Monday, June 30, 2008

Terrace after rain

...and the critters come out.

Which is where the chopsticks come in handy.

Cumulo nimbus heading our way.

The first roses after the heatwave are very small.

Purple basil getting bigger...

Raindrops on Greek basil.

Catnip filling out fast.

Jets leaving...

More courgette flowers

At the farmers' market at Borough Hall in Brooklyn...

They were quite sandy so I floated them for a while in water in the sink...

After slicing the courgettes themselves I cooked the green part first in a little butter, then added the flowers at the last minute and sauteed gently for a minute or two, adding a little squeeze of lemon juice, salt and peper. That's all.

What? I didn't stuff them??? No. I didn't.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Bevan Christie ran Anatoli (a Turkish restaurant, naturally) from the ground floor of a converted factory in Green Point, Cape Town, long, long before converted factories were the rage. I was taken there by my parents and later, at university, made friends with a waiter who worked there, who in turn introduced me at a tender age to Bevan, who would stand in the open kitchen, arms folded, his silver moustache impeccable, in chefs' whites, and glare at his customers. He looked terrifying.

If I have had a mentor, it has been and continues to be, at a remove, since he is now in Istanbul and I in New York, Bevan. My mother, through feeding me, and through her inherent and unassuming generosity taught me about how to make beautiful food with a strong French background. Bevan taught me, by feeding me, and through his equally unassuming generosity, about a different sort of aesthetic. He gave me War and Peace to read, and Cormac McCarthy. Everything he did was impeccable, and apparently effortless. Hence full of grace. One could frame anything - look at corner of his kitchen, his dining room, a plate of beans, the grapevine through the floor to ceiling windows, and it would be compositionally perfect. Better than a still life, because it was real.

As a twenty-one and two and three-year old I would drive alone to Anatoli on a Sunday night in my awful white Toyota, whose rust had eaten the Cor of Corolla, giving her the name 'Olla. I hated her. I would park her and go inside and walk to the glass-case fronted hot or cold kitchens to be greeted by the reticent Bevan or ebullient Mustafa, his Kurdish partner in most things, and sit at a given table. Some red wine in a carafe might appear. A small dish of almonds. A square of feta. Simple things I had never considered in their own right. The "real" food was very good, too good to be described here, as it would take too long. But so good that it is not matched.

As we became unlikely friends, dinners and lunches and even breakfasts followed in the apartment upstairs, whose 16 foot ceilings and interior garden were as exotic to me then as they would be here, now. A drinks' table beneath the arches of a palm groaned under heavy decanters of jewel-hued liquor. One's drink was served in heavy glass or crystal, or poured from a studded jug. Books, paintings music, and at the back a great round table bearing, for instance, an 11am breakfast that included platters of calves' liver, lamb kofte with goat cheese and spring onions, roasted peppers and anchovy and the coffee made in a percolator of glass orbs and flutes so that alchemy happened before our eyes. The milk was hot. He would cook for all the weekend-dressed waiters who would sit nonchalantly but gratefully around that linen-heavy table enjoying a largesse, presented so matter-of-factly, that few realized, at that impressionable and blase age, would never be surpassed, nor even met.

Sunday night was kebab night at Anatoli. Gone would be the varying, slow, stews and melting chops and stuffed vegetables, and, and...and. Swords would appear in the glass case to which everyone would be guided to choose their main courses, skewering chunks of swordfish with bay leaves, chicken with sumac and chile, hot beef. More importantly, there would be piyaz - white bean salad spiked with onion, whose sauce would soak into the delicious, buttery rice that accompanied the kebabs. And it is something I still crave.

Recently I made it to a point to where I could have been there. I ate them with rice, no more, and was very happy.

You will need, for a bowl for two:

1 can large white beans drained
3 Tbsp tahini
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar (this is my version - I don't know that it's proper)
1 small red onion, sliced fairly thinly. Fairly. Not Very.
Some water
Salt, pepper
Sumac if you have it
A pretty bowl

In a mixing jug/bowl-thing, put the tahini. Add the vinegar. Stir till blended. Now add some cold water. Stir until it is pourable, but not thin. It should be like vichyssoise. Add salt and pepper. The salt must have a presence. It brings out the best in the onion and hides the worst in the vinegar. The beans really suck it up, so don't be shy. Pour this over the beans in the pretty bowl. Add the onions and toss with your hands. If you do it with a spoon you break the beans. Taste. Put in the fridge to chill. It's best after few hours. Sprinkle sumac over the top before eating.

1 cup of basmati
2 1/2 half cups of water
1 Tblsp butter

Toast the basmati for a minute in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add the butter and good pinch of salt. Toast some more. Add the water. It will sizzle and screech. Clap a lid on it, let it boil for a minute and then turn the heat down to the point where it's almost not on at all. Leave it alone. After about 12-15 minutes the rice will have absorbed all the liquid. You can fluff it with a fork. It's ready.

Washing it away

Paul Gallico's Jenny had a social rule (Jenny is cat): When in doubt, wash.

All cats know this rule. And have better manners than most humans.

I do not wash when I am in doubt. In fact I wash when there is very little doubt.

