Fire Escape Herb Garden

Writer and producer Rachel Clift writes from the Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment she shares with percussionist Kevin Sport:

“Kevin and I are lucky to have a fire escape large enough for an herb garden. Every morning, while I drink my cup of tea out there, I marvel at how a little city garden can flourish.

Rachel and Kevin's fire escape at their rowhouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY

“Our fire escape only gets two and a half hours of direct sunlight a day, which isn’t enough to grow most vegetables. But it’s sunny between 11:30 am and 2 pm when the rays are their strongest. And that’s good enough for basil, so it’s good enough for me! Along with several varieties of basil, we grow herbs that can handle New York’s summer heat but don’t need full sun: oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, mint, lavender, and fennel. And a few petunias and geraniums and a sweet potato vine for flirtatious color and vibrancy.

“All summer, we’ve been cooking with produce from New York City farmers’ markets. Sometimes, an herb will be the starting point for a recipe, but more often than not we decide what we’re in the mood for, then figure out how to incorporate what’s growing right outside our window into the recipe.

Ruben the cat is more interested in the fish than the herb garden

“A big hit this summer has been herbed fish with rosemary potatoes. Here’s how I made it last week with grouper fillets from the Essex Street Market in the Lower East Side: I boiled some baby potatoes until they were tender enough for a fork to penetrate, but still firm. Over medium-high heat, I heated olive oil in a large frying pan, then tossed in a handful of herbs, stems removed. We’ve been using lots of basil—the purple kind, which has a much subtler flavor than the green—along with sprigs of thyme, rosemary and fennel. I fried the herbs until the leaves began to brown, about five minutes. then removed the herbs from the pan, lowered the heat slightly, slid in the grouper fillets and sautéed them for three to four minutes on each side. Meanwhile, over low heat, I tossed the boiled potatoes with a little olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and chopped rosemary and thyme. For a side dish, we steamed asparagus and tossed it with a little olive oil. When everything had been plated, I squeezed a little fresh lemon juice over the dish—and voila! The best fire escape supper ever.

“For dessert, sliced peaches from the Union Square Greenmarket tossed with lavender, mint, honey, and a few drops of cider vinegar—an unusual recipe idea picked up from a vendor there. Gorgeous combination.”

About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint,, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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