farmland once we were back in New York State.

It was pitch black by the time we drove through Watkins Glen and the other little towns close to our rented house. During the daytime, the bustling downtown strips convey that retro, 1950s-small-town-USA feel, but at night, the deserted streets were a little spooky. At a local convenience, we purchased a YuenglingВ 12-pack for $11 from a bearded guy in camo overalls — an undeniable reminder that we were hours away from NYC. (“I feel like we’re getting away with something…” one of my carpool members remarked.)

To get to the lake house, we had to turn off the main road and drive 15 minutes down a dirt road flanked by corn fields. All that was missing from this horror movie setting was a ax wielding psychopath jumping in front of our headlights. After a few harrowing wrong turns, we finally arrived at a row of houses perched along Seneca Lake.В 

I expected our rental to be nice, but I was surprised at how nice it was. The two-story house was bright, airy, immaculately clean, and fully stocked with kitchenware and pluffy towels. Two of the four bedrooms had fireplaces; the one Ryan and I shared didn’t, but it had cool mint walls, a high, white-paneled ceiling, and cute rustic signs advertising nautical attractions like “Yacht Club” and “Bait.” Despite the country-style decor, the place wasn’t lacking modern amenities: Every room had a flat-screen TV, and the entire house — plus the porch and private dock — were wired to a digital stereo system (which was perfect for blasting hours of MJ for a “memorial dance party” after we learned of the King of Pop’s death on Thursday afternoon).

I didn’t get to take in the beauty of our surroundings until the next morning. A brilliant blue sky and calm waters greeted me when I looked out the screen door. Every house near us had a private dock, and across the way, green hills loomed above the lake. The weather wasn’t very warm during our time there, and the water was way too cold for swimming, though I probably wouldn’t have spent much time in the water, anyway. (Seneca Lake is one of the deepest lakes in North American, and still bodies of water kind of creep me out — as in, who knows what’s lurking beneath the surface…) We spent most of our time on the dock.

Seneca2The house

Seneca3Our dock at dusk

Seneca1В View from the dock

Seneca4В Another view from the dock

Seneca6Sunset over Seneca Lake

On Friday, five of us peeled ourselves off the dock long enough to go wine tasting. Seneca Lake is home to 35 wineries, and the region is known for its whites. As we drove past vineyards on Route 14, we noted that many tasting rooms flew pink flags advertising Riesling.В 

We hit four wineries: Red Tail Ridge Winery, Anthony Road Wine Company, Prejean Winery, and Four Chimneys Organic Winery. Red Tail Ridge boasts a number of green initiatives (such as designing its vineyards to conserve water and soil), and Anthony Road had gorgeous grounds that overlooked Seneca Lake. But none of the wines at the first three wineries wowed me. I most impressed with the vinoВ and the ambience at our last stop.В 

DSCN2980Red Tail Ridge’s vineyard

DSCN2981Anthony Road’s tasting room

DSCN2984Anthony Road’s grounds

Four Chimneys, which opened in 1980, claims to be the first organic winery in North America. It had a much more cozy, less refined atmosphere than the previous wineries.В Its tasting room was set in an old barn that had rough-hewn wooden floors. Two friendly cats strolled around soliciting pets from tasters. (Any place with cute cats wins points with me.) And right after we arrived, a flash thunderstorm blew in, trapping us in the tasting room. Tough life, I know.

DSCN3006Four Chimneys Organic Winery

DSCN2998A slightly blurry shot of the Four Chimneys cats

We sampled several wines that bore playful names like Eye of the Bee (a grape flavored wine), First Love (a sweet white), and Raspberry Sunrise (a very sweet, fruity wine). I especially like the dry Kingdom Red and First Love.В 

After we made our purchases, we saw that the skies had cleared — perfect timing for driving back to the house and heading to the dock.

