Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Get thee behind me, prejudice



I was not a mandevilla person. But kyk hoe lyk ek nou, as they say in South Africa. Look at me, now.

My feelings for (against) mandevilla were associated with an aversion for pink flamingoes (the un-ironic, garden kind), fishing gnomes, shiny, chromed garden railings, red begonias growing with gritted teeth in full sun, and perhaps even with Miracle Gro. Not my thing.

Then came the leafhoppers.

These tiny green sucking insects ruined the scarlet runner beans I had planted to grow on our terrace railings. They hoover the chlorophyll from leaves, which turn dry and burned-looking. I had intended the beans as a lightly leafy privacy screen along the terrace edges, and hoped the bright flowers might also feed passing hummingbirds (as they did in Harlem and at 1st Place). There is no effective treatment for leaf hoppers that is not systemic. But I garden organically, and so I pulled the beans out.


Already halfway through the growing season I needed something fast-growing. Enter the mandevilla, grown as an annual climber in this climate. And I chose white. The more common pink was a step too far.

Six weeks later it has sent out long  tendrils, and every evening I weave them into strategic gaps.

I'm almost ready for the pink flamingoes.

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Evening on the terrace


Hibiscus in the late light on the terrace. Sharing quarters with shiso and echinacea, and a Thai lime as a neighbor. Very cosmopolitan, like the surrounding city. Different cultures and ethnicities, all getting along without killing one another. Mostly. 


The satellite flowers of the hibiscus swivel gently with the sun.


Also as the sun sinks, fire time. Remember to grill your peaches. These were easily some of the (maybe the) best peaches I have ever tasted (from Kernan Farms at the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket). The heat warms the sugar and caramelizes them a little. A light flick of salt and a squeeze of lemon give you a perfect companion for some juicy ribs.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Growing galangal


The tropical and subtropical edible forest story continues:

And then came two species of galangal, bought from Companion Plants at the Ohio Pawpaw Festival last September (and screened for either explosives or drugs at airport security in Columbus - the screener had also never heard of pawpaws, the Ohio state fruit). 


Galanga alpinia looks a lot like cardamom (in the background), ginger and turmeric (all members of the Zingerberaceae family) and it kept its leaves indoors through winter. Now, in sticky August, it is shooting for the waxing moon.


The more exotic-looking Kaempferia galanga is native to the shaded and humid forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Southeast Asia. It is endangered in the wild. It is one of several plants referred to as galangal and is used as a herb and spice as well as medicinally and in perfumery.

It disappeared completely, indoors, so for most of the winter the worried Frenchman looked at what he thought was a dying plant and then an empty pot (I was in South Africa for three months when my father was ill and passed away). When I came back I wiggled my fingers under the soil to see if its rhizome was still sturdy and firm. It was. We relaxed. It was just sleeping. Every few weeks I gave the invisible plant a light drink. In May it went outdoors when the temperatures overnight stayed above 50'F. In very early June the first leaves appeared, tightly furled and upright, before they relaxed and lay flat on the soil's surface.  It hates direct sun, so is sheltered behind a leafy salvia.


And today (TODAY) I glanced down while sipping my morning coffee on the terrace and noticed what looked like a fallen white flower on the leaves. I looked more closely. It bloomed!


While I bought these two plants to use in the kitchen I am not sure when I will steel myself to eat up some rhizome. But their leaves are heavily aromatic, and maybe soon I will snip one, and begin the Malaysian experiments I have been longing to try.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

The subtropical food forest


This is the mourning doves' view of the terrace. They like to hang out on the roof.

In the lower third of the frame is the unplanned edible subtropical forest. With stragglers along the edges.

It all began at 1st Place with those two big sunny bedroom windows, perfect for overwintering tender citrus, and I chose Thai limes (Citrus hystrix - often called kaffir, the South African K-word; less offensively and more appropriately known as makrut or Thai lime) for their famously perfumed leaves, figuring that the trees were unlikely to produce fruit (I was wrong!).


The two Thai limes now each have about 30 bumpy fruits, whose zest is the most aromatic I know.

The limes were joined by cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), which is almost too successful. I am about to divide it, yet again. And curry leaf (Murraya koenigii) - both bought while I worked on an assignment for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, writing about subtropical herbs. I fell in love.

Who was next? The Meyer lemon, the finger lime, the myogo ginger. And then the two galangals. It's infectious.

They all come indoors in autumn (the link shows their 1st Place winter quarters) and rush for the exit again in early May, or when overnight temperatures stay above 50'F. They relish our muggy summers. The satisfaction of having exotic fragrant leaves and fruit within hands' reach is immense. Especially when these ingredients are hard to find, even in New York.

