Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The end of a season

Elderberry syrups and gin. Started in August, bottled in September. I have some sumac vodka and sugar (all recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast) in mason jars right now, and those will be the last forages to be bottled before we move, soon.

I will miss this kitchen very much. The glass door to the garden (I now think every kitchen should have a door to a garden), the little window beside the stove. It is a small space, but very efficient, and one of the two bright spots in this long, ground-floor apartment (the other is the bedroom, at the opposite end).

Many things, small and large, framed our nearly three-month search for a new apartment, after this lease was not renewed. Good natural light for my photography (and sanity), a decent kitchen - no dark cabinetry and ancient black appliances (food photos, again). A good floor... you laugh, but the floors we have seen. Light fittings from hell. The notorious nipple light. Good proportions - which includes everything from ceiling height to room size to window width to distance between sink and bath. A neighborhood where we feel at home.

We have found many of them in our new space, near Prospect Park. It is pricier than 1st Place, and slightly smaller. But the top-floor apartment (no thumping upstairs neighbors!) has been gut-renovated with an unusually fastidious and good eye for detail, light, and that sense of proportion that can make or break a room. The place has been finished with a sense of integrity that only two others we have seen, shared. We have seen dozens. The terrace is small, it's about 100 square feet, but it is very private. It will be a relief to sip a cup of coffee in genuine solitude. But I will miss the birds, and the wandering possums.

The proximity of Prospect Park (and Green-Wood) is wonderful, for me. But it is far from the Frenchman's important twice-weekly running route home from Manhattan, so he loses. Some of our things will have to go into storage. And this Thursday I hope many plants will find new homes, as dozens of friends, forage walkers, and gardeners come to adopt them.

It is friends who have kept my nose above 2018's rising waters. To each of them, thank you. You are extraordinary.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Plant Adoption Party

Plant adoption party! We have signed a lease on a new apartment and now I know what I will keep for our new terrace (top floor, small, but private and promising).

I have been working for weeks to transfer all my in-ground plants to pots and they have put down new roots and are ready for new homes. They are in good potting mix and have been fed. Thanks to Gowanus Nursery for donating recycled nursery pots and potting media!

Please email me for address and to RSVP.


20 September, 4pm - 6.30pm
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn


Food and drink: Prosecco and common milkweed cocktails will be on offer. Maybe some snacks. If you would like to contribute a potluck snack plate, that would be fun. (Finger food. Extra points for foraged ingredients.)

Plants for adoption: Plastic pot sizes range from 4" in diameter to 1 quart through 5 gallon in volume. Terra cotta sizes range from 8" across to 18" across.

Other Stuff: There will also be some gardening accessories up for grabs. Like nice, almost-new red pea and tomato trellises from Gardener's Supply, a giant tuteur, terra cotta pots, re-usable aluminum row labels, a giant galvanized trough, and some things I have not thought of yet.  Also some wild-inspired goodies like vinegars.

I will have a limited number of books (Forage, Harvest, Feast) for sale: $25, cash only, please.


Please only attend if you are adopting a plant or plants.
RSVP if you are coming.
First come, first adopted.
Getting plants home is your job. Some are heavy.
If you need transport or help for them - no way you're carrying the biggest ones to the subway - you may tag and fetch the next day.
Bring bags to carry them (like double Whole Foods or Trader Joe's bags or Ikea bags or roomy, strong totes). Or little red carts!
I will have tape and sharpies for tagging plants so you can sip without fear of losing the plant you like.
Plants I am keeping will be tagged with a bamboo stick and a conspicuous ribbon. Do not steal the keepers. If you do I will chase you with the stick. Nobody touch the limes!

