Friday, February 29, 2008


[irrelevant domestic still life]

I have had some luck with numbers today. After a good lunch with Vivian at L'il Frankie's I suddenly swung left instead of right on Houston. Something about the freezing air made me go straight to Russ and Daughters, where I took a number in the packed place.

It seemed a revival of an old Marie tradition was in order: Champagne Fridays. Used to be I thought that champagne was only for sharing. And for Very Special Occasions. Due partly, perhaps, to my father's custom in the last couple of years of purchasing various vintages of various champagnes in order to suss out the fuss from what is really good (for him a process filled not with a sense of entitlement but with a charming sense of wonder), and producing these bottles with no particular pomp at various meals; but also certainly because for me, for such a long time, there had been no one (One) real to share it with. And the cat didn't like it...

So I decided to crack a bottle every Friday for a private party. It lasted through the weekend, too, with the proverbial silver spoon in its mouth. There are few things as pretty to me as a tall flute poised, golden, effervescent. About to be sipped.

Next! shouted one of the guys behind the counter at Russ and Daughters, looking straight at me, arrived lately. He didn't ask for a number, and nodded his head when my eyebrows enquired whether it was really my turn. Goody. A quarter pound of wild Alaskan salmon roe, a quarter pound (about 6 slices) of Irish smoked salmon. An old lady elbowed me. The kind of old lady one finds only here: in a floorlength mink, and wearing slippers, leaning on her pushcart.

What's your numba?? she insisted through scarlet lips. Is it 65?

No, I said, looking it, 67.

Is it 65??


She lifted her shoulders in a whaddaya gonna do aboud it way and showed me her number, 66. She hadn't been helped yet...

This lady, I started at the counter guy...

Oh fug-ged it, you started with huh already, she said.

I had beaten two minked ladies to the punch, and they stood there staring at my own floor length wool coat with derision. I'm sure they saw the path the moth chewed.

A packet of blinis and a carton of creme fraiche (sorry Vince, but I was thinking of you) later (It was a pleasure serving you, said the counterman), I went back out into the Freezing.

I already had a bottle of champagne in the fridge. For One Day.

Later, having got home, unswaddled myself, chilled, or thawed, as the case may be (both) I suddenly thought about breakfast. Shit! No coffee. 6.18pm. Sahadi only closed at 7pm. I bundled myself up again, ignored the stricken cat who rolled the whites of his eyes at me:

You're leabeen' me??? It's Friday! Eet's our time together...

...and took another number, 53, at one of my favourite places in New York. Long wait. Rinaldo, my friend and the manager at Sahadi came over to say hello. We talked about my coffee crisis and then politely about the weather, finding nuances that only those who can find no other comfortable subject can detect... How many inches of snow, 1, 2, 3? How will it be by midday, isn't it cold, how long he has to scrape his car in the mornings before his drive from Queens. Subway? I enquired. I would get lost on the subway, he said. Rinaldo is of Argentinean-Lebanese extraction and has lived here for over the 20 years. Which is how long he has held his parking space near the store. What number are you, he asked under his breath. 53, I whispered. What do you need, just coffee? he asked...Yes, just coffee. So, skipping another 8 numbers, I got my coffee and friendly goodbye, picked up some anchovies for good luck and brown basmati for my conscience, and returned to the cold outside.

The blinis were salmoned, the leftover roast chicken from Li'l Frankie's turned into one of my favourite salads, and the champagne was popped.

Friday night was back. I drank a quiet toast to Vince, 3,000 miles away, and gave a salmon egg to the cat, who stared at it. I believe I heard from his little black lips, Thank you.

Boot camp for corgis

[an agapanthus in its natural element]

Shortly before leaving on our trek through the Western Cape, Vince and I took the two corgis and Ben the labrador on one of their last walks with us, revisiting the walk I'd done with Marijke, weeks before, on the Silvermine Crags. It hadn't been a complicated walk, so maybe I wasn't paying enough attention. Anyway, I managed to lose the path, with the result that we bundubashed for quite a while before happening upon it again. Fine for us long-legged creatures. But if you are a compact corgi with a low-slung undercarriage (Vettetjie, you know I'm talking to you...), it is a trial. The poor things were game until we entered a minefield of large sandstone boulders, from which they had to be bodily plucked and airlifted. Then much bounding was necessary, and then a lot of ducking.

Once the path had been regained Vince found for them a rock pitted by the weather into lots of convenient little water bowls, and we gave them our water.

