Tag Archives: homemade

A Tomato Plant Grows (slowly) in Geneva

For years I have been theoretically committed to learning how to grow some of my own produce. I can’t think of a good reason why not to! It involves dirt, fresh produce, it is a more sustainable means of food production, you can better control what you eat, and urban gardening is just the coolest concept of our time – RIGHT?

But I have not been known for my green thumbs, and I’ve got a very whiny inner couch-potato. Plus, with the travel schedule I maintain, growing anything has been next to impossible. Yes, I could get a neighbor to help water my plants while I’m away… but that would involve meeting the neighbors. Which takes effort. Etc. And if that’s not illustrative enough, I should report that my attempt at an herb garden last year turned into a miniature graveyard within two weeks, no joke.

So this year, when I tripped over this announcement by Tomates Urbaines, I jumped at the opportunity to try my hand, once again, at making things grow at home.

It was April when I received my seeds from Tomates Urbaines. After first spilling the seeds all over the floor, I swept them up and managed to sprinkle them into the bottom of a small plastic bin to get them started (I can’t say for sure if a few other things that I picked up off the floor didn’t get planted as well….).  You cannot possibly imagine my childlike excitement when they first sprouted!  Who needs the whole tomato? Just this tiny little sprout was enough to make me feel accomplished.

my first little sprouts!

my first little sprouts!

Well, not really. I do want the tomatoes I said to myself, to which my inner couch-potato sighed.

Next, my travel schedule kicked in – two weeks solid without being home, and no one there to water my little babies. I took a chance and put the bins outside, crossing my fingers that nature would do its thang. I was convinced I would come home to mud. But lo and behold! My little sprouts had grown up to be proper toddler plants!

The time soon came when I needed to pot them. But I didn’t have any pots. And it was a Sunday, in Geneva, which means: nowhere to go to buy pots. Foiled again, this time they would die for sure.

But then, lifesaver, my partner reminded me of the old plastic bottle trick. With my inner couch potato kicking and screaming, I spent my afternoon sawing off the bottoms of the bottles (with some help from the muscle man in my life) and viciously stabbing holes into their bottoms for drainage.  Then I nervously pricked the roots out of the dirt with a pencil, and placed them into new little pots. And wouldn’t you know, they didn’t collapse and die in the process. Amazing!


My eight tomato plants looked like a much messier version of these (photo taken from http://www.insideurbangreen.org)

In May, I once again had to abandon the kiddies for nearly two weeks. I bid farewell to them, leaving them outdoors again, assuming (again) that they would die a miserable death either by drowning or dehydration. But by now, I think you know how the story goes: when I got back, they were totally fine!

The month of June has gone by like a flash. I re-potted them since they were getting super tall. Tomates Urbaines had announced I should be seeing leaves growing out of the armpits of the branches by now, which I should prune. But why were there no little leaves in MY plants’ armpits?? I freaked that my babies were falling behind the pack. What would it take? Special ed classes? More parental supervision? Love?? Yes to all is what I was guessing.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.

This is kind of what they looked like at this stage.


So, a bit behind schedule, I finally bought bigger pots, tons of soil, sticks, and wire, and finally made the move to put them outside permanently. Their stems are thickening and I’m pruning those little leaves that grow out of the armpits of the larger stems and branches. I haven’t bothered to buy fertilizer, which I managed to forget last time I went to the DIY shop. And out of sheer convenience, I’m naively assuming no fungus or disease would dare go near my little tomato elves.


no branches from the armpits yet

my pre-teen tomato garden

Now it’s July, and Tomates Urbaines says they should soon be bearing fruit. WHAT FRUIT?? I don’t see even the bud of a possible fruit on my plants! Are they not getting enough sun? Water? Do I really have to haul ass and get that fertilizer?  But it’s summer summer summer tiiiiime! Time for sleeping and reading and lazing around!

But I can’t give up now, no! I’ve come this far. Couch potato or no couch potato, I will make tomatoes happen. As soon as I’ve finished watching this YouTube clip of the hamster eating the burrito…



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Tomatoes for all, and other tomatoes, too!

Allow me to brighten up this slightly schizophrenic Monday morning: I just discovered an initiative of ProSpecieRara called Tomates Urbaines (that’s “Urban Tomatoes”, for the truly franco-deficient) to encourage people to grow disappearing varieties of tomatoes.

The concept? Everyone has the right to have seeds. Now that’s food for thought. Seems obvious at first, but according to ProSpecieRara, access to seeds is becoming increasingly limited due to the creation of varieties that are more resistant to disease etc. So far so good, but apparently, when you replant the seeds that come from these hybrid varieties of tomatoes, you get diddly squat. Instead, you have to buy new seeds to get new tomatoes. The consequences? A significant reduction in the number of tomato varieties available.  (This is clearly a blog-simplified version of the issue. The ProSpecieRara website of course explains their concerns in much greater, nuanced detail). 

To many, this may not matter. Hopefully to these readers, it does: I mean anyone who has ever been to the market in the summer has seen how incredibly diverse and cool looking tomatoes can be, right?? Red, green, yellow, big, small, smooth, bumpy, they seriously come in all shapes and sizes and have the most incredible bursts of flavor! Growing organic varietals that are slowly disappearing will keep diversity alive, not to mention the amazing fresh and fruity tastes they will bring to your dishes. And if you have kids, wow. I can still remember the first time I saw my avocado seed crack open and generate a new plant.

