Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Cherry blossoms

On the Vernal Equinox I walked in Green-Wood Cemetery under a high, racing sky and patchy cloud. In an early-blooming cherry, some house finches were very busy.

If you taste a cherry blossom, it is very bitter. But after a few seconds the flavor turns to marzipan. Perhaps finches like marzipan. Or the effects of prussic acid? How much is in a finch-sized blossom-dose?


Thursday, December 7, 2023

What and How to Eat Now

Here's a quick round-up of some seasonally appealing Gardenista pieces I have written. Follow the links to read: 

First up, Forest Toddies. On the cold-weather walks I lead, I sometimes make a hot toddy to warm frigid fingers. (It stays steaming in Thermos flasks.) It's alcohol-free but manages to taste grown up and complex. Everyone asks how it is made. My current hot toddy recipe is based on fresh apple cider, with the addition of citrus and herbs, a whisper of fir, and sometimes even a beneficial mushroom. 

When I've made the toddy and allowed all the flavors to infuse, it is strained and bottled, to live in the fridge. For the last month the Frenchman and I have been sipping a version of it (it welcomes improvisation) every evening, to see what life is like without a 6pm cocktail (no surprise, life goes on, without a hitch, but it's a useful experiment). But you can also drink it cold, shaken up with the hooch of your choice. I recommend bourbon. Good for parties.

Here is the Virgin Hot Toddy recipe.

It's yuzu season, and the aromatic, golden citrus are a highlight of my growing and eating year. Our own little tree had it's first proper crop this year (last year it produced three, I think), and it still has some plump fruit ripening on its branches. 

Yuzu are the essential ingredient for yubeshi, a cured, savory-sweet Japanese confection, intended to be sliced and nibbled with hot black tea. 

You can buy high-quality yuzu fruit online (they make a special gift) in the US from Flavors by Bhumi, New Jersey-based growers who also source unusual citrus fruit from other growers in the country. 

Are there still rosehips, where you live? They tend to become sweeter with cold. But sweet or astringent, here is my recipe for rosehip syrup. No boiling at all, just sugar, fruit, and time. The leftover hips make a very appealing candy-like snack, if they are large enough for the seeds to be scooped out easily.

What is the hardiest of citrus fruits? Clue: It is also the thorniest. Trifoliate orange, also called hardy orange, and more lemon than orange (very sour), and more yuzu than either (its skin is very fragrant). 

It makes a very good fermented syrup or cheong - transliterated Korean for marmalade, except the marmalade is is not cooked, and is traditionally stirred into boiling water for a therapeutic tea. The best-known cheong may be made with yuzu, but I use hardy orange in exactly the same way. 

Finally, dark afternoons, long nights, cold weather? We need bright colors and beneficial microbes to sustain us through winter. It's time to make fermented red cabbage (aka sauerkraut) with fresh juniper (Juniperus virginiana, but yes, you can use store-bought). 

The tangy kraut is good to eat as soon as five or six days (above) after the process has begun, and is then still very crunchy. I like it best around the three-week mark, by which time it has moved to the fridge...

Happy reading, and bon appétit!  


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Saturday, October 21, 2023

The sill

Austere, like the flavor of autumn olives. Clear, tart, enough sweetness to keep your attention. But definitely autumn.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Picnic like you mean it


The water comes up, and then it goes down, and then it does it again. This is high tide, and we perched on the edge to picnic. But at low tide we have walked across the shell-crunching wet sand to that island with the trees, to picnic, there. Once, we watched a mink swim across the water to explore the rocks. There are sometimes seals, poking their faces up to look like whiskery buoys tethered on the water. And almost always we see a loon, patrolling offshore.

I don't know when last we took wine on a picnic*. A day picnic. I carried it as a surprise for the Frenchman, who that morning had told me about a couple at the local co-op: They exited with a bottle of rosé. They took it back to their car, opened it, tossed some stale coffee out of a mug, and poured the wine into the mug before driving off, sipping. "It wasn't even chilled!" he said, unsure which act was more outrageous - drinking warm rosé or driving and drinking.

So we each had a few swigs (Tortoise Creek Zinfandel), straight from the bottle. It was completely delicious in the cold air, after the hike, between bites of sourdough sandwiches with tomato and prosciutto, a Chebris (sheep and goat cheese), and a fennel saucisson, all from the very appealing Blue Hill Wine Shop

Then we walked a couple of miles back to our own car and drove (in a straight line) home. 

*I grew up with wine at day picnics, brunch picnics, wine at lunch, wine at dinner...well, a lot of wine. (Also, not much water. But that is another story.)


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Sunday, October 8, 2023


Is one morally bound to discuss acts of war, if one is a(war)e of them, while walking in the autumn woods of a Maine shoreline, Downeast? Disaster stalks us. 

Last night the wind let loose as a storm moved in and poised above us, and water rained so hard on the roof that clear rivers formed round the cottage that we are renting for a few days. Pools grew outside and I sent the Frenchman into the deluge to check our EV. Batteries and flooding don't mix well. We're just a week out from the flash floods that drowned our block and nearby neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, thousands dead; the story so complex, and terrible. And what is to come? War. What is it good for? It's good for politicians. For people in power. For certain kinds of business. For the makers and innovators of weapons and the technology that supports or thwarts them. For the contractors of conflict. And, rarely, for freedom.

The woods here are wet and very green. In some places the moss is elbow-deep (I know, I measured). Weaponless but for eyes and intuition and and not a little reading, we have hunted mushrooms, with success. 

Our suppers have been matsutake-filled, and tonight the stuffing for our little organic chicken, raised by a local farmer, is rice with girolles (yellow-foot chanterelles). 


I'm mostly not here, but at Instagram:


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

The chanterelle stream in the woods

In the middle of the summer-humid woods in the Hudson Valley is a stream where we picnic after hunting for chanterelles. Above: August, 2018 - the first time we saw it, water tumbling. There are crayfish in the water, with blue pincers.

2021 - Baskets of chanterelles collected.

2022 - in a months-long drought. The crayfish were still there. Not a mushroom to be seen. 

2023 - a recent weekend, after some small chanterelles (and lots of other mushrooms) were sighted, and the day before historic flooding in the Hudson Valley. What does it look like, after?

As sticky and physically uncomfortable as these muggy hikes are, they are like a mesmerizing wonderland of interesting pale plants that coexist with the fungal world. The story, and a chanterelle rice recipe, are up on Gardenista.


25 July - NYBG class: Summer Edible Plants

Thursday, July 13, 2023

American burnweed - a herb to eat

We lurch from apocalypse to apocalypse. Choking wildfire smoke, and now, unprecedented rainfall. Brooklyn escaped Sunday night's flooding rain; in fact, it has been drier than usual, while just an hour north, where we hunted chanterelles over the weekend, mild creeks and tame streams turned into torrential monsters, and cliffs into cataracts.  

It is very hot, and meals have been cool. Above? Slivered baby cucumbers atop labneh, with Palestinina olive oil, New Jersey peas indigenous plant foraged in Brooklyn.

In season now is an unheralded aromatic herb of North America: Erechtites hieraciifolius - known commonly as fireweed, American burnweed, or (ahem) pilewort (it has a long history of traditional medicinal use) is a soft, annual herb of deep summer. It is ultra-floral, very strongly herbal, and slightly bitter. I love it.

You can read all about American burnweed in my story for Gardenista (and snag a cooling-zinging mango salad recipe) and I hope you pounce on it when you see it, soon.


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