The chard seems to have grown inches in a few days. The question is, will I be able to leave it alone to make those long, gorgeous stalks, or will I nibble away at the edges like a rabbit, or a roof rat.
I don't think we have roof rats. Le chat noir is on guard. Roof rats he would slay, chop-chop. But he will have nothing to do with squirrels. He thinks they are bad juju. Must be something in his past.
I am training myself to be a better eye witness. I scrutinize the plants with an intense scrute and then the next day I scrutinize them again to see if anything has changed. A missing leaf? A cut stalk? The squirrel changes things. Dig, dig, digdigdigdig.
I am a terrible eye witness. I know. I've had two policeman, armed to the teeth, padded in bullet proof vests, sitting on my parents' solid couch in my father's study looking at me with undisguised contempt as I tried to answer their questions about two burglary suspects. It was very embarrassing, and very sobering. I was the one who had a feeling that something odd was happening next door - and it was - but could I tell the cops what the two young people were wearing? No. I had not the first idea. I just knew they were going to do something.
And so I train myself. On the roof, looking at the Swiss chard. It helps that it stays in one place. I practise on the street, noting baseball caps and colours of dresses, and what jackets could be dropped in a hurry, and what is underneath. Like the man stealing plants at Kirstenbosch; when he noticed me noticing him, he took off the jacket and left smartly. It's not the clothes I see. It's the way someone walks, the way their head moves, or the look in their shoulders. Those things are interesting.
It's like tasting wine. I have the wrong language for it. Vince and I crack each other up with our wine tasting notes. He's pretty good. But all I can do is describe wine in terms of music. I taste notes. I don't taste or smell cherries and black pepper. I taste high and low, and lyrical and brassy and it's a string section with a little trombone action thrown in. Major key.
Well, it is Friday.
I never promised all sense, all the time.
I deliver my book's manuscript on Monday. My kind editor has given me a few day's breathing room beyond that for pictures, which is wonderful. The last six months have charged past.
I can tell you how they felt, but don't ask me what they were wearing.
For me: avocados. Could barely get a piece down when I was little. Stomach to brain, prepare for feedback. Tomatoes. Hated them. Then there were those curried eggs my mother used to make, from Charmaine Solomon's otherwise wonderful The Complete Asian Cookbook. In a rare concession to a fussy eater my mother let me eat, instead...canned sardines. In tomato sauce. I know. Makes no sense. I would willingly eat canned sardines in tomato sauce but not a slow-simmered curry of hard boiled eggs.
And I could not stand peppers.
Now? I love avocado. It has been the most superb summer of tomatoes, ever. And I lap up peppers (recipe next door).
But those curried eggs - I think I'd rather eat Estorbo's pellets [if you want to know why the cat is wearing clothes in the link, it's a very long story about feline OCD.]
I regret - deeply - not having made more red currant gin in June. I love it. I think we sampled the first batch when the New York Times came to visit in July, and then I eked the rest out every now and then. Fortunately Vince doesn't like it as much as I do.
It is tart, not sweet at all, and there is little more sediment than I would like in the liquor. Could it be lycopenes again? As in tomato and autumn-olive juice? The black currants (and their gin is divine, too, in a very different way) were sedimentless.
So I had some of the gin last night on the roof as I thinned my greens. It is misleadingly amber in the sinking sun. The rainbow chard seedlings have made rainbows, already, and the mixed lettuce is very...purple. In amongst a zillions seedlings three are green. Interesting.
And next year's red currants are very, very far away.
Early fall colour in some plane trees near Pier 6, at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, artificially induced, I think, by the unusually dry summer.
In other local news, it's the annual Atlantic Antic this weekend - on Sunday, 30 September. The four lane Brooklyn artery will be shut down and cars and trucks and ambulances and fire trucks will be replaced with tens of thousands of humans and a lot of music, food and drink - the latter you may carry with you on your promenade through the zoo. Very unAmerican.
Question is, will the new place that opened in their footprint, bright, airy (La Mancha was dark, claustrophobic), with a little marble table in the open French doors, and which has a $1 oyster specials (why do I feel in the pit of my stomach, that I should skip this offering?)...will they be clever and continue the sardine tradition?
I have been thinning the dwarf kale, which is as successful in germinating as it was last year, and last night we ate our first salad of the cool season crop, with fat fava bean leaves and a couple of pea shoots. They all seem to have grown very fast.
This morning was beautifully blue, the white clematis shining in the sunlight, the president's choppers thundering overhead yet again, this time to fetch him after his address to the United Nations.