Edible Perennials and Shrubs:

Black raspberries x 3 (2 in shock, but viable; 1 very heavy) - full sun ideal, but can fruit with 4 hours direct sun
Blueberries x 2 - full sun or semi-shade
Black chokeberry x 1 - full sun or semi-shade
Cardamom x 9 (must come indoors in winter) - delicious, aromatic leaves for cooking, I doubt they will flower and make pods, though - full shade
Chives x 6 - full sun
Common milkweed x 4 (they look minimal now but will rebound in spring. NOT suitable for pots, must go in-ground) - full sun
Gooseberry x 1 (5 gal plastic pot) - full sun
Nettles x 4  - semi-shade
Saffron crocus bulbs x approx. 50 (WILL bloom in October and must be planted soon!) - full sun
Serviceberry - large pot, 3' shrub
Wintercress (Barbarea verna) - x 7 - full sun

Semi Shade and Shade Perennials and Shrubs:

Boxwood (tiny) x 1
Christmas fern x 2 (takes full shade)
Doll's eyes x 2
Diervilla 'Cool Splash'- large pot
Fescue (not sure of ID - very nice shade lover) x 6
Lady fern x 1 - full shade
Heuchera autumnalis x 2
Hostas - green-n-white x 2
Lily of the valley x 2 pots
Ostrich ferns x 8 (plus 10 baby ostrich ferns) - can take full shade
Oak leaf hydrangea - large pot
Rodgersia x 3 (the largest looks awful but is very healthy, it just got dry - they need to stay moist)
Sensitive fern x 1 - can take full shade
Solomon's Seal x 3 large pots - drought tolerant, within reason
Virginia creeper x 2

Perennials for Sun (6 hours-plus direct):

Agastache 'Black Adder' - x 2 (heavy)
Arrowwood viburnum - very large pot
Bearded iris - no name, deep purple x 1
Calamintha x 2
Evening primrose x 1
Echinacea x 8
Daylilies, orange x 3
Lamb's ears x 2
Lilies x 40, in groups of 2 - 3 per pot (Madame Butterfly, Regale, Silk Road, Scheherazade, Silver Scheherazade, White Butterflies)
Joe Pye weed - 4 pots (hated being dug up, but viable; grows to 8' tall)
Monkshood x 4 (they looks scraggly but I think they will be fine. Wash your hands after handling cut leaves or stems)
Pineapple plants (Eucomis species) x 9 in groups of 3 (they must be overwintered indoors in a cold dry place, or dug up when the leaves die, and bulbs stored in the crisper drawer of fridge until May)
Swamp milkweed x 2

There will also be more Solomon's seal to dig (bring nursery pots 12" or larger in diameter to accommodate, or plastic bags), as well as violets to dig up, plus purple shiso (perilla) to cut and take home, and sweet potato tendrils to harvest (blanch in boiling water for 1 minute before eating).

What to bring:

Sturdy bags for carrying pots
Plastic bags or pots for plants you might dig up
Trowel for digging, if you plan to (I have one shovel and 1 trowel)

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Plants + Picnic + Friends = Detox

This was Saturday's satisfying end to a very good day. Stunned silence from regular audience...sound of crickets...she had a good day? Well, it's been a spectacularly shitty year, but sometimes the sun shines (even though it was totally overcast). Also, it was over 20 degrees cooler and the humidity lifted.

The planned forage walk at Dead Horse Bay was a lot of fun, with great people, and the plants were lush. Lots of impeccably sour winged sumac (Rhus copallina) to collect.

The figs above were a gift from Diane, who attends my walks often - they are from her mother's old tree, and they are delicious, with sour following sweet, a complexity that a Mission fig cannot deliver. The mouse melons were also from her and will go bobbing in a cucumber Martini this evening. Not pictured is the jar of delicious sansho miso, given to me by Kiyoko, another regular attendee who is endlessly curious and always gives me inspiring homemade Japanese tidbits to try. She is responsible for the prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum) chapter in Forage, Harvest, Feast. Sansho is its East Asian cousin, Zanthoxylum piperatum, and known better Stateside as Sichuan pepper. (For our supper I cooked a single thick steak, and while it was resting smeared the miso over it. It was incredible.)