This week's posts will be all about these plants, their challenges and rewards, and how our apartment-hunt late last summer had to take their needs into account!
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Neighborhood Watch


Meet one of our neighbors. According to a handwritten notice taped to the lamposts on the sidewalk that this watchdog overlooks, the cameras were installed to catch a serial dog poo-er in the act. A feckless dog owner was very obviously not scooping the poop.

One day a picture was printed and taped to the lamp post. The offending person and her large dog.

The sidewalk looks much better, now.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

City escape


Once upon a time in the east...


...it was high tide at Dead Horse Bay.


The bottle trees were in bloom.


And the sea green glass guarded the sand.


But the bayberry always hedges the bay...


...and green juniper waits in the wings.


Lamb's quarters...


...and wild lettuce flourish in obscurity.


And the most flavorful herbs of summer commune in plain sight.


These are the edges of the largest city in the USA.


Where you will meet no one else.


Because they do not understand that it is there.

Join me for a walk and picnic this Sunday (at low tide!):


Monday, July 22, 2019

Stuffed Tomatoes with Chanterelles and Black Currants


The Frenchman and I have enjoyed some very good chanterelle hunting, this hot summer. The glee of filling all your boxes and bags with the golden mushrooms is thrilling. It really is like a treasure hunt. And you can't help gloating about the fact that they are selling for $44.99 a pound at Union Market in Brooklyn.


After a happy hunt you are faced with the task of sorting and cleaning, and deciding how to eat them. There are worse dilemmas. I had a lot of fun devising new recipes for them. I cook instinctively, taking notes as I work. If we like what I make, the recipe is made again and again as I test it. The stuffed tomato recipe below is a keeper (I am addicted to stuffed summer tomatoes and could make a different version every night of the week).


Apart from the mushrooms we ate fresh, I pickled many, and quick-cooked and froze a stash, for later.

Chanterelles are more scented than they are flavorful. Fresh and raw their aroma is a lot like cooked apricots. But I like their texture, very much: it is substantial and meaty.


Stuffed Tomatoes with Chanterelles and Black Currants:

Makes 8 medium tomatoes

Here, aromatic chanterelles are complimented by tart and complex black currants.

This method also works very well with very young and tender chicken of the woods. If you do not have wild mushrooms, substitute chopped shiitakes or button mushrooms. Completely different flavor and texture, but not bad at all. And for a lower carb or keto version, omit the rice and bump up the walnuts.

Eat hot, at room temperature, or cold in the middle of the night.

8 oz chanterelles
8 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup basmati rice
4 oz bacon, chopped
6 large scallions finely sliced (1.5 packed cups)
1/4 cup black currants (optional - substitute fresh sour cherries, or 2 tablespoons black currant jam)
1/4 cup (.8 oz) walnuts, chopped very finely
¼ cup finely chopped dill
2 sprigs thyme
1/2 cup red wine
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

To clean the mushrooms: trim off any dry or bruised pieces. If they are dirty, soak for 20 minutes in a large, salted bowl of water. Drain and dry the mushrooms (or repeat the wash if there was a lot of debris in the water). Cut larger mushrooms into halves or quarters.

Cut the tops or bottoms off the tomatoes and scoop out their insides, using a spoon. Discard any hard core at the stem end. Reserve the cut-off lids and ½
cup of the flesh and juice (save the rest for gazpacho, tomato sauce, or Bloody Mary’s). Chop any large pieces finely. Arrange the hollow tomatoes in a skillet or baking dish and salt their naked insides.

In a small pot melt the butter over medium heat and toast the basmati in it for a couple of minutes. Add ¼ cup of water. Bring to a boil, lower to a faint simmer and cook for 5 minutes (it will not be fully cooked). Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook the bacon pieces over medium heat until the fat runs. Add half the the scallions and stir. Increase the heat to medium high and add the chanterelles. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring. Add the reserved tomato pulp and juice, currants (or sour cherries), nuts, rice, half the dill, and the thyme, and stir well. Add half the wine. Taste, and season with salt.

Stuff this mixture into the tomatoes and drizzle the olive oil over and between them. Top the tomatoes with the reserved tomato lids. Distribute the rest of the scallions and any leftover filling between the tomatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Transfer to the hot oven and bake for 1¼ hours or until the tomatoes are beginning to caramelize and the bottom of the pan is syrupy. Halfway through cooking, add the rest of wine, and add splashes of water if the pan juices begin to stick.

Before serving, sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper.



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