Category Archives: victory garden

Chop This! (The easiest and likely the most nutritious and delicious salad you’ll ever make.)

Okay. So if you have a garden–or even if you don’t–now is the time to seize summer’s bounty. Whether you grow it yourself or purchase it at the store, the time is ripe for summer vegetables. And when the vegetables are as perfectly ripe as they are right now, eating them raw (or some lightly cooked) with the simplest preparation is the way to go. The below recipe is just a guide. Use whatever vegetables and herbs that your garden or local market has. But here’s how I made mine.
Raw Summer Salad
Dice a perfectly ripe tomato–or two if you’re eating with someone else–and as much cucumber as you think you’ll eat. Combine it in a bowl with a few slices of raw onion, a minced garlic clove, a sliced hot pepper, a handful of chopped parsley, and also basil. Sprinkle the salad with sea salt, then drizzle it with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil and good quality wine vinegar. Gently toss together and taste summer.

Urban Simplicity.

The green and yellow right in front of me…

So am I the only one that cannot believe it is already the second week of August? As we enter the backside of summer I’ve been trying to appreciate it more by noticing the things right in front of me (which isn’t always an easy thing to do); but looking through a camera lens helps me do this. Anyhow, the vegetables are growing, quite literally, just outside my front door near the sidewalk, and the flowers are in my next door neighbor’s front yard.  

Urban Simplicity.

The salad that grew in my front yard, and a few other things…

To quote Tom Petty, “the waiting is the hardest part.” It really is, isn’t it. You see things growing and hanging on their plants but they are not ready to pick…and then all at once everything seems to ripen. Today was my first real haul from my teeny front yard garden. All of the ingredients for the above salad–except the dressing, which was simply virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar–were grown there adjacent to the sidewalk (pavements, to my friends across the pond). I ate it for dinner two minutes after picking, twenty feet from where it grew, and while it while it was still warm from the sun…tomato, sweet pepper, hot pepper, cucumber, basil, Italian Parsley, and sweet basil (fresh strawberries for dessert). The first tomato I picked, I did as I usually do each year, and ate it where it grew. Geeze o’ man was this stuff good. This time of year is payoff time for a vegetable gardener. For me, growing food makes way more sense than a front lawn. I’m just sayin’…

Urban Simplicity.

The view from my handlebars and a surprise I could have stepped on…

I took the above photo on my way home from work late afternoon/early evening today. The weather could not have been more idyllic. After the last couple weeks of an oppressive heatwave this weather is truly welcomed (cool temps and low humidity). And as I arrived home today I noticed a small bright red berry peeking out from under a plant in my front yard right next to the sidewalk. The strawberries have not been doing too well this year so I haven’t looked at them too frequently…so you can imagine my surprise when I lifted the leaves and saw these. Nice. Growing food is way more fun and tasty than growing grass (I’m jus’ sayin’).

Urban Simplicity.

Green Green Garden…

So it’s still early in the season but with the humidity and wet spring things are really flourishing. Because of various reasons I’ve cut way back on the amount I’m growing this year, but all of these items are growing in my teeny front yard right next to the sidewalk (pavements to my brothers and sisters across the pond). Growing vegetables is, to me, way  more interesting than growing and cutting grass. The plant above I just put in the ground yesterday; it’s a cousa plant, or white Lebanese zucchini, which was gifted to me by my cousin Joe. It should only be a few weeks (maybe a couple) until I bit into that first tomato in the spot that it grew (I love tomatoes). Anyhow, being the proud gardener I thought I’d share a few photos.

Urban Simplicity.

This is way more fun than cutting a lawn…

It has been more than ten years since I tore up my teeny front lawn and planted a teeny vegetable garden which yields big results. And over the years it–the garden–has spread to other areas around the house; the side and rear, mainly. But this year–because of various reasons–I have only planted the front yard garden…sort of getting back to basics. It’s doing well and tonight was the first significant haul of the season…broccoli. It is so satisfying picking the broccoli and cooking it just feet from where it grew and remembering when you planted it (I could go on). At any rate, I’ve posted this recipe numerous times prior but it is one f my favorite. It is simple, nutritious, and really easy to make. If you haven’t made this yet I hope you give it a try.


