Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friday evening on the terrace

...or Roses with Drink and Cat. Not my roses this time, but from one of my favourite gardens, and one fo the first I designed in the city. More Abraham Darby, and another, also a David Austin, but I forget which - with a very intense colour before it opens and then pales a little. Heavily scented.

It was a calm Friday evening, and this Saturday morning the air rattles with barking dogs. I actually left a note (signed, with my address) on thick, lovely card, on the door of the house across the way asking them please not to let their big white dog with the spot on his head bark out of the windows, which he does at midnight or 7am or inbetween. I think this is their revenge. As Estorbo says, Dargs, who needs them? The barking, the barking...

Old English

The fat blooms of my Abraham Darby slowly opening and dropping their petals on the bedroom bookcase.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Catnip no mas

Remember the catnip a little while ago, like, last week?

Well, here it was a day or so ago. Faded, most of its flowers dried, it succumbed to my sharp scissors. The faster it is cut back the faster it will grow and bloom again, but it felt pretty brutal.

Bald. Like Shirley MacLaine in hospital in Postcards from the Edge. At least Meryl came to glue on her false eyelashes.

And then I felt worse (woiss). A little honeybee came flying over the pots and circled where the catnip had been. Really! Then it found my bunch, in my hand, and started to collect nectar. It was thorough. After I laid the bunch down it stayed, inspecting every viable, tiny flower while the cat stared suspiciously. I should have left the flowers longer for the bees. El Gato had a great time though. You can see him here. High as a kite

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Late May

I'm not sure there's anything more quietly beautiful to me. Roses in water. Complicated old English blooms, something from a Dutch still life. These are my roses, not stolen from the corner...Abraham Darby, from the pot high on the terrace wall.

New York Spring: Henry and Congress

I wait for these roses every spring. They are thoroughly neglected and grow inside a beautiful and expensive wrought iron fence. It's an odd house. The curtains are always drawn. It is big. No one is ever in the garden, and all these beautiful David Austen roses grow along the fence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New York Spring: Upper West Side

I have a clutch of gardens maturing, at various stages, on the Upper West Side, within walking distance of each other.

I miss the Upper West Side. It's the first part of New York I thought I knew, back in the day. I ate my first, dripping-sweet white nectarine there, bought from a deli-greengrocer on Broadway. They were a dollar each, years ago. Ten years ago. More. Later, I used to travel on the 6 after changing from the 2 or 3 from Brooklyn, to shop at Fairway, for cheese, and at Citarella's for bouillabaisse-rouget and fancy fish. And I still say that the Fiorello's rectangular pizzas are the best in town. Patsy Grimaldi, Lombardi's...fine. They're nice. Fiorello's? Better.

I like hardy geraniums. Perennial geraniums, that is, not the loud ubiquitous annuals (which have their place. Like Switzerland) that we usually think of as geraniums. They are actually pelargoniums. But that's another story (and a very nice one). Anyway, these are outside the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West and 81st Street.

The fountain at Columbus Circle has an impressive, if vaguely corporate, herd of alliums all around it. Think they look like giant chive flowers? They are giant chive flowers.

New York Spring (still): Henry and Amity

This lady saw me admiring the roses outside the Long Island City Hospital, and said she just had to sniff them. She said they were a little disappointing. We discussed her own roses (not performing) and decided that they needed more food. At least some of us are stopping to smell to roses! she said in triumph and in parting.

Texas eat your heart out.

Salad Nicoise

Of course I should have tossed the greens and vegetables in the vinaigrette first and so avoided the sloppy snail trail of dressing over the beans. Oh well.

I found that the yellow cans of tuna, Cento brand, dolphin safe and packed in olive oil, cost $2.50 at Sahadi's. That's pretty unbelievable. At Wholefoods they are double. And tuna in water is just.. horrible. Eat the real thing or not at all.

