Saturday, September 29, 2007

Green Bean Salad

Last night was one of those I'd-better-see-what's-in-the fridge nights.

I found:

French beans. Half a red onion. Kalamata olives. Organic bacon. A head of funnel. Bulb of fennel just sounds...wrong. Some radishes. And I had parsley on the terrace.

So I blanched the beans for a few minutes in salted boiling water. While that was happening I cooked the bacon till crisp and drained it on kitchen paper. Sliced the radishes in thin halfmoons (appearance is everything), thinly sliced the fennel, ditto the onion, took the parsley leaves off their stalks. Parsley, radishes and fennel went into a bowl. Broke the bacon, 6 rashers, into pieces and added. Tossed the hot beans on top, with the olives. Dribbled a capful of olive oil, sprinkled salt and pepper and a bit of brown sugar and shook over some red wine vinegar. Then tossed it with my hands to blend properly...

I served it to myself with some toasted baguette over which I had rubbed a garlic clove. I may
also have wiped the bacon pan with it first...


Potted Fish

Back to basics...

Food, I mean.

I meant to post the fishy thing below some time ago, just before I went to South Africa, but events overtook me. I made it for Constanza one night, and for the life of me I don't remember what else we ate. The idea comes, sort of (most ideas are sort of) from Heston Blumenthal's pub The Hind's Head, in Bray, England. Which is, I think, a lot nicer (and a lot less expensive) than his famous restaurant next door, The Fat Duck. Which should be called Teutonic Waiters with Attitudes. Or, Stick a Pin in Us We still Won't be Spontaneous. Or, Smile at Us and We Will Spit in Your Soup (If You are Stupid Enough to Order Soup, Roll-of-Our-Eyes).

The pub is wonderful. He serves English food. Yes, it does exist. And no, it won't kill you. It will make you want to live. I have been lucky enough to be taken to both restaurants by good friends Robin and Eileen Short, on 6-8 hour layovers at Heathrow on my way to Cape Town from New York. I would say the pub is easily one of the nicest places to eat, anywhere.

So, my version. A stick of butter (where all good things begin, no?). Land O'Lakes being my personal favourite in this Bush-doomed land. Melt it.

One hunk o' fish. This is mah mahi. I hope no one tells me not to eat it...I chop 3 garlic cloves and half a bottle of anchovies and rub it all over the fish fillet with some lime - maybe a whole lime's juice. Then I cook it quite gently so as not to burn the garlic and make it bitter, till cooked through, but just. In this case you do not want rare fish. Ugh. Not good for potted...

Then you wait for it to be cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and shred it (no, the fish, not the skin!) with two forks. It doesn't have to be two forks, but it helps. Shred shred shred. Pack the shreddings into a little bowl, or two. Pour over the melted butter, which should cover all the fish and top with freshly snipped chives. You may need a bit more butter.

Chill. Serve with crisp toasts or crackers (or biscuits if you belong to the Commonwealth). And wine. It freezes well. Vince and Constanza (again), ate the second pot earlier this week and they are both still alive.

No Grouper-Groping

And on a completely different note, here's why we can't, nay, must not, eat Grouper. On the same subject, no Chilean Sea Bass aka Patagonian toothfish, either (you know who you are!). It REALLY annoys me that Dean and DeLuca, who should know better, continue to sell it.

In Jerry's interview, assuming you click on the link above, do the eyes behind the mask not look remarkably 007-like? OK - no throwing up. Just thought I'd mention it...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Remembering to Remember What's Important

My landlord raised my rent a few days ago. It was inevitable, of course, but still one hopes it won't happen. There have been floods, leaks, a sliding door that defies the name, and workmen in boots.

Feeling depressed, tonight I spent a few minutes on Craigslist re-aquainting myself with what it means to search for an apartment and quickly came to the conclusion that I should just suck it up. I am paying for my location, which is wonderful, and my terrace, which is, well, me. I can find an apartment for less, with more space, but it won't be two blocks from one of the nicest wine shops in New York, or from the iconic Sahadi's, where I stop by several times a week and am greeted by name, or Mr Lee's with all his beautiful fruit and vegetables, or the dry cleaners, where I can leave my raincoat for five months without them tossing it (thank you, Vince), or Constanza two blocks away, or the F train three blocks away; or the fish shop or the baker or Robin des Bois. And it won't have a terrace. That faces east, the rising moon and sun, the church steeples in green copper and sandstone; utter privacy, the wide blue sky, the reward of watering and claiming as prize, flowers, fruit, herbs...