The cocktail above used up some of the quick beach plum and bayberry sauce I made for the picnic - there was some left over. Blended it with gin and a bracing October vermouth made last year in Cape Town. Really good.

Humans and how they behave make all the difference. For the really bad behavior this year there has been more than its balance in utter, disinterested, genuine generosity that we have both experienced. It is humbling.

Just keep on getting up in the morning. The weather will change.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Shoreline forage at Dead Horse Bay

The Frenchman said he was going to go out and buy manchego cheese, and I said, Can we go to Dead Horse Bay instead, and he said, Yes.

So we did.

I am leading a walk here this weekend and I had not visited in about five weeks; I get nervous and think - what if there is nothing interesting for them to see? So I like to check, ahead of time (how can you be ahead of time?).

Turned out fine. In those weeks we have had tropical downpours, and the old landfill's response has been lush.

The invasive Phragmites australis looks opulent in bloom.

The wide paths are tick-free. 

And the winged sumac (Rhus copallina) is in fruit. 

Above, you can see last year's cluster of fruit along with the new, unripe cluster. It is the last sumac to ripen in our region. There are lots of sumac recipes in Forage, Harvest, Feast. When I say lots, I mean 63. The one I am proudest of is Sumac Essence. A fantastic secret weapon in the kitchen.

I was surprised to learn last year that a lot of people confuse sneeze-inducing Ambrosia artemisifolia - ragweed (above) - with goldenrod, below. They bloom at the same time. And if you Google ragweed a bunch of goldenrod pictures pop up. A good friend argued  with me vehemently that goldenrod was in fact ragweed. No.

Goldenrod is the common name of the bright yellow species of Solidago, heralds of autumn; I think the one above is S. canadensis. Just because it is conspicuous doesn't mean it gives you allergies. Its pollen is too large to irritate us. Sneakily invisible ragweed, on the other hand...

Near the beach, my beloved bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica. I have just made the most gorgeous beach plum and bayberry syrup (yes, recipe in the book) and have frozen the cooked plum pulp for later use - it is delicious.

You can see how poison ivy (above) and edible sumac are related. They belong to the same family as mango and cashews. Birds love poison ivy fruit. Humans, not so much.

This is apparently a burr grass (Cenchrus species). New to me, and noticed today because of its painfully sharp but prolifically beautiful flowers.

Lots of horse shoe crab exoskeletons.

And rides to nowhere, courtesy of Hurricanes Sandy and Irene.

It doesn't look like Brooklyn, does it?

But it is.

To join us on September 8th for a forage, 12.30pm - 3pm (timed to coincide with low tide, and exposing the famous detritus of old-ish glass), and a wild picnic featuring mugwort and bayberry and sumac, please book via the PayPal button below. Details will be emailed to you on sign up.

(And if you are wondering about the cheese...we stopped for it on the way home.)

Sold Out, Sorry!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Forage Harvest Feast

Today is the official release date of Forage, Harvest, Feast, which looks right at home on the foraging table with mugwort and wild black cherries. And a bonus of chanterelles. Torrential summer rains have made mushrooms explode all over the city and our happy hunting grounds.

The book is now available for purchase (not just pre-order) on Amazon.  Today it rose to the top of the ranks - No. 1 in the...? Vegetable section! I thought that was very funny. But I do include cultivation tips for most of the plants, so. And it's No. 19 right now in Professional Cooking. These numbers change very fast but they are fun.

Thank you very much if your copy is already winging its way to you, in North America or in Europe. Copies are traveling by sea to continents further from its US printing base.

If you like what you see and read, please tell Amazon, in a review. It would be very helpful to me, the book, future readers, and not least to my wonderful publishers, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Monday, August 13, 2018

How it really is

Somebody who knows a bit about our lives said recently on Instagram: You are so calm.

But real life is not for Instagram. On Instagram life is perfect.

