Friday, July 31, 2009

Fennel risotto

I don't know what made me think of fennel, but I did. It had been a long work-day too, and risotto is easy. Then I thought of Pastis. And I found some saffron. So it was like bouillabaisse. Without the fish. And the tomatoes. But with the Frenchman.

The creamy texture was perfection. The previous, tomato risotto, not. Reason. HOT stock!

Butter, about a tablespoonful (I usually cook with olive oil, but the butter is important here)
1 fat garlic clove, squashed and chopped fine
1 fat shallot, finely diced
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 cup arborio rice (this is risotto for Two)
Healthy slosh (1/4 cup) Pastis
1-2 cups hot stock or water, I used a Swiss vegetable bouillon cube
3 thyme sprigs' leaves
4 fat stalks parsley, leaves chopped
Large pinch saffron threads
1 squeeze of lemon, no more
Black pepper
Knob of butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

To learn risotto read Marcella Hazan on the subject. All I can tell you is this:

In a pan or pot with sides, melt the butter over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic, stir until coated with butter and cook gently without colouring for about 4 minutes till softer. Add the fennel. Cook another few minutes till softer. Add the rice, stir to coat until glistening and keep stirring to toast it.

After the rice has turned an opaque, chalky white, add the pastis, which will sizzle and make a lot of steam, and keep stirring until absorbed. You may want to turn the heat up a bit. Depends. Once it has been absorbed add gulps of hot stock, and stir between each addition. Don't just make soup and wait for it to be absorbed - the stirring is what produces the creamy texture. And you may need a little less, or a little more stock...If your stock is cold you will land up with glue. I know.

Add the saffron about halfway through your stock. The world will turn yellow.

After about ten minutes of this I start to nibble rice grains to see how done they are. You do not want mush. They must be firm, but not crunchy. When you sense it is all coming together, add the squeeze of lemon and stir. Taste. Stir in the chopped parsley.

Add the cheese moments before you eat it and stir again. It will turn creamy. Add pepper. Salt may not be necessary. Turn into a warmed bowl, eat at once.

Late July with hyssop

...a drink to hack cosmos by. My cosmos in some roof-pots had grown very tall, and the pots were threatening to tip, which is Not Good. Also, no buds in sight...

So to gird my loins for this evening's cutting back and taking out what has taken months to grow from seed, I needed some liquid courage. With a terrace this small, if it ain't working, it's got to go.

Inspired by the herbal challenge of Summer Fest 2009, I put together a rather yummy drink:

Bottle Green's elderflower cordial was waiting in the fridge. Made in England, the syrup is delicious beyond speech. And the Agastache "Black Adder" aka hyssop (here is a case of the plant's common name being that much more beautiful than the botanical) was looking very pretty in blue and smelling very minty.


3oz  Bombay Sapphire gin
1 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce elderflower cordial
3 hyssop leaves and stripped flowers form one stem

Shake up everything except the seltzer with lots of ice, strain, drink. Cut something back in the garden, on the fire escape, roof, in the woods, alley, lot...wherever you grow things.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Milkweed flower

Up close, at Glover Perennials...

Glover Perennials on the North Fork

Fields of Queen Anne's Lace on the North Fork of Long Island yesterday afternoon. On a scouting trip for some installations next week and for upcoming projects, I started off at the tip of Long Island and worked my way back. Vince rode shotgun and we picnicked on the way.

Queen Anne's Lace is important food for Black Swallowtail butterfly babies. Better than my parsley.

Below, in the Glovers' perennial garden they have growing a thick mat of Mazus reptans to demonstrate its steppable qualities. "Steppable" is a whole genre of foot-tolerant groundcovers. Steppables are steppable within reason. They are not walkables. The mazus is grown in full sun here, and not frequently trafficked. It feels very good and lush underfoot.

Milkweed growing in a ditch in the fields. We borrowed a little golf cart and drove all over, looking for inspiration for some upcoming projects. Two in deep shade, one in blazing sun. Typical New York. There was lots. Of inspiration.

The milkweed - Asclepias incarnata - sold by Jim is native to Long Island, and the best known host for Monarch butterflies. Whose cousins I have on my conscience. It blooms late - this is the end of July and it will go through August, so it is a valuable addition to a sunny garden.

Filipendula...looking a little like aruncus, crossed with spirea crossed with astilbe...