Slurrrrp, sluuuuuuurp!!!! You're killing us here! We're not bloody goats, we're lapdogs! Wannabe then...

But then: Ted's reward. For some reason unfathomable, this dog, who is averse to movement of most kinds, loves water. Once we were down in the basin of mountains again, he found this mudhole (to which Ben had thoughtfully introduced him last time) next to the perfectly clean reservoir.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. That's more like it!

I am the dirtiest corgi, with the longest tongue in the world.

In the car on the way home...

I need a pill...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Salad days

There's going to be more food around here for a while: it's 16'F right now and nothing is going to be happening on the terrace...

Enter the chicken breast. Now breasts of chicken are not something about which I can get very worked up. Yes, things can be Done to them: like rolling them in layers of herbs and ricotta and lemon zest and packaging them in netvet...Hm. What is that in English? Caul fat. But other parts of that wonderful bird interest me more: more flavourful, juicy, tender...thighs, leg 'n thigh combos, it's like wonderbread versus the real thing. And they are expensive. I guess that depends on the audience. I think they're expensive. Call me a wing woman.

Logically, then, here follows a breast recipe. The ONE thing they have going for them: Low fat, and texture to work with. Beat them, I say.

Lay one flat on a chopping block covered in clingfilm, lay more clingy plastic over the top, and wack away with a rolling pin or similar heavy object, working your anger out from the middle to the sides. I like to have some texture left at the end so mine are never too thin. Cover in the juice of a lemon or lime (once you've removed the plastic), and some crushed garlic, salt and pepper don't hurt.

Make a salad of parsley leaves, thinly sliced red onion, a squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper and dash of olive oil. I added halved cherry tomatoes. Toss. Heat a pan, wait till it's really hot and the olive oil you've put in it is running races with itself, and add the chicken. Lots of sizzling. Leave for about 1 -2 minutes, depending on thickness, and flip. Cook them once on each side. Don't turn over and over; that's like torturing your chicken. And you won't develop a nice brown outside. Take out of the pan, put on a warm plate and put a heap of leaves over the top. Deglaze the pan with more lemon or a slosh of white wine, cook off and pour over.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Orchids in the Mist

On my way to the subway from work I stopped at the Deathstar, which I'm going to have to start calling Wh-wh-who....Wholefoods soon. I did it. It's come to a point where I have to admit that there are some (and only some, I insist) things that are not overpriced and silly. Like the millions of (OK, 6) organic chicken breasts I bought today for $15. To pound flat into paillards, to lie under heaps of salad . Then I saw the orchids. Also $15...

I've never been drawn to orchids. They seemed sterile to me, false, scentless. Starting in December though, when a butterflyflock of large fuchsia pink and foam white Phalaenopsis arrived in Woolworths for Christmas, a little bug nipped me. I bought two then, one for a friend and one for my bathroom at my parents' house...

Orchids are such a cliche. How can I like them? But it seems I do. So I hunted round and round the pyramid of flowers todayand found a little pot that had two stems, and many buds, and took it home on the train. At home I welcomed it with a nice warm mist-bath after its frigid journey. Dreams of forests must flow very thinly in its hybridised veins, but maybe it remembers...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Not milk?

Satan and I had lunch at Momofuku today. Not 23 hours after having their luscious pork buns yesterday...

No, not milk: unfiltered sake. Slurp.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The basics

Monday. And a cup of stovetop espresso (Sahadi's Danish roast), with hot milk. And cornmeal flapjack with sweet butter and lingonberry jam. A reason to rise.

Two Cornmeal Flapjacks:

1/2 cup equally mixed yellow cornmeal and cake flour
1/2 tsp baking pwder
pinch salt
Enough milk for a stiff batter, about 1/4 cup

Mix all the ingredients quickly.  Heat a pan with some butter in it, then turn to low, spoon in mixture. Cook on each side for about 4-5 minutes, medium-low. When the bubbles that form on the top surface pop, it is time to flip.

Winter bloomers: flowering quince

...and I'm not talking about mink-lined underwear.

I pass this bush on my subway-walk just about every day, on Congress between Court and Clinton, and appreciate it only at this time of year, much like a previous post's witch hazel. It is Chaenomeles japonica, or flowering quince. It has an unfortunate flower-colour: pastelly salmon. Perhaps just unfortunate in front of a brownstone. A white wall would be different. Anyway, at this time of year one can't be too picky.

Last Friday it was covered in snow.