It has been wet. Very wet. And if we sit outside in the evenings we are well sprayed against the striped invasive mosquitoes. August is their voracious peak. The garden is lush and wild. Katydids, cicadas, and the first crickets accompany dinner.

Inbetween time-consuming apartment hunting (we have not found the right one yet, and yes, I am nervous), book-related event-planning (book party on August 21st), and plain old work, I pot up in-ground plants for this plant adoption party I have dreamed up.

But don't ask me when that will be.

In fact, don't ask me anything. I wake every morning with dread in the pit of my stomach. News from home is bad, my brothers are on the warpath, Vince and I have no idea where we are going to live. I am not a self pitying person, but 2018 seems to have birthed a wave of the worst of human behaviour, in terms of our personal lives. Malice, resentment, an absolute lack of ethical integrity. A black depression grips my heels and pulls me back. I say it out loud because I now feel it's better to say it than pretend it is not happening. There are days when I am felled.

In many ways, we lead privileged lives. As my father would say. This year far worse things have happened to friends. Cancer diagnoses. Death by home invasion. Death too young. Real suffering.

And for me there are points of light. The Frenchman, who is an incredible human being, with a backbone of solid integrity. Perhaps that is all that matters. There is my new book. I like it. I know that must sound strange, but you never know. There is my publishing team at Chelsea Green - very good, supportive people. There are the early, generous reviews, written by authors and editors who have very busy and successful lives, but who took the time to be kind. Time is the one thing none of us have, anymore. There is our wonderful little car, who (of course we have anthropomorphised her) has given us wings. There is Vince's wing - after years on the ground, he is taking to the paragliding skies, once more. There is humor. We can be very silly, and we laugh.

There are books, as essential to me as air. I have been reading my way through Michael Ondaatje's work, sequentially, beginning about three weeks before his Golden Man Booker Prize was announced for The English Patient, a book I have read several times. I began backwards with his new Warlight, and then started at the beginning. On a back page in each book I track in pencil his patterns. Dogs (almost always funny dogs), bird song, war, tunnels and holes and caves, the female voice, the creation of a person's character. Books have removed me from or returned me to myself at every stage of my life, and in times of crisis they are a lifeline. Half an hour before bed, I read, and mute the demons who threaten sleep, and who have stolen peace of mind.

There are friends, to whom I do not reach out - or give - often enough. They are all better and smarter than I am.

Which reminds me of my father's neurologist, a few years ago. I went to see him with my mom. He said rhetorically, with a smirk, "Your father likes to be the smartest person in the room, doesn't he?" Any respect I was prepared to have for this man, this brain doctor, dried up on the spot. One, that he would find it necessary to say this. It revealed far more about him than it did about my father. Two, that he was wrong. And so bad at reading a personality. This neurologist. Who never had the guts to say to my father's face: You have dementia. Because even then, my father was an intimidating man. So my father, who scorned computers and consequently Google, had no time - no reason - to plan for catastrophe. And now the sharks are circling. He had rejected a first, honest, diagnosis from another neurologist, and Dr. Second Opinion lacked the cojones to tell him the unambiguous truth. "To spare him the shock," he said. Sure. Wuss. Same guy laughed out loud when I asked him if he could recommend any local support groups for my mom. He thought that was very funny.

My father hated being the smartest person in the room. Because it was boring. He spoke with such admiration - almost a sense of wonder - of the marvelous brains of a handful of good friends. He loved a good brain. And he liked to listen.

So home - here and abroad - feels lost to me. My sense of identity is in crisis. And the toxic guy who lives upstairs, does not work, and sleeps till 3pm to smoke weed, is pounding music as I type. (Upside: Maybe when we move we can retire the noise canceling headphones and three (yep) white and pink - yes, it's a thing - noise machines.)

And none of this belongs on a blog. But if I do not wave, I might drown.

We will return to regular programming. Sometime.

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