Yesterday, after a day of editing photos (June's), I shot out into the neighbourhood and came back with ground sirloin and red wine (some for us, the better bottle for Estorbo's vet) and made a good but unorthodox Bolognese sauce. No onions, large, thin slices of carrot, and mushrooms, lots of terrace herbs. Red wine. I finished it in a hot oven for 30 minutes, which gave it a good, brown edge...While it was cooking I picked the greens, had half a drink on the roof, and watered the farm.
Munstead Wood likes this weather. Days in the 70's, nights dropping to the 50's. This rose, picked today because it was hanging over the far side of the pot, above the wide roof gutter and unseen, surprised me. It is intensely fragrant, redly, blackly fruity. Not the scent of summer, at all, which was pale, and tired. I put the rose beside me while I worked today, and it made me very happy.
The cat heard the death rattle of the catbox as I lifted it down and made at once for a place of safety: a nice solid chair beside his pellet bowl, drug bowl and water bowl. The cornerbowls of a cat's life.
He had an appointment with Dr Slade for a check up and to have blood drawn at VERG, on Warren Street - to see how his hyperthyroidism is doing.
I love this veterinary practise, and I have seen a few (seven locally, at last count) in the eventful life of this former bodega cat, not to mention the ones in Cape Town where I would haul all of my parents' cats and dogs for their check ups and emergencies.
I am deeply impressed. In New York I don't know of a better run or more professional set up. The funny thing is, some of it is so simple: every pet owner is greeted in person by a vet who comes into the waiting room to fetch the pet and owner. A vet tech or non specialist vet often sees the animal first. They introduce themselves; they have always been prepped thoroughly and know all about the pet already. They take copious notes and ask detailed questions. When the specialist comes in later you are shaken by the hand in greeting. They are well briefed. And humane. Polite. And that's it. I mean, that's the way all practises should work. But they don't.
And they have decent magazines in their waiting room. I got to read The Economist instead of Fluffie's Weekly. Didn't understand a word but felt good.
And that is the point.
Carrying the 17lb cat there and back? That's another story.
While I sat waiting for the cat, ears pricked for his howling, which never happened, another vet spoke to a Hispanic man whose dog had a torn ear. A vet tech was translating into Spanish as the man's English was not fluent enough to grasp the nuances of the options he was being offered, viz. a) cauterizing the wound and leaving it split, b) gluing the ear which might tear again if the dog shook his head a lot and, c) ka-ching, sedating the dog and suturing the ear, which would cost another $200. The man was very anxious and called his wife. The vet was very patient. The vet tech was asked to explain, again, the price differences and drawbacks. Another vet sat beside a man with a sick cat and listened to this man talk and talk and talk. The minutiae of the cat's weight loss and weight gain, for perhaps ten minutes.
I sat reading The Economist. Estorbo is a regular. I do know now that a lot depends on Angela Merkel and that Michelle Obama's carrot is more effective than Mayor Bloomberg's stick. And that UN Peacekeepers should be paid more (their country gets $1,000 a day for them) and that it costs $3,000 a day to hire professional hostage negotiators for ransom-kidnappings. And that Nigeria's economy is growing at 7%, a lot faster than South Africa's, and that Kenya is looked upon as more favourable investment than South Africa is.
How many bridges connect the island of Manhattan to Long Island, mainland New York (otherwise known as The Bronx) and Jersey?
Don't know. But Vincent ran past ten of them on Saturday.
He didn't tell me he was going to run a marathon. He just did. On his own.
26 miles. 42 kms.
He also didn't tell me until well into dinner that night about what happened afterwards. In this he reminds me of my father, who turns 80 this year, who sat down to lunch one day (this was a year or two ago) with my mother and me, under the tree in Cape Town, sipped some bubbly, cut his little chipolata sausages methodically, the way he does, chewed a bit and then told us, with some satisfaction, it seemed, that he'd just crashed his big BMW roadbike, and had come off, and would we like to see the bruise? That was the year after he was hit by a car (a slow Volkswagen beetle, thank god) on the freeway while training for the Argus Cycle tour. He likes showing off his wounds. And his bruises are spectacular.
Don't worry, Vince is fine. But I did stop eating. Takes a lot to make me stop eating.
Yesterday, a severe storm warning, wind advisories, a tornado watch. So I lifted the fig down, and some smaller pots whose intentions I suspected. The wind did blow, hard, so that even President Obama's choppers and escorts (again!), when they flew back to JFK were crabbing, noses into the wind, tails downwind. I wonder if Air Force One took off on time. Airport delays were at 2-3 hours at that point. I suppose if the president wants to go, he goes. I worried a bit, about the sideways choppers, I mean. .