Today, three days later, it is covered in buds. I would like to design a hedge of this stuff and keep it quite hard-clipped. And there are better colours available now. But it's plant for people who notice these things, and some just couldn't give a toss.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cape Town to Barrydale

[Vince outside Ashton]

The start of our little trek took us through Ashton and Montagu, following the R62, and on to Barrydale, in the Little Karoo.

Before the R62 was a well-recognized tourist route, the Tradouw Guest House (don't let the lacklustre website put you off) was serving coffee and toasted sandwiches (this should be our national dish, quite frankly), garden salads and cold wine under a grape arbour in a pretty garden.

Vince and I booked for one night, to see us over till we got to the Wilderness, and were met by Leon, one half of the Leon-and-Denis who own the Tradouw...We never met Denis. I fact I'm beginning to suspect he doesn't exist. I've never met Denis. He cooks. And here I really messed up, because I didn't specifically book a dinner with them. Which meant no dinner. And really, that's the main reason we were there.

Whoever cooks, whether it's Denis or Tara, the uncannily-intelligent-looking black dog in residence (I imagine her trotting to the kitchen, tying on an apron and standing on her hind legs to fry some eggs or stir the stew, then untying the apron, and trotting back out to beg for a crust of toast) - the food is good, and far, far superior to anything else in town. Leon says they have stopped serving the lunches because their guesthouse is not on the main drag through town and people with little imagination do not sniff about for alternatives.

I hope they will start again at some point, because it's a special little place, very comfortable, very reasonable and original on a route that is beginning to spawn the ubiquitous and the expedient.

The next morning before we left I went out across the road to the piece of land that Leon and Denis (or the black dog) own, and toured Denis' vegetable garden. If you do stay there, book for dinner. If you're lucky you'll find some of the garden on your plate that night.

Yum: two kinds of mint at the water tap.

An onion flower

Gorgeous, rainbow Swiss chard.

Very sexy tomatoes...

This is Mother, who visited me in Leon's rocky Native American medicine wheel. In the Karoo.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

One winter day

Manhattan from the Brooklyn Promenade, with the soon-to-be-history warehouses on the Brooklyn shore.

The same warehouses from the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Manhattan Bridge...

Walking back towards Brooklyn on the Brooklyn Bridge. The temperature and time sign on top of the Watchtower building read 32'F/0'C, and 4.26 pm. You'd think they'd at least be advertizing the temperatures in hell.

Cadman Plaza's plane trees.

Witch hazel in winter

It's well-known for doing this, but so pretty to see. Hamamelis mollis blooming in the snow in Brooklyn, on the footpath up to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fauna in Die Hel aka Where are the %**&#!!'ing Klipspringers???

If you strain your eyes as hard as we did trying to find klipspringers, you'll see two frogs in this picture. This water was so sweet and cold. Yes, I know. I drank frog water.

These ants were very exciting. Almost as good as seeing klipspringers.

Swartberg Pass flowers

Actually, on the road to Die Hel. In Hell we found only Acacia. Pretty in their own way, but not as arresting as the little things, which would cause us to skid to a gravelly halt every time I spotted something new.

But first: the Landcruiser, Vince, and a trashcan.

Then: the unidentifiables...this looked easy, but can I find it in any book? No! And, stupidly, no picture of the leaves, so no help there. At first glance scabiosa-like. Then Tulbaghia-like... Marijke? Jay? About an inch in diameter.

And then this familiar little thing...?

Unspectacular but nice in a spiny, spidery kind of way: Wahlenbergia subulata, but apparently a little out of its range?

This made me squeal just before the turnoff to Gamkaskloof, as I'd never seen it, and the veld (yes I say veld even though to a Free Stater veld means wide open grass spaces and some trees dotted about..still, it's another kind of veld, isn't it) was just littered with them, growing beneath the burned skeletons of proteas, and amongst the new bright grass that had sprung up.

Anapalina longituba

And then my old favourites, the pelargoniums. Clever Vince stopped the car (I drove him to Hell and he drove me out of it...titter) for a cloud picture, and right beside the road was this, never-before-seen (by me) pelargonium: Pelargonium ovale.

I think this is Pelargonium suburbanum but to my untrained eye it looks a lot like P. myrrhifolium...In fact the former is supposed to stick to dunes, so perhaps it is myrrhifolium?

These are P. myrrhifolium...see how small from my 5 feet and 11 inches...

OK. They're all the same. Forget it. Just because the one at the top was alone, it looked different. Context is everything. Always. Phew.