Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Day Menu

Coffee and a rusk: helps with planning menus

Aperitif - Bellinis:
Fresh white peach puree and chilled prosecco


Cold, roasted yellow pepper soup with buttermilk


Plates of things:

Roasted whole and sliced fresh tomatoes with garden herbs and buffalo mozzarella

Artichokes (barigoule or cold with mayonnaise)

Fresh baby broad beans (fava beans) with ham

Rillettes of pork belly (I know, I know)



Hand-sliced smoked salmon with lemon wedges and black pepper

Rough brown seedbread and butter

Baby potato salad: with spring onions, sorrel and lemon/olive oil vinaigrette
                          or     with mayonnaise and hot mustard dressing
(which should it be?)

Green garden salad with purple spring onions


Chocolate and almond flour tortes with raw raspberry sauce

Passion fruit mousse



Fresh figs

Patriot Street pecans

Vin du Constance

Now I must start my engines and get cooking!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The succulent thief

My mom and I had lunch at Kirtsenbosch, as I wanted to see the nursery. As usual, I started to long for my own fynbos garden, with ericas and proteas, and pelargoniums and scented gnidias and flowers visited by sunbirds (but where would I put the roses?).

I was aware of a busy little grey-haired, sandle-wearing man, bustling about. I thought he worked there. Then, when I was over at the far end of the nursery, alone, I noticed him in the shade house, tossing some things over the fence into the botanical garden, which is separate from the nursery. I smiled vaguely at him. He darted off.

Huh, I thought.

So I went to have a look. There, lying in the tufts of grass on the other side of the fence were little pots of succulents, from one of the shelves in the nursery. I headed for the nearest salesperson, passing the little grey man on the way, who was studying the succulents on display again, and explained that they were being burgled. She dithered about a bit and then summoned two beefy security ladies to retrieve not the man, whom I described, but the plants!

Meanwhile the thief had got wind of my interest in him and had taken off his white windbreaker with NIKE emblazoned on the back, had folded it under his arm and was heading out, fast.

Um? I asked the saleslady...

He got away. I suppose I could have made a citizen's arrest: Stop, in the name of Flora!

I was bigger than him. And for some reason he did not strike me as South African; I peg him as European - something about the sandals. But I could be quite wrong.

So you see. The New York lily thief has company. They even cut their hair the same way.

And I agree. My sleuthing photos are terrible.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Summer lunch

One of my mother's thrown-together lunches. I believe she is incapable of making an unattractive meal. I miss these little sausages, Stateside: chipolatas - little pork bangers. Good with biting-hot mustard.

This wine was incredible. I think it has been a year since I tasted Champagne (as opposed to our habitual proseccos and occasional cava, Clairette de Die or Gruner Veltliner - the difference being not just origin, but price, of course!), and at least 16 years since I tasted one this good (a Bollinger in a grassy parking lot in Stellenbosch, a picnic before a Pavarotti concert! - that's when we were told that he flies around with his own wheels of parmesan cheese...You think?). Anyway, this was a Pol Roger - non vintage, but still a reserve, and my father cannot remember when exactly he bought it, which is the problem with a NV. He thinks about six years ago. And that is what makes delicious champagne, I think: the edges go soft and smooth, wrapping themselves around a velvety, effervescent heart, and it slides down like cool happiness.


Local radishes are super-peppery.

And the herbs are from the garden. Chives (two kinds), basil and parsley.

In other food news, I am planning a menu for Saturday 's lunch under tree, where I feed bloggers, cousins and friends and a tired husband (whom I can't WAIT to see) and it is beginning to take shape, now that I've see what looks good in the shops. There are delicious, ripe apricots, white peaches and nectarines. Came home with lots of yellow peppers and gorgeous purple and green artichokes. Still looking for very small chickens and quail eggs (!). Bought a sackful of passion fruit, bars of black chocolate, powdered almonds, and too much cream. 

Tomorrow my dad and I are going riding near Paarl, on a wine farm belonging to a friend and colleague of his. I must rise at 5am. We ride at 7 to avoid the predicted heat. Oh dear. But I've reached the point at last where I realize that memories of actual experiences are far more valuable than memories of sleep. I am not a natural morning person.

But I do have Illy. Perhaps my horse would like some, too.

Oh, and there is roast lamb, next door at 66 Square Feet (the Food).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New York blizzard in 66 Square Feet

 December 28th, 2010.

July 3rd, 2010.

December 28th, 2010.

May 18th, 2010.

Not boring.

Winter pictures: the Frenchie.

A cat also has a point of view, of course...

And for those following the travel saga of Dinahmow, aka Dinah, who is Estorbo's super-duper cat sitter traveling from Australia to spend 6 weeks in New York with le chat noir, she arrived safely at JFK from Seoul last night - one of few planes to land (late) on the heels of the snow, and was fetched by Melanie (owner of Halloween, which will mean something to some people). They are safely ensconced in Riverdale in the Bronx and will lunch with le chat and the Frenchie tomorrow. I heard talk of prosecco.

All things being equal, which they sometimes are, Vincent will take off tomorrow, overnight in Dubai, and land in Cape Town on the 31st, in time for more prosecco and fresh white nectarine juice under the tree, on the 1st. 

Life continues.

New York blizzard

Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Photo: Vincent Mounier

Pictures here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What terrace?

66 Square Feet

Looks like 30" to me...I am sick-envious of the snow-scenes. I want to see the hood transformed! I love snow, as long as no one is stuck in it. If that Frenchman is not wearing out his battery taking snow pictures he will be in BIG trouble. I am sure the cat is at the stove making him Dominican hot chocolate, while he stomps through the drifts. And Dinah, who takes over the cat-sitting shift when Vincent leaves for Cape Town,  is in the air, en route to JFK. Hers seems to be one of the few flights not canceled. Touch wood.