It seems I have become entrenched. For the moment at any rate.

Now with HDR, maybe this picture would have had a chance. I knew the light was doing something funny as I was walking home. The sky was torn up, the wind was making mini tornados and blowing up dust and every now and then an acid clear light would strip the buildings and make them glow. Up on the terrace this rainbow appeared suddenly, over downtown Brooklyn.

Photographed in early September, above, and this evening, below, I now know that my David Austin rose, Abraham Derby, is able to rebloom twice in the month, from fullblown rose to fullblown rose. I cut it back just before I went to SA, and fed it heavily with the Blue Stuff that still makes me blush (but which WORKS)...and there's the proof. Results Count, as Pa says...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bubbly, Birds, Balthazar and Breakfasts aka Slightly After Coffee

On the 21st of September, Vincent and I met in person for the first time, at Newark International Airport, where he flew from Vancouver BC to have a cup of coffee with me. He had written in an early email to me that if we lived closer he would ask me out for coffee or a glass of wine. I said he could ask me out for coffee, anyway. So he did. Then flew across the continent and passed through customs to buy it for me.

We talked about it as we walked home last night, five days and a lifetime after the coffee, on Henry Street from Al di La, where we had had dinner.

...and earlier, on the Lower East Side, at 'inoteca, where we were having a lunchtime glass of prosecco each. We were just reaching the end of those when the waiter reappeared as though telepathic, with the bottle. Instead of allowing us to order more he said, "A gentleman inside would like to buy you both another glass..."


We wanted to know who the "gentleman" was and what he wanted. The waiter disappeared again. At last, through the open window of the restaurant, a familiar, curly head popped out, Benigni-like, smiled widely and waved, "Ciao!"

Emiliano! Owner of Al di La, my favourite restaurant in the world, which I have not frequented much of late, but which has seen me through my whole New York evolution, since 1999, when I first discovered it in Park Slope. Somehow it and he and Anna's cooking have seen me through the wars, and I have felt that they must keep track of who I'm with and why (and why???, and huh?). Only that morning I'd been saying to Vince that I'd like to eat there with him. It's a lovely place, and he the loveliest man, and I wanted the two to meet.

So to have Emiliano, who was having his own lunch with his chef-wife Anna and son Sasha, see us and send us that bottle of prosecco, soon to be bubbles in our perpetually smiling mouths, was like a blessing from the pope. Only much-much better because I have never wanted to be blessed by any pope.

It topped for me, an almost endless series of coincidences and fortuities that have accompanied this madly out-of-time relationship beween me and Vince: as of today, if you count the very first contact between us, via a comment on his blog, we have known about each other for two months.

So after the obligatory cup of coffee to test the waters, and a whirlwind five-and-a-half-days, I have learned a few things:

Frenchmen fetch croissants for breakfast.
Canadians find fall in New York unbearably hot.
Vince is really tall.
Movies do come true.
Beer tastes good at the yacht basin with a strong breeze off the Hudson.
Not all waitresses are French.
When Vince points his camera at you he doesn't want to steal your soul.
You're allowed to dip your croissant into the coffee.
New Jersey deserves more respect.
There are jumping fish in the Gowanus Canal at night.
When cab drivers and park rangers see you are in love they don't get mad at you.
Never eat grouper.
Peeing in your wetsuit does not keep you warm.
Ask for what you want. Then stick around.

"Necessity knows no magic formulae - they are all left to chance. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi's shoulders."

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

...this bird (nut hatch?) was in a hawthorne in the DUMBO Park. So small and pretty.

Grey Goose martinis at Balthazar.

Vincent plus Balthazar plus green olives plus martini.

A balanced lunch.

There may be no greater gift to one than the heart of the other's croissant.

Croissants inside.

Croissants outside on the terrace, and the art of the dip...

And finally, getting down to serious stuff:

Two cats talking. Mano a gato.

