Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Inwood Field Garlic Walk

Join me this Sunday [originally Saturday but postponed because of wind] in Inwood Hill Park for a three-hour walk and picnic. It is barely spring, but we will be hunting (and eating) field garlic.

Allium vineale is that delicious invasive onion that reappears in late autumn after a later summer dormancy, perseveres through winter as skinny leaves, and fattens up in spring. Call it crow garlic, lawn chives, wild chives, wild onion - but don't call it boring. It has all the properties we love in domesticated garlic and onions.

I make a vivid wet salt with field garlic leaves every year. It behaves the way a bouillon cube does, giving broths and soups and stews (and eggs, always eggs) a foundation of flavor.

Field garlic compound butter is delicious.  On this walk I will replicate the picnic I made in March 2014, which featured a field garlic cheese bread with this butter and a garlic mustard pesto. It's my five-year wild walk anniversary, and the picnics have grown in scope.

The early leaves of potent garlic mustard are beginning to appear (their peak season is late April into May).

And we may see the pink tips of super-invader, Japanese knotweed.

Another intensely herbal (think lovage) invasive edible is ground elder, or bishop's weed. Its early leaves are thinking about appearing.

Will there be daylily shoots, yet? I am not sure! Come and find out with me.

Every late March is different (in 2014 we had a big snowfall). But on their warm slope it is possible we will find the earliest of nettle tips.

And wonderful spicebush. My kitchen's favorite, hands down. There will be fragrant twigs and early buds.

Taste it in our picnic's dessert (chocolate roulade stuffed with sour cherries and spicebush)...

Tickets are $50 and the walk is from 12pm to 3pm, on Sunday the 24th. (If you can't make this one see my Forage Walks and Classes page for many other options).

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A New Terrace Year

On a freakily warm evening we sat outside for the first time since last year, and drank Aperol Spritzers. The day was warm enough for short sleeves. The night bearable with light sweaters. We braaied later (lamb sausages from our local butcher), and watched a line of thunderstorms shatter the western horizon over Jersey. Above us, stars.

Today, the cold is back. But the last week has been so sunny and hopeful that I impulse-bought pansies. This happens every year.  Only when they are home do I check how many nights in the forecast are well beneath freezing. Answer: a few. Pansies survive serious cold, of course, but it seems unfair to transfer them straight from their greenhouse life to a bitter terrace. So mine are waiting a little, and will be brought in on those bitter nights. But seeing them makes me feel better.

Every time we move I have learned something new about gardening. This time it's windowboxes.

And to that end I have visited big box stores. For weeks I scoured the Internet and smaller local stores for affordable and attractive window boxes to increase the planting area, but not the clutter, on our new 110 square foot terrace (bear in mind I must leave space for the currently overwintering citrus trees, curry leaf tree, cardamon and galangals). But affordable-and-attractive is a rare combination, apparently, and my search yielded nothing inoffensive for under $100. For the eight-ish boxes I needed that was just crazy; over the years I have sunk untold thousands into gardens we have rented and left. And then one day, hunting African violets, I spotted $30 windowboxes at Lowe's. So I bought them.

The windowboxes are just 24 inches long (I'd have preferred longer), but wide and deep enough to grow good herbs, salads and annuals. The black wrought iron decided me - it suits our iron railings. The thick coir matting lining will be reinforced with a layer of landscape fabric to prevent soil from working its way through the coir as it ages. The metal brackets that are supposed to attach the boxes are designed for angular wooden deck railings, not round iron. So I have substituted lowly but practical, heavy-duty black zip ties - very strong, and mercifully invisible against the black railings. Safety is important with any planter hanging over a void (although the fire escape would catch them), so I am using three zips per planter.

And I am using Soilmoist for the first time in my own pots (it's an old professional gardeners' trick); also harder to find than it should be. It will be mixed with potting to soil to increase moisture-retention in the planters. Smaller planters dry out faster.

In an effort to attract hungry migrating birds I slathered several park pinecones with peanut butter and nice bird seed. No birds, yet. But squirrel. He's already left some warm Yelp reviews for me.

Not the clientele I was hoping for.

But all things considered, life could be worse. And is, for so many.

Keep planting.

