Category Archives: books

Announcing…The Essential Urban Farmer

Three years ago, bad-ass urban farmer Willow Rosenthal and I were complaining about email. It takes up so much of our time! Questions sent asking about how we plant, harvest, muck, milk, etc were delaying us from planting, harvesting, mucking, and milking. What to do? Write a book of course.

Here she blows, at over 500 pages, it took us the full three years to write the beast.

We are thrilled with the results, and we hope you will be too.

To promote the Essential Urban Farmers we will be at the following places, more to come, and details to be announced:

-February 29, 18 Reasons, San Francisco. Talk at the Women’s Building, exploring the possibilities of urban farming, followed by a dinner discussion at 18 Reasons, to buy tickets for the dinner, click here. The talk will be general admission.
-March 10, Biofuel Oasis, Berkeley
-March 15 or 29, Ecology Center, Berkeley
-April 21, Market Hall Oakland
-June 2, Sunset Garden Expo

See you there, I’ll be there with babe in arms!

Good read: An Everlasting Meal

I found myself tasting a pot of almost boiling water, then I waited a few moments and tasted the fully boiling water, as advised by chef and writer Tamar Adler ( who got the idea from Julia Child). The water did taste different. Try it.

Though I have always rolled my eyes at the term, I’m trying to be more mindful. Yep, I’m getting old and trying to get wise. But not by meditating on a mountain–I’m hoping to learn mindfulness while cooking, standing in front of the stove. I count myself lucky that I’m guided by the words of Tamar Adler, who has written a great book called An Everlasting Meal. Her message is how to make something last, how to carry meals over to the next meal, how to not waste when cooking. I love her writing style–careful, full, beautiful–which is so unlike my messy way. Take this passage about shopping: “And always (buy) a few bunches of dark, leafy greens. This will seem very pious. Once greens are cooked as they should be, though: hot and lustily, with garlic, in a good amount of olive oil, they lose their moral urgency, and become one of the most likable ingredients in your kitchen.”

Adler is a professional cook with so much to teach the home chef, reading the book is like having a cooking teacher whispering suggestions in your ear. Things like how to roast vegetables, poetic methods for thinking about how to cook beans (“As they cook, beans should look like they’re bathing”), and recipes for using olives, anchovies, and capers–her favorite ingredients, and it turns out mine too. She is a fellow scrounger, who uses every scrap of animal or vegetable to make stock. There’s even an appendix that details how to salvage botched ingredients. Mindfulness, I’m discovering through this terrific book, can be delicious.

I’m looking forward to using some of her recipes tomorrow when I cook for Thanksgiving. To everyone: enjoy the day, the food, the company, the bounty–happy Thanksgiving!

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers and My Calabria

There are two books that I’ve been using in heavy rotation in the kitchen. Both are about Italian food, and old ways of doing things–two of my favorite topics.

The first is called Cooking with Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux. I heard about Jessica’s project through a DVD called Rabbits and Wrinkles, short documentary films of Italian grandmamas wandering around in funny socks and picking weeds, then showing us how they cook them. The grandma I watched cook was from Calabria, the extreme southern part of Italy. She pulled up bean plants in a foggy field, shelled and then simmered them in a wood-fired oven. She got out a basket and foraged for wild greens. I felt deprived that I wasn’t there to eat this amazing feast she prepared from the earth. The DVDs morphed into CwIG, and chronicles Jessica’s journey around Italy, and her lessons in cooking. For Thanksgiving I’ve decided to ditch the turkey and make a series of dumpling/dumpling related foods instead. Stuff like rabbit raviolis and Polish plum dumplings. CwIG is going to help that dumpling dinner: I loved the gnocchi recipe, which yielded these light and chewy friends.

I also have plans to make the baked semolina gnocchi. Oh! And the Polpette di Bietola (chard-sesame balls) –an amazing sounding/looking concoction of steamed chard rolled into a ball with ricotta, bread crumbs which are then rolled in seasame seeds and baked.

The second Italian grandma book involves a grandpa. It’s My Calabria, a cookbook about Calabrian food by Rosetta Costantino. I met Rosetta through a friend and have taken a cooking class from her before (see Hamish Bowles hilarious account of our antics in the November issue of Vogue). And I recently met her father and mother, who are old-school Italians, and are bad-asses in the garden and kitchen respectively. The book is really a love song to the old ways Rosetta’s parents do things: they reuse everything, they preserve and save things for winter, and they seem to grow or make most things they need. Rosetta’s dad, for example, grows and dries his own peppers and his wife grinds them up to make Peperoncino. The tomato trellis in their garden is truly amazing. Don’t worry that you’ll have to use hard-to find ingredients–the Calabrians are all about tomatoes, onions, and zucchini, seen here in the Parmigiana di Zucchine that I made the other night.

But there’s also some weird stuff too! Like the Pitta con Verdura, which is like a calzone but stuffed with borage leaves (if you don’t have borage, you can use chard instead). I had never eaten borage leaves before, but now will never go back, they are so buttery. One of my favorite sections was about the Calabrian pantry–how to make salt-cured anchovies, sun-dried zucchini (wtf? i never thought of that!), candied orange peel. Rosetta tells us that Calabrians never waste anything, so when I found myself with a bunch of figs, I made the Marmellata di Fichi with lovely results.

