Frank and Betsy broke ground in their beach farm just over a year ago. On Friday evening Vince and I visited them there for the first time; the occasion, simply, summer. There were tomatoes to pick, lamb ribs to braai.
There are some picnic tables next to this compact collection of plots out on the Rockaways (Queens), across the water of Jamaica Bay in Fort Tilden (federal parkland, previously a home to nuclear weapons pointed at the USSR), and permit holders - the gardeners - are allowed to barbecue out there beside their crops. And, as I gathered, to drink! In the open. State land says no, federal land says yes. Well, hooray.
The plastic cups upended over poles and sprinkler heads to scare birds in neighbouring plots oscillate in the wind from the ocean, and sound improbably but convincingly like a large flock of waterfowl just settled onto their feeding grounds for the night: a low, numerous, unending chuckle and exchange. Perhaps they attract birds?
The cilantro has bolted, as it always seems to, everywhere, and I think it is worth it for the flowers.
There were tomatoes galore, these warm and sweet...
Beans in a small patch grew rich and profuse and we picked and picked.
He picked, too.
Frank handed me huge tomatoes to put in the basket.
And then to other business.
Thirsty work. I found a new favourite sparkler at Heights Chateau, and am hooked: Mionetto Sergio rose. Perfect for an evening in a salty breeze, beside the chatter of the cups and a table groaning with fresh produce.
Betsy soon sliced up a Brandywine ( I think) and a Black Russian. I said, and still say, that these tomatoes were the most delicious I have eaten (I ate our own Brandywine on Sunday night on the roof and have to say it came pretty darn close...).
I attacked some cherry tomatoes and the burrata I brought from Staubitz (butcher) on Court Street. Basil came from the farm.
Our second course was fennel-spiked sausages, with a squeeze of lemon and a charred leek scape. Frank said it was "an Italian American thing". We said it was a superb thing.
Russian beer was produced. Lamb ribs grilled slowly on the hardwood coals.
Later we ate the cherry pie I had brought and the red harvest moon sank on the western horizon, over Jersey. Fire trucks roared to an emergency. A helicopter with a searchlight scoured the water of the bay and beach repeatedly. Another joined it. The cups chattered on and the wind died down. We could hear the surf.
We packed up in the dark and drove to the beach at Jacob Riis where we watched a massive tractor groom the sand, up and down, up and down in the dark, somewhere before midnight, the waves crumbling white stripes in the black sea. Ships waited out on the water to come in to New York Harbor.
That was Friday. A whole world away.