Personally, I think it is a stupendous welcome to New York.

No. 9

Soon I shall have to venture further than my mother's garden, but for now, here are some more flowers from Constantia. Above, the native Dietes grandiflora. The flowers do not last long, about two days, but so many are in bloom at the same time that they are very effective, planted en masse.

The Peruvian Lily, Hymenocallis 'Festalis', growing in a pot on the patio.

From North America, Lilium superbum.

Scabiosa incisa, native, and very common locally and a wonderful cut flower.

Penstemon, but we don't know which one. It was an anonymous give-away.

A plectranthus in bloom now, which seems rather early, growing in the shade. I must look it up. It is a wonderful, thick ground cover.

 The by-now much-photographed pin tailed whydah.

And a red-eyed dove, one of several which comes to eat seed put out for them on the patio.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Here at the southern tip of Africa I sit in a cool room against the heat outside on a hot blue day, and read an email from Vincent who is taking the Adirondack train from Montreal to New York a day early (deeply disappointing a young nephew to whom a zoo visit had been promised), to try and get home ahead of the blizzard that threatens the region. We were alerted to the predicted heavy snowfall - 11"-16" -  by Melanie, our friend in the Bronx who is fetching Dinah, Estorbo's second cat sitter, from the airport on the 27th, ahead of Vince's departure for Cape Town on the 28th.

So it is bad time for traveling in the region and we can only hope that it goes smoothly. A train traveling on clear tracks,  a car on salted and ploughed highways, a plane landing on a cleared runway, another taking off.

Coming cool on the heels of the groundings at Heathrow that prevented friends and bloggers Arcadia and jvdh (and many others)  from being together as planned at Christmas, I realize that what will be, will be, as far as weather is concerned.  I do not believe in Fate, but I do believe in weather.

Update 12-27-10 - From an email from Vincent: 'I made it home! The train wasn't even significantly delayed. Down to 2 hours from New York, it wasn't even snowing. However, below that, all hell broke loose! Full-blown blizzard, the snow flying horizontally, freakin' cold wind and of course, the streets haven't been cleared in most places. As I arrived at Penn, they were cancelling trains right and left. The subway was experiencing heavy delays in all directions. I arrived at Penn at 8:40 PM or so, and was home at about 10:25. It took me close to 30 minutes to walk back from Bergen! Paraglider on my back, couldn't see where I was walking, and so much snow on the ground that I was dragging the small suitcase over it, rather poorly, in the middle of the street...'

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas at Kirstenbosch

I have been watching the mountain for the last couple of days, waiting for some blue sky so that I could go back to Kirstenbosch, which lies at its foot, and take some more pictures. Yesterday was drizzly, and the mountain was in cloud. But today is gorgeous, and off I went. It's only about 5 minutes' drive from home.

I expected it to be deserted. But after an hour, during which I roamed up and down the slopes, from Pelargonium Garden to Peninsula Garden, from Colonel Bird's stream-fed bath shaded by tree ferns in a cool glade, to the hot fynbos slopes, dozens of families and groups of friends had arrived armed with picnics from home. 

Soon every patch of shade was occupied.

And by the time I left, just after noon, there was a traffic jam at the entrance. What a brilliant way to celebrate Christmas. And a lesson to botanical gardens world wide: Let them eat picnics!

There is no litter at Kirstenbosch Not a piece of paper. I did see one cigarette butt. There are no trash cans, either. One has to carry it all out again. BBG, NYBG, please take note:

Picnics are possible.

Now I'm off to drink some bubbly under the tree in the garden. Wish you were here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Verbascum nigrum

Starting to set seed now, this is a lovely, slender biennial in amongst the round-headed agapanthus. Sets a lot of seed, selfseeds vigourously.

The one below is probably V. nigrum "Album".

The breakfast bird

He eats breakfast on the patio while I eat breakfast on the patio.

He is a pin tailed whydah, but is really a very puffed up small bird with a Napoleon complex. He spends much of the day chirping hysterically while flapping back and forth between the jacaranda tree and the feeding station, and showing off to his long suffering female companion. But he is very pretty, and quite tame. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas flowers

Time was, there was one agapanthus: medium blue, flowered around Christmas.

It is still the Christmas flower in these parts, but there are many, many new kids on the block. I will visit some of them at the Kirstenbosch nursery tomorrow. And here are some others.

Some of them are taller than I am.

The view below is from my bedroom window.

Below, Dietes grandiflora.

Back to Kirstenbosch tomorrow for more pictures. The photos in this post are all from my mother's garden. This morning I snapped awake at 3am, read till 6 and then wandered the dew-wet garden, taking pictures. Then I made myself a plate of sausages and eggs, with toasted heavy brown bread and apricot jam and stinging coffee on the side. What else could I do? Followed by a couple of rapt hours listening to Ernst van Jaarsveld, who makes plants come alive in stories as he speaks.

Hopefully I retained some of it. More of that later.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Posting from summer

Pictures from my first late afternoon in my mom's garden  in Constantia, where the sun was dipping behind the mountain and where I was a bit cross-eyed after a long flight,  no sleep, and two missed connections in Johannesburg (who would think that snow at Heathrow would affect flights from New York?...but it did).

Last night, dinner outside on the patio, at the iron table covered in candles that never fluttered: yogurt-marinaded  leg of lamb, grilled, with my flopped elderberry jelