Monday, November 30, 2009

Swiss Minarets

The majority of Swiss citizens have voted in a referendum to ban the construction of new minarets in Switzerland.

I walked beneath the minaret of a mosque on Atlantic Avenue this weekend, hearing the call of the muezzin. It was beautiful. He had a wonderful voice (and not all do!). I have often wondered why I don't hear the calls from home, and came to the conclusion that there must be some kind of decibel limit imposed by a noise ordinance? In Cape Town the call to prayer near the Bo Kaap is part of what makes the Cape the Cape. In Brooklyn it is part of what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn. In Istanbul it was bedlam, and beautiful.

Now, no one can accuse the Swiss - whose mountains I love - of major cultural diversity, but for a people renowned for tolerance (to those with money?), this is a shocking vote for racism.

Far Rockaways by subway

[Above: boots and feet tired of being stood on at Jay Street]

After an i.n.t.e.r.m.i.n.a.b.l.e wait at Jay Street Borough Hall in Brooklyn for an A train to the Far Rockaways in Queens, we were under way. Vince had made this trip before, but it was all new to me. He was leading me to the ocean.

Below: the view through the subway car's windows. I had no idea. That's JFK. Water on both sides of the train line. We had taken the A back from the airport after dropping my mom off at the end of October, and that had given me a brief taste of the wetlands that are also New York. We had seen reeds and quiet water and cormorants and herons and ducks. And houses on stilts.

Now we were going further.

We got off at Beach 90th Street, about forty-five minutes after starting the ride. We passed a community garden near the beach, between clapboard houses that spoke of salt air and thin winds.

The expanse of sand was not very lovely in and of itself. But looking at the tracks left by seabirds I felt myself exhaling a little. I'd been holding my breath.

A surfer paddled out into the surfless, cold sea.

We found an empty bench on the wide boardwalk and parked for our picnic. Saucisson from Stinky on Smith Street, chicken sandwiches from the last night's leftover pot au feu, cornichons from Sahadi. Kir rouge. Us, wrapped in our coats.

A pale moon rose over the ranks of apartment blocks as jets descended, making their final approach for JFK.

We didn't stay long. Long enough to eat our lunch, to sniff this iodine air, to hear the small waves breaking on the length of beach, long enough to see another view and remember other places where the sea speaks.

Back at the station, we waited. The A train does not arrive in a hurry. I saw a pigeon with a Clint Eastwood shadow. We had to travel backwards before we go forwards because of construction on the platform.

Playland. Boarded-up houses; new, paper-thin condominiums.

The view from the station towards the inlet, on the opposite side of the sandbar to the ocean, was distinctly more upbeat.

It was a very well lit station. With not a single bench. Three contractors were fighting on the side under construction. One of them did not like receiving calls after 2pm. Even though it made no sense, I understood what he meant and silently took his side.

On the way back we kept our eyes open for the river otter Vince swore he had glimpsed on a beach on the way out.

We did not see it again. Or the piece of wood it may have been - the tide had come in. But we think it was an otter.

Our fellow passengers were sleepy...

Broad Channel, just past this point, below, will be our stopping-off point next time: the entrance to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

We will need binoculars for birds. 320 species of birds have been noted here in the last 25 years. Says Google.

And perhaps one river otter.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pineapple Fluff Poeding how someone landed on my blog. Searching for it, from Johannesburg. And I am very sorry to say I would not have been able to help.

So this is an official appeal:

I am looking for a recipe for a Pineapple Fluff Pudding. Or poeding.

I remember it from childhood. From the lunches we had in the middle of the day, at the tablecloth-covered dining room table. My mother does not remember it. It was tall and wide and white, or very pale yellow, and very fluffy. It had bits of pineapple in it. Pretty sure it involved gelatine. Maybe even canned pineapple. It is the kind of recipe that comes in a box of recipes on little cards, with pictures. Relics of the 60's, I think.

I would like, very much, to make it. The real one. Not one I've made up.

Update 12-14-09: the recipe is here. Thank you, Lynn!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bacon and egg sandwich good.

As opposed to evil.

It was our holiday-Friday morning mantra. Eat simple good sandwich. Banish evil. Remember what we believe in. Which is making - or endeavouring to make - whatever we do, good. Because what is good, is beautiful. And that is all that counts.

Sometimes good seems to become a liability. It requires more effort, after all.

And that is when one makes a bacon and egg sandwich.

