Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roast pork loin with herb crust (and fire alarm)

Herb Crust for Pork Loin Roast

(for a substitute of rack of lamb omit sage and add rosemary; also roast 10 minutes/1lb)

Parsley, thyme, summer savoury, sage

4 chopped tablespoons parsley
1 chopped tablespoon thyme leaves
1 chopped tablespoon sage
1/2 chopped tablespoon summer savoury
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 Tablespoon grainy mustard
Juice of 1 lime
1 egg yolk, to bind
salt and pepper

One forgets about salt. Takes it for granted. Or pokes at it with a barge pole. But in its judicious use lies the Magic.

So chop all the herbs and in bowl mix them with the mustard and juice. Add the egg yolk just before you want to use the paste. It should all be sticky but compact enough not to slide off piste.

Extra special ingredient:

Chive oil

One major handful of chives. About 2" in diameter and 6" - 8" long.
2 cups EV olive oil

Chop the chives and add with the oil to a blender or food processor. Whiz or whir until it is a brilliant, even green. Then put it though a fine sieve, pushing and stirring all the oil through the leaves. Bottle in a sterilized jar and keep in the fridge. DO NOT keep unrefrigerated. Yes, the oil will coagulate, but that's OK.

The pork

I had about 5 loin chops joined together, just over 4lbs. Feeds four, as the two of us left half behind, and we're not timid eaters. Note for the butcher: if he/she evens knows what this is, ask them to cut through the chine bone, so that when you carve the chops you are able to separate them one from another without the aid of colourful language and chisel. My Wholefoods butcher was unsatisfactory in this regard.

1 apple
1 stewed quince
4 tablespoons chive oil
3 onions, sliced
8 cloves of garlic in their skins

Heat oven to 450'F - 220'C. Salt and pepper the meat. Layer onion in roasting dish. Put meat on top. Core and quarter the good cooking apple.

Slather the herb crust mix onto the meaty side of your rack of chops. Then add about 4 tablespoons of the chive oil, which in this case needs to be frigid to stick. Of course it will melt later. Arrange fruit and garlic around the meat Add a cup of water to the pan and keep this topped up after half an hour, to stop the onions from turning to charcoal and to encourage the beginnings of a good pan gravy.

Roast for about 15 minutes to the pound. Turn the heat down to 400'/200' after ten minutes. [Do not add a gratin of potatoes overfilled with milk and cream in the oven at the original temperature. Or there will be smoke. Lots of. Put it in at 400'F...]

After an hour (for the 4lb'er) remove the pan from oven, cover the meat with foil and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes on top of the stove. The juice will be reabsorbed into the meat, rendering it more tender than you might have expected.

For the gravy, I added some water and some mustard to the juices and onions in the pan, and stirred up the brown bits. Then I added a healthy splash of cream.

What would be referred to in South Africa as 'n bord kos. Lit. a plate of food, but implying heft. Substantial, brown fare.

Native Garden at the BBG

I have visited the woodsy native garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens several times this year to see how it tells its stories through the seasons, and how these stories might translate to the urban corner of East Houston and 2nd Avenue... It is a genre that rewards an eye for detail, because one sometimes has to search for blooms and special texture, but it also has the peaceful quality that appeals to me: leaves dropping onto an already leaf-littered floor, birds in the undergrowth, and a sense of remove that is needed within the rush of New York.

Of course we will not have a berm separating us from 6 lanes of traffic, nor the elevation it would provide.

But we can have the leafy paths.

Below: I was rather surprised to see that this was one of the few ferns holding up this far into September. So I crossed a couple off the list, and added her. Dryopteris goldiana.

Compare this patch with May's picture. The May apples are dormant as can be. I missed their fruit.

Below: Doll's eyes. The pretty, and prettily scented actaea that Donna and Dinah helped me identify in May's post, has turned creepy. It has a walk-on role in The Minority Report, where, in a greenhouse, a mad plantswoman (me in the future?) breeds plants that are, to say the least, unfriendly. The plants were the best part of the movie.

The berries contain toxins and are the most poisonous part of the plant. Eating the berries can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

So don't eat them.

Chelone, with its feet in water, was about 4' tall and sprawly.

This used to be cimicifuga but now it's also Actaea, this time americana.

Asters. I don't know my asters. There was lots of golden rod, tall and beautiful, but waving too much for a good picture.

