All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up


DSC01006

Norma Desmond may have been over the hill, but here in early July some of the stars of Battery Rooftop Garden are in their prime.

DSC01002

Nature at landscape scale, such as the views of New York Harbor from the roof, can be sublime and inspiring. But I am convinced that the most profound appreciation of the natural world grows out of close observation.

DSC00998

The scale of the smaller vegetable garden, and especially a roof top garden, is particularly conducive to this kind of intimate interaction.   All urban spaces are compressed, and the forced communion with plant life in a city garden is qualitatively different from the way we interact with plants in the open spaces of the country.  My advice, look closely.

DSC00948

DSC01000

DSC00995

DSC00952

Ready for their close-up? You betcha . . .

DSC00950

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hollywood Comes to the Roof

DSC00983

Well, not exactly Hollywood, but the sort of ultra-low-budget film project that will eventually displace a chunk of big-budget entertainment, as surely as green roofs and urban farms will replace part of our reliance on industrial agriculture.

Award winning indie film director Tom O’Brien (Fairhaven and Manhattan Romance) brought his new web series, Yoga Schmoga, to Battery Rooftop Garden this week for a scene in which the series’ main character, Grace, played by Jesse Barr, arrives at The Visionaire building . . .

 DSC00970

only to be greeted by her new client, a British investment banker dressed rather inappropriately (his excuse, I was in the shower), who shows her around the garden.

DSC00982

Our heroine needs to correct his attitude with some meticulous adjustments to his down dog.

DSC00994

In any case, the latest in video technology (a “MōVi” digital 3-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera gimbal that provides a steady tracking shot at a fraction of the cost of the previous technology) . . .

DSC00959

 mingled with the latest in roof top squash varieties.

 DSC00965

 and the hard-working crew and cast were rewarded with treats of Rats-Tail (podded) Radish (Raphanus sativus var. caudatus) . . .

DSC00945

 and blueberries plucked from under the bird netting.

 DSC00946

Posted in Berries, Blueberries, Guests | Leave a comment

Breaking Records

Just before the ground re-froze,  we harvested some sweet winter carrots and were rather amazed when this giant emerged from the relatively shallow soils of its rooftop bed:

DSC00916

I’ve always been drawn much more to the qualitative than the quantitative, and initially focused on the question of how to cook this giant, and how it would taste.  But then something strange happened.   A voice deep within the limbic brain offered the tantalizing suggestion that mine might be bigger than anyone else’s.   It could be a record-breaker.  Sharing some deep genetic predisposition with every kid obsessed with the 4H prize for biggest pumpkin at the county fair, I set out to investigate whether I too might claim a prize to validate my prowess in drawing sustenance from the soil.

I turned, of course, to the good folks at the World Museum of Carrots (motto: “Discover the Power of Carrots”), who gently suggested that if I were after a record, the parameters would have to be defined rather narrowly.  After all, the world record weight was 18.985 pounds (a carrot grown in Alaska) and the world record for length was 19 feet 1.96 inches (the UK).   But the World Museum of Carrots is open to other types of carrot-related prize-winning feats.  After all, they track the records for most carrots peeled and chopped in a minute (515 g), most baby carrots fit in an open mouth (25), and most carrot chews before swallowing (96).  I was encouraged.

Researching the record books for New York State, I was disappointed to find no claim for state-champion carrot (only a nice lady from the Hudson Valley as pleased with her one-pound carrot as I am).  Nor were there any reports of tuberous immensity (I know, it’s a root not a tuber) from community or roof-top gardeners in New York City.

So, I have decided to publish a challenge:  I claim that this magnificent root, weighing in at one pound, is (i) the largest carrot ever harvested from a green-roof garden ever (anywhere in the world) and (ii) is the largest carrot harvested south of Canal Street in Manhattan during the past two centuries.    Anyone wishing to contest these claims is encouraged to send along a photograph or other evidence, and I will graciously and publicly withdraw or modify my claim.   Until then, we’ll add record-breaking carrot to the achievements of Battery Rooftop Garden.

DSC00375

As apology and explanation for this irrational outburst, I offer the following photographic evidence of current conditions on the roof – enough to drive any gardener mad.

A kale snow cone

A kale snow cone

Glazed blueberries

Glazed blueberries

Frosted apple

Frosted apple

 

 

 

Posted in Carrots, Weather | 7 Comments

The Perfect Rooftop Fruit

Plants, like people, tend to get around.  A plant on my roof got its start in China about 2000 years ago, and by the 8th century AD found its way into Japan.   When it arrived in Nepal and the Himalayan states of India, it was cultivated at elevations above 1500 meters, thus showing early aptitude for life on the roof of a tall building.  The fruit of this tree is so susceptible to bruising that it was traditionally hand carried from the mountains to markets below.  In Japan, even today, each fruit is separately wrapped and a single fruit is often presented as a special gift.  Stumped?

008

I refer of course to Pyrus pyrifolia, most commonly known as the Asian Pear.   So how did this delicious fruit, at once juicy, crispy and sweet, avoid the clutches of global commerce?  It has two characteristics that recommend it to the home orchardist, but make it deeply unattractive to the industrial food system: First, its fruits will ripen only on the tree; once picked, no amount of chemical bombardment or environmental manipulation will cause it to ripen further.  Second, its off-the-charts moisture content means it bruises easily, so is difficult to transport, and when processed, collapses into incoherent mush.  In other words, the perfect fruit for urban agriculture:  let it ripen on your roof, pick by hand, walk it gently to the table, eat raw, be happy.

Making it even more irresistible is its hardiness.  The USDA considers it hardy to Zone 4, but some Chinese cultivars are reported to have survived minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  At the other end of the spectrum, this Pyrus shrugs off the heat and humidity of New York summers, and after five years, can get by with little water.  And if your roof isn’t big enough for a tree, then try an espalier, as I have at BRTG:

026

In addition to size, an espalier will allow you to mix multiple cultivars of Pyrus pyrifolia on the same plant.  At BRTG, three cultivars of Asian pear are grafted on to the same standard:  ‘Chojuro’, meaning “plentiful,” one of the oldest (cultivated in Japan in 1893); the more familiar ‘Nijisseiki,” which means “20th Century” and dates from 1898; and ‘Shinseiki,’ meaning “new century,” perhaps the most familiar to North American orchardists, known for its pale fellow skin and reliable production of fruit in late August.

170

Many people have asked what fruit appears in the banner photograph running across the top of the home page of this blog.  Now you know.

Posted in Asian Pears, Fruit, Pears | 3 Comments

We are family

Pop quiz: what do beets, spinach, quinoa and Swiss chard have in common?

DSC00909

No, they are not all grown at Battery Rooftop Garden (no quinoa, yet).   Yes, they are all delicious, nutritious and ancient foods, but that’s not it either.

DSC00912

The answer:  the family Amaranthaceae (aka the “goosefoot” family).   These seemingly disparate vegetables are close cousins in one of the vegetable garden’s noble families, sharing a common evolutionary path, but sporting a dazzling diversity of features, and the cosmopolitan habit of settling in all over the globe, with a slight preference for temperate climates.  Their success, like that of certain ancient noble human families, may be due to a proclivity for reproductive excess:  their windborne pollens – most famously from sugar beets – have been found in wind currents three miles above the surface.

DSC00910

You initially may be surprised that a root crop like beets is a close cousin of a stem/leaf crop like chard; but this is simply a manner of culinary habit, not botanic morphology.   For example, look closely, and you will see that the Swiss chard also has a substantial storage root that can be harvested and stored for five or six months in a root cellar or other cool spot.

DSC00911

When it comes to human families, preoccupation with genealogy can quickly become tedious or worse.  But among urban farmers, a passing acquaintance with the genealogy of their plants is a must.   Vegetables in the same family rarely squabble when occupying the same row or bed (there are important exceptions), and farmers generally move families en masse from place to place each year in order to refresh (in the case of nitrogen-fixing Leguminosae family) or simply differently stress the soil (commonly referred to as crop rotation).

Most of us know the infamous “Nightshade” family (Solanaceae, including eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes), the Onion family (Amarylildaceae, with garlic, leeks and onions) and the Brassicas (Bassicaceae, with its clearly related broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, collard, kale, etc.).  But did you know that carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips are cousins (in the Apiaceae family)?

The 17th century cavalier poet, Richard Lovelace, whose brother was the second Governor of the New York Colony, was fond of insects and plants, with, perhaps, a special affection for the Amaranth family:

Amarantha sweet and faire,

Ah brade no more that shining haire!