These had me jumping up and down salivating. Clematis. With shrubby habits! Blooming now. Clematis heracleifolia "Mrs Robert Brydon", above.

C. heracleifolia var. davidiana, below.

This is Allium "Millenium"... a late-blooming allium about 14" high.

Lickable flowers: Agastache/hyssop. Some of my very favourite perennials. Beautiful flowers, late blooms, lovely colour, and scented leaves.

Agastache "Black Adder".


Penstemon "Pike's Peak Purple". To 24", and now reblooming after its start in May.

"Sunburst Ruby".

On Monday we will pick up many 150 Hakonechloa (Japanese ribbon grass) from Glover Perennials, for planting on the roof garden I've posted pictures of before, and then we'll be back again for shade perennials in a birch garden and meadow flowers and grasses for some sunny terraces in SoHo.

Walking about in fields like these is so much more inspiring than sitting behind a desk and perusing books and one's own rather repetitive brain.

Calamintha and bee

I have seen very, very few honey bees this year. Just the big fat bumbling ones, pictured here in the calamintha on the roof, with a single honey bee a few days ago.

Yesterday, out on the North Fork of Long Island, perennial scouting for some native meadow plantings, we saw lots of honey bees in Jim Glover's fields of flowers. It was heady stuff. Pictures later this evening.


Agastache (hyssop), rose (Abraham Darby) and bronze fennel.

Tonight we'll shake up and share with you, a hyssop and elderflower cocktail...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Child of Swallowtail

Funny thing is, I took these pictures yesterday. I saw the two butterflies today. Maybe I will see them tomorrow, too. These two little darlings had already consumed many leaves of parsley, and I dispatched them in the usual manner, by tossing them off the terrace, still attached to the stalk. I don't have enough growing space for two hungry caterpillars and my parsley. Sorry. Yes, I'm sure I set a whole lot of Chaos Theory into motion.

What did I see this morning, as I leaving the house for work, but one of the little suckers marching straight back up the outside of brownstone! OK, it could have been a different one. I didn't tag them.

More about their life cycle here. Lots of pro lifers here.

Look to the left for a poll on the future of yesterday's eggs. More of which I keep finding.

Black Swallowtail

Indulge me, I spent this morning running around the terrace chasing a gorgeous butterfly. And she was the second in fifteen minutes! A rather damaged one had been fluttering around earlier, and when this lady came along I realized: they're after me parsley!

See???? Egg!

So I set a trap for pictures. My parsley pots are usually scattered, so I cheated and clustered them.

One egg at a time.

Much circling around, touching the basil, the summer savoury, the nicotiana...and returning to the parsley.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Highline in late July

It's wonderful to love New York all over again.

I think the Highline is spectacular. In another rainstormy day, during the peak of which, inbetween some echinacea and a sea of grass, my instant, $6 umbrella died an undignified death, we looked at late summer blooms and got soaked by hard rain and steamed by hot sun.

Designed by landscape architecture and urban design firm James Corner Field Operations with planting design by Piet Oudolf, and with architecture firm Diller Scofidio and Renfro...I really want to see a plant list. Thank you, Mr Oudolf.

The signature concrete planks or ties with grasses and perennials popping up inbetween. The sumac of the first picture warmed my heart, as it is so clearly a tribute to what grew here when the railroad was abandoned, and photographed by Joel Sternfield, whose work surely inspired the massive private cash injection into this old landscape.

Iris. What iris??? [Iris fulva, or copper iris. Thanks, NYCGarden!]

And what is this below? Just coming into bloom, from a distance, I thought...noooo, it can't be, not chrysanthemums: because the mound is that sturdy, about 3 feet broad and tall. Is it a sort of coreopsis? Anyone? I know it not at all. Exciting. [Red helenium...thank you Quiltcat!]


Looking south from near 20th Street

North up 10th Avenue.

Over that mystery, late summer perennial again.

Sigh. Just gorgeous. Panicum grass left and fore.

Rudbeckia and Gehry.


Is this a fescue? It's below the Standard Hotel, in the greener, birch treed part of the park.

I was happy to see calamintha, below, growing wildly. Good luck when that starts self-seeding.

Grass at the hotel's foot. Calamagrostis?

And the descent to Gansevort Street.

Can't wait to go back.