Baking With Butternut

Well, I am officially on my fourth week back home in good ol’ Brattleboro, Vermont. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this place. Vermont is truly a state like no other. This is, after all, where I cultivated my love and interest for food and all things related – in a tiny, eclectic town with a Coop that rivals the size of our Price Chopper (but, seriously check out their website, sometimes they post cool stuff, like this article ).


However, fancy Coops aside, things have started to get a little dull. Vermont is beautiful during the winter, but if you aren’t willing to strap yourself into skis or don’t fancy ten degree weather it can be a little boring. And my favorite part of Vermont during the warmer months, my wonderful, luscious garden, is buried under three feet of not-so-fresh snow. Oh how life would be different if I could run into the garden, load up on wild blueberries and fresh thyme to roll into a flaky pie crust.

Whether you get your produce from the ground, a green market, or supermarket its much easier to feel culinary inspiration when the fruits and veggies are looking a little livelier. However, there are plenty of fun and creative ways to utilize winter produce – even in baking, as I’ve recently learned in some boredom induced, kitchen experimentation. Butternut squash may not be as popular as raspberries, but it makes a mean muffin and you can feel good that instead of paying four bucks for a pint of wilted berries shipped in from god-knows-where, you’re making a responsible, seasonally appropriate decision.

Anyway, I encourage you all to try out this recipe, which I’ve adapted from Heidi Swanson’s website (check it out if you haven’t – it rocks) and her Brown Butter Spice Cake Recipe. Basically, I made it a muffin because that’s more fun and tinkered with a few ingredients. Here you go!


Butternut Squash Muffins Recipe


1/2 C melted coconut oil

1.5 C whole wheat pastry flour

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp cardamon

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp paprika

few grinds of black pepper

3/4 C cane sugar, plus more for topping

1/4 C brown sugar

2 large eggs

1/2 C butternut squash pureed together with raisins

1/4 C almond milk

½ C thin sliced almonds

chopped chili infused chocolate to taste

 ½ tsp molasses whisked with water and ½ tsp honey

 Start by preheating your oven 350 and oiling and flouring a muffin tin. Now, prepare the almonds. Measure out about ½ C of thin sliced almonds and toast them in your oven. Toast them well, within an inch of their life. Toast them so they are just burnt, but not to a charred mess. Combine flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, puree, milk, and coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and fold in almonds and chocolate chunks to taste.

Whisk together molasses, honey, and water and use the back of the spoon to spread on top of muffins when batter is poured into pan. Top with cane sugar and more burnt almond slices. Bake for 25-30 mins, until a knife stuck in the middle comes out clean, but do not over cook – you want to retain the moistness the puree lends to this recipe.

Have more butternut squash than can fit into a muffin? Do not fear! The reason I made these in the first place was to use up some leftovers from this delicious recipe. Got even more leftover? I had even more leftover too (wow, squashes are big). I sautéed mine in a pan with some butter, raisins, salt, pepper, and shredded coconut than mixed it together with some carrots I roasted in olive oil with oregano, mint, and cilantro. Enjoy!



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Asparagus, Amen

My lanky figure inarguably links me to asparagus, the bringer of spring, the frill-crowned queen of the garden, the greenery that, as Marcel Proust noted, “transforms my chamber-pot into a flask of perfume.”  When I started working at the farmer’s market in Union Square last May, my greetings and orientations were less than heartfelt: the excitement of my fellows was stolen (or, less bitterly, rightfully and traditionally stimulated) by the coming of spring and the start of The Season, signaled by great fields of green stalks and a predictable increase in the sale of Hollandaise sauce.

My grandfather started an asparagus bed before I was born on land that my parents now live on and tend to.  The plant thrives in the well-drained, sandy soil of Cape Cod and requires patience: the first two seasons don’t produce any harvestable stalks.  But on the cool mornings of future springs, the asparagus will begin its assent (a remarkable 10″ a day, under extraordinary condiditons) and call compellingly to be laid next to a poached egg on an early morning.  The stalks rise with the sun as I stretch myself for the sweet, warm weather.  It is an extraordinary vegetable, a harbinger of summer’s joy.

Now, as the frost of January descends on the Northeast, I find myself at home in New England.  The chickens have cut their production of eggs in the face of shorter days.  The bees died, mites having invaded their hive.  Snow has begun to cover the garden and, in the corner of the yard overlooked by the proudly sinking shell of a ghostly old house, I tuck the twenty-year-old asparagus bed into the comforting protection of newspaper and compost.  This, after weeding and tilling, replanting and tidying.  A wiping of the slate in preparation for the next coming of warmth.  I, freshly bathed, wrap myself in a blanket and, by a fire, sip on sweetened tea and enjoy warmth, rest, and a refreshing meditation on the great cycle of activity and rest that exist in the body of the farmer and the body of the vegetable alike.