(If you'd like to track the progress of this space, check all posts here tagged Windsor Terrace. On Instagram, look for #thewindsorterrace)


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Spring Walks

The sun is shining in Brooklyn. And in anticipation of warming days I have added a slew of walks to my spring roster. You can find them on my Forage Walks and Classes Page. Meet both of these plants, then.

These are a brightness from last April: Native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginiana) and very invasive lesser celandine (Ficaria verna). Both flowers are edible, both are summer dormant. If you live in North America, do plant the Virginia bluebells - they are delightful and delicious (the leaves taste like mushroomy lettuce). Do not plant this little celandine, as it takes over. Its iridescent flowers make beautiful ice cubes and are gorgeous in salads - I eat the young leaves but am not wild about the tongue-prickling older specimens.

The forage walks include a ramble in the late winter woods of Inwood on March 23rd (and a return in a very leafy spring, on May 18th), a visit to Central Park's North Woods, a Japanese Knotweed Walk,  a Delicious Thugs Walk (where we will appreciate the yummy side of very invasive plants), a Bitter Herbs Walk for Passover and Easter, a midweek rebellion on May Day to Dead Horse Bay, and an adventure on beautiful Staten Island.

As usual all walks are followed by a wild tasting picnic where you can expect to eat treats like quails eggs with seasonal dipping salts or sauces, crackers, breads, or biscuits highlighting a wild herb like mugwort, field garlic or nettles, yogurt cheeses singing with wild flavor, soups spiced with native juniper or spicebush, and desserts ranging from wild cherry mahlab madeleines to puffball brownies to spicebush chocolate roulades. Yup.

See you there?


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Jamaica Bay in winter

On a cold day after snow I visited Jamaica Bay. I am leading a walk there next weekend and thought I should reconnoiter.

A celebratory honking in the sky drew my attention to a great flock of snow geese settling on the water. Just then three tourists begged me to take their picture with their phone. Stupidly, I complied, missing the birds with my telephoto as they took off again and honked low over the water towards Manhattan. Maybe they were late for a sale at Macy's.

A few geese stayed put.

Snow was melting, leaving clear pools on the paths.

The junipers (lone evergreen, above) are loaded with pollen, not quite ready to release it.

Remnants of roses - probably the very invasive Rosa multiflora.

And enticing bittersweet.

Edible signs. The sticks on the right...anyone? They will be delicious shoots in mid to late April.

A phalanx of phragmites. Phunny (sorry)! These thugs dominate waterways in the city and beyond. 

And if you sit on the bench at the end, you can watch a parade of jets take off over the water at JFK. And sometimes a train, too. And a pair of swans.

It's New York's wild west.

In summer, there are orchids.

Sign up in the link below if you'd like to join Saturday's walk and picnic - the snacks will feature tastes of the native shoreline plants we see - juniper, sumac, black cherry, and also weedy field garlic and mugwort. I think it may include a steaming borscht and a hot chocolate dipping sauce for mahlab madeleines (last weekend's Prospect Park picnic, above)...


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Forage Picnic Prep

I am looking forward to Sunday's walk in Prospect Park. It has been an on-again off-again forage walk and picnic, playing dodgeball with the weather forecasts of the last week. But we will romp through the remaining snow just before another big front moves in.

I spent today making black trumpet mushroom and red wine soup, above. It is rich and meaty and 100% vegan-friendly. But you would not know it if you were a steak person. The pot of soup is chilling in the snow on the terrace as I type this. Ran out of fridge space. Peeled, cooked quails eggs are nestled in miso, and a pickled ramp cheese is draining in the fridge. It will go with lambs quarter and seaweed crackers*. I am contemplating the feasibility of transporting a hot chocolate sauce for dipping the spicebush madeleines, now fresh from the oven. (I inhaled one. They are a bit too big, but feather-light.)

Bring on more blizzard! We are ready.

* Ahem: these suffered a kitchen mishap. They are very fragile and let's just say they were dropped and are toast. So to speak. So I made mugwort crackers, instead.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

African Violet Revival

Late last year I cycled to Lowe's to look for a bag of potting soil. One downside of our move last year was that it put unwelcome distance between us and the two person-owned nurseries I like (GRDN and Gowanus). And I was desperate. So Lowe's. But they only had horrible Miracle Gro, filled with synthetic fertilizers, I turned to leave. But not before I cast a fatal glance at the indoor plant section on the way out.