For dessert on Thanksgiving, I might attempt the Chinulille, sweet ravioli filled with ricotta and candied orange and then (gulp) deep fried. I’m also looking lovingly at the photo on page 153, which is of a pair of goat stomachs which are hanging on some smoky beams. The stomachs aren’t to eat, but are used to make rennet, something Rosetta’s dad did when he was a goatherder and cheesemaker in Italy. This page is especially enticing to me as I have three bucklings on my hands this year, and am faced with the fact that they will not be able to stay–so why not make some rennet and then cheese from that rennet? To use every part, to transform something sad into something delightful.

Both of these books made me have hope that old ways can be rediscovered, as long as we are interested in them. Happy Thanksgiving-planning.


Black Panthers and me: Friday

These days, what with the whole financial crisis and all, fundraising is getting tight for all kinds of cool projects. One of them is the Commemorator, a newspaper put out by some former Black Panthers, who I really like a lot. They run a literacy program, too. As I mentioned in my book, Farm City, the BP started school gardens long before it became the fashion. So when Melvin Dickson called and asked me to have a fundraiser for his group, I was more than happy to oblige.

I’ll be talking for the first part, reading from Farm City and maybe showing some slides about urban farms. I will also discuss my recent trip to Kenya and things I learned while there. After a break with refreshments,  Melvin will take the stage and discuss a history of self-empowerment that the BPs promoted. I think he’s going to show this video of the school started by the Panthers, which makes you think about history in a very different way.

Here’s the 411:

Neibyl Proctor Library

6501 Telegraph Ave, Oakland

February 12, 7pm

Free: but donations are gladly accepted to support the CCBPP’s literacy program. Books will be available for sale, and all proceeds go to the literacy program.

Hope to meet you there!

Coming to a Town Near You?

I wish I had the gumption (and could convince the goats, rabbits, hens, and bees) to load up into a car and drive around the US of A to promote urban farming. Based on some of the comments you’ve sent from places like DC, Philly, San Diego, and Boston, I would be welcomed with open arms. That sure is a good feeling. I was in Los Angeles yesterday and couldn’t believe how many people were into urban farming and wanted to show me their farms and learn more about what I’ve been up to–but there just wasn’t enough time.

And so hatched the DIY Farm City Tour idea.

My dear publisher paid for me to go to Seattle, Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. But I want to see what’s doing in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, St. Paul, etc, etc, etc–I want to see urban farms all over America! But how will I pay for that?

That’s where you come in. If you’d like me to come to your town, please send me an email at novella.carpenter at gmail, or just comment belo with ideas. Let me know if you’d like me to teach a class about chickens, rabbits, or just give a reading from my book. Include the names of bookstores or spaces where workshops could happen in your town. I’m targeting October as the perfect month for the DIY tour.

In a nugget:

What: Novella in your town, teaching or talking about urban farming

How: She’ll need to raise money to cover airfare (you and your friends have to promise to put money in the hat or hold a fundraiser or charge for a cool class that I’ll teach)

How 2: She’ll sleep on your couch

Where: urban farms in your city, bookstores, master gardener classes, universities even

When: October-November

Please send me proposals, ideas, criticism, as soon as possible so I can start contacting venues and setting up dates. The ideal is to pair up with a local bookstore so they can sell copies of my book.


Can’t wait to meet you! And yes, that is a fake smile that I promise not to make when I’m in your town.

Tour recap

A wise person advised me to keep a journal about my book tour–writing down the names of people I met, things I saw, and questions that were asked. Of course I didn’t do it. Much to my regret.

Here’s what I remember, very hazily: Flew to Portland and went to KBOO for a radio interview (never heard it). Dinner at Paley’s Place (rabbit raviolis) with my uncle and aunt (delish). Met up with Lana and Bill at my hotel. So good to see her. She brought her grandmother’s  tweezers. Which we employed that next morning as I had to go on Northwest AM–a television show–and couldn’t do so with my beard. Lana also cut my hair that morning, to the horror of room service. Met an urban farmer in Portland randomly (we just drove up, she came outside and gave us a tour). Her garden–Kung Fu Farm–put mine to shame. To shame! Lots of chickens. Read at Powell’s to a nice audience and offered people prosciutto (if they bought a book!).

Bombed into Seattle around 1:20am after my reading in Portland. Billy was demanding Dick’s burgers, so we stopped in and had a deluxe and milkshake. Stayed on my friend’s floor for the next three days. Read at the beautiful Town Hall. Met people from Grist. Rode my friend’s bike to Third Place Books. Interview with KUOW. Ate Thai food. Did a conversation/dinner/chocolate reading with Warren Etheridge. We mostly talked about growing pot. He’s great.

Went to my hometown of Shelton where I recuperated and my mom fed me in between naps. Her rural town garden is really going great guns, and she’s thinking about bees. Flew home the next day. Arrived home to see that our landlord painted the house pink and red, the goats were thirsty, and the garden just looked okay compared to what I had seen in the great Northwest.

Also: took zero photos. I’m an ass.

Tomorrow, July 1 (rabbit, rabbit) I’ll be on It’s Your Call with Rose Aguilar at 10am on KALW (call in with some love, ok?), then reading at Green Arcade books on Market, a new awesome bookstore filled with green living and nature titles.  It’s right by Zuni. 7pm.

July 2, I’ll be at Copperfields in Sebastopol. Might bring my extractor and do a demo.

Finally, Michael Jackson: RIP. I really loved you. And I’m so sorry.