Saturday, April 22, 2017

Foraging and Feasting - a book for cooks, gardeners and foragers

These botanical plates are just a modest spring sampling of the dozens of illustrations in Dina Falconi's beautiful and useful book Foraging and Feasting (Botanical Art Press, 2013). The artist is Wendy Hollender. I just gave away two copies on Facebook and Instagram, where the response was so positive that I thought I'd give you a better glimpse of the book, here. It was published thanks to funding via Kickstarter, printed in the US, and is a sturdy and very attractive hardcover, complete with wild onion endpapers. Both author and illustrator are based in upstate New York but many of the plants covered are ubiquitous.

My fridge is loaded right now with garlic mustard, above. I have made a relish from the roots, stews and curries with the leaves, have a lacto fermentation bubbling angrily to itself, and am about to preserve a bucketload for later in the season (by blanching, squeezing and freezing). It is a super invader and happens to be very good to eat. Pick it while it is sweetly in bud and you prevent it from setting its pernicious little seeds and spreading even more.

What I like about the illustrations in Foraging and Feasting is not just their accuracy and obvious aesthetic appeal, but that their notes explain at a glance which parts are used and at what time of year. There is a patch of dame's rocket seven doors down from where we live and my mouth waters a bit whenever I walk past. But it's behind a fence and in a garden, so...

Foraging and Feasting has an approach to recipes that I like. Dina gives a Master Recipe for a plant or for a technique (like water kefir, syrup, sauces, catsup, herb and flower butters - it's a long list) which gives you a solid grounding and technique for using a plant, and then she has ideas for improvisation, guiding you but granting you as much creativity as you can muster. Follow the link for a good sense of how each plant is described, and to Dina's Master recipe for Nettle Frittata.

Day lilies - today happens to be the day I must clean a bunch of day lily tubers for some more recipe testing of my own...dig them now, eat their young shoots and snack on the flowers, come early summer. As with all new foods, sample a small amount, first - I do know a couple of people who have exerienced unhappy reactions to day lilies (not me!), as the author mentions in her Cautionary Note above. Eat in moderation. Tonight I'm making rösti with the little tubers. To go with our rabbit and gifted D'Artagnan morels.

Also in season in my hood, the terrible spreadable: goutweed, also called ground elder or bishop weed (Aegopodium podagraria). Tastes a little like lovage. We ate Japanese knotweed and lamb for dinner, and then there are all those dandelions... And nettles. Must blanch more nettles!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

D'Artagnan Morels - let the games begin

When the forages come to you... I may have squealed out loud. Quite pasture-raised pig-like.

But who wouldn't? While I have about a gazillion things to do (cleaning and photographing day lily tubers, cooking day lily rösti, puréeing nettles, making nettle soufflé, making Japanese knotweed lamb curry, processing a couple of hundred new photographs - all for the forage cookbook) this is so exciting I had to post it right away.

The friendly people at D'Artagnan (and I have just finished re-reading The Three Musketeers) sent me a mushroom gift box. It arrived at the door this morning. Inside? Blonde and brown morels and the fattest asparagus I have ever seen. Even though my mouth is watering I hardly know where to begin. What a wonderful quandary.

I use D'Artagnan meats like duck, quail and recently rabbit - said rabbit will be in the morel stew, and I am happy that as a city forager they are there to supply the high quality ingredients that pair beautifully with wild ingredients.

Rabbit and morels in cream and mustard sauce coming up. And then what? Send me your morel ideas!

To quote Dumas, as the real D'Artagnan went to bed on the eve of his adventures, tonight I shall sleep "clear of all remorse for the past, confident in the present and full of hope for the future. "

Sans remords dans le passé, confiant dans le présent et plein d’espérance dans l’avenir, elle se coucha et s’endormit du sommeil des braves.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Spring around the corner

...literally: One of my favourite local gardens, on 3rd Place in Carroll Gardens. It looks good all year round, not an easy feat.

We enjoyed freak weather on Sunday, summer-hot: 87'F/30'C. In the woods we visited in the Bronx, the spring ephemerals wilted without leaf cover from the still bare trees. And my own garden's daffodils are still only in bud.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Brooklyn Forage Walk

Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata

Prospect Park
15 April 2017
12pm - 2pm

April in Brooklyn. An edible spring is sprouting underfoot in the wilds of Prospect Park, and wild foods like ephemeral lesser celandine flowers, dandelions, mugwort, ground elder (goutweed) shoots, garlic mustard (all of these are crazy-invasives) are appearing.

Lesser celandine, Ficaria verna

We'll walk though a cross-section of woodland and open ground, discussing the differences between natives and invasives, what they mean in terms of foraging and cooking, and whether it makes more sense to forage or harvest. We end with a wild-inspired picnic. We may even find the Easter Bunny (don't worry, he is not on the menu!).