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Winter Windowsill Gardens

It’s that time of year again. The air is becoming cold with the anticipation of snow and the windows warm with the glow of fluorescent bulbs. It’s winter and even before Thanksgiving plates were cleared this past week, New York went into full Christmas swing. But as window displays, panicked shoppers, and yummy peppermint themed products become prominent, there is something missing – the little bit of nature that we city dwellers hold on to so dearly. The occasional fall foliage fades, leaving spindly trees bare in the park and scattered flowers say goodbye till next year. The big tree at Rockefeller is just not going to cut it.

How to solve this problem? What about a windowsill garden? CommAg has discussed starting a network of window gardens, and my roommates and I are giving it a try.  It’s proved…moderately successful (kind of). Our downfall can be blamed partially on our lack of knowledge, but definitely on our lack of plant watering skills as well.

Anyway, in an effort to re-motivate myself (and now you as well!) I have compiled some tips about makeshift window gardens.

(check out our pretty pepper plant dried flowers)

First off, what should one grow on a windowsill garden?

My roommates and I have tried a myriad of different herbs, which have been pretty successful, as well as a decorative mini-pepper plant, some surprisingly robust Moroccan mint that has been going since the beginning of the semester, and an attempted avocado that never was. Of course you will want to add some flowers too, in pretty vases or maybe wine bottles. It is a garden after all, it should be pretty, right? Plus, when those flowers inevitably die they will become wonderful dried wall decor.

Additionally, it’s recommended that you grow herbs that won’t crowd each other, ones that won’t grow too tall or too wide – chives, lavender and thyme being good examples. Mint won’t get too out of hand either, but is anti-social and can’t be put in the same pot as other herbs.

What are some other things you should know before starting your brand new, lush windowsill garden?

1. Sun. Well, perhaps most obviously, you need a sunny windowsill – preferably South/Southeast facing, anywhere that gets at minimum 5-6 hours of sun a day. You could also look into purchasing grow bulbs – available on Amazon.

2. Buy your plants. I recommend purchasing plants rather than seeds. It’ll be a little pricier, but buy at the Union Square Greenmarket and you’ll get great quality and the satisfaction of supporting good people. Seeds will take a lot more time and are more likely to be forgotten and neglected in the corner of your room. Also, not all herbs grow from seed very well, and actually its often recommended that instead you start with cuttings (literally a little piece of herb cut from an already established plant). If you’re feeling adventurous, you could experiment with cuttings – its not complicated. Here’s a link to starting rosemary from a cutting to get you started.

3. Get the right container. Make sure your container is big enough! About 6 – 12 inches deep. And more herbs in one pot = a bigger pot. Seeds can be started in a small pot and eventually transferred to a larger one. If more potting soil is needed, you can get a really great mix from the compost collection table at the Union Square Greenmarket for $6-$12.

4. Water. This was our downfall. Just remember to water them. Google it, figure out how much water your specific herbs need and then water them this amount no matter what, or else I promise (from personal experience) they will die. But also make sure that they get good drainage. Too much water can be just as detrimental as too little. Just watch your plants closely – they will tell you when they are thirsty.

5. And finally, EAT THEM. These herbs don’t just exist to be checked off your bucket list – they are fully functional (and delicious). Experiment with different mints to be used in your tea. Add them to salads, pastas, and homemade dressings! Basil is good on everything in my opinion. Feeling adventurous? Get creative then, these fresh herbs won’t last forever so use this as an excuse to go on a daring chefs binge. Lavender can be an especially yummy culinary tool – a new flavor added in to shortbread, cupcakes, and glazes – or used to spice up your seasonally appropriate hot chocolate (because everyone should be drinking hot chocolate at least from now until December 25).

And on that note – get creative with the garden too. If you frequent Pinterest as much as I do you have probably seen these adorable pictures of plants growing in tea tins. Genius!

(you would water your plants if they looked like this)

Of course, winter break is coming up so one last helpful tip – wait till after break to start your garden. Your plants need attention and care and can’t be left to fend for themselves in an empty dorm for five weeks. Use this time to plan and inspire yourself, so that you are ready to start your own personal paradise when you return! I know I will (perhaps even re-doing the failed avocado tree? There might be more to come on that…)

(our failed avocado plant…maybe more on that to come…)

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A Seasonally Relevant Rambling with Regards to Thanksgiving

Oh the glory of Thanksgiving.  There’s no other holiday that harkens us so sweetly to our kitchens and our tables and our families.  It’s a chance to lose yourself in the “tradition” of something, to submit ourselves to the classic archetype of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie, and to slowly drift away from loud family members in a coma-like nap.  But what does this have to do with community agriculture?

I’m not sure actually, but it seemed like a good idea to write about Thanksgiving.  I mean, there’s no other holiday that demands all of our physical and mental attention to the act of eating.  So subsequently it seems like a good time to reflect upon the seasonally symbolical food groups of Thanksgiving.

Turkey:  I’ve never really been sure why turkey plays such an important role considering it tends towards dryness or being dropped on floors or causing familial strife (I don’t really want to talk about it).  Frankly, I think I’d much prefer to eat something more flavorful, like a goose or duck or tofu.  But I still roast one every Thanksgiving.  Why?  Because Thanksgiving told me to.

