A Rooftop Growing Guide Dinner with Annie Novak
This weekend, we gathered at Styer's with author and urban gardener Annie Novak to celebrate the release of her new book, The Rooftop Growing Guide. Annie traveled from Brooklyn's Eagle Street Rooftop Farm to host a three-course meal of vegetarian dishes, which included honey and hot sauce from the farm's most recent harvest. She'll be joining us again in Westport on March 29 for a workshop on hot sauce. Read on for some of Annie's favorite moments from the dinner, and a sneak peek at Hot Sauce 101.
terrain: What were some highlights from this weekend's dinner?
Annie: One of the best parts of the evening was welcoming a mix of old and new friends; the meal brought together lots of like-minded people. Everyone left feeling excited to have met one another, and to go into spring with the book. I hope it will be a useful tool for them as gardeners!
I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so I came into farming as a part of that experience. I was so excited that terrain’s chefs were open to a vegetarian menu, especially in the winter. People are always pleasantly surprised by the diversity of winter vegetables; the menu showcased cold-season classics like potato leek soup alongside more unexpected items, such as a variety of pickled vegetables and a cauliflower tartlet. Some non-vegetarian guests commented that they didn’t even realize there was no meat on the menu until the very end of the meal!
We also had a lot of fun with the evening’s signature cocktail, the “Bee’s Sting.” It was a spin on one of my favorite winter cocktails, the Bee’s Knees, made with gin, lemon, honey, and a dash of hot sauce. The honey and lemon are wonderfully warming, and the hot sauce settles in the bottom for a bit of kick in the final sips. The hot sauce and honey came from this year's harvest at Eagle Street. Our honey bees are serve as pollinators for our chili plants, so the cocktail captured their relationship—the bees help the chili plants grow, then the nectar from those plants goes back into the honey!
terrain: What are you up to during the winter months, when life is quieter on the farm?
Annie: Winter is seed ordering season—a time for dreaming and optimism. I’m currently looking through seed catalogs and thinking about what I’ll grow this summer. Though it's more quiet, we’re still doing daily chores and taking care of the rabbits and chickens. I’m also visiting restaurants to see what new crops they’re excited about this year; one of the best things about our urban location is working with all our local chefs. This year, I'm looking forward to cultivating edible flowers. They’re a great, compact crop for city growers and a wonderful local food because they can’t be shipped.
terrain: What can we look forward to at your hot sauce workshop?
Annie: Hot sauce can be a food that you have to grow into—growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t love it. These days, I’m open to having hot sauce with any part of a meal, even dessert! Homemade hot sauce is much thicker and richer than store-bought varieties; it also has a very low pH that’s good for your stomach, and is packed with Vitamin C. We’ll be working with chili peppers, which are perfect for a rooftop garden since they’re very adaptable plants. I’ll be teaching the workshop from a gardener’s perspective with tips on growing peppers, too; we raise about 25 varieties of chilis on the farm. One of the most interesting things about plants is that their flavors often exist as natural protection. In the case of spicy peppers, that's an attribute that can be used to our advantage in the kitchen.
Through the love of plants, I came to enjoy really flavorful food and met a lot of chili enthusiasts. Chilis are extremely varied and important to global cuisine; every culture has its own unique chili. Particularly in vegetarian cultures, peppers are essential to making meals dynamic. Like heirloom, tomatoes, there’s a lot of history, color and flavor in chili plants. One of the best things about hot sauce is that you don’t need to be a great cook to be a great sauce maker—but being a good sauce maker helps you be a better cook!