Seeds of eupatorium, I think.

And an early fall leaf, from the huge tupelo tree standing above the woodland floor.

I'm still thinking. Thinking thinking thinking.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Proven├žal chicken

This is silly, because the chicken is not affected: it's the aubergine/tomato/onion combination which makes this southern, but I had to give the thing a name, didn't I?

Slit the small to medium aubergines from tip to tip, in several slices, without detaching at the stalk end. Put them in the pan you're going to roast them in and spread them a little like fans half unfurled. Cut tomato and onion slices (onion thinner, tomato fatter slices), and put both of these inbetween the leaves of the aubergines: so you have aubergine tomato onion aubergine tomato onion...etc. Season, and slosh some olive oil over them. Bake for about an forty-five minutes to an hour at 400'F/200'C.

And that's your meal, if you don't eat meat.

If you do (eat meat, that is) add to the pan (of skottel*) some of your favourite chicken bits. I am partial to the thigh-drumstick combo, as the meat stays juicy and can roast longer, and makes some good, crackling skin, too. Sprinkle oregano leaves over it, and lemon juice and add salt and pepper. Roast them together with the aubergines. I added a handful of garlic cloves, unskinned. These become beautifully soft and the idea is to combine in a forkful the chicken, some garlic, and the caramelized onion/tomato and melted aubergine.

* Afrikaans: 'or dish'.

I'm feeling a bit grumpy. As I was writing this post smoke billowed thrice from the oven where a potato gratin and a roasting, bone-in pork loin are sharing space. The gratin bubbled over. Milk on oven floor = 911 smoke. And it stinks. Happened two more times. I'm an idiot. I used to be able to cook: foie gras terrine (once), souffles, demi glace and Sauce Espagnole, puff pastry houses for butter-poached lobster, 8 course individually plated dinners, Crepes Suzette like tissue paper.

Sob sob sob.

Each time the smoke issued forth I whipped out the precious pig with its crust of herbs and mustard and nest of quinces and apples, worried that it would taste like burned milk. It's back in. We'll see.

Eyes smarting. The cat's gone for the fire brigade.

Where have all the truffles gone?


The last of the Mexican heirloom crop from the terrace. In front of some red-blooded American tomatoes. We ate ours in a salad last night. The big tomatoes became something else entirely.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Park on East Houston

The soil sample from our planned park on East Houston. I dug several 8" deep holes along the length of the currently empty lot, mixed all the soil I collected up in a clean container, and bagged a half pound for mailing. Soberingly, the far western end is only 2" of soil over a submerged paving scheme.

It was only recently that I learned that this used to be a park! This from an LES resident who has known the area for almost 40 years. The city closed it in the 1970's due to the pressure of complaints from neighours - whose (derelict) gardens abut the lot - about the homeless people who used to sleep on the benches and light fires at night to stay warm. Ok, I don't know the New York of the 70's, the 80's or even 90's. Though I still see the effects of dope use on our little strip of Forsyth Street - the midstride, 90' bending waist, rooted to the spot, oblivion - which is near the last holdout areas of flophouses and soup kitchens, the city of danger is not one I know from experience.

I also see, again and again, the reaction of seasoned officials to, for instance, the concept of having benches in the park. You must make them so no one can lie down! is the injunction. My knee jerk reaction is to tap on an imaginary wristwatch and say, Um , hello, 2009, anyone? - Before I remember that these guys run the parks, and have seen more than I ever have.

But I do see the homeless on a daily basis. And something disturbs me about "getting them out". To where? How desperate to have no home, not even a park bench.

The City will begin excavating in mid-October. There is a lot of old paving and concrete, that old layer beneath the 2" of soil, and maybe more to surprise us, too. I'm not sure how long it will take, so we may or may not plant this fall. Tricky. But spring is good, too.

The soil sample is being mailed today to Dr. Cheng, Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center, 2900 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 11210. Thanks to NYCGarden for that contact.

If you need to analyse your garden's soil, you can download the simple form you need from here.

I am of course curious about its pH, and nutrient content but also heavy metal levels. Some of the plants I'd like to include have edible berries: amelanchier, elderflower [selfish!...I want berries and lowers for cordial and jam!], blueberry...

