Thursday, May 21, 2020

The long view

A scamper up the fire escape while supper was grilling gave me a dove's eye view of the terrace. I don't go to the roof often - maybe we should. For a drink or a picnic. Lockdown is very much roof time. We see lone figures on faraway rooftops, sipping drinks where people never sat or sipped drinks, before.

I like our view of neighbor's gardens, each one very much a reflection of a personality. And I love the Boston ivy covering most of the wall of the laundry building that all the gardens back onto. Life would be very different, aesthetically, without it. Its rich, textured green. There is a real fear of ivy on buildings in this country. It's beautiful, it's cooling in summer, it catches air pollution, softens noise pollution, and only damages a building if you really decide to rip an old vine off its support.

Supper was grilled lamb kebabs, molded onto fierce swords and flavored with terrace-grown rosemary and marjoram. Also a Waldorf salad (what can I say, I had a craving), and a potato salad with lots of dill, shallot, and sliced radishes, dressed with a vintage common milkweed vinegar.

A fighter jet tore past over the harbor behind me while I was up here - the sound always chills me. Earlier there was an unusual sighting of an AWACS. And, just as I was wondering aloud whether we might see it, the space station sailed north in the blue-black night.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Close encounters

A pair of very young doves has made the terrace home. They are unafraid and like to perch on the railing in the sun or on top of the anti-squirrel wire in the windowboxes.

One of two Thai limes is very happy. Both trees were pruned hard - branches and roots - in January (while still in the bedroom!). They were incredibly lush but I had to be ruthless: I am not giving them bigger pots. They have to be portable. And so I downsized them. The other tree got scale in April, as they both normally do, and it has been much slower to recover. In the mornings I sit outside with my coffee and hunt scale. I'm a little obsessed.

Oak leaf lettuce is growing in the windowbox. Ready for small salads.

The bay tree also moved out with the limes about a week ago. It grows very fast, and has already been root pruned once, late last summer. I bought it last spring at the Union Square Farmers market.

I love fresh bay - it has a penetratingly aromatic flavor that we don't use often enough; a dry bay leaf always seems an afterthought. Try tucking four fresh leaves under the skin of your next roast chicken, and a handful more in the cavity, and more underneath the bird. Salt, pepper, lemon juice, and a splash of water in the roasting dish. An hour and fifteen at 450'F. A nice rest, then carve, spooning the juices over the meat.

This is a close view of the pot where the little prickly ash tree lives (I ordered it from an Alabama nursery years ago to experiment with growing this very interesting wild edible). You can't see the prickly ash trunk, but you can see a couple of the arugula plants and native foam flowers that share the pot. The darker leaf belongs to bugbane (black cohosh, black snakeroot). It also came from our last garden, at 1st Place. Loves water, and prefers some shade on this hotter-than-I-expected terrace. The dark foliage is very beautiful.

And the all-arugula pot. Time for a big salad. The best dressing for perfect and peppery arugula is one where you toss in a handful of microplaned parmesan at the last moment.

It was how I lured the Frenchman to eat leaves when I first met him. He is a changed man.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Garden design, remotely

It has been interesting designing gardens by proxy over the last couple of months. I mean, yes, I design the garden. But obviously there can be no in-person meetings, no site visits, no measurements by my own hand. No poking my fingers in the soil or sniffing the breeze or pondering the sun. Instead, video calls and pictures, and sketches from clients. Good, careful sketches, with rough layouts and measurements, accompanied by thorough observations of sunlight.  Most of the gardens are in New York City but the one I was working on above is in Seattle.

I am very happy that people are thinking about gardens and growing, and the benefits of living with plants.

Other things? The picture above the desk is by the Frenchman, taken while flying high over the Sahara, en route to Cape Town from a European layover. And, hm, well, yes, the cooler, in hiding. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Call me Born to Camp. It's now filled with a stash of wine. The wooden box on top is handy for carrying things to forage picnics, or a whole side of salmon gravlax to a party. Picnics. Parties. What are those, again?

The hat in the box is from Babylonstoren, and beside it the silver things like spoons are a pair of my fastidious father's shoe horns. He was a man who wore good shoes, and he took care of them. I just like having them around.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Kale gnudi

Ever wondered what do with lots of kale?

