Monday, February 20, 2017

The days off

Weekend. We drove out to Fort Tilden. If you climb a hill on the barrier island you can see Manhattan.

And the bridge that hums like angry bees when vehicles drive over it. The weather was warm, but the world still said winter.

We stayed for a picnic. An elderly man skinny dipped nearby. He was tanned all over.

Then I came home to the soaking peas and fava beans. 

On the public holiday (Not My President's Day) I dug the overwintered greens back into the soil of the vegetable plot and added more oyster shell, for good luck. Then I planted two kinds of peas, the fava beans, some baby broccoli, 'Bel Fiore' chicory, Asian greens, 'Wasabi' arugula and watercress. I re-arranged some pots, moved a volunteer elderflower, planted some cinnamon ferns and Eremurus, was disgusted with some very poor quality Lowe's iris rhizomes (I know, what was I thinking?) and watered it all in with a kelp emulsion.

I found some forgotten carrots, too. Quick pickled with just salt and sugar they were very good.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The snow, the garden, the seeds, the life

Our snow blanket from late last week. It is melting, now, slowly, but while it lasted it was evenly beautiful.

Taken from our neighbors (two floors up). 

Last year's arugula crop is very happy in the snow, preferring it to dry, icy blasts. I posted these two pictures to Instagram (@66squarefeet), which is where you can find me every day, when I am not here. With a new book on the horizon I will have less time than ever for blogging, unfortunately, but Instagram serves as a mini blog and a very positive space, compared with Facebook's comparative whininess. And you can get a sneak peak a some of the recipes I am testing for Forage and Harvest.

The garlic! Last October I planted two rows of bone fide seed garlic from Botanical Interests, two rows of organic bulbs as well as elephant garlic from Whole Foods, and two rows from the local farmers market. Last year's garlic crop was very rewarding, despite the relative shade,* so I got a little carried away.

* Shade recap: Full shade from fall through April. Right now, at 10am, the first sliver of sun is touching a small space at the very back fence. Daily, as the sun rises higher in the sky, it creeps bigger. So the crops that need the most sun are planted from the back, forwards, towards the house. And, as I learned last year, right up against the house in 100% shade, I can grow ginger (and Thai basil). This year they will be joined by turmeric.

Boxes of seed have been arriving and soon the fun will begin. First in will be fava beans and peas. Then there is some crazy stuff. Like annual artichokes. And celtuce. A new 'Wasabi' arugula. Pink-spotted chicory. I'm going to try spy beans. And 'Magenta Spreen' lambs quarters. And a few other things, too.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Forage and Harvest Book

The end of 2016 brought some happy negotiations with a publishing company I have long admired. When a senior editor there asked me over the phone, Vermont to Cape Town, "Why Chelsea Green?" my answer was simple: "Integrity."

Because it matters more than ever. 

Chelsea Green has a reputation for producing books on subjects ahead of the curve, and are firmly on the appropriate side of important environmental and political issues.

Back home in Brooklyn recently, a contract arrived. I celebrated by sprinkling it with agathosma* salt and dried mugwort. For luck, of course. 

* Agathosma from my mom's Cape Town garden - very aromatic.

Forage and Harvest is a book for cooks, gardeners, and foragers. It represents years of research: foraging, reading, cooking, eating. And gardening. It will cover over 40 wild foods and contain over 400 recipes. There will be techniques for making simple essentials and kitchen basics like field garlic oil (above).

Wild salad recipes will contain feral and domestic ingredients. In some cases I will make horticultural arguments (with cultivation tips) for taming wild ingredients: they are excellent vegetables and fruits, and sometimes borderline in terms of sustainability. And not everyone can get out and forage. We should be growing them, both for our own consumption, and for market.

There will be many one-pot wonders, it's how I often cook at home, like this pokeweed ribolitta, above. There will also be soups and side dishes and stews, risottos and roasts, and lots of ideas for breakfast. I like breakfast.

Breads and syrups and jams and muffins will march through the pages, like this spicebush bread with black cherry syrup.

There will be cake. With foraged mahlab, from black cherries.

There will be meaty and hearty main courses, like these bayberry meatballs with sumac.

There will be fire.

And there will be esoteric and fragrant vinegars and ferments made with highly seasonal edible flowers, like black locust.

...and the ever popular and wildly fizzy elderflower cordial.

With just a few weeks before spring arrives, I am furiously transcribing recipes from a small mountain of Moleskine notebooks so that I can be ready to gather, photograph and test when foraging season begins. Friends have offered help from their own tracts of wild land, while many of my edible weeds will be sourced locally from community farms and forgotten wild places.

Forage and Harvest will be published in spring of 2018.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cake days

It may be February but it is not too early to begin testing recipes for Forage and Harvest. With more than 400 on the cards, it's going to be interesting! And I need to rally neighborhood friends as potential guinea pigs. We will not be able to eat everything.

It has been the week of coughs, here at Chez Possum (yes, the possums are still around). First I went down with Trump Flu, then the poor Frenchman was felled, despite all precautions taken. In all the time I have known him he has never taken a sick day from work. Now he has taken two. Even as he coughs and sweats he works. Yes, I tried. Nothing I can do except drown him in thyme tea.

Above, a spicebush and apple cake, dense, moist, good food for cold days. And we have been promised some snow! At last.


Friday, February 3, 2017

And a happy Rooster to you, too

Lunar New Year in Chinatown. We joined the throng, even though we were really on a mission for tropical fruit to take to dinner that night. It was incredible to stand in that friendly crowd and to think about Donald Trump's lunatic proclamations. This epitome of an immigrant's celebration made the airport detentions and immigrant bans all the more absurd.

Stone faced NYPD escorted every dragon dancing troop. 

Children perched high. 

As we moved from the main processions' heart the streets thinned a little. We considered dumplings at our favourite Dim Sum Go Go but did not feel like waiting and moved on to shop under the Manhattan Bridge, where I bought longans and rambutans and dragon fruit.

Everywhere confetti and ribbons popped and showered.

Supper was with good friends, one who entered the United States as a refugee, only one American-born, most US citizens, some green card holders. Harvard (the former refugee) and Cambridge in the house (and me, of course, to tone things down).

In South Africa there are many refugees and immigrants, too, many from war torn and failing states. There is also xenophobia. Immigrants are resilient. They are determined. They have endured physical and psychological deprivation. They have left everything behind. They have survived. You want them in your gene pool. Because they are strong. And perhaps that is the problem. Do not fear strength. Embrace it. Make it part of you.

Yes, there is a lot of sweeping up after the Chinatown celebration. Click on this Ram Year post from 2015 to see.

This year of the Rooster is a challenge to us all. May we rescue something good from the flames.

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