This Nicoise was composed of beetroot cut into battons, blanched green beans, cherry tomatoes cut in half, arugula, romaine, shallot, chives, a soft hardboiled egg and the tuna. Vinaigrette was a splash of sherry vinegar, sugar and salt dissolved in it, splash of cream, then some olive oil: about 4 parts other ingredients to one of vinegar.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


80' and humid. The airconditioner at work switched on for the first time. It's almost upon us. Flee! Flee!

I watered the roses when I left this morning. By 6 they needed another drink. I know how they felt.

Fish are food, not friends

It is so nice to eat food that someone has cooked for you. I like cooking so much, and cook so often, that I don't think about it at all. Eric and Mimi invited me to supper and all I had to do was sit and drink my wine and nibble crunchy cucumbers dipped in salt while they put a huge slab of salmon under the broiler on a bed of scallions. Dee-licious.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fish cakes

Jen at Last Night's Dinner made me think of fishcakes. I like them. She used a Mario Batali recipe as inspiration, with tuna and ricotta. Her ricotta made me think of yoghurt. And I like smoked fish. And had a lot of here follows a vaguely Hispano-Asio fishcake recipe. The salad is after one I first had at Red Sage, when I lived in DC in the 90's...

For about 6 fishcakes, you'll need:

2 smoked trout fillets (or mackerel, or snoek, or angelfish)
2 slices white bread, no crusts, soaked in milk and squeezed out lightly
2 small potatoes, cooked and cut into cubish things
2 spring onions (scallions) finely sliced
1 very finely diced shallot
a strip of ancho chile, soaked, about 4" x 1" (yeah, I know) and thinly sliced
juice of a small lime or lemon
1 heaping tablespoon thick plain yoghurt, preferably Greek

In a bowl put the trout, which you have removed from the skin and flaked, plus all the other ingredients. Mix with your hands. Because the trout is smoked you will probably not need to add salt, but taste in case ...
Pour some flour onto a plate. Form fish mixture into round cakes, coating each one with flour as you go. Put aside on a clean plate and chill them for a little while to firm up.

Make salad:

1 avocado
1 small papaya/papino
1/2 a mango
All cut into chunks

1 scallion (spring onion), finely sliced; a sprig of fresh mint, sliced into thin strips (chiffonade); a tiny handful of cilantro; shake of hot chile flakes, salt, juice of 1 lime or lemon.

Put everything into a bowl and toss. Serve this on the same plate as the fishcakes.
To finish the fishcakes, fry them in a little olive oil over medium heat, about 4 minutes to a side till golden and crispy on the outside. Turn once.
I also used Mrs Ball's chutney as a condiment. See if you can find it. It is incomparable.

We're just out of Waldorfs..

..says a spluttering Basil Fawlty to the Loud American who wants a Waldorf salad.

Lest we forget the good things that the US of A has given the world, a small reminder: Waldorf Salad.

It was a main feature of a picnic we would have annually at Diaz Beach at Cape Point outside Cape Town. The rest of the menu, for a brunch, featured unvaryingly: small smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread without crusts, tiny pork sausages, grilled, with grain mustard for dipping; fresh scones with home made strawberry jam inside (! the convenience! - and in January my friend Fran reminded me that I used to whip these scones up so that our pack of friends could enjoy tea, out of teapots and China cups, on Clifton Beach); and the fixings for Buck's Fizz, here known as Mimosas. Champagne and orange juice. Plus flutes to drink from. I think there was also hot coffee, in flasks.

This was all packed into many baskets and off we would go in the Kombi, with the Collins' in tow, usually, or other good friends. The Corbets, the Van Heerdens. Some of whom are not with us anymore. There had to be many people so that the picnic luggage had a proper train to carry it down the long cliff-top path and the sudden, steep descent to the empty, cormorant-populated beach, white-smooth with the black birds scattering in formation from it as we arrived, and pounded by dangerous blue breakers.

There is a boardwalk above Diaz Beach now, and baboon minders with catapults to scare off the marauding primates. But a few years ago we repeated the picnic with the Collins' again, fresh from London; the small girls now grown and beautiful women, me no longer a paralysed teenager. All of us older, the menu the same as ever, the beach as empty.

