Roofing It
No longer content to buy premium, fresh produce from local farmers, some chefs are taking the local sourcing concept to new heights--rooftops, to be specific. The Baltimore Sun (June 23, 2010) reports more and more local chefs and restaurant owners are turning farmer and reaping the rewards, along with the harvest. 

There are 55 tomato plants growing in large pots on support beams above the rowhouse roof of Regi’s American Bistro. Owner Alan Morstein created this rooftop “farmette” as a way to furnish his chefs with more affordable, dependable sources for tasty varieties of tomatoes. What used to be “farm-to-table” dining is now “rooftop-to-table,” Morstein jokes.

The concept is taking root in a big way in other cities--and not only to meet the needs of restaurateurs. Rooftop farming, as a concept, has gained much ground, as the problem of feeding larger and larger numbers of city-dwellers increases, while available farmland decreases. It makes sense from a green standpoint, as the carbon footprint of a rooftop city garden is much less than that of produce transported hundreds of miles.

Another benefit is “bragging rights,” especially in an era where the provenance of so many ingredients is touted on menus--from house-made dressings and pickles to house-cured bacon or ribs. House-grown produce seems a natural extension. The soup du jour at Jack’s Bistro, also in Baltimore, last week, was gazpacho made with “rooftop onions.” Says manager Christie Smertycha, “There’s just something wonderful about saying, ‘Oh, we grow them on the rooftop of our building’...there’s a real sense of pride.”

Loving Lavender?
The medicinal benefits of lavender have long been known, but it has also been appearing on menus for the past year. Most top trends lists named lavender as one of the hottest flavors of 2009, and there are no signs of it ending.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (June 17, 2010), reporting on the 10th annual Pennsylvania Lavender Festival, noted festival attendees washed down lavender brownies and blondies (a rich, sweet dessert bar) with lavender lemonade. They also sampled lavender-flavored ice creams and were treated to cookies, jellies and vinegars featuring the sweet-tasting herb.

Lavender can be paired with familiar ingredients to bring a naturally soothing, aromatic quality to many foods and beverages. Madeline Wajda, whose Willow Pond Farm near Gettysburg hosted the festival, likes to fold the tiny blue-violet flowers into homemade beverages, cookies and other desserts. Or, try adding chopped lavender to the mix for shortbread or pastry, for a more English take on a lavender dessert.

The White Mountains of eastern Arizona are also host to a large lavender love fest. Visitors learn how lavender oil is distilled and can attend cooking demonstrations, as well as purchase lavender-inspired cookbooks in the gift shop. In Cape Cod, Mass., lavender peaks in late June or early July. The Cape Cod Lavender Farm, in Harwich, offers lavender-infused jellies and chocolate in a relaxing spa setting, amid 20 acres and 14,000 lavender