Cranberry Sauce:  Flavor-wise, and seasonally, this one makes sense.  Being from Massachusetts, I’m close to the cranberry bogs of Cape Cod.  And now tis’ the season for fresh cranberries and a freshly made cranberry sauce composed simply of cranberries, water, sugar, and orange zest and boiled down until delicious is honestly one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.  Now tis’ the season for reveling in cranberries.  If one were to observe my plate one would find tidbits of turkey and stuffing and potato gasping for attention in a flood of cranberry sauce.

Stuffing:  I tend to think a lot about stuffing.  Mainly because it’s awesome.  And what I think about is why do we only eat it once a year?  It’s the most fantastic manifestation of stale bread I can imagine.  If we made stuffing with seasonally relevant ingredients imagine all the different stuffings you could be stuffing yourself with year round!  Chestnut and cranberry and rosemary stuffing in the fall.  Kale stuffing in the winter.  Asparagus and pea stuffing in the spring.  Roasted corn and cornbread stuffing in the summer.  There’s no reason Thanksgiving should have stuffing all to itself.

Mashed Potatoes:  Mashed potatoes make sense because they always make sense.  No one questions mashed potatoes.  Although seasonally speaking they make even more sense.  As the supply of fresh fruits and vegetables dwindle down we are left with roots and tubers which can last us through the winter.  Made with amounts of butter and cream that are as liberal as Ron Paul, mashed potatoes are a creamy and starchy symphony of awesome.

Pie:  Namely pumpkin because if your Thanksgiving meal doesn’t include pumpkin pie there must be something dreadfully wrong.  Pumpkins are ready for the eating right about now, just don’t use the ones that have been steadily rotting on your front steps since Halloween.  Most of us fall victim to the temptation of canned pumpkin but if you want to really experience pumpkin in its full glory grow one, split it in half, scoop out the seeds, roast the two halves until tender, scoop out the insides, blend them in a food processor and BAM.  If canned pumpkin is One Direction, homemade pumpkin puree is Queen.  Let’s pretend that comparison makes a lot of sense.

And this concludes my seasonally relevant contribution on the topic of Thanksgiving.  I hope everyone has a wonderfully marvelous Thanksgiving filled with lots of delicious and local and seasonal food that sends you all into comas (that you awake from in a timely manner feeling refreshed and ready for a week of leftovers).  Happy Thanksgiving!  Now go make me proud and test your limits with the cranberry sauce!


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Spring Planting Today!

What? Help CommAg plant greens, radishes, carrots and more! Learn about succession planting, and how you can become a part of the garden this summer to reap all the delicious benefits! 

When?  Saturday April 28, 2012, 1-3PM

Where?  Wash. Sq. Village Garden (Walk South down Schwartz Plaza, cross W. 3rd, and walk under the big #1)

See you there!

<3<3 NIKKI and CommAg Friends >^..^<

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Last Week’s Meeting, This Week’s Sun!

We had a fantastic meeting last week with a great turn out. Thank you to everyone who came and helped us make seed starter pots. We are so excited for this planting season! If you missed out or are just interested in making more seed starter pots on your own, I attached a DIY video to the end of this post for simple pots from just a sheet of newspaper.

Where is this beautiful bundle of crocuses and sunshine, you may ask? No where other than the garden a few days ago, in late February! Thoughts on this year’s early bloomings? See what the New York Times has to say about the early buds and concerns of climate change, along with the lack of pollinators and fears of a sudden turn of weather: Much to Savor, and Worry About, Amid Mild Winter’s Early Blooms.

How about stopping by the garden this weekend to see? And while you’re there start visualizing how you want the garden to look come springtime!

We also had Justin from Ethikus stop by and share Shop Your Values Week (SYVW) with us. Ethikus is a great organization focused on getting New Yorkers to “vote with your wallet” by highlighting businesses that ethical and sustainable, based on how the business engages with the community, supports its employees, addresses its environmental impact, and how its products and services are sourced. Shop Your Values Week is a week long event that is being organized now, for the beginning of May. Ethikus gave us a grant last year and for that we are very thankful! And they want to continue to collaborate with us, which is great! But as Justin put it well, “we want our relationship to be a mutually beneficial one”! A.K.A. If you want to get involved with their great organization, check out their website or send them an email (Or talk to us and we’ll put you in touch with Justin!). They have a Meetup coming up next week where they will be talking more about Shop Your Values Week and anyone is invited to join in and collaborate!
Check out their social media pages: ethikusNYC Twitter ,  Facebook , Blog , Meetup !

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Meeting This Thursday!

Come to our first meeting of the semester 


for good company, some updates on the garden, upcoming events, and moreeee!


Keep an eye on agrowculture, they are supporting urban farmers by connecting them to their communities. Find a farm near you, petition for one, or start your own!

Watch this video of an adorable 11 year old boy talking about what’s wrong with the food system.

And grab a student discounted ticket for the 2012 Just Food Conference with food talks, workshops, panels,  a Good Food Jobs Fair, and a keynote address from Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen A. Merrigan. Read more here!

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