Penne alla aglio e olio con broccoli in brodo

(Penne with Garlic, Oil, Broccoli, and Chicken Broth)

Yield: 4 servings
3/4 pound whole wheat penne
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta and drain it. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet with the garlic and hot pepper flakes. When the garlic just starts to change color add the chicken broth and salt. Cook the broth for one minute, until it reduces by half, and then add the broccoli. Toss the broccoli for a few minutes. Add the cooked pasta, and stir it until thoroughly coated with the other ingredients. Stir in the cheese just before serving.

Eight Days Separated by Two

So this is pretty cool (I think). Above is a series of four photos I spliced together which were taken over an eight day period every two days…a row of tomatoes, which I picked when I tore up my front garden, sitting on a kitchen sill ripening.

Urban Simplicity.

Fall Colors and a Few Comments…

These two photos have nothing in relation to one another other than they represent fall colors (I think). And it’s interesting how the last of the harvest season–before everything turns grey for the winter–is such a burst of color. It’s as if the Universe is saying, “Here you go…have one last blast of color before I bring on winter.” The above photo was taken on the grounds of the Butler Mansion here in Buffalo. I was riding home last evening and the colors caught my eye as I rode past the gate (which was open), so I coasted in and snapped a few photos. Amazing isn’t it. I find it interesting–and it likely is what caught my eye–is that the trees around it are still green, making the one in the photo stand out that much more. The bottom photo is of the vegetables after I harvested and uprooted what was left of the garden in the front of the house (my annual delivery of firewood is deposited directly where the front garden grows, click here to see it). There’s still a small garden in the back of the house that has vegetables hanging on the plants. The green tomatoes in the picture are ripening on a kitchen counter as I type these words. I see tomato and pepper soup in my near future…

Urban Simplicity.

After the Rain (four photos)

I snapped three of these photos in my garden as I left the house this morning for work, and the other (the bottom one) after arriving home, after things had dried up a bit. I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion this summer about the lack of rain in Western New York…it rained something like twice the entire summer thus far, and only briefly. It was the same last winter. Other than a week or so of snowy weather it was mostly snow free…and I am talking about Buffalo, NY where we are known for our incredible snowfalls. It is all pretty weird, I have to say. Anyhow, at long last it rained yesterday, and for a good portion of the day. Normally I try to avoid the rain while on a bike but not yesterday; I relished it…it felt so good to be out in it as it washed over me on a hot and humid day. I forgot–and too it for granted–how beautiful it is and what a gift rain is.

Urban Simplicity.

The Reward…

As summer begins to wind down the tomatoes and peppers are coming to full fruition. And one of the rewards each summer is tomato sauce. I make it a few times throughout the season and then usually one bigger pot…which was today. I made about 3 gallons of sauce “hillbilly style” (cooked it outside as not to heat up the kitchen). And I’ve mentioned before that for me cooking things from the garden outside is extra special (does it taste better or am I imagining it) because when I cook it outside it is being cooked just a few feet from where it grew. As the sauce was simmering I sauteed a couple pieces of fish then braised it in the tomato sauce and ate it (tossed with pasta) under grapevines while listening to NPR (and yelling at my pugs to stop jumping up at the table). Anyhow, the sauce is presently cooling in my fridge. In the next day or two I’ll package it in increments and freeze it for the off-season. And eating sauce in the middle of winter–which I made from scratch using tomatoes and peppers that grew in the front/back yards–that is the real reward for the time and care it takes to grow (some of) my own food.

Urban Simplicity.

This is Just One Reason I like to Grow Food

There are of course so many reasons why a person should grow at least some of their own food. I do it to save a bit of money, to keep me connected to the earth, but mostly because the food tastes so damn good. This recipe is a perfect example. It is, of course, the classic eggplant (aubergine) Parmesan. Most, but not all, of the ingredients were grown in my front and rear yards. The eggplant, for example, were grown in my front yard about a foot away from the sidewalk (pavements). The sauce for this recipe was made with tomatoes, garlic, and basil grown there as well. As were the hot peppers–I love spicy peppers–that I sauteed then layered in between the eggplant. That said, if there were one really good reason I went through the trouble to prepare, plant, care-for, and harvest food from my tiny yard this summer it would singularly be this recipe…it was that good. There is something really special about walking out your door, picking food, and cooking it just a few feet/meters away. And I’ve mentioned many times that you don’t need a lot of space. I live in the middle of the city and the entire plot on which my house sits measures a mere 25ft/7.6m by 100ft/30.4m (and 3/4 of it is taken up by the house). Okay…alright…I’ll get off my little soapbox. Anyhow, this was/is so good I couldn’t stop eating it. I didn’t type up a recipe but it’s pretty straight forward. If you do need a recipe this one looks pretty good.