Many of the plants were wilted and their soil desiccated. But the rich colour of some African violets stopped me. I felt their soil. Dry like the Kgalagadi desert in July. Their price? $3.99 each. How do you even grow a plant for $3.99? The labor, the transport...? I scooped them up and rode them home nestled in my bicycle box, their bag tied shut against the cold November air.

These cheap little plants woke up a very old, buried plant love. I grew African violets on my bedroom's windowsill - propagated them from leaves - as a very small girl. The cuttings came from my grandmother Quez (to me she was Ouma) who grew them on the windowsills in her flat. Her plants may have come from her down-the corridor neighbour Tina, who was effusive in her affection toward me, and the real violet queen: she had dozens of plants, and they were always in full bloom. They were intoxicating.

I adored the flowers then, and looking at the plants that I began to collect again last year, I was reminded of how they fascinated me, all those years ago: it was like meeting long-forgotten landmarks within the botanical details of pollen, petal-iridescence, leaf texture. Mesmerising. I started looking for more but could find them nowhere but on Lowe's reject pile. So I rescued them.

I wanted some rich and some subtle colours, but I bought what was available. They are riotous and a little gaudy and I love them.

Where is the African violet comeback? They are perfect for small spaces and apartments. They actively dislike direct sunlight. Give them that despised northern window light. Water them in their saucer once a week, and feed them every time (I am using Espoma's African Violet Food, but need a few more weeks to see how well it works).

I took some cuttings. The undersides of their leaves are exquisitely anatomical.

These cuttings have since rooted very well.

This last picture was taken a few days before I rushed to South Africa, leaving autumn's bounty forgotten.

But the violets live on, happily, and I must find some more.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Jersey Shore

In search of snowy owls, we left Brooklyn over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and headed south to the notorious Jersey Shore, synonymous for me with the reality TV show, hence zero appeal; but the Frenchman had visited in January, and had just missed what the locals referred to as the bird. So in the brave spirit of adventure, I voted we return.

In just under a two-hour drive we reached the beautiful barrier island that contains Island Beach State Park, first passing through miles of strangely pristine and deserted beach houses - perhaps pristine because many of them will have been rebuilt after been wacked by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

In the park a sign said: Do Not Feed Fox. Fox! One fox? Many foxes? I had never seen a fox.

And then juniper berries greeted this happy forager (I bet foxes eat juniper berries). They belong to Juniperus virginiana, whose confusing common name is eastern red cedar (there is a whole chapter dedicated to unpacking that in Forage, Harvest, Feast - and lots of recipes: think Juniper Strawberry Ice Cream).

And in the dunes I saw smilax fruit in wild tangles. The spring shoots of smilax are delectable.

The beaches here seem limitless, marred only by the presence of occasional cars, which are obscene in this beauty. We walked to find the owl a photographer had told us about and spent a long time watching it. It sat. We watched. Sometimes it scratched its feathers.

I can't imagine what summer looks like, here - inundated - but on a cold and sunny winter day the desolation was perfect.

We stopped at various spots to access the endless beach on paths through the dunes.

And on one the Frenchman suddenly hissed, FOX! I froze.

Of course my own telephoto was uselessly in the car. Thank goodness he had his (see his post here). See the reddish dot on the sand towards the middle of the screen? Sleeping fox! We watched the fox for a very long time, trotting to and fro, settling to nap again. I fell in love.

Photo by Vincent Mounier

That fur. That nose. Those whiskers. The ears!

And of course we picnicked. Pickled cabbage and beets (pickles belong in winter, somehow), a treat-sandwich of sourdough and chevre and pea shoots.

That morning I had made a soup with a mushroom and bacon base, with tomato paste and smoked paprika, sloshes of red wine and good broth. It was still steaming hot from the Thermos and we sat on the sand sipping it, insulated in many layers, watching the crashing waves.

And then it was back to Brooklyn, our route this time taking us through the industryscape one expects of Jersey, belching smoke, filled with super highways seven lanes wide in one direction.

In the failing light, it had a futuristic appeal.

Over the Goethals Bridge into Staten Island.

And back home across the Verrazano. Heads still filled with owls and foxes, empty dunes and cold, clean beaches.


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