I spent the whole of today happily working on the final plant list, in heaven. Sans interruption. Cross-referencing, checking on bloom times and sequence, fruit, sourcing plants. Making wishlists. I'll post it soon.

And the benches will be friendly.

Wholefoods gets a sense of humour

Wild caught swordfish.

As opposed to WHAT?


Glover Perennials, North Fork

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Last week's trip to the North Fork of LI seems a long time ago. Time, she speeds up.

Jim was kind enough to drive me to the grassy section where he deposited me after loading up my very small order for the SoHo garden ( he told me he'd just sold 900 Nasella tenuissima...I picked up 6, blush).

I walked back, at leisure to poke about about carefully amongst the smorgasboard of perennials, and walking at the edge of the exposed greenhouses, listening to the choirs of crickets in the clumps of drying grasses, yellow-blooming golden rod and asters, and seed-forming Queen Anne's Lace.

I was looking for semi-shade candidates for the Tribeca garden, so was quite distracted by the clematis in bloom. This is their second flush, after June-blooming. I wantsss them. Below, Clematis 'Ken Dodson'.

Yup, Jackmanii...

So beautiful.

Back in the shade tents, a South African selaginella cultivar: Selaginella kraussiana 'Brownii'. Very cute for close-up stuff.

Thelypteris decursive-pinnata (easier to say if your tongue is coated with honey) - Japanese beech fern. Nice form. I want that.

And a favourite of mine, Dryopteris erythrosora 'Autumn Brilliance'...The golden chartreuse in the background is a Japanese ribbon grass, 'All Gold', and it is. I prefer it to the variegated 'Aureola'.

Pokeweed in berry in the thickets around the greenhouse frames. So edible-looking.

Queen Anne's lace...

And Solidago - golden rod, tall and heavy with flowers and bees.

Asters - never sure which they are. Ericoides? Light as confetti.

The last two are in my brain now, for fall bloomers, as I'm finalizing the plant list for Le Park, season by season. In the end I decided on native. The question is... native is native?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

End of September on the terrace

I had been carefully husbanding a row of rosehips, waiting for them to turn this colour before taking their picture by dawn light...they belong to the New Dawn. But this evening I saw that they were gone! About a dozen of them. Bitten off. And then I saw a squirrel walking away over the roof. Walking, not running. I'm kind of glad he was eating seems a natural sort of thing for a Brooklyn-born squirrel to be doing. But no picture.

The fennel flowers have almost all set seed and I will collect it for rubbing into a pork shoulder with lemon zest and garlic.

Below, a self-sown autumn clematis. The parent was probably the plant I took out three years ago after it threatened to take over the world. This one escaped my attention and made its way up the New Dawn.

And figs, almost the last of the 2009 crop.

Picking them I bruised a couple by accident and almost dislocated a shoulder: it's long stretch! Stand on a chair, lean over the barbecue, don't push the pot off the edge...

I admired them for a while, thinking about the miracle of the fruit from the little tree that looks like dry sticks through winter.

And then I ate them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Highline late September. On our way to the NYTV Festival*, Vince and I dropped in at the Highline to see what was happening, plant-wise. The answer is: Grasses.

The grasses are in their prime, if not at their peak. Maybe peak is winter, with snow on them, frozen, sculptural in the brittle winter light.

For now, they are in flower, and frothy with light seed.

The sparrows were so sweet. Just sparrows, but happy little birds, sitting on the bending stalks and swaying as the breeze blew them up and down as they stuffed their little beaks with seed.

Expanses of gossamer-light panicum (switch grass) seed heads. These would be lit optimally at sunrise and sunset. It is dark earlier now - it seemed to happen so fast, so visiting after 6pm would be perfect.

Below, herds of heuchera in bloom, at the foot of the Standard Hotel.

Calamintha and prairie dropseed.

An unidentified clematis.

And Lespedeza thunbergii. Very non-native, although there are native lespedezas (virginica and capitata), but this one is the stunner. I also saw Hakonechloa (Japanese ribbon grass) which suprised me, growing beneath birches with chasmanthium (oatgrass).

So the Highline is not rabidly indigenous.

I would still like accessible plant lists.

* The NYTV Festival continues tonight. Show up for a free ticket at The New World Stages, West 50th between 8th and 9th Avenues. And free booze! Out of real glasses. One despises plastic. We went last night to support NYCMusicShow and had a lot of fun.

And came away with Ideas.