Urban Agriculture From Seed to Tart - Growing Basil Indoors at Square Roots

In two weeks, I start my first classes in NYU's Masters of Food Studies program (true). I've got my backpack (true - I already own this), notebook (someone buy this for me), and pens (can I have this too?). I've done my summer reading (true) and I've sourced the most sustainable, artisanal, local, and organic apples to bring to my teachers (false - I'm not THAT big of a nerd). Today I visited Square Roots, an urban agriculture incubator in Brooklyn founded in part by Kimbal Musk, Elon Musk's brother. Square Roots has an office in the old Pfizer building at 630 Flushing Ave in Bushwick, home to many of your favorite artisan NYC food brands like McClure's Pickles, People's Pops, Cinnamon Snail, Joe's Pizza, and the list goes on...

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The bulk of Square Roots' operation takes place in the parking lot inside large shipping containers that house indoor vertical hydroponic farms. Myself and another volunteer met up with Josh Aliber, one of the 10 entrepreneurs currently in an intense year-long entrepreneurship program with Square Roots. We helped him harvest, package, and plant new basil crops.

Fun facts about indoor vertical farming:

  • You can control everything about the climate of an indoor farm including temperature, humidity, and lighting, so the produce is extremely high quality and farmers aren't at the will of the weather gods for earning their livelihood.
  • This method of farming uses a lot less water, but still uses a lot of electricity. Since it's a relatively young technology, there's a lot of room to grow in efficiency and automation. We harvested the basil plants, removed the leaves from the stems, packaged, and seeded new plants by hand.
  • It takes about 7 weeks from seed to harvest for a basil plant grown this way, which is less time than a traditional outdoor farm.
  • A lot of the advancements in hydroponic farming thus far have come from one of the early adopters of the technology: the marijuana industry. Thanks dude bros!

So what do you do with all this super high quality basil? Josh sells it direct to local grocery stores and restaurants. What did I do? I made the most beautiful fucking tart and sprinkled fresh basil all over it like a dog on their favorite fire hydrant:

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This tart was made with heirloom tomatoes and cipollini onions from the farmers market, fresh mozzarella from BKLYN Larder, and genovese sweet basil from Josh's 8/23 harvest. I HAVE REACHED PEAK BROOKLYN. (Recipe adapted from Taming of the Spoon.)

Learn more about Square Roots here: Kimbal Musk — Elon's brother — just opened a shipping container farm compound in New York City

APPLEMANIA '13

When my friend Madeline brought over a huge bag of apples, I decided to spend my weekend turning them into delicious things. Thanks to my Facebook friends for genius suggestions including, “Make apple slaw”, “Learn to juggle”, and “Poison them and hand them to unsuspecting princesses”. I didn’t use any of those brilliant ideas, but here’s what I did instead: Roasted Butternut Squash Apple Soup with Challah Croutons

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Recipe: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30466-roasted-butternut-squash-soup

Apple and Cheddar Quick Bread

imageRecipe: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30172-apple-and-cheddar-quick-bread

Apple Turnovers

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Recipe: http://www.chow.com/recipes/10431-apple-turnovers

Pan Seared Chicken with Apple and Sage

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Recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/pan-rushed-chicken-with-apples-and-sage/12936/

So, this happened yesterday.

BAKED BRIE #FAIL BIG TIME

Thanks to this Hoobastank GIF for expressing how I feel.

Was up till midnight making these two things yesterday. They are part of a grand mad science experiment that will be taking place in my kitchen tonight. Stay tuned…

(MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

I like fall flavors and I like cider (and I don’t like beer, which is incredibly embarrassing), so I was pretty pumped to find this in the Finger Lakes Beverage Center this past weekend. Sad that it’s a seasonal item, so I guess I’ll just have to clear out a shelf in the pantry to stock up and hoard this stuff. I guess I don’t really need pasta or cereal anyway, right? Cooked up some cinnamon and maple butternut squash last night to go with it and it was perfectoooo.

HAPPY SWEATER TIME

Get in the Kitchen and Make Me a Chicken

image On a recent trip home to Florida, my airport bound cab driver exclaimed, “Your mother must be so excited for you to come home so she can cook for you!” Clearly, this cabbie was raised in a household where the matriarch cooked often and took pride in feeding her young. In contrast, my feminist mom never really enjoyed the responsibility of putting dinner on the table for a family of four every night. As a Florida State Representative whose platform includes advancing women’s rights, I used to tell my mother’s friends that I wanted to be a housewife when I grew up just to piss her off.

Whereas I enjoy slowly ambling through the aisles of a grocery store for hours, Mom loathes the activity and gets in and out as quickly as possible.* Some of the condiments in our fridge are old enough to have high school degrees. On many evenings, I would come home from school and hear the ding of the microwave and Mom’s exuberant exclamation, “Frozen dinner night!” Unnaturally orange Lean Cuisine Mac and Cheese was a regular staple in my diet.

However, there were some special occasions that called for Mom’s most prized dish, aptly named “My Favorite Chicken”. Coming home from camp? My Favorite Chicken. Leaving for college? My Favorite Chicken. Traditional Friday night Shabbat dinner? Brisket. NO JUST KIDDING IT’S MY FAVORITE CHICKEN.  While I’m normally more into side dishes than protein, My Favorite Chicken is sweet, juicy, and everything chicken should be. While it roasts in the oven for several hours, the house fills with the warm smell of the marinade, which is an unmeasured mix of Tom’s mild BBQ sauce, Saucy Susan Peach Apricot Sauce, and soy sauce. Anyone that walks in my house to this smell knows some serious shit is happening in our oven.

The last occasion that required My Favorite Chicken was the night before my grandmother’s funeral three weeks ago. All of my dad’s side of the family was in town, and instead of ordering in some heavy, greasy take out, mom wanted to soothe everyone’s heartache with a home cooked meal. The time and effort she put in really shone, and the smell of that kitchen definitely made me, and I’m sure my other relatives, feel less alone.

Although my mother is more Jon Stewart than Martha Stewart, even the biggest haters of the kitchen can make the most beautiful, important, and memorable meals.

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*Our home grocer is Publix, which is known for its high quality and beautiful stores, so this is really a problem with her, not the store.