I believe that seals the deal.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Man Missing France

This is along the lines of, And now for something completely different:

Today I discovered that the photographer diver paraglider can write about Things That Grow. And about things that grow in places I've only been in books. I hope this becomes a book... I've lifted it (yes, with reluctant permission) from his email to me...The context is a conversation started about Antibes, where Vince grew up, and about the wisteria that grew there - and me sending him a paragraph from the manuscript I finished early this year, about the gardens (and wisteria) I grew up in, and with.

"Antibes used to called "La ville des fleurs." La Cote d'Azur has a climate that is even better for flowers than Provence. Nice (Cannes is on one side of Antibes, and Nice is on the other) used to have "La fete des fleurs," a carnival-like festival, with a procession of huge floats entirely covered in flowers forming designs and patterns...

And indeed, Grasse still is one of the European capitals of perfume. The problem there is that the smell is so strong that it becomes overwhelming from kilometers around, or more when the mistral is blowing (a cold wind that brings exceptionally clear days). At that range, walking in the city, the fragrance isn't as delicate as a perfume lightly sprayed on your neck or wrist...It's strong, catches you by surprise and is way too powerful to be really appreciated. I guess the smell comes from very concentrated essences, perfume syrup so to speak... But it's quite an experience.

To me, the real magic of smells and perfume is in Provence. But on the way there from Antibes, you'll go through entires hills covered in mimosa. Nobody ever knows what I'm talking about when I mention mimosa, but you might. It's the most extraordinary smell I've ever known coming from a tree, and they cover entire hills, their flowers blooming in spring - bright yellow dusty little balls in clusters, it's really hard to describe...

Then you arrive in Provence, and you go through lavender fields. Or you go on a walk in the dry hills and thyme is all around you. There are laurel trees in gardens, their leaves have such a wonderful smell. And the fresh scent of sage and mint. There's rosemary, too. Cypress trees and their little brown balls we used as weapons, not sure if my English name is right, they are the typical vertical and slender trees of the paintings of Cezanne and Van-Gogh. And les pins parasol (a variety of pine tree, called umbrella pines) and their... hmm, how do you call those in English, those you know... arghh, it grows in pine trees, but it's not a fruit, so what is it? It carries the seeds, it's a very odd, wood-like and hard thing that looks a little like a pineapple but with sort of hard petals? And the seeds are behind each of the petals, and from those trees, the seeds can actually be eaten and are very good, like large sunflower seeds, but better tasting... Sorry, I only know of these things in French... We used to call them des pignons.

And there's the subdued smell of olive oil, and the smell of olive tree wood crafted into all kinds of kitchen and decorative things. I still remember the very typical smell walking into a store that would sell all wooden art and things, sculpted walking sticks, souvenirs, small furniture...

My dad was a genius with his hands and turned the weirdest piece of wood into great home-made furniture. We would go walk the beach after big storms looking for large driftwood, then bring it back home and let it dry for months. Then one day, he would get his tools out and make a table, benches, a bar, a chess table or something else. He was extremely creative. We had a old car carburetor, gold painted and in two pieces, that served as an incense burner; a Mayan sculpture he had engraved himself; a copper toilet floater to hold roses, a chess table made of leftover kitchen floor tiles... Every single piece of furniture we had in the house except beds, if I remember correctly, was made of wood and was his creation.

When you read the chapter in Pagnol's book when they go to the brocanteur's (antique's?) shop, think of my dad...But I drifted away from smells and perfumes... I was coming to the flowers. The flowers... No, I can't really describe them. I'll have to take you there.

God I love France!"

No kidding...

And tomorrow the boy from La Ville Des Fleurs will meet the girl (OK: we're stretching this girl-boy business) from Bloemfontein.

And we shall see.

Return to the Terrace

After two weeks in South Africa I returned to my tiny apartment and terrace and went outside as I usually do, with some trepidation, to see how everything had fared. The basil is two feet high and blooming (I'll allow it to - it is supposed to turn the leaves a little bitter, but at this stage in the season, they are entitled...); the climbing roses have put on extra growth, meaning that at next year's rose party they will be spectacular; and the climbing Iceberg even has new buds. Estorbo's catnip, that I sheared severely as punishment for looking ratty before I left, is soft and fluffy and happy. The orange zinnias are popping with flowers. So my waterers, Natalie, Constanza and Paulo did a superb job. So did New York, in the form of a three-day rainstorm.