So, my Waldorf salad was a take on a recipe I read a million years ago in Cape Town, in a moth-eaten Gourmet or Bon Appetit, per the Cafe des Artistes on the Upper East Side. I read it never guessing I would live in this city. It adds chicken to the original formula.

This is mine and it is retrolicious:

Two cooked chicken breasts ( I used leftovers from a roast chicken), cut into chunks
3 ribs celery, sliced thinly
one apple diced
a handful of pecans
two tablespoons mayonnaise
a shake of sherry vinegar
some salt, pepper

Combine everything in a bowl and toss with your lily white or chocolate brown hands. Either lick or wash them clean. That's it. Snip over some chives.

New York Spring: Atlantic Avenue

This reminded me of the Troglodytes, Constanza's and my landlords on Flatbush Avenue: a family of pasty, mean, dangerously lumpish, low-browed creatures that made life a misery. Through the brick walls separating our houses we could hear them screaming and raging at each other. One summer the children, indistinguishable from one another in late teenhood, fixed a terrace for mom's birthday. It consisted chiefly of astroturf and later, dog turds. It was like looking out into the backwoods of a skeeter-infested bayou. Without the redeeming crawdads or birdlife.
Life has improved immeasurably.

New York Spring (just): Dean and Union Streets

The Gowanus Lounge has been kind enough to post a few of my pictures. Here's one I took yesterday on Dean Street on my way to hell, I mean Circuit City.

Also on Dean I found a clematis growing along the bottom of a black railing.

And a  a black locust. Black locusts have rot-resistant wood, so we ought to be building decks out of them, not rain forest wood. Anyway, I dislike the rough bark of both honey (it has long thorns) and black locusts. Click here for quite a funny discussion about how to tell the woods apart. The trees' best feature is this two-three week period in May. They smell lemony, sweet, lovely.

And today, on a Memorial Day meander, I met the boyfriend of the gardener who made the sweet garden at the Gowanus Canal. He was watering it, she was awol for a few minutes. I told him how it was my favourite garden in New York, period, and he said she's shy about it. I hope to see more of them. The humans, I mean. I was too self conscious to start snapping away, but I will, I will. I confessed that photographs of the garden had traveled to South Africa and been part of a New York garden talk. I also visited the cherry in a square planter on the far side of the canal, nearer the Rottweiler lot, and the cherry was loaded with green fruit. They will be ripe late next month, I think.

Armed with a baguette and a saucisson from Stinky I walked down the block of Union Street between Smith and Hoyt, where the remnants of old gardens tell of days when people loved their small pieces of land. There is a particular rose, with black in its red petals, that repeats itself five or six times down the block. Also the tiny little dog rose that is so Hamptons-ish. Two men were digging out a massive bed of daylilies, in front of one of the rambling red roses and I was rather sad. The orange lilies look amazing in front of that deep crimson backdrop. I was tempted to tell them that they could, yes! eat daylilies in salads, or steamed (the buds) and like potatoes (the tubers), but after two seconds' consideration and a look at their faces thought...ah...nope.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Visit South Africa. It has many faces.

Vincent's new South African galleries are up on his blog. They are stunning. This was taken from my parents' patio in Constantia, with Fern Buttress in the background...

Click here for a virtual holiday.

My country

South Africa. What to say?

From, Country of grief and grace


(but if the old is not guilty
does not confess
then of course the new can also not be guilty
nor be held accountable
if it repeats the old

things may then continue as before
but in a different shade)

Antjie Krog, Down to my Last Skin, 2000


Hope (dried out)

there is no unity
in this family
the children are bejewelled
by wire
bedecked with petrol-reeking crowns
to light the way
for those who can't find the door

Me, 1985

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Morning Noon and Night

Happy Birthday to the Beautiful Friends

Lisa and Marijke celebrated birthdays within a week of each other, and last night I cracked bottle of bubbly to say happy birthday to Lisa, approx. 649 miles away in Oak Park. Which is not Chicago.