Urban Simplicity.

Food Not Lawns

Though I have a small garden in the front of my house this (pictured above) was plucked this evening from the garden in the rear of the house. Beautiful, isn’t it. I have only about six broccoli plants (two out front and four in the back) but this time of year it grows almost quicker than I can consume it. Tonight I sauteed it simply with onion, garlic, and a hot pepper from the garden as well. This is a great vegetarian main dish as itself or tossed with pasta. But tonight I ate it as a side dish with pasta in a 20-minute tomato sauce. There’s a recipe below, but if you want additional recipes and background info on broccoli feel free to read this article I wrote for Artvoice a few years back.

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, and broccoli 

Makes 4 servings

3/4 pound spaghetti
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Cook the spaghetti and drain it. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet with the garlic and hot pepper flakes. When the garlic just starts to change color add the chicken broth and salt. Cook the broth for one minute, until it reduces by half, and then add the broccoli. Toss and turn the spinach for a few minutes. Add the cooked spaghetti, and stir it until thoroughly coated with the other ingredients. Stir in the cheese just before serving.

Urban Simplicity.

After the Rain (four photos and a few words)

Well it finally rained today. A crazy heavy downpour with thunder and lightening. I stood on the porch and watched it for a while. It lasted only about an hour. The rain is so infrequent this summer it seemed really special. I wished it would rain all day. It’s not very often I hope for rain (my least favorite element to ride a bike in) but geeze o’ man did we need it. Anyhow, after it stopped I went out to the garden to pick food for dinner. Everything had that strange misty hue that only happens after a heavy downpour on a hot and humid day. I grabbed a camera and snapped a few photos and thought I’d share. Click for a larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

Bursting with Color and Flavor…

Beautiful aren’t they…just picked this morning. Like much of the nation it has been hot in Western New York and the vegetable plants are loving it. Yesterday when I picked a perfectly ripe tomato for dinner it was not just warm from the sun but actually hot to the touch…it felt like it was cooked, and I suppose it sort of was. Anyhow, with it being so hot, and that I face a stove for most of the day as my job, the last thing I want to do is come home and heat up my teeny kitchen. Thus said, I have been eating variations of chopped vegetable salads for the past two weeks…and I’ve yet to tire of them. Delicious and full of nutrition. And to make a chopped vegetable salad is about as simple as it gets. With summer vegetables in season you can really use whatever you like or have at hand. And during the heat of the day this will definitely keep your kitchen cool.
Chopped Vegetable Salad
Choose and wash whichever vegetables you like. My favorites are tomatoes, peppers (sweet and hot), and cucumbers, but anything will really work. Sometimes I add diced or crumbled cheese as well, such as feta, mozzarella, or Parmesan. Dice the vegetables and combine them in a bowl. If it looks like you’ve made to much do not worry because leftovers—after the flavors have thoroughly married—taste equally good. Add whatever other seasonings you like. I usually add sliced onion and minced garlic, plus a good handful of basil, mint, or parsley, or all three. And using a ratio of 3-parts oil to 1-part vinegar or lemon (or a combination of both), dress the salad lightly. A tablespoon of mustard tastes good, too. Mix the ingredients and allow to rest for 5 minutes. 

La Tomate

Beautiful isn’t it. It is–or at least was–as big as my fist. I ate most of it for dinner as an tomato and raw onion sandwich on whole wheat bread slathered with mayonnaise and doused with a liberal amount of cracked black pepper. It was, as I ate it, still warm from the sun. Delicious. I’ve always enjoyed growing my own tomatoes, but this one in particular seems especially special to me because, as I’ve stated in an earlier post, I’ve had a difficult time with “blossom end rot” this year. But this is a sign, I think, that the plants are overcoming it (with a little help from me). I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Anyhow, if you want to learn a bit of history, lore, and a few recipes involving tomatoes, here’s a link to an article I wrote for Artvoice a couple years ago.

Urban Simplicity.