We receive a big bag of frilly kale leaves in our weekly farmbox from Norwich Meadows. And these pillowy gnudi are the answer. They use a whole poundful.

I adapted a lambs quarter gnudi recipe from Forage, Harvest, Feast for these delicious morsels and the result is wonderful. It received the Frenchman’s damn-that-was-good seal of approval.

What are gnudi? Not gnocchi. They contain ricotta rather than flour (although I add Panko crumbs) and this makes them very tender and soft, not bouncy. Not that bouncy is necessarily a bad thing.

This long, cool, COVID-19 spring I have made batches of gnudi with blanched garlic mustard (delicious) and spinach, and then, wanting a kale version, I accidentally let those leaves char a bit in their pot*. Disaster? No. Delicious! Eye opening, in fact. They turn nuttily sweet. Who knew?

*Don't use an enameled pot for this, or you'll struggle to clean it later. Stainless steel is the way to go.

The recipe for the Kale Gnudi with Mugwort Brown Butter is over at 66 Square Feet (the Food). As usual, daily food news (and now lockdown video) is @66squarefeet on Instagram.

Friday, May 1, 2020

April's end

In a tearing, rain-flurried wind I went for a walk in nearby Green-Wood Cemetery on the last day of April. They have opened all their side gates - usually firmly locked - to allow people easier access to the calming space of hills and green hollows. Led by George Washington, civilian troops suffered a major loss here against the English in the Revolutionary War. He retreated to Manhattan.

We haven't seen Manhattan in months.

The side gate nearest us is just a couple of blocks away and this has given me an unprecedented appreciation of the park-like grounds. I knew them well, but now I see changes in micro-seasonal increments. And it has been a long, cool spring.

The wind was knocking fluffy 'Kanzan' flowers from their heavy branches.

And these peonies were so fragrant I could smell them right through my mask.

I have a new and improved mask: My friend Kirstin kindly gifted us two that she had sewn expertly. We have been trading. Her husband David gave us a very generous tip about morels. We searched and found them. Or, the Frenchman did. So many that we split them with David. He fetched them and we got masks in return. All at a suitable, face-covered remove from one another. He is the first friend I have seen in six weeks.

Preceded by crabapples, the redbuds are entering their peak of bloom.

And at lawnlevel ground ivy (Glechoma hedera) is gorgeous. It is usually unwanted but I wish people would recognize its beauty and stop spraying it. It makes lawns lovely. It's the ultimate steppable groundcover.

And you can eat it, too. Crush the leaves and add them to drinks and green herb sauces: they are intensely minty. or make ice cubes filled with the flowers.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Betty Scholtz, 1921 - 2020

Betty Scholtz, 29 April 2011

[Update, 5/7/20: Obituary by Penelope Green in The New York Times]

Betty Scholtz has died. A tree crashing in the spring woods.

Director Emeritus of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Dear Betty.

Tomorrow would have been her 99th birthday. Nine years ago I sat with her at her birthday lunch in the beautiful New Jersey garden of her good friends Graeme Hardie and Silas Mountsier. I wrote about her then for The Cape Argus, a Cape Town newspaper (Betty was South African).

Betty was a mighty woman. In spirit and in stature. Taller than I am (that's five eleven and a bit) and always dressed in tropical brightness, like a butterfly. A stoic and private butterfly, often amused, generous, and interested in other people. And stubborn. She always called me Mah-ree, refusing to believe that someone with a name as Afrikaans as mine could possibly pronounce the name differently. You didn't argue with Betty.

Lekker slaap, Betty. Maybe you are playing cards with Leipoldt again. I like to think so.

In case that is hard to read:

“I ate lion with Leipoldt,” Betty Scholtz told me last summer, as we ate lunch at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

 “What did it taste like?” I asked.

“Gamey,” she said. “He told us the best thing he’d ever eaten was baby doormouse, dipped in honey...” And then she added, “He made me cry.”

Elizabeth Scholtz is the director emeritus of New York City’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). On April 29th, she celebrated her 90th birthday.