Roast your bacon in a 400'F oven. This makes it crispy and flat. Fry your eggs very gently in butter. Flip onto toasted wholegrain bread. Grind fresh black pepper over. Squoosh the slices together till the egg runs and the bacon crunches. Eat.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving cocktail

I needed to come up with some kind of season-appropriate pick-me-up. I am very happy with the result:

For an hour, macerate 4, inch-long strips of tangerine peel in 4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier.

In champagne flutes,  drip 3 drops of Angostura bitters. Add one strip of tangerine peel to each flute. Add 1 tablespoon of the Grand Marnier. Top with chilled Prosecco.


Then repeat.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Growing a fig tree

And on AOL's ShelterPop blog, in the Gardening and Home Section, my fig's story.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

White Food what you make the night before Thanksgiving.

I will make ajo blanco, and Vince will make flan, and we will roast chestnuts.

Then we will get into our new, white, very high thread count sheets from the Macy's sale, to replace the very low thread count sheets I bought by accident, and then...

...we will go to sleep.

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving menu, Thursday evening, with Dan, Nancy and Ariana, at Savoy, run by the the original locavore chef. Before the bandwagon. Honey from New York City rooftop bees.

Hm Hm Hm

I am torn between the bisque, the pâté and the salad, though...Fortunately they leave you no choice with the scallops. And then? I never eat turkey, so this is the day to eat it, ain't it? But the venison is calling me. Vince can have my dessert.

We'll see.

'Tis an interesting season, full of surprises.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Winter's flowers

On the Tribeca terrace planted a few months ago, the Edgeworthia papyrifera has developed flower buds that will stay all winter (I hope!) on the strangely succulent-like branches, and which will open in pre-spring, to perfume the garden.

Below, the Camellia 'Winter's Snowman' is in full bloom in three places on the terrace, even after some very serious winds burned the maples' leaves to a crisp.

The Fargesia rufa (clumping bamboo) below is still green and shows no signs of being nipped at the edges.

Field garlic stuffing

Field garlic, Allium vineale.

Well-versed foragers and gatherers of wild foods must yawn at it, but out of the whole expedition with Steve Brill, this was the most useful and worthwhile find for me. In fact, as I type, I am full of it. Field garlic, I mean: sweet little organic roast chicken with field garlic, breadcrumb, feta and lemon stuffing for dinner.

The stuffing:

First, having caught your field garlic, wash it it. (Top centre - I abandoned the mustard green roots and burdock root: way too tough).

1/2 cup finely chopped field garlic, mostly white but some green parts
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup breadcrumbs
Zest of about a quarter of a lemon
About a 1/4 cup of feta, crumbled

Saute shallots and field garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add breadcrumbs, stir to coat evenly with oil and onions, add zest, add feta. Grind some fresh black pepper over it and taste for salt (feta is salty).

Variation: Adding pancetta at the onion stage is also delicious.

Stuff into your - seasoned - chicken and roast as usual (which is at 425'F or just over an hour until it is brown. No basting necessary, but do add about a cup of water to the pan before it cooks, this will be your jus, later. A squeeze of lemon juice never hurt a chicken, either).

Consume, happily, with some Syrah, I think.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wild mushrooms from Brooklyn

These were the immature stinkhorns as seen in a massive, mulched bed under trees near the deserted, disco-rocking skating rink in Prospect Park yesterday afternoon. Steve Brill said they were edible but dismissed them as tasting like styrofoam, but I pocketed one anyway.

Cut in half: the beautiful weirdness. It even LOOKS like styrofoam! Middle layer like jelly. Some online sources said this would make the thing stink while cooking.

I peeled the outside layer, leaving a charcoal, mottled pattern behind. Immature spores???

Below, with the oyster mushrooms*. As a child I was taught never to combine in a single bag/basket, edible and unidentified mushrooms, as poisonous fungi could contaminate the edibles? Um...anyone? But while I had my doubts about the flavour of the stinkhorn, I knew it was edible.

I sliced it into discs and sauteed with olive oil, field garlic and lemon. Pretty much ensuring that it would taste of olive oil, field garlic, and lemon.

Not bad. Bit rubbery. Next time I will peel off the brown layer, too: it was responsible for the slight toughness. No stink at all.

Pretty oysters. Same treatment, with field garlic greens.

Maybe a dash of soy would have been an improvement. Very good otherwise.

* Visit these 2010 blogposts for more oyster mushrooms adventures and here for cooking with field garlic.

And my edible weed article for Shelterpop for more about odd things you can eat.

The Brillophone

Here it is, folks. Our post foraging lunch concert, courtesy of Wildman Steve Brill.