As my curious hand or eye,

Hovering round thee, let it flye.

Posted in Beets, Chard, Spinach, Vegetables | Leave a comment

How to eat

DSC00890

For omnivores like us, the choices are many, and growing every day:  Paleo, raw, pescatarian, macrobiotic, vegan, lacto ovo vegetarian, and many more.   Michael Pollan gives us a simple answer:  eat food, mostly plants, not too much.

The dialog around diet these days tends to revolve around science:  nutrition, health and the implications of evolution and genetics.   This is a good thing.   But too often the aesthetic and social aspects of growing, harvesting, cooking and eating are left out of the equation.

Here at Battery Rooftop Garden we eat what’s here, when it’s ready, and generally as simply as possible.   This means much gets eaten raw, often not more than a few feet away from the plant:  blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and apples that tend to go from stem to mouth in a few seconds.   When things are cooked, we keep it clean, roasting being the preferred house method for cooking beets, carrots, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.   And, in a trend considered eccentric even by the most militant urban gardeners, we have – for the moment at least – banned dressings from salad, so as not to disguise the flavor of the various varieties of greens.  You get the picture:  a monastic sensibility, abjuring the decorative in a quest to discover the essential.

Occasionally, therefore, it is important to be reminded that cooking is one of mankind’s greatest arts, and greatest sources of pleasure.  Although elaborate preparation can rarely rescue second-class ingredients, artful preparation can amplify exponentially the flavors — and thus pleasure — of food.   And so I was reminded a few weeks ago, when Chef Howard Kalachnikoff from Gramercy Tavern again prepared a spectacular meal, mostly from rooftop ingredients, as a benefit for the superb charity, Just Food.   Farmer Annie Novak, Chef Howard and his sous chefs spent an enjoyable late afternoon harvesting the September bounty from the roof:  basil, mint, Malabar spinach, spinach, lettuces, carrots, beets, Japanese eggplants, radishes, kale, purple potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, grapes, Asian pears, European pears, apples.   They laid out this bounty in the kitchen,

DSC00892

and from it created the following menu:

Rickshaw cocktail, made from BRTG basil

Rooftop greens garnished with rooftop oregano flowers

Roasted and raw carrots, dukkah, sherry gastrique, cremont cheese, pistachios, and roof top herbs

Boiled and creamed rooftop Malabar spinach, baked Filone chips, pickled rooftop Malabar stems, poached egg, shaved pecorino and shaved rooftop radishes

Rooftop kale shot, with rooftop mint, and granita and brunoise from rooftop apples

Ricotta tortellini, with blanched then sautéed rooftop purple potatoes, and rooftop basil pesto

Arctic char slowly cooked in smoked oil in the sous vide, with rooftop eggplant puree, glazed eggplant, sautéed rooftop peppers and slices of rooftop Asian pear

Rooftop mint ice cream and mint meringue wafers.

In food, as in music and all the other arts, it is high art that provides the pinnacle experience and moves civilization forward.   We don’t need Wagner every night, but nor do we want to live without it.

DSC00895

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Chefs, Cooking and Eating, Meals and Menus | 1 Comment

Tribute in Light

 

DSC00897It is rare for a memorial to be perfectly calibrated to the nature of the tragedy it marks.  The elegant Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for the British World War I cemeteries is a notable example.  The Tribute in Light, which recently rose again on the anniversary of 9/11, is another.

DSC00899 Battery Rooftop Garden enjoys a unique view of the Tribute, which somehow seems amplified when seen through the screen of trees, shrubs and plants.

DSC00898 Memorials usually play on our quest for the eternal, offering consolation for those lost with the stolid stone suggestion of permanence and eternity.   The genius of the Tribute is its embrace of time, loss and the ephemeral nature of all things.   At a glance, we accept the paradoxical metaphor of a thing that appears without material form for a couple of days only, but which will exist for eternity, its photons winging their way forever to the farthest reaches of the cosmos.  The metaphor continues with the convergence of the parallel beams in a singular burst of brightness.

DSC00902

Given my audience, I feel compelled to point out that the Tribute runs under the supervision of Audubon, which ensures the lights are switched off every 20 minutes to release the birds trapped in its beams, and is powered by biodiesel cooking oil collected from local restaurants.

 

 

Posted in Design, Photos, Seen From the Battery Rooftop Garden | 3 Comments