By Catherine L. Kaufman
Food-growing trends have been on the cutting edge this year, especially on the home front. Here’s a roundup of these revolutionary, healthful, sometimes money-saving, and sustainable practices that are good for you, your family and the planet.
Chicken Coop for the Soul
Stylish and kitschy chicken coops are popping up all across the land in suburban yards, garages and balconies. City folk are going “Green Acres” by raising chickens so they can feast on divine, freshly laid eggs daily. You can start with a baby female under one year old called a pullet, but they are high maintenance like babies of all species, and require wing clipping and continuous poop duty.
So have a hen party with females more than one year old. No need for the manly rooster unless you are enamored with fertile eggs.
Hens lay about an egg a day, but it varies depending on the breed, age, diet and time of year. Organic and vegetarian feed is preferable along with spring water, as “you are what your chicks eat.”
As for the shelter part, hen habitats are now architectural masterpieces running the gamut from chicken chateaus and castles to shabby chic and retro-style hen houses. Do-it-yourself chicken coop blue prints are available online or get cracking and creatively design an original.
Blooming of the Windowsill Gardener
There has been a great resurgence in patio crops and porch and windowsill gardens, a kind of savvy reincarnation of the Liberty Gardens of World War II when folks were planting crops like crazy in their front and backyards due to the wartime produce shortage.
Today the economy, a plethora of advice and information dispersed via the Internet, and people’s health concerns about Frankenstein crops grown by big agri businesses, have sprouted a new breed of armchair gardener. Not just homeowners, but apartment and condo dwellers are getting down and dirty planting organic herbs and veggies in countertop, balcony and backyard planter boxes — everything from rosemary and radicchio to basil and broccoli. Hardier veggies grow best in the winter (like kale, chard and Brussels sprouts) and anything goes for spring planting, although tomatoes and corn need to be planted outdoors.
Standing advice – always buy organic seeds to avoid GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) that are injected into conventional seeds.
Lemon Tree Very Pretty
The intoxicating Meyer lemon, a hybrid of a common lemon and a mandarin exudes a sweet and savory perfume blending honey and sage. Sustainable foodie and chef Alice Waters and Martha Stewart put the Meyer on the gourmet radar screen, and now you can cultivate a dwarf Meyer lemon tree in the comfort of your own home.
If you plan on buying your Meyer tree from a nursery, look for a 2- to 3-year-old. Feed it a sandy, slightly acidic peat moss mix, keep it at a comfortable temperature around 70 degrees during the day and no cooler than 55 degrees at night. Shower it with plenty of Southern exposure, speak kind, loving words to your sweet Meyer, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Edible flowers have blossomed this culinary season as garnishes for drinks, soups, salads, relishes and main dishes, crystallized for cake decorations, along with infusing oils, vinegars and teas with the fragrant petals by steeping them in the fluids. Snap dragons, calendulas, pansies, citrus blossoms, hibiscus, lilacs and violets are a few edibles, but watch out for azaleas, crocus, daffodils, oleanders, jack-in-the-pulpit and lily of the valley, that are eye candy but not safe for food.
A trendy new twist on a traditional fave is my Meyer lemon risotto. Feel free to garnish with a calendula or lemon verbena blossom. If you have any leftovers, make fried rice the next day with one of your freshly laid eggs.
Meyer Lemon Risotto
- 1 cup of Arborio rice
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- ½ cup of dry white wine
- ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
- 4-5 cups of hot chicken or vegetable stock or water
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 4 ounces of mushrooms of your choice, chopped
- Zest from 1 Meyer lemon and juice from 3 Meyers
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and sauté the onions and mushrooms until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender. Add the rice, coating the grains with the oil. Stir in the wine over medium heat until absorbed. Cook for 20 minutes, adding juice and the remaining liquid a cup at a time. Remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and garnish with zest from the lemon. Bon appetito!
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