The recent addition of a walking stick to her movements irks the independent woman - Miss Scholtz still goes to work every day. She deals with the symptoms of age impatiently and with audible frustration, and is quick to remind one that her oldest friend - literally - Esther “Faity” Tuttle, turns 100 this year. Mrs Tuttle was recently featured in Shape Magazine, wearing a leotard. The bar, Miss Scholtz feels, has been set rather high.

Elizabeth Scholtz was born in Pretoria in 1921. Describing her South African childhood, and considering her current attitude to life, she says that whenever she presented herself to her physician father with an ache or a pain, he made her repeat, three times, “Hell, I am well!” and that after she and her brothers were born, all at home, friends visiting their new mother with “invalid port” would be surprised to find the invalid outside playing tennis, or busy gardening.

Dr Scholtz died suddenly in 1932 of septicemia. “My mother gave us loving care, but not tender loving care. She was a widow, and had to be tough.”

Miss Scholtz’s mother remarried and holidays were later spent at her stepfather’s bush camp on the edge of the Kruger National Park, where Leipoldt would become a guest. Sixteen years old and precociously enrolled at Wits, Miss Scholtz majored in botany and zoology, writing her thesis on the bushveld trees she had grown to love over tented weekends. Her dream to pursue post graduate studies was nixed by her mother, for whom the vagaries of war and the cost of her sons’ education made it impossible. Betty went to work at 20, becoming a medical technician specializing in haematology.  She moved to Cape Town and lived and worked there for nearly 20 “very social” years. Weekends were spent botanizing with doctor friends and their wives in Dutoitskloof and Betty’s Bay.

After a stint at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston in 1957, Miss Scholtz moved to New York in 1960 to take up a post in the Adult Education Department of the BBG. Twelve years later she was appointed director of the garden, becoming the first female director of a major American botanic garden. She served as director until 1980 and retired officially in 1987. She continued to serve as director emeritus and to lead the BBG’s international garden tours - amassing 100 tours in 46 countries. In 1988 a grandiflora rose was named after her. She has received numerous awards to honour her contribution to horticulture, including American horticulture’s highest award, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Medal from the American Horticulture Society and the United Kingdom’s Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. She has been a mentor to what the BBG describes as “generations of North American public garden professionals.” She is a living resource of botanical and horticultural knowledge and a font of anecdotes told in an unchanged and beautifully modulated South African accent, with a ready laugh. A stream of visitors to the BBG makes its way to her book-lined office, which is how I met her, two years ago.

At a lunch in honour of her 90th birthday, given by her friends Silas Mountsier and Graeme Hardie in Mr Mountsier’s leafy spring garden in Nutley, New Jersey, Betty protested at gifts, exclaimed over packets of honey bush tea, and worried about keeping the driver who had brought her out from New York, waiting.  But Mr Hardie, a former Capetonian, who had prepared and served the meal, was still passing around local cheese and green fig preserve brought back from a recent trip to Cape Town. “Green figs!” Miss Scholtz’s eyes lit up. Dressed in mandarin red, her socially charged day was still young. This long lunch would be followed by celebratory drinks at Mrs Tuttle’s, and then a Broadway play. She may have preferred a quieter day, but the strength of her personality and humour, her interest in the lives of others and her commitment to gardens near and far, have created many admirers whose understandable wish is to celebrate a life that seems to burn more brightly than most.

“Why did Leipoldt make you cry? “ I asked last summer, thinking of the pink doormice sliding down the knowledgeable throat of the poet, writer, raconteur, gourmand, cook, and medical doctor.

“I beat him at bridge,” she said, “and I don’t think he liked that very much.”


Friday, April 24, 2020

The camera turns

An accidental selfie. I hate selfies. And if you'd told me just a few weeks ago that I'd be making homespun videos in our kitchen this week I'd have laughed, and rolled my eyes.

But lockdown is waking up all kinds of slumbering beasts in all of us.

It began with an Instagram invitation to share a wild foods story and then I decided I didn't hate it as much as I expected to. So I may even graduate to teaching from home. I just need to practise some more and sort out some kinks.

What new things have you been trying?