Friday, October 26, 2018

To the woods!


For the two months before our move the Frenchman and I had to cool our hiking heels. Instead of woodland trails, we pounded sidewalks and Brooklyn neighborhoods, hunting for a new place to live. Once we had moved, it was with huge relief that we headed out again to Harriman State Park, the minute the last box was unpacked. Our usual Catskills haunt is over two hours from the city, while Harriman - discovered this summer - is just over an hour's drive. For my injured back, this is a godsend: while I can walk and exercise as much as I like, sitting for longer than half an hour becomes very painful, so long drives are not fun.

Harriman is a gorgeous park, with hills and woodlands, blueberries for miles, and many lakes. We visited four times in July and early August. Different every time.


We park on Kanawauke Road - Route 106 - and head south towards Lake Skenonto. The trail (yellow above) we chanced upon is still our favorite, although there is much more to explore. We use Gaia Maps (app and web) - you pay an annual fee, and they have superb maps as well as coverage. This lake is also accessible by public transport, from Tuxedo Park.


Cute corts, as the mushroom people call them. Some blue mushrooms (like blewits and milk caps) are very good to eat. Some are not. Cortinarius iodes - above, probably -  is not recommended. It has a tell-tale slimy cap. But so does its identical lookalike Cortinarius iodeioides - confusing, yes?! They also have similar spore prints. Enthusiasts tell them apart by licking the cap. C. iodeioides has bitter slime.

No, I don't lick. And I don't bother with corts at all, for eating - there are easier mushrooms to enjoy.


Like my dear friend the hen of the woods, Grifola frondosa. Also called maitake, or dancing mushroom, by the Japanese. Easy to identify, hugely generous, and delicious. It has been a bumper year for hen of the woods and they have been so prolific that just about every other oak tree in Brooklyn seems to have borne a crop this fall. Not a good sign for the trees, as this fungus causes butt rot, which eventually kills the tree. We saw many on our walk and I collected just one clean specimen, turning it into pâté and soup and a few other things back home. Especially fun when they sell for $20/lb in shops.


The woods were also bristling with honey mushrooms, members of the Armillaria complex. They are also delicious (and destructive to trees), but not a beginner mushroom: they must not be confused with some toxic lookalikes. Fortunately their white spore prints differentiate them from so-called deadly gallerinas (rusty-brown print) and sulphur tufts (purple-brown).


The Frenchman's favourite edible mushroom, after chanterelles. The beautiful black trumpet.


Many fallen logs were studded with little puffballs. While these diminutive Lycoperdons are edible (while young, firm and white inside), I don't see the point. Although on a pretty plate in a restaurant...maybe.


The tall blueberries in open spaces were already burnished with the changing season.


Invasive barberries doing their best to convince us to plant them in our gardens. Don't. They displace local plants and harbor ticks. And birds disperse the seed.


Equally destructive and pretty Rosa multiflora festooned with rosehips (good for jelly, syrups, and Vitamin C).


Also in openings in the woods are stands of hay scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula).


Here, at our halfway mark, we stop on a cliff above the lake and have lunch. Almonds I roasted in coconut oil with lots of berbere spice and salt. Manchego, and an Italian sausage from our new hood (we didn't like it and will go back to our Columbus staple). After having gone breadless in April, picnics without a crusty baguette do lack a certain...'ow do you say...je ne sais quoi. But both our waistlines thank us. And I do cheat. The Frenchman doesn't cheat. He never cheats. Consequently, he is thinner: Minus 35 lbs since April, me a mere 15...


After lunch we turn back towards the other side of our loop. Lots of moss, everywhere. 


Pixie cups belong to a species of lichen called Cladonia. Lichen is classified in the Fungi Kingdom, and moss in Plant. But lichen is really algae living in symbiosis with fungi. Fascinating.


The woods are late turning, possibly because we had so much rain in August and September.


Back in the car and driving home along the beautiful windy road, I was lucky enough to spot between the trees a glimpse of my first-ever coyote.

Good end to a very good day.

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Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Windsor Terrace


I climbed up the fire escape to photograph the new terrace.

All the citrus trees moved with us: Thai limes (Citrus hystrix), Meyer lemon, and finger lime (Citrus australasica - and yes, native to the understoreys of the Australian subtropics) - and all of them have fruit! The largest curry leaf is in the lower left corner (the other went to my friend Irene Khin, where it is kept company by a giant Burmese ginger). The myogo ginger, cardamon and new galangals came, too, so this seems to be an adventure in subtropical edibles.

Other sentimental favorites are there, too: black snakeroot - about to bloom, baby oak leaf hydrangeas (their large parent was adopted), the prickly ash that was so sickly in its first year and now robust (I grew it for Forage Harvest Feast's sake - the leaves and fruit are wonderful), some pineapple lilies and a fat rhododendron. I am not sure why I brought the begonias - probably just because I knew I'd want some flowers.

The terrace receives eastern sunlight, and then some more in the very late afternoon, from the west. The top floor apartment (no more upstairs terrorism!) is very bright and they will thrive indoors in the winter. I hope.

We are still digging our way out from under a mound of boxes; work and book events have taken up much of our time, but there has been progress, and we can now even see parts of the apartment's floor (it is a very solid floor, and does not squeak like the last one).

I am leading an autumn forage-plus-picnic in Central Park this weekend, and the next in Prospect Park. See the link below to book.

And now I must unpack a dozen boxes of books.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Autumn talks


Join me at The Museum of Food and Drink this Thursday at 6.30pm for a discussion of native flavors and how they should inform our regional cooking and be used in kitchen gardens. And sip this cocktail, too: From the pages of Forage, Harvest, Feast it is 'Long Nights' - bourbon-based with lashings of spicebush.

And on Saturday I will be at the Union Square Farmers Market in the Food Bookfair tent to sign books from 10am -12pm this Saturday, too, if you'd like to say hello and munch on a mugwort cracker...

In other book news, acclaimed food scholar and author Darra Goldstein wrote a generous review of Forage, Harvest, Feast recently for The Times Literary Supplement, calling its recipes "bold and exciting."

I hope you agree (and some of them - like 200 or so - are even easy!)...

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