Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nursery Run

On a hot, hot day, David Kulick and I drove out to the North Fork of Long Island to pick up some special shade plants for Phase Two of the Baltic Street project, which happens tomorrow...On the way back we stopped off at Bisset to pick up some boxwood, and I drooled over their variegated Japanese iris. I think I want to design a garden in rows. It would have to be a roof you can look down on and out at.

Late liatris.

Below: Panicum virgatum - one of my favourite grasses, with its gossamer seed heads beaded with the mist of the (midday???) sprayers.

And on the North Fork, Jim Glover's fabulous nursery, Glover Perennials. It's far, so I don't make it out there as often as I would like to, but it is a plant geek's Nirvana.

We came back with some very nice stuff which I'd discussed on the phone yesterday with Jim, so it was waiting for us. Dwarf Lady fern, False Lily of the Valley, Alpine strawberries...more tomorrow.

Too soon, it was back to the city. Yay. Traffic.

On a city note: click here to see the rooftop view from the terrace (if you stand on the table)recently - kindly posted by Mr Guskind of Gowanus Lounge.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New York Summer: Warren Street Mailbox


Browsing through some old pictures of the terrace I found this salad and thought, what a good idea! One goes through food phases and forgets about things. Lots of leaves, compartmentalized, with crispy pancetta on top, and vinaigrette made with sherry vinegar and the pan fat. I think there were ramps, too, clearly making this a spring dish. Today I will substitute some farmers' market scallions.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Balty's, we love you.

I love Balthazar's...The schtick works, I'm sorry to say. It is not a French brasserie but it looks better than any French brasserie. Keith McNally is very good at what he does and I lap it up happily.

I waitressed there, the breakfast shift, early in my New York career. I wore the standard-issue little Agnes B black dress. I hated boiling the eggs. I waited on Meryl Streep and her little girls. They wanted Earl Grey and didn't want chocolate bread in their basket. The eldest little girl was fierce and protective and I could see she was just waiting for me to say Ooooooooooooooooh, but I didn't. I was fired, though: in one week I was late one day (start-time was at 7.30am) and didn't show up another day, thinking I had a day off. Bye-bye. I met a couple of nice people then, and two of them have made careers there. It's a place were people stick around. I like that.

I began having breakfast there regularly when I started to design gardens full-time a couple of years after that, as our office was and is nearby. That's when I really fell in love. With the deep bowls of strong coffee, the toasted baguette, the scattered, but regular breakfasters, with empty tables separating us into morning pools of introspection and newspapers. The exceptional flowers, changed by an irascible woman every Thursday. The quiet, morning-bright Vivaldi. One day the maitre d' slipped me a card explaining that it was the private number for reservations, meaning that one would be given preferential treatment if booking a table. I can't tell whether the whole of New York has one, but as long as I exercised it, it served me well, securing dinner in coveted booths and tables at short notice. I still have it, though it has not been aired for a long time.

The only Balthazar regret I have is the day, years ago, when my mom and I were having breakfast, and were in mid -toast and egg, when Ralph Fiennes and a friend walked in. Like school girls, we wrote a quick polite, illegible fan-letter on a house postcard and asked our friendly maitre d' to deliver it. Regrettably, he said, he could not. But that I was welcome to do so in person. To my eternal shame, I did. I interrupted a quiet breakfast, blushingly, and fled. That's all.

How. Un. Cool.

And now V and I are in love with each other and I again with this place whose lighting makes everyone beautiful. So we had lunch there, and ordered bubbly and Le Grand - a modest tower of shellfish. They did not have the bigorneaux, the little snails I love so much, not the bulots, the larger ones. Which makes me think of the Cafe du Centre in Geneva, but that's another story.

My man, my ring, our bubbly...

Balthazar Time

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bee candy


And the nepeta. Clouds of bees all day.

Is that proper coffee...

...or what???

Sometimes I lift the lid of my stovetop espresso maker to see it making the fluff. I can't help it. It's beautiful. And it makes me happy.

Ajo Blanco

A tonic, a restorative. Cool after hot, smooth after rough, simple after complicated.

There is something about this cold, white creamy soup, which contains no cream, that makes me sit up. The way a wilted plant might when it gets a whiff of what's in the watering can. Made of raw garlic, powdered almonds, some bread, chicken stock and the vital vinegar, it is deceptively filling, very lovely, and one of my favourite things to eat.