Meet up details will be emailed to confirmed walkers.



Book a Spring Forage Walk

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring time

Spring arrived on Saturday. Meaning, the sun shone, after many grey and wet days. Today was Day Three of sun. And lots happened. On 2nd Place hyacinths have usurped crocus at the feet of our lady of the flowers. Two doors down the owner of a small pink peach tree sat on a folding chair and puffed his cigar.

Early cherries have opened. This one did not suffer damage from the early warm, late cold of February and March.

On 3rd Place one of my favorite gardens is waking up. 

Otherwise, the pace is increasing: Foraging season has begun. Wintercress, spicebush flowers, early Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard are appearing. My time is spread between scouting, gathering, cleaning, shooting, cooking, shooting again, writing, and eating (the reward). The window is narrow and these ingredients, at their peak, are ephemeral (RUN, FORREST!).

Tonight we ate outdoors for the first time this year. A deeply fragrant little roast chicken perfumed with chopped field garlic and fresh turmeric.  

In the garden things happen overnight. Fiddleheads unfurl, fava beans rise. The Oregon wasabi has been planted, the New Jersey turmeric must go in, and some Nicotiana plants are arriving in the mail from California along with tender summer bulbs from Virginia. Trade is alive and well.

Hold onto your hats.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Mt. Loretto - big skies in the big city

Recently we rented a bubble car (a tiny smart car, via Car2Go, whose location you pinpoint on your app and unlock with your phone - the beautiful, scifi future). We left our Island (Long) for another (Staten), and went walking in wide open fields.

Mt. Loretto Unique Area has a baffling name but is straightforward in person (or in field?) - two sides of a busy road: seaside, woodland side; enough space for a horizon, and few people. I have been visiting several times a year ever since the Frenchman moved to New York from Canada, post immigration approval (and nearly two years after we were married). He discovered it when he had time to kill, before he landed a job, by surfing Google Earth for wildness in the city.

Time to kill seems very long ago.

Spring was tentative. Leafless trees, green grass, boggy patches after rain. The area has experienced renewed attention from its stewards and supporters and is better kept than I have ever seen it.

An ecological scourge locally is mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris - to which I devote many recipes in the book I am working on), whose early fall sticks you see above. Much of it has been mown, but where it was still upright I picked branches to bring home for barbecue skewers. Aromatic.

We found our usual bench uninhabited and unpacked our picnic. Rabbit and juniper terrine, sopressata from Los Paisanos and quick pickled vegetables.

In damp sunny patches this tiny cress was prolific. It could be a species of Cardamine, but I must check.

One of the two other flowers we saw belonged to a prostrate Veronica, bright in the sun.

And winter cress, a species of Barbarea, peppery and very good to eat.

From the southern end of the island we moved back north, following a flock of seabirds feeding out in the harbor. Near another beach I saw a beach plum (Prunus maritima) beginning to bloom.

Not the seabirds we were looking for.

So we kept walking. The tide was low.

It seems wonderful that anything can live and grow in New York Harbor.

And there they were. Terrible pictures, but still: northern gannets. The only gannets I know are the Cape gannets of the cold West Coast water off South Africa.

Flocking, wheeling, diving for schools of spring fish.

It was a good thing to see, on the fringes of the big city. 


Friday, April 7, 2017

Rain comes down, plants come up

It's been a bit wet. I wish I could send this to parched Cape Town and environs, suffering from serious drought. Here in Brooklyn, in the central vegetable plot, the soil drains better than it did this time last year - I think the green manure (digging plants back into the soil) helped. The chives on the left are fat and happy. 

The garlic seems to be strong. Tulip rows are coming up, so the squirrels didn't get them all. The purple potatoes that I thought had frozen to mush after our balmy February seem to be intact. 

When we moved in here in late 2015 there were only weeds in the middle bed. Many, many weeds. On the outsides edges there were some irises (a beautiful purple), day lilies (which I divided), Solomon's seal (a plant I love, also divided), violets,  and a sprawling spirea (I took it out). Now, the bulbs I planted - muscari, fritillaria, daffodils, alliums, tulips, lily of the valley (for the Frenchman, whose town in Provence used to hold a festival for them), lilies, liatris, camassia, eremurus and even dahlias - as well perennials - columbines, foamflower (it has moved with us twice), foxgloves, thimbleweed, ostrich fern, heuchera, milkweeds, asters, agastache, salvia, monkshood - are beginning to wake up. 

The Unattractive Path flooded. If I do cover it in river gravel, the gravel will get muddy. Dilemma.

There is life in the pots, even if two of them cracked. The purple elderflower above might even bloom this year.

And I am the proud mother of a clutch of fiddleheads. I have a small flock of ostrich ferns, now, and when the fatter fiddleheads develop we'll have a small ceremonial dish of them with dinner.


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