One tomato, two tomato, three tomato, four, five tomato, six tomato, seven tomato, more!

So here’s how it works:

1. Go to Tomates Urbaines until 6 April and sign up to receive your tomato-growing starter kit. You can make your pick of a whole list of varietals. You can start with seeds, or, if like me you’re incapable of making things grow and stay alive, you can ask for a sprout instead. The kit comes with detailed instructions, so they’ll be holding your hand all the way through.

2. Take care of your tomato. The website says it needs you to speak to it lovingly! (And isn’t that the truth for us all?)

3. Come August-September, take the most beautiful photo ever of your hottest tomato and submit to Tomates-Urbaines to win a prize.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE.

I will certainly be signing up – this will be second time trying to grow edibles. Last time was a colossal failure, so stay tuned for possible ridiculousness in the coming months.  Who’s with me?

Happy Monday!

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Eating cheap, Eating well Days 1 & 2: magret de canard, rigatoni with pine nuts and broccoli

Got all my ingredients yesterday according to a meal plan that should keep me going through the week. I mean where’s the fun in being broke if you can’t be strategic and competitive about it?

To kick start my week of restraint, I thought I would go big. Ease into it and all that. So what better splurge than duck? I kept it “healthy” by siding it with green beans and just a handful of rice.

Day 1. Magret de canard – mark the skin with a knife, salt and pepper the skin side. Heat up just a little bit of oil in a pan to medium (duck releases a lot of fat, so no need to go crazy with the grease). Let sizzle skin side down for about 6 minutes. Flip over and let sizzle for another 6 or so minutes (depends how cooked you like your meat). Pull it off the heat and wrap in foil to let it set (makes the meat more tender). If you’re feeling “saucy”, lower the heat on the now meatless pan and add in something sweet like orange juice, red wine, or a vinegar of your choice and “scrape the bottom of the pan like hell” as my brother says. You will get yourself a lovely sauce that ducks are just mad about. Serve with steamed green beans (lightly salted, squeeze of lemon juice) and white rice that will absorb the sauce like yuuuuuum.

Sorry y’all, no pic. This kind of dish goes down fast.


Day 2: Rigatoni with broccoli, pine nuts in an olive oil sauce
When I was in college, on a road trip with some friends, we stopped in Philly to have dinner with my friend’s parents. You see, he was Italian, and his parents ran a modest restaurant. They served us a dish I will never forget for its deceptive simplicity: rigatoni, broccoli, fresh croutons, parmesan, and olive oil. And possibly pine nuts. (College is a bit hazy by now).

TO THIS DAY I have been trying to figure out how they fit so much flavor into such dull ingredients. I will spare you the excitement, I still have not figured it out. I tried this recipe from Food & Wine magazine online, and although it’s easy to make, and it is a step in the right direction, it still doesn’t have the aroma I remember from that homey Italian restaurant in Philly. Still, good enough to want to eat, and I’ve got enough left for lunch tomorrow.


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Prepare Yourselves: Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Hi. This is Kate, Guest Blogger for the Green Gourmande. And I’m here because during an alarming percentage of my waking hours these past several weeks I’ve been pondering the fall of civilization. If it all suddenly collapsed tomorrow, or this afternoon even, could my friends and I rebuild society if we were among the only ones left alive? What skills, knowledge and psychological capacities do the members of my social circle possess? Can they tie knots? Administer emergency medical care? Identify hallucinogenic mushrooms? Build houses and tend gardens? Barbecue?

I’m conducting an ongoing survey and so far have found that all of these societal needs and then some are fulfilled (except for emergency medical care, so no one is allowed to break anything) but I’m at a loss as to where my own place will be in post-apocalyptic Geneva. I’ve finally settled on community griot, but still feel somewhat lacking. Although I will be a wealth of knowledge and information, much of it will come from interviewing other people about what they know, in a sense making me a secondary source. I want to be primary.

Thus begins my quest to be a useful, crafty do-it-yourselfer. As a first order of business, I borrowed this book off a friend:

For the moment I’m studying the chapter on patriotism and citizenship, as one can always use a refresher. Once summer hits I plan to start log cabin construction, but already I’m keen to sharpen my survival skills with something hands-on. Making ricotta cheese is not a sanctioned part of the boy scout curriculum, though it arguably should be as it has saved me from being a drain on the post-apocalyptic community living in my head.

You may be asking yourself, why bother making cheese when you can buy it? Well, it may cause some discomfort to consider the following, but consider it you must: There will be no ricotta in the Migros after the apocalypse. You will have to make it all by yourself, from scratch. In fact, you will have to make from scratch most things you once bought ready made: Bread. Vinegar. Butter. Yogurt. Alcohol. Chocolate.

Have no fear. In my multi-installment tutorial The Post-Apocalyptic Pantry, I will cover the how-tos of all these sundries and more, so that come judgement day you too will be useful.

RICOTTA CHEESE (recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

3 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Slowly heat the milk, cream and salt in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until it reaches just under 90*C. Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice, give it two or three gentle stirs and then leave it alone for five minutes. In the meantime line a colander with cheesecloth and stack it over a large bowl. Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the liquid drain. One hour of drainage will give you spreadable ricotta, while two hours will get you closer to a cream cheese consistency. The longer it drains, the thicker it gets. In the end you’ll be left with a hefty cup of cheese, which can be stored in the fridge for about a week.

– Kate

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