If you want to know how I know about crabbing you must watch Flying Wild, on Netflix. It's a riveting reality series (a sequence of words I rarely utter) about bush pilots working in remote parts of Alaska.
Do you see how small the fig leaves are, compared to previous years? Root pruning and all. The growing tips have ceased to want to grow, which also meant fewer figs this year. I know the tree needs to be in a bigger pot, but this late winter, for the first time, I will prune its branches, and hard. I gave this treatment to the blueberry in summer, gritting my teeth - it had not put out much new growth this year, and that is where next year's berries will appear. So I cut back to old wood, and hoped. It has excellent new branches now, the longest about 24". They have had a good amount of time to harden before the cold starts.
But I am nervous about the fig. I cheer myself up thinking of some of the old timers still in this hood, who cut their figs to the ground, and bundle them up for winter.
Your winning collective noun has scored you the pair of tickets to the NYBG's Edible Garden Festival and Mario Batali's cooking demonstration this Sunday.
I must give the winner's details to the NYBG tomorrow so please get in touch with me today. You can email me by clicking on the profile picture with lilies, top left of the blog. If you cannot attend please let me know as soon as possible. JJ Murphy, the runner up with her wonderful Network of Nightshades and a Slew of Solanaceae is next in line for the tickets...***
Thank you to everyone for playing!
Update: Tickets went to JJ Murphy as Jack confessed that he lives out of state.
I don't know how it found my shopping bags, which live on the landing with our shoes, and our neighbor's shoes, and the odd tennis racket. But there it was when I picked the bags up and slung them over my shoulder. I may have squeaked a bit.
The cat finds them on the terrace occasionally, and shows every intention of eating them. I can't stand the sight of green blood, so they are confiscated. He has caught two tobacco hornworm moths. I increased his pocket money.
And then there is the caterpillar on the Brandywine on the roof, noticed last night as I picked some last tomatoes. That one, well. That one is being dealt with by Nature. And trust me, my methods, and the cat's, are kind by comparison.
Now the wind is tearing across the terrace and I have lifted the fig down from the edge, and the smaller pots that are vulnerable.
Please suggest a collective noun to describe a collection of late summer produce such as the "..." of peppers and tomatoes pictured above. It could be informed by weather, caterpillars, ripeness, nostalgia, menus, anything. Go to town. Er...the farm! And by all the means spread to the word to locals who might like to go. Best one wins.
Fire away. Two entries allowed per person. Deadline is 9am EST, 18 September. I will announce the winner at 3pm on the 18th. Please check back on the blog, then.
What do I get out of this, you ask, in the interests of transparency?
Nada. Zip. Rien. Sweet Fanny Adams. Not even a red whisker from Batali's beard.
But I will have that new collective noun.
(By the way, if you'd like to play but know you can't attend - that pesky airfare - just add your state or location in the comment so that I know not to consider you for the tickets...)
OK OK it's a joke! I'm not serious! No, really, Monday: - you're bigger than me, more skilled, better looking. Everything! I'm nothing, you can take me in a New York nanosecond. It was just a little joke. A bad joke. I don't tell jokes because they're so bad. I mess up the punchline. I explain too much. They are not my forte.
You have nothing to prove. It would diminish you to take me on.
I should be writing. My Christmas bread dough is rising. Don't ask. There's a white salad to make. It's a beautiful day. And I have the unmistakable signs of a bloody cold. Heavy head. Sneeze. Throat. Flush. Perhaps flu. *&$$!*&! I don't know when last I had one. I think I always say that. Talking about one's own cold. Never a good sign. And before our beautiful blue day tomorrow.
Vince is out running his 30-something kilometers. You might see him, up the East River and the down then Hudson. He can't get my cold. I hope he hasn't, already.
I forgot to wash my hands when I came in from shopping yesterday. It was either from the produce I picked up or the lady who bagged my groceries or on the lovely roses from the Flower District, brought back to her Red Hook studio for me by the lovely Denise who blogs at the Little Pheasant and whose cool space was absolutely stuffed with floral arrangements for two weddings this weekend.
I always wash my hands. I must have been distracted by their scent. Gr.
So I went out to the terrace to pick thyme for thyme tea packed full of thymol and then became distracted by the president and his entourage flying back and forth.
The marines coming to fetch him.
There goes the president in Marine One, mit decoy.
Back go the marines.
I'll be good now. Third draft of July and August. And punch the dough down and add fruit. And the white salad. And pictures of both.