Foraging with Steve Brill

Ready to forage, we gathered at 11.45am on the southern side of Grand Army Plaza, outside Prospect Park, and stood about for quite a while waiting for indemnity slips to be signed (not, as my father the lawyer says, worth the paper they're signed on) and to have a look at Steve Wildman Brill's books, laid out on the stone benches.

There are three; Edible and Medicinal Plants, published in 1994 by Harper Collins, with lovely illustrations by Evelyn Dean. Shoots and Green of Early Spring looks worthwhile too, is self-published and features Steve's own decent drawings,  plus a vegan cookbook.

Then we waited a bit more while the books were packed and put into a faraway car.

It was a pretty day, clear-edged and blue and full of fallen leaves underfoot.

Soon Steve was a-digging and our group of 33 clustered close.

Here he is holding up a burdock root, before setting us loose in the leaf litter. I shoveled away happily in the undergrowth, digging up clumps of earthworms and feeling triumphant when I got to the root...Cook it and it turns into artichoke, we were told.
It was a very well-mixed group, sporting every stripe and colour, which kind of surprised me. Young and mature, and beige and brown. He and she.

Above: Foraging Position No. 1.

Below: Foraging Position No. 2.

Field garlic, Allium vineale. Well-versed foragers and gatherers of wild foods must yawn at it, but of the whole expedition, this was the most useful and worthwhile find for me. In fact, as I type, I am full of it. Field garlic, I mean: sweet little organic roast chicken with field garlic, breadcrumb, feta and lemon stuffing for dinner. [For an April 2010 harvest of field garlic and how I prepared it, click here...]

Vince pointed out a lot more clumps to me during the day, which we dug up. Will post kitchen pictures later.

The lady below presented Steve with a massive artist's polypore, about 16" across, that she had broken off a tree trunk, and on which she had doodled a caricature of him. Then she handed out business cards. She does parties.

I had some issues. Climbing en masse over fences in the park to get to oyster mushrooms, and later persimmons, and the poor old fungus...

The Frenchie holding a Kentucky coffee tree pod - Gymnocladus dioicus. I roasted the beans this evening and heard them explode all over the oven. Heat too high. Did not think to cover. Next time.

In late November, native jewelweed. Impatiens capensis. Weird. Should have been killed by frost by now, but it must be protected by the woods.

My grubby paws holding the seed capsules.

Seed and exploded capsule. The fat seeds were nice enough.Nutty?

The oyster mushrooms were very beautiful. Steve hopped the fence to get at them, and distributed the bounty. We ate a tiny saucerful tonight as an amuse bouche.
A large patch of Aegopodium podagraria - what I know as bishop weed, and also called gout weed. It is highly invasive, as I learned a long time ago, so gather ye while ye may.

The young leaves tasted herbal in the carroty, parsley-y way. I brought several back, but after cleaning all the field garlic, did not find them worth the effort as far as root-scraping went. The leaves I would search out in the spring time, I think.

Rambling on...

Beautiful leaves of black cherry - Prunus serotina.

And who knew that lamb's quarters turned red in fall? Not I.

I spotted some puffballs growing in the woodchippy mulch under some tree. I can't wait to find young ones. As a child, I was convinced that the clouds of spores could kill if inhaled.

My old friend the stinkhorn - seen for the first time earlier this year and ID'd for me at the time by Paula, I think.

These are the babies, called eggs, said Steve, who also said they were edible but horrid. I collected one at once.

Shaking tiny persimmons from the persimmon tree - Diospyros virginiana. Over-ripe and soft, they split when hitting the ground, but were very sweet.

The persimmon was fenced in. Twice. There were very small saplings planted around it, protected by black pipe.

Everyone just barreled on over. Vince started to look down his long French nose.

A little farther on was another persimmon, unfenced with prettier fruit on the branches. 

Shake tree, get fruit. Better tasting, too.

A very enjoyable four hours, with some concerns: I'd like to know, from the person leading, what is native versus invasive or just plain introduced, in terms of renewable sources of food and what one ought to conserve, or plant or not plant in one's own garden. Steve did tell me that he doesn't garden. Latin names also would be helpful in some cases, to fill in my gaps, but that's why we have Google, and most people are not interested.

We ran out of time to see the sassafras trees, which I was rather looking forward to. Fewer songs on the 'brillophone'  may have speeded up the trip and seen more plants covered.

But certainly I'd like to do it again in another season, to learn more. Steve is a very good teacher and patient. I'm happy to train in these wonderful, big parks, and look forward to taking some more knowledge into proper woods and fields.

And a special thank you to The Frenchie for lending moral support (and carrying the picnic!). He is not a natural born forager, and manfully nibbled at gout weed and garlic before he started to think rather hard about dogs.