Autumn clematis

Purple basil

And some South African beaded flowers...

So I think we are ready to receive guests....

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Good-bye Cape Town

Pa and Ma at Franck Dangereux's Foodbarn in Noordhoek, where we had lunch with the Friedmans last Saturday... Flagstone's Free Run Sauvignon Blanc was very, very good.

I took the Poopies for a walk in the greenbelt. They were very well behaved, though, harnessed, were able to pull me off my feet. They need a sled.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww, cute!

Phew. Cape spring...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Swiss Villa, Nieuwoudtville

Home, James, and don't spare the horses...

Our drive back to Cape Town was long, rough, and fast. Home was calling. But we covered a couple of passes between Nieuwoudtville and Clanwilliam, where of course I didn't stop on the scary windy drop-offs to take pictures, though I wish I had. These are at the bottom of two...

And below is the curiously named Swiss Villa at Nieuwoudtville, where we spent our final night on the road. Really nice - we had very good food, thanks to Margie, as well as crackling fires, sumptious, snowy white (my favourite) beds, and met Dr. Marius Barnard and his wife Inez, who were also staying there - a treat. Also two guys who were school inspectors, working for the ANC and traveling through the Northern Cape. All around the same table, it was very interesting. I am not generally a happy sharer of tables.

This was the first lawn I saw during the whole trip, by the way.

Back to the food, though. We met many versions of South African food on our trip. Most were very poor and boiled to death (Kamieskroon Hotel: opt for self-catering in the hotel there - the food is terrible and the coffee worse, though I am fond of the place).

At Swiss Villa Margie's lamb knuckle stew was delicious, the vegetables still had some crunch (except the white sweet potato which was sweetly soft) and it all smacked of my mother's new favourite description of mine pertaining to food: integrity. I'd go back in a heartbeat.

A lot of accommodation is offered in Nieuwoudtville and we've sampled our fair share. Swiss Villa is tops. I would ignore the guy who corners the market in rentals in town. Just saying.

Nieuwoudtville, Kamieskroon, Goegap

...or Fences I Have Known

I like fences. Perversely, perhaps, because they interrupt the landscape. The infinity of the fences by the long roadsides appeals to me, and the rough, ugly barbed wire versus the relentless or pure space. The idea of fences (offences?) too. Protection, division, separation, invitation, vacillation- in terms of the idiom; trespass, promise, threat. And doors in fences....very nice. Crossing over, through, joining, traveling, going out, coming in. Coming Home.

Outside the house Katstert, at Nieuwoudtville

On the way to the farm Skilpad, before Kamieskroon

N7, heading south

N7, heading north

Outside Goegap, near Springbok

In Nieuwoudtville

On Skilpad

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cape Town to Patatsfontein - Day 1 of the Springflower roadtrip

Mogashagasha, unlocked but loaded...Packed and ready for a week of flower-spotting from the Little Karoo to far in the Northern Cape.
The tollroad outside Paarl, on the way to the Huguenot Tunnel.
Montagu - our rendezvous with Marijke, her dad Paul, mom Tineke, and the two of us. On our way to their rustic country retreat called Patatsfontein, for our first night.
La Marijke, doing her tough Camel girl thing...
Karoo violets. Perfection. Please appreciate that in photographing these we were on the wrong side of the electric fence that surrounds their house. That is to say, we and the lions were on the same side.
We didn't see lions Did they see us? Vygies mimicking quartzite pebbles... ..and failing horribly, in bloom.  Tineke and Marijke assuming Flower Positions 2 and 5 for obscure plant identification...
Um, grass. Pretty grass. The grass is on the inside, the safe side of the electric fence.  Very important solar power to keep the electric fence nice and sting-y for Curious Cats. Marijke bushwalking beside the little streambed...Before there was a house (and before the lions, who were brought in for the new game reserve that now surrounds them), they used to camp and sleep in the stream bed.

The house. Lucky, lucky Marjike. The stoep. With its incomparable view. Red hills in the sunset.
And the end of Day One. I wish I could have photographed the stars...