This Year’s Garden Issue, and a quick tomato recipe

Every year it seems there is a new “issue” in the garden. Such is life, right? I can’t imaging how difficult it must be for farmers who rely on their crops for their livelihood, or those who rely on the food they grow to sustain them entirely. A few years ago I had an army of city rabbits who chose to inhabit my tiny gardens each night, then I had giant tomato-eating slugs wreak havoc, and last year there was a hungry city raccoon that all but wiped out my small patch of corn and ate it in a nearby tree (no kidding). Well, this year it is not an animal or insect that is causing trouble, but the plants themselves. The tomatoes in the front of my house, while they look incredibly healthy, are inflicted with–what I’ve finally been able to identify–the not so technical sounding blossom end rot…and it quite literally does as the name describes, the blossom end, or the end that is not connected to the plant, rots. I’m still getting a few healthy tomatoes from the front, and the rear garden does not seem affected, but it’s still early and most of them are still green (the rot begins while they are still green). The tomatoes pictured above and below obviously were not affected, but I’ve been pulling and discarding at least a half-dozen black rotted tomatoes a day in hopes of slowing and halting the problem. From what I’ve read this is not an easy problem to overcome, but I’ll try (and there are far worse problems to have in this world today). If any gardeners out there in the blogosphere have had this problem and overcame it I would love to here about it. Thanks. Anyhow, on to the recipe.

This recipe is about as simple as it gets but is still bursting with nutrients and flavor. It’s really just another aglio e olio type recipe, but in this case the ingredients are turned into a sauce. The easy steps are below.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet and add onion, peppers, and garlic (I used sweet and hot peppers)…cook them slowly until they begin to brown, forming a sort of sofrito. Add diced tomato. Any type will do, I used two types of red tomatoes plus a couple yellow cherry tomatoes with seeds and skins intact. Cook the tomatoes for a couple minutes to release and evaporate some of their juices. Then add chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian) and a bit of seas salt. Bring the sauce to a boil then lower it to a simmer; cook the sauce for a few minutes until it reduces and thickens. Meanwhile boil whatever pasta you prefer. When the sauce is to your liking (in consistency and flavor) it can be pureed or left chunky, which is what I did. Add a few chopped basil leaves and then the cooked pasta. Toss or gently stir the pasta into the sauce allowing it to soak up flavors.

Urban Simplicity.

Four Photos of Cabbage…

These are a few of the vegetables growing in my teeny front yard garden (in a few months these will fermented into kim chi). Such a humble vegetable but when studied up close–and through the lens of a camera–they are nature’s artwork…

Urban Simplicity.

"Tis the Season…

Beautiful isn’t it? The first tomato of the season. Within two weeks I’ll have a bushel of them. And the season seems especially early this year. Like much of the nation, Western New York State has been sweltering this summer and the garden plants are loving it. We–WNY–have a relatively short growing season, but I anticipate a longer one this year. And the efforts of planting a garden–in the front and rear lawns, or what once were lawns–is paying off…I shouldn’t have to purchase vegetables until the fall.

It is such an excellent feeling to walk out my front or rear door with a plate in one hand (and often a glass of wine in the other) and pick food for dinner. The last few nights I have been eating pasta in my favorite style of preparation…aglio e olio. And given the heat I’ve been cooking my dinner in my makeshift outdoor kitchen in the back yard and eating it under a grapevine. There is something really special about eating food in the very spot that you grew it. Anyhow, here’s a few photos and a basic recipe.

Pasta and Vegetables with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Chicken Broth 
(Old School Style)

Dice any vegetables that you have at hand, keeping onions, peppers, and others that you want to caramelize (brown) separate from the softer or more delicate ones. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for which to cook pasta. Heat a liberal amount of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add any vegetables to brown, such as onions, peppers, carrots, or zucchini. Cook for a few minutes, tossing and turning in the oil until they begin to brown. Add a clove or two of minced garlic and a pinch of hot pepper if you like; continue to cook for a couple minutes. Add a cup or so of chicken broth to the pan  and allow the vegetables to cook and soften as the broth reduces and concentrates. Meanwhile cook whatever pasta you like in the boiling water (slightly under cook it). Add softer vegetables to the pan–those that you don’t wish to caramelize–such as broccoli, green beans, spinach, tomatoes. Add a small addition of broth if necessary, along with a pinch of salt. When the vegetables are cooked and soft, and the broth has reduced and made a flavorful sauce, drain the past and add it to the vegetables. Gently shake the pan to toss the vegetables, broth, and pasta together. Allow the past to finish cooking and absorb some of the broth and flavors. Just before remove the pan from the heat stir in coarsely chopped basil leaves and grated Parmesan cheese.

Urban Simplicity.