Thursday, October 8, 2015

Hunting for supper

October mushrooms for dinner, thanks to an afternoon's hunt.

We need a bit more rain, though; despite last week's pre-hurricane downpours the woods were quite dry.

I love puffballs - their texture (cooked) is to vegans like silky tofu and to meat eaters like bone marrow.  When you peel them, they squeak like gentle styrofoam. Sliced and sauteed, they melt into risotto. The genus here is Calvatia but I'm not sure whether the species is fragilis or cyathiformis. Both are edible. When old, C. fragilis has dusty purple spores, but at this young stage that puffball is a pure, dense white mass.  Edible puffballs MUST be pure white inside (below, far right). If their flesh is purple when young, walk away.

There were some young chicken of the woods nubs, too - and I sauteed all the mushrooms separately before adding them to the risotto. The herb was mugwort.

It was delicious.


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Brooklyn Foraging Walk


My next wild foods walk is on October 17th in Prospect Park. (After that it is Central Park's Ramble, on November 15th).

Here are the details:

Prospect Park
17 October 2015, 12pm - 2pm

Crossing from east to west through Prospect Park's diverse midriff  we will spot a wide range of wild edible plants, from lawn denizens such as plantain, dandelions and chicory to indigenous forest plants and herbs, as well as invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and burdock. 

If we are lucky, we may spot a maitake mushroom. October is their month.

A wild foods snack will be served en route. 

Hen of the woods (maitake)

We meet at the park entrance at the corner of Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest. The closest subways are the F and G to Prospect Park.

Confirmation emails and additional details will be sent to confirmed walkers the week before the walk, to the email address you provide when booking.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Turn north for flowers

Bound for Namaqualand's spring flowers, we left green Cape Town at 8am on a Thursday morning, and found the first part of the N7, where it is still four lanes wide, and hugging the city's outer, northern limits.

Soon we were passing the acid fields of the spring canola crop, and the endless green undulations of the Swartland's winter wheat. Parched white in summer, the land after rain is fat.

Mogashagasha, the Landcruiser that has made our overland trips so trouble-free, purred northwards, and we reaquainted ourselves with the manners of the South African open road: driving on the shoulder to allow faster traffic to pass, flashing the emergency lights twice to say thank you if a vehicle has done this for you, and flashing your brights to say you are welcome to a car that has said thank you.

At Citrusdal we met an obstruction: many kilometers of Stop-Go - what happens when there is roadwork; one direction of traffic Stops, waiting for the opposite stream to Go. In the wide and long valley, home to thousands of citrus trees, the N7 has narrowed to two ill-kept lanes clogged with traffic, and additional lanes are being added to this agricultural hub, without closing the highway to ceaseless traffic north and south. 

I suspect that a lot of fynbos bit the dust in the process. But it was impossible not to admire the scale and military precision of the transformation, or to be inspired by the employment that the work of improving infrastructure created. 

And then we were free, leaving behind the trucks (South African for tractor-trailers) at Clanwilliam, and the end of the valley, where we refuelled. I asked around hopefully for roosterkoek, remembering the hot breadrolls I had seen being baked over a fire beside the road in town years ago, on a flower trip with my mom, but "only at the weekend," said the petrol attendant.

The Knersvlakte rolled out ahead of us and from horizon to horizon. It is hard to imagine the botanical diversity here, but just a few months ago a Spanish couple was arrested for poaching rare plants from these unforgiving flats where succulents have evolved to look like the stones that surround them.

We stopped for a picture of the Gifberg, and I crunched around in the dry gravel beside the N7.

A gladiolus was growing at my feet.

And we drove. Five hours after leaving Cape Town we began to see the famous daisies of Namaqualand.

We turned off the N7 at Kamieskroon and hung a sharp left west towards the distant and invisible Atlantic Ocean.

The Landcruiser hummed as she tasted her first dust. Fields of nitrogen-fixing lupine crops flanked the dry road. At a tiny wooden hut we were signed into SANParks by a friendly ranger. We paid our conservation fees and headed towards our home for the next two nights.

Flowers along the way made us stop, many times.

At the end of the first week of September, and after poor winter rains, we knew that we were at the tail end of the daisy season - you can see that they are quite small. above, and that the land is very dry.

I was worried that Vince, who had never been here, would be disappointed. Instead, he seemed thrilled. And for me, tuned to the floral details, it was a treasure trove.

Gazanias are well known the horticultural world by now, but to see them studding the veld at random in their native habitat, is magical.

Near Skilpad, where we were staying, the orange fields were endless. 

We drove slowly up to our ready-made camp, and parked. The car was a little bigger than our tent.

But this was our view:

Tune in soon for the next installment.

And if you are curious about roosterkoek and what we found to eat on the way, read my story on Culinary Backstreets - Boerekos in the Blommetjies. It was quite an adventure.


                            Book an Autumn Walk 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Wild Foods Walkers - check your mail!

Chicken of the woods, Central Park, October 2014

If you have signed up for Saturday the 3rd's Central Park wild foods walk please check the email address you have on record with PayPal - I have sent you important updates.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Salad days

I love salad. And arugula is still at the top of the leaf list, for me, peppery and very nutritious (vitamin A, and loads of K - good for bones).

It seems that one of the best things about Chez Mosquito is that I might be able to grow as much salad as I can eat. Which is a lot.

The arugula and red mustard are being eaten now, and I sowed the rest of their seeds a few days ago, along with mesclun and radishes. The m√Ęche germinated very poorly (1%, maybe) and after a lot more reading I have realized that the soil needs to be much cooler for successful germination. I have sown another batch and ordered more seed, so we shall see.

Today's lunch was a happy one: toasted sourdough from the loaves I baked earlier in the week, just-picked arugula and red mustard, and Vinaigrette Germaine (very garlicky, as my mother-in-law makes it).


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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The first bread

I forgot to ask Vince to feed the sourdough starter when I left for Cape Town (it is usually fed weekly). By the time we both returned it had been starved for four weeks. But it frothed right up (above) after a snack of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour and a little drink of nice Brooklyn tap water.

I made bread. So much more fun in September than in the humidity of summer. The dough is different, and the hot oven not so much like hell.

Our new kitchen is small but actually has more work surface than the one in Harlem - allowing me to leave the loaves to rise on the counter.

I baked them after the crisp-skinned roast chicken had been take from the oven.

One we eat now, one we slice, bag and freeze. Excellent toast.


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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tomorrow's Table

When we returned from Cape Town I found a package wrapped in ribbon waiting for me. In it was a book from a friend, Leon van Eck. Yesterday I opened it and began to read (yes, I did wipe the cover after I removed my drink).

Tomorrow's Table is written by Pamela Ronald, a geneticist, and Raoul Adamchuck, an organic grower. They are married.

Leon - who is also a geneticist -  and I have had digital scraps in the past about GMO's. When I hear the acronym, I (and thousands like me) think dark Monsanto thoughts. And we recoil.

There is so much more to the story, and while I am only a couple of dozen pages in, I am hooked.

If you read labels, if you care about how your food is grown, if you are a grower of edible plants, this book is for you. It is essential and easy reading for people who consider themselves responsible and informed eaters.

Thank you,  Leon.

Friends don't let friends dine in the dark.


                             Book an Autumn Walk 
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