Back in the day I posted a recipe for it here. For this batch I used chicken stock I'd made, and it is much nicer than the cube, but in a pinch the cube will do. I always forget to put in the olive oil.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ah, summer

Bellinis straight up.

Favourite things

My Abraham Darby rose, now beginning its third flush, in a (probably) Woodstock glass.

Woodstock was the first commercially-made glass in South Africa, in the late 1800's. Woodstock is now a suburb near the Cape Town city centre, on the slopes of Devils Peak, and was then a place of manufacture. There is little information about the glass; it is locally collectible, and much of what is sold under the name is not the real deal, but frankly, I don't mind. They are mismatched, sometimes have bubbles in the glass, sometimes rather heavy bases - and are etched with fern leaves or a geometric, rather Deco pattern; the wine glasses have smoothed teardrops cut from them... To me they represent someone's earnest and inadvertantly beautiful approximation of what was deemed Proper.

There are custard cups with little handles (my mom has many, into which she puts the most unbelievably delicious concoctions, not limited to but not excluding, custard: my favourite is bright layers of green pesto, fresh red tomato coulis and black tapenade, incredibly time-consuming to make, into which you dip toast points. But I digress). There are sherry glasses, ranging from thimble to small pitcher-sized, and flat champagne glasses. And there are tumblers, possibly my favourite.

I bring back a couple of glasses every time I visit the Cape and am always on the lookout for more in the antique and junk shops of Kalk Bay, in Long Street and farther afield. I use them, too. One is my tooth mug.

A weekend of clouds





The door buzzer rang this morning. It is loud. It rang again. The cat fled. I ignored the ringing. It rang a third time. I ignored it. I was not expecting anyone, didn't feel like letting strangers into the building, and can be quite antisocial.

Then the phone rang. Hm. More troubling. I did not recognize the number. So I ignored that, too. If they really wanted in they would leave a message. At last it showed up. It was a florist.


I rang back. The poor guy was two blocks away already. Come back, I begged, contrite, and made up a story about a shower. I went down to meet him to save him the five flight walk-up, and gave him a placatorially nice tip.

Once upstairs with my wrapped, damp, heavy parcel, I tore open the paper and found...irises. I love irises. These are I. sibirica, in a beautiful vase with green euphorbia.

A year ago today I left a comment on the blog of a photographic website, whose tutorial post on HDR photography made mention of a backlit saucisson against a field of lavender.

And that was the beginning.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Not an elephant

Jay in Cape Town sent me this picture taken by Sally Adam (whose adventures in permaculture I have been following) in the Addo Elephant park. They didn't see any elephants, but this mouse was better.
He really, really liked yoghurt.

Friday, July 25, 2008

New York Summer: East 65th Street

Catholic Churches in New York seem to have attempts at gardens, often. Gardens as opposed to "landscaping". Episcopal churches hire help. Catholic churches have a funny little person who loves plants. And Mary must always have flowers. I can't help liking that, even though me and the Pope...? Oy, don't get me started.

And they have a particular and peculiar, guilless, slightly inept aesthetic. I can't help thinking of the innocent, mannered and yet readable memoirs of Lady Fortescue: Perfume from Provence and Sunset House. In them she bemoans her southern French, Latin gardener, Hilaire's, lack of colour-sense. He planted riots. In rows. She wanted English borders. She recoiled.

Well, here's a riot, and I like it. I have never seen the gardener, though I imagine a wizened Nonna or frail and frustrated priest, wracked by celibacy, or at least by having to maintain its appearance...

There is fruit, too. A peach, grapes, raspberries, an old apple. All bear. And this on the corner of Lexington and E65th.


A small thing that Makes a Difference:

The fresh, green scent of Wild Pansy (oh, hush), by Claus Porto in my towel afer my post-work shower. I had picked a towel from the bottom of the clean stack in the cupboard where I keep the towels with an empty soap or bath salts box to soak up their residual perfume.

The towels come from a shop in the bazaar in Istanbul. I had gone there with my friend Bevan, to buy towels, thinking deeply fluffy. But the proprietor persuaded me, a very reluctant and suspicious me, to get thin ones instead. He says Prince Charles' household uses them exclusively, to cinch the deal (don't think about it too much. Naked Charles. Naked Camilla...eugh?). And they are wonderful. Light, absorbent, soft, with tassels, like a kikoi.

