Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Gold dust - good for breakfast, if you have it

Cattail pollen. Collected in a Cape Town summer... In December I hunted down and cut cattail flowers (still green but beginning to shed pollen), sifted out their copious pollen, did some baking, and sealed most of the delicious, golden powder in a jar. Into the freezer it went to keep and to take home to Brooklyn. 

Problem is, it's still there. And I am in grey Brooklyn.

That's the part I did not share in my story about edible cattail pollen for Gardenista. The rest you can read in the link, plus two fine recipes for using this truly delicious wild ingredient.

The story ends well (at least, fingers crossed). A - good, kind, generous - friend is going to collect it in Constantia, and hand it over to her brother who is making a flying visit, and who will soon land back in NYC.  

So there will be cattail biscuits, blinis, crackers, and madeleines on forage picnic menus after all. And then early summer will arrive in this hemisphere, and perhaps I will have find another source of the roast-corn-flavored dust to play with.

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My Books - Wild-Inspired

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Out


Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Cold, windy, but some sun. We walked four miles along another narrow barrier island, part of the Fire Island National Seashore.

A wide sky, a waning crescent moon, an empty beach.


We saw no fox, no snowy owl. Five sanderlings scurried ahead of us, skirting the creamy foam.


As much as our outdoor winter lives in New York lead us to places where we see endless horizons under unencumbered skies, our indoor lives are inverse. Insulated, warm, domestic. You might say cosy. At home, we have withdrawn. Out, we walk to find what makes out hearts beat.


And yes. Sometimes it is very cold.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Once, it was summer

Wait, what, summer? 

Tidying up photographs, cleaning one of the two memory sticks I use in my Canon, I find myself drawn into meals eaten, seasons lived, flowers in bloom. This was June 2021. Yup - I have a lot of tidying to do. The terrace, and what is clearly a warm weather supper. The Frenchman's T-shirted arm pouring cold Sauvignon blanc. Salad - a deconstructed salade Ni├žoise. Grated carrot? I know. I take liberties (it was soused in lemon juice, with some chile flakes added - try it). 


I see radishes, too, halved cherry tomatoes and at the back - either eggs or potatoes? Maybe eggs on top of potatoes? And leaves. The tuna is always packed in olive oil, but was it Cento? Probably. The first purple basil from the garden. I usually only plant it in late May and have to restrain myself as it establishes itself.

Formosa lilies. They will bloom again, if they made it through the freak deep freeze of December. January is as freakily mild. Who knows what February holds?

But terrace days will come again.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Low tide at Jones Beach


After five grey days the sun shone on us, and we pointed our noses towards the ocean. Jones Beach, on a skinny barrier island less than an hour northwest of home, has become a winter haven for us. And it's usually frigid. Sunday was relatively mild. Cold enough enough for layers, and gloves and hats, but balmy by most early January standards. 

It was empty. That's why we like it. And we thought we might spot a snowy owl...


Aside from the marring tire tracks on the empty sand, we saw about 12 other people in three hours. Two fishermen, four walkers, and a balance of birders, some alone, some in pairs, most with scopes, some with long lenses. We had binoculars and a long lens, too, so we fit right in. An elderly photographer walking out from the dunes conferred with us. Had we seen anything? Sea ducks on the water, I said, But I'm not sure what they are. Razorbills, he suggested in a Middle European accent: Vot I have been looking for. I wasn't sure. I've seen razorbills in our bird book and these were different. And I knew I'd seen one in Maine... He told us to watch for snow buntings. You can see zem ven zey take off, he advised. We didn't see them, but later we did spot his elusive razorbill, bobbing neatly for fish.


The water was smooth. No swells, no waves, barely a ripple. The tide was very low, and for an hour after we arrived its motion was suspended. Scanning the sea I could still see the birds sitting on it miles out, disappearing smoothly as they hunted. The perspective was extraordinary. I have never seen such still water.


After walking to the rocky arm at the end of the beach we sat and spooned up our hot soup. A flock of dunlin that had been resting on the rocks erupted suddenly, and began the wheeling, shifting choreography that is a murmuration. They broke apart into smaller shapes and blended again, split, and shifted, like nothing real. As we were filming them I noticed a larger bird diving into their flock - a raptor, and probably what set them off in the first place. It flew away, empty-taloned.


As we walked back two seals raised their wet heads to look at us from the smooth water, then sank again as silently. A flash of foam and one reappeared with a flapping silver fish beneath its whiskers.


And then two of the seabirds came close to shore, hunting in the steep drop-off right at the water's foaming edge. They were loons. Overwintering off our shoreline. One had something skinny sticking up out of its tail feathers - a fishing line? But it was too rigid, more like a quill, and it didn't seem to be bothering the bird, whose movements were sleek and swift. Only at home, his photos viewed on a big screen, did the Frenchman say with some disbelief: It's an antenna! It was. That loon was hooked up to a satellite. 


New weather had moved in, blending sea and horizon, smudging air and earth, mixing the light.

There had been no snowy owl, but this will be remembered as an extraordinary day,  experienced on the edge of a city teeming with millions and millions of people, in one of the most populated regions on the planet.

Doesn't look like it, does it?
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Monday, January 9, 2023

Delayed

When you transition across two hemispheres (south to north, east to west) by racing halfway across the globe in a matter of hours, you leave a part of yourself behind.  While you wait for the piece that is missing and trust, that despite the sense of emptiness,  it - and your luggage - will catch up, you go out on autopilot into the place that is part of you, to remember who and where you are.

Brooklyn Bridge Park on a cold Saturday was equal parts imposing and human. The usual freezing brides were posing against the buttresses and Manhattan skyline.

The day after the Wolf Moon the low tide water was slack, the East River calm.

The Manhattan Bridge was as raucous as ever, every time a subway thundered and beat over it.

And the view across New York Harbor as uplifting.

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Wild Walks

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Plants of the Bo Kaap


On a hot day, walking the Bo Kaap's cobbled and steep streets, I noticed the plants. They are minimal, scrappy, and tough. The colors of the old houses behind them accentuate their form and texture.

Lots of succulents, lots of thorns.

Crown of thorns (a Euphorbia species).


Even a dying bougainvillea looked dramatic.


                                                     Spikes and shutters.

Spekboom, Portulacaria afra.


Even the weeds look good.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Sour grapes

Foraged in a Cape Town summer. Sour grapes. Not such a bad thing, after all.  How did I learn this? Shopping. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at Balady's, a supermarket catering to Middle Eastern palates. In the produce sectiion was a crate of bright green, hard, sour grapes. And I recognized in myself the universal reaction: If they are selling them, they must have value. Of course I bought them (this was about five years ago...).

I think about this often in terms of wild or undervalued plants. Like Japanese knotweed, or garlic mustard, or field garlic. Or common mallow. Put a price tag on them and suddenly they have value, become visible, acquiring form and substance, coalescing from the great anonymous, undifferentiated green that most people (don't) notice even when they they are surrounded by plants. 

I'm still working on these grapes and stories will follow. Sour is interesting. It can do all sorts of things to dinner.

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