But I would suggest that, when one is in doub*t, one should go out and buy something pretty to eat. It doesn't have to be a chocolate bar, though that can be very pretty; or a paper cone of French fries soaked in malt vinegar, prettier still, to my mind; it could be some courgette flowers. Or black raspberries. Or a bunch of Swiss chard. Or a lamb chop. Some brown eggs. And take whatever it is home and make something out of it.

The doubt will shift and one's focus will too, and soon there is the prospect of sauteed chard leaves with anchovy butter and lemon for dinner. Or courgette flowers tossed with some pasta and butter parmesan and...lemon. Or jam (with some lemon to help it set!). Or just raspberries with some brown sugar in a bowl, as much as you like, for supper.

Of course, exceptional medicine for doubt is champagne. You have a glassful, stick the rest in the fridge with a silver spoon down its throat, and have it for three more nights. Bubbles after a long day. The aura of it goes a long way. And it's not as much of a splurge as one thinks.

Now if only my jam would set.

[*ED. Footnote: said doubt related in no way to Canadian Frenchmen, and in some ways to work, domicile (continents, and the ills that beset them) and hormones. The jam turned out fine].

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chocolate mousse

This was rather a happy invention. Sort of: nothing is invented. Derivation. There. I have a clear conscience now.

You need:
1 friend who likes chocolate
1 small bar dark chocolate (85grams - the friend is small)
1 small carton cream (230ml)
1/4 cup of ground/powdered almonds

Whip the friend. I mean the cream. (First invite the friend to dinner.) Whip and chill the cream. Over scant heat, in a heavy-bottomed pot (the friend is not heavy-bottomed* because she eats small portions of things. My own bottom is behind me so I can't really tell you anything about it), melt the chocolate. Most books would tell you to do it over a bowl of boiling water. But I think if you watch it like a hawk you're OK. The chocolate must just be melted to the point of imminent collapse, where, at a touch of a wooden spoon, it gives up its shape and becomes soft. Sir it fast. Then whip it off the heat. Scrape it into the whipped cream and then mix it in completely with the whisk until all the lovely dark trails of chocolate in the white cream have blended into pale brown. Stir your powdered almonds in, and pour into little cups or shot-glass things for dessert. Chill again. It made three small glassesfull. So if you have a dinner for three, this is for you. Or if it's just you (and there are worse things), three days of chocolate cream!

* Which brings to mind Tant Sienna, and I am relying on memory:

Suid Afrika! so moes Van Wou
Presies soos sy jou beeltnis hou:
Swaar die verlede agter, hoor,
Maar swaarder nog die toekoms voor!
A.G. Visser

And as Jay says, Ons fok maar voort!

Lilium "Red Velvet"

Whoowhee! It is Planted in April, and ordered from The Lily Garden.

I don't think Sylvia Plath would have liked them.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hasta luego

Constanza's last supper on the terrace. It didn't seem real. Champagne, chilled green garlic soup, prosciutto, saucisson, cornichons, potato and scallion salad...and little pot au chocolats- cream, dark chocolate and ground almonds. A perfect, dark blue evening, a ship honking in the harbour, the cat prowling above our heads, my friend's hours in New York counting down.

I will miss you.

Snip snip

At Izumi's salon in the Village...

Sunday, June 22, 2008


In the middle of the pelting storm I had fun poking a bamboo stick into the blocked drain on the roof.

A monkey's wedding. Jakkals en wolf gaan trou (fox and wolf are going to be married). Sun and rain and rainbow.

The lilies getting ready to open...

And me getting ready for Monday. Have a good week, wherever you are.

Garlic scape soup

1lb garlic scapes
1 onion finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, ditto
1 large potato sliced

[2 minute break while I averted a flood in the gutter outside - downpour and rainbow]

About 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup natural, preferably Greek yoghurt

Sweat onion and spring onions in about 2 Tbsps of olive oil. Add chopped up garlic scapes, saute another 4 minutes or so. Add potato. Add warm stock and simmer until all vegetables are tender. Add lemon juice to taste, salt and black pepper. Transfer to blender in batches and puree. If you are a patient person, with a fanatical streak of perfectionism, press through a sieve to make extra smooth. I gave up half way. Reach your own conclusions. Allow to cool and stir in yoghurt, mixing till smooth. It should be easily pourable. Add more stock if not. Chill. Serve with a little dollop of yoghurt and snipped chives.

If you'd like it hot, I'd grate some parmesan over the top or float a toast boat with some melted cheese-of-choice on it...

More lilies in a poem

Today, Rain over New York

You will scream at me from the truck of heaven
Hey Byoodeefoool
Yeah you gorgeous you

With the wispy pony tail and the maniacly thin face
Baseball cap
The teeth so much you and everything long
and thin and strung like wires

Dirty Pablo after days of sweating and planting
other people’s gardens
Screaming always from the window of the truck
Banshee yelping

Daughter a picture far away
Puerto Rico far away

Puerto Rico Babee
She’s byoodeeful too!