One spinach seed germinated. Just one. I wonder why. It lives a life of green solitude, with only a little nicotiana for company (which evaded my weeding). The seeds were sown about 4 weeks ago. Slow and solid.
Meanwhile the fava beans are beginning to break the surface, the rainbow chard are all up, and so are the dwarf kale and the salad mix. Waiting for the peas. Tomorrow I'll take out another tomato - the Brandywines are now well and truly pooped - which will leave space for...parsnips?
Such a long wait, for parsnips. February.
And tomorrow? A true holiday. We're Zip Car-ing to the North Fork. I haven't been anywhere in weeks and not out of town proper for months, and Vince is hungry for water. So it's a little blue vacation. I hope it will be blue.
I have picked all the early fennel seeds and hope for some more flowers. You never know. It worked with the anemones. Or maybe that was the fish fertilizer. I am tempted to dose the terrace one more time, though usually I stop feeding around now.
The seeds were used in the kitchen, to delicious effect, but you will have to wait a year to see what became of them. The book.
The strawberries I pick almost every day, eating while I water the pots. And last night we ate the yellow Brandywines - very good, with a striped Green Zebra and some French feta. I am saving a last Striped German for a last tomato sandwich.
Go ahead and call this "hearty." And then it went on top of spaghetti.
This is boerewors, made at Los Paisanos, now tuned to a good recipe. Taken out of its casing and sliced into bits. Browned, and then added some very flavourful rooftop tomatoes*, and thin slices of garlic, sauteed gently in olive oil. Yes, you could use other sausage. But you'd lose the coriander/clove richness of these.
The last time I made something like this was when I was at university in Cape Town, and housesitting one winter for my cousin Andrea and her husband Jonathan in the suburb of Rondebosch East. It was winter, cold, wet. The garden in the back where Jonathan was growing leeks also produced lots of thyme, which I drank in a tea in copious quantities when I came down with flu. It fixed me. Thyme = thymol = potent stuff.
There was special boerewors made by a special butcher in the deep freeze. The sausage was in the deep freeze. Not the butcher. I say deep freeze because it was a long behemoth that lived in the garage. I think Andy said I was welcome to "some" of the boerewors.
I think...I think I ate it all.
I am still embarrassed. It was very good.
Sorry, Coz. *This works very well with canned tomatoes, too. Just crush them well.
After a false start in July, autumn seems back on track.
This clematis seeded itself. I have no idea where the parent lives. Perhaps somewhere in the neighbourhood, or perhaps the seedlings arrived with the New Dawn, when it was a big pink tee pee full of flowers, fresh from Martin Viette nursery, on Long Island.
The fall anemones are ready to bloom again, too - the ones that did not succumb to the fungus that attacked one plant. And the hardy begonias have fattened up and are opening daily. I was worried that by September there would be nothing left, but so far it has been a lovely month - cool, and blue, with the attendant garden flowers.
(I looked to see if I had ever written post about the rose when it arrived, but I started this blog the following year. I did find this one, written a few days after I started writing this blog. It is a bit spooky in its prescience. I had not met Vince, yet, but would, a few months later. I think I met him because I was happy. With myself. For once.)
I interrupted our neighbour Danielle while she was doing yoga on her silvertop next door to ours, the other evening. She used to have easy access to her roof, for sunbathing, but then her landlord nailed their hatch shut. Mean. And scary. That's one fire exit snuffed out.
Now she scoots round from her terrace. I can't bear to look, although she's nimble (the yoga). When Vince and I lock ourselves out we also use the terrace for access, climbing over the side and onto the braai before hopping onto a chair.
Welcome to rooftop life. The low budget version.
The yellow pear is no mas. 'Ees dead, as the cat might say. It performed so very well. I have planted purple mustard in its pot. Also brewing: Swiss chard - the rainbow version, New Zealand spinach, a salad mix, fava beans and peas.
Two yellow tomatoes, great big giants, are ripening on the other side of the roof. I had forgotten about them altogether. I thought they were Brandywines. Oh. Wait. They are Brandywines. Yellow Brandywines. Ohhhhh... Nice.
A few more tomato sandwiches, then. I can't wait. Best thing, ever.
And I am going to have to have a block party for a ground cherry crumble, with everyone helping to husk the little fruit. Millions. An anonymous commenter left me a link to Cape gooseberries, which are bigger and more tart.
Inspired by a beautiful photo by Karsten Moran and a short article by David Tanis in the New York Times, I made fattoush the other night. It had been a long, travel-weary day - a southern tramp through the seedy side of Prospect Park, which was truly dilapidated and depressing, and then a walk across to Green-Wood which was very green after rain. We saw a beautifully fat and unafraid groundhog mowing the lawn, there.