Doctor's Number One, by Egin Tekstil, the label reads.

I concur.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Martinis on the terrace

Three and a bit weeks ago I bought many bunches of these little onions, and turned them into pickles. My first pickles. I figured they might be ready just in time for Vince.

They were, and are really quite nice. Very simple.

So we decided to pop some into our viscously cold Grey Goose martinis over the weekend. The peppers, from some Lebanese olives from Sahadi's, added a perfect bite back.

As I write, now, the mugginess has lifted and pink fluffy clouds are chugging quietly by in a blue sky. Some truly horrible music is wafting, nay, quavering from the Cobble Hill Park, where there is a concert every Thursday. I've never gone to see who listens to the stuff. It's dreadful. Some good bluegrass would be perfect. Anything not on its last legs, in fact...

Le Weekend, contd. Robin des Bois. We were one of three occupied tables in the gravelly garden, on a very, very, very hot and sticky day. I have never seen it so empty. We sat under the pretty crabapple tree and admired the postcard-perfect arbour of grapes trained over the deck area, with many bunches hanging high over the tables. I'd like to visit again when they are ripe. Robin is a great place, and has been part of good Brooklyn memories, with Constanza, with my parents and friends en masse (small mass), my dad in white dinner jacket giving me dark looks for not warning him that it was casual. I had said anything he wore would be fine. So it was the white dinner jacket.

With Vincent, it was Pastis for him and Kir Rouge for me. I am trying to teach it to everyone I know. Cold red wine, preferably Syrah, with a slosh of Cassis, and ice. It's great. Sometimes the mouthier feel of chilled tannin is better than the cold slide of white.

A croque madame for me. A monsieur for him. Good bread good bechamel good ham. And egg for me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Le Weekend

We hit Prune for a burger. No, the lunch menu has still not changed, not one bit. If I were a cook in that kitchen I think the monotony would do me in. But it's good for me because I eat there a lot less than I used to, sparing the dollars and the lb's. However. I am very, very (very) happy with the burgers. Lamb, butter, bacon, butter, garlic, butter, parsley, butter, cheese, and butter. And some butter.

And superlative French fries. Vince liked them...

Apparently Gabriella Hamilton faced-off with Bobby I-hate-him Flay on Iron Chef on Sunday?

Anyone see it? I don't have a TV.

Did she whup his ass?

Midweek on the terrace

It amuses me that I come home from a day of drawing, thinking about, dreaming about, or standing in, digging in, or swearing at, gardens...and head straight out to my own little terrace and start, yes, gardening. With every appearance of pleasure.

This evening, after the obligatory post-New-York-day-and-subway-journey shower, I stepped out onto the gravel with a glass of dry white Noilly Prat vermouth, and started the little chores that I like so much. For once watering was unnecessary as we had a rainstorm in the early hours, and serious Weather is expected later. The storm radar glows promisingly red.

I cleared up some dead-headed Iceberg roses from yesterday. Cleaned the old lily petals and snipped their drooping stamens but left the still-small seed capsules at the base of their stamens. I am going to allow them to set seed. Maybe someone would like some. It will take a couple of years for a flower if they are grown from seed. Hm: 66squarefeet lilies? Cleaned some dead from the chives and pulled out a few of Estorbo's chewed grass plants growing in the Creeping Jenny. And pondered Lamiaceae. Ha! and have just satisfied myself, via Google. See examples below. After the vermouth and daylilies.

The fig is rallying. Dare I hope???

Back to the Lips: Lamiaceae, aka Labiatae...the Greek basil flower looks a lot like the...

...catnip flower, which looks a lot like the...

...plectranthus flower (and yes, you have seen this picture before). Eenteresteen', as the cat would say. All from the same family.

Below, the purple basil slowly turning not-purple, above Henry Street.
Greek basil, common thyme, tarragon, chives and basil. And the Long Island College Hospital in the background (sssshhhh: this is a trick to see if I can get Zippi, the Public Affairs guru at the hopital to leave a comment. I think Zippi Googles the LICH every day to see who's been saying what.....Zippi?)

And that's it. Life continues. Sweetly, relentlessly, coldly. Having a garden helps.