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What I Made with the First CSA Veggies

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At this week’s pick-up, I got one head of romaine, one bunch of kale, one bunch of green chard, one bok choy, one bundle of scallions, one bundle of French breakfast radishes, one pot of oregano and thyme, four garlic scapes, two kohlrabis, and a quart of strawberries.

On the first night, I decided to make the kale for dinner, since I had made it before.В I wanted to tackle the garlic scapes, too, mostly because I wasn’t sure how long they’d keep. When I them, I accidentally typed in “garlic scrapes,” but my mistake took me to aВ blog, called the Gorham Garden, that had a post about “garlic scrapes” — which included a recipe for nut-free pesto. (I’m allergic to nuts, so I was very excited to find a pesto recipe that didn’t call for pine nuts or walnuts.) Another quick Google search — this time spelling “scapes” correctly — informed me that garlic scapes are best used in pesto. That solidified it. I decided to make pesto sauce, with the recipe I found on the Gorham Garden blog, and use it on a simple portobello-tomato-ciabatta sandwich with a side of kale for dinner.

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Pesto ingredients: four garlic scapes, basil leaves, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano.

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I chopped the scapes into small pieces and pureed them in a food processor. Then, I added the basil, pureed it, put in the oil and cheese, and pureed the mixture again. Here’s a shot of the finished pesto:

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Next, I washed the kale and chopped the leaves without removing the stems. Riffing off this Food Network recipe, I sauteed the kale with one large garlic clove, steamed it for a few minutes, and added a tablespoon of sherry vinegar and a dash of sea salt and pepper.

Here are two shots of the complete meal. The kale was slightly sweet and very tender. The scapes gave the pesto more of a spicy kick than regular pesto has. I was very pleased with my first CSA meal!В 

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Roasted portobello with sliced tomato and pesto on kalamata olive ciabatta.

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Yesterday, my sister and I decided to use the bok choy in a simple stir fry. (We used this NYT recipe as a guide, but omitted the red pepper and chili paste.) She’s more talented in the kitchen than I am, so she browned the tofu:

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After the tofu was cooked, we threw in some oil, one minced garlic clove, and a teaspoon of grated ginger into the wok. Once the garlic was simmering, we added the chopped bok choy and a bit of water. When most of the water was cooked out, we added the tofu, some soy sauce and sprinkled chopped scallions over the mixture. We served the tofu and bok choy over buckwheat noodles with a few splashes of Sriracha. Mmm…

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First Washington Heights CSA Pick-Up of the Season

I wanted to join a CSA since I first read about community supported agriculture. The majority of my grocery budget goes to buying produce (mostly organic), but I tend to buy the same fruits and veggies (spinach, arugula, bok choy, mushrooms, bananas, plums, etc.) all the time because they’re what I’m familiar with and they’re usually not too expensive. I’m also not a great cook — I’m constantly stuck in food ruts — and I figured a CSA would force me to learn how to cook new dishes since I’ll have no control over the fruits and veggies I’ll receive. Oh, and it also seemed like a good way to support local, organic farmers.В 

After doing a bit of research last fall, I learned that there’s a Washington Heights CSA that distributes veggies in Fort Tryon Park, which is only a few blocks from my apartment. The produce comes from Windflower Farms, a small, organic farm upstate in the Taconic Hills. Joining the CSA was the hard part. Apparently, a glut of people also wanted in, so I was on a waiting list for several months. A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail stating that I was accepted from the waiting list, and I signed up for a vegetable share (22 weeks) and a fruit share (20 weeks).

Yesterday was the season’s first pick-up, so I headed to the distribution site, at New Leaf Cafe, in Fort Tryon. I was surprised to find a rather long line of people also picking up veggies. Apparently, the CSA has quite a few new members, and a volunteer kept reiterating that they’d never had a line before.В 

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It moved quickly, though, and soon I stood before a row of boxes, each bearing a different veggie. A large chalkboard informed us how many of each were were allotted.В 

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I returned home with this gorgeous array of veggies, fruit, and herbs. Then came the hard part: washing, breaking down, and deciding what to do with all of it.

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