Our return journey was spoiled by the sudden realization that our subway had just started the ascent over the Manhattan Bridge. We don't live in Manhattan. Sunday and the MTA. Why do we do it? The F and G were not running. We were on the D, which we thought was an R. Well, it did say R...
When we got to SoHo we rose to find the R near Dean and Deluca, so I popped in for some ground lamb. Dean and DeLuca has no ground lamb. Nor grass fed beef. Which makes me think about the Stanford study that proclaims loudly that organic farming methods deliver produce that is no more nutritious than conventional.
Cue my icy silence. Talk about asking the wrong question.
I don't question the vitamins in my organic strawberry versus the conventionally raised one. I don't choose an organic chicken over a factory-raised one because it is nutritionally superior. I choose these things when I can because of how the plants and animals were grown and raised and what synthetic pesticides and drugs and hormones and fertilizers they may or may not be laced with. And where those poisons and drugs and fertilizers came from, how they were manufactured, and by whom.
It's about the big picture.
I hope The Times publishes the other point of view, with its attendant sharp questions, and soon. This study, this article and the dozens it has spawned across the globe sets attitudes right back, like a dullard clock turned in reverse. I can only hope that the heavy guns of a food revolution are as disturbed as I am, and are writing about it as we speak. Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan...Nicholas Kristof has weighed in, albeit gently, and through example.
At best the study was conducted by researchers with doubtful intentions, track records and funding. I hope The New York Times chooses to investigate the ties between Monsanto and Stanford, and ties between the scientists and big tobacco.
We could not catch the R home in SoHo. There was red tape hanging limply across the entrance to the station, on the corner of Broadway and Prince, perhaps the most zoolike intersection in the city when it comes to pedestrian clog. So we found a 6 on Spring Street, and limped home to our own hood.
We never did find lamb. Staubitz and Los Paisanos were closed by the time we got back. So it was beef from Union Market, with allspice and cinnamon and sumac and raw onion on top, formed into flattish köfte. And from the roof - plum tomatoes and peppers and the last cucumber; mint and basil and thyme from the terrace. More sumac. Olive oil, and pita bread.
*Incidentally, about Roger Cohen's op ed. I prefer moron but I could as easily have used airhead, birdbrain, blockhead, bonehead, bubblehead, chowderhead, chucklehead, clodpoll (or clodpole), clot, cluck, clunk, cretin, cuddy (or cuddie), deadhead, dim bulb, dimwit, dip, dodo, dolt, donkey, doofus, dope, dork, dullard, dumbbell, dumbhead, dum-dum, dummkopf, dummy, dunce, dunderhead, fathead, gander, golem, goof, goon, half-wit, hammerhead, hardhead, ignoramus, imbecile, jackass, know-nothing, knucklehead, lamebrain, loggerhead, loon, lump, lunkhead, meathead, mome, idiot, mug, mutt, natural, nimrod, nincompoop, ninny, ninnyhammer, nit, nitwit, noddy, noodle, numskull (or numbskull), oaf, pinhead, prat, ratbag, saphead, schlub (also shlub), schnook, simpleton, stock, stupe, stupid, thickhead, turkey, woodenhead, yahoo, or yo-yo. With a little help from Merriam-Webster.
We have had some stormy weekend weather, with an excellent vantage point from the roof... I managed to do some gardening late on Friday on the roof farm while the valiant Frenchman did our grocery shopping after getting back from work. This gave me a window between sorting photos and cooking supper, in which to start tossing out tomato plants - freeing pots for seeds. I gardened till dark, which comes earlier every evening. The huge cumulo nimbus cloud above stayed put over Jersey, dumping rain and flinging lightning on the far side of the harbor. It is a strange feeling to watch weather happen to other people.
On Saturday, warned by weather radar, I was up there again, making sure pots were secure and well wedged against the solid red line of storms rolling east, towards us and the ocean. It started very mildly, bright white clouds in the high sunlight on the other side of the water, until they pulled in, over Governor's Island and between the sun and the city, swallowing the afternoon. The dark clouds above arrived over the roof and things became very formal.
Have you ever watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Standing on the roof beneath this roiling and unpredictable ceiling makes you feel exposed and very dispensable as the mass moves impersonally past on its own planetary business.
And speaking of music that gets stuck in your head, cue Richard Strauss' (thank Mr Kubrick for the introduction) for Also Sprach Zarathustra...