And me knowing nothing more and not asking
And not even thinking for years
About Pablo


To know
that three weeks ago you killed yourself
Is a sweeping of time and a rushing of too-lateness
And an unimaginable putting together of where you were
And what you did
And why

And how come the police called Nick and not your ex-wife
And how old is your daughter now
And what happened Pablo

Did you know I liked you, ever
Would it have made a difference

Have you rested
Were you tired
Could I have helped
Are you laughing now to see us thinking about you
when we never said or called or thought

Because we are separate and alone in ourselves
and cannot imagine the other life passed

It’s not so bad here Pablo
We’ve all thought of it

It passes

I could have told you that at least
It passes it will pass
And this too shall pass, Pablo

And I had my mother to tell me that
Regardless of knowing, I heard
It will pass

It would have
Whatever it was
Unless you killed someone unless you maimed and destroyed

But if it was your pain your loss your maiming and your heart-death
it would have passed I swear it
Even if you think not thinking that you can never go through it again
the body lasts man
It goes limping on even when the eyes have given up working and the heart is a hollow

But you did it
No talking
Or did you talk
Where were you
In a room
A shaft a track
Was there blood did you drink pills
We know nothing

None of the family phone numbers in your book worked
So they found Nick

And today, after years I found Nick and said
I want to listen to your music and we talked
and he told me about Pablo

Three weeks ago was the Fourth of July
and I was on a roof
with someone new and something beginning
New pain all over again you may laugh
and it is probably true

While somewhere
in this city in these lights
was it night
you let the life out
and went to sleep

Was it that night
of fireworks and people together
Was it because there was no one
Was it the holiday blues hanging over the sullen never leaving pain
Was it a rocket and the smell of gunpowder
as I watched the whole city
and watching felt nothing for a life
creeping beneath the floorboards into the foundations of the place

But you look for meaning, Byoodeeful, where there is none
If anythi’ mean’ t’ anythi'
I wou’ still be here

Your truck streams past devil Pablo
Head hanging like a mad dog’s
in the wind
Teeth spread in smiling and yipping

Damn, Pablo

For you the water
standing on the terrace
For you the white Formosa lilies growing, wet
like the ones I carried in rain last night
through streaming streets
For you the pale green rosebud forming



Through the open sliding door to the terrace after this 5pm on this Sunday - my heart in three places: Vancouver, New York, South Africa - comes the incessant peeping of two mockingbird babies (OK, bird people, juveniles), and the happy yelping of Latin music from a street fair three blocks away on Smith. Also the flower-laden soft breeze blowing in advance of a thunderstorm and bringing the linden trees' scent into my little apartment to lift said heart under the rumble of approaching thunder.

The concept of neighbourhood is still new to me, even fourteen (...!) years later. I came from a car society. You drove. You skipped places. You certainly did not walk, unless it was a Serious Walk up a mountain. To me a neighbourhood is a village, a small town. Right beside and touching the next village or small town. One that is accessed by foot, usually. It has borders. Everyone's definition of neighbourhood varies. There are the formal names: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens. There is the personal 'hood which both blends and truncates.

I tend to turn right for one block when I leave my door, for work, and then head down to the subway, and coming back I stop at my regular shops on the other side of this grid and turn back, entering from the opposite side. If I head past the block to my right I am crossing an invisible personal border. That's what I did yesterday when I wheeled my new, old, heavy little original '50's Schwinn, recently purchased from the d.a.r.g.-owning guy below me, the bike having languished forever in the laundryroom, to the bike shop on the other side of the BQE in what I think still qualifies as Carroll Gardens. Anthony (pronounced in your best Brooklynese) admired it and said it was a sweet little bike, and undertook to take it apart, fix what is broken (flat tyres, no breaks, iffy chain) and put it back together again for $75. So I will fetch it next Saturday. Then I will see if I actually like riding it and if don't I will sell it to someone who will love it.

I walked down streets I know but not intimately. I realize that when I travel my usual route I build up a close relationship with the plants along the way, and along these other streets I was struck by the new. Creature of habit. I must get out more, and in the other direction.

This lovely little stoop is on Sackett just before Court Street. Astonishingly, the climber on the left of the door is bougainvillea. I did a double-take. It is, really. In USDA Zone 6 with a minimum of around -10'F . Le microclimate reigns supreme. To the right is the old trumpet vine, Campsis radicans, and on the pillar on the right is Ampelopsis, porcelain berry. Spiraea on the left and Dutch irises on the steps, with clematis here and there. Very, very sweet.

Back on Henry Street on what is Constanza's block until she gets on a plane on Wednesday*, a very happy Hydrangea quercifolia, oak-leaf hydrangea, one of my favourites, keeping its blooms until late in the season.

What I did not take a picture of because it would not have translated well, is a statuesque cherry tree, looking very Bing-like, on the corner of Union and Clinton, FULL of ripe cherries, very high. I longed to climb it, and just stared, all of ten years old, wanting to climb the wall and steal the fruit.
*Constanza is coming over for Prosecco and a bite to eat on the terrace on Tuesday evening, the day before she leaves for North Carolina and the loft in the tobacco factory, with her little family. Your terrace is one of my favourite places in New York, she said.
I will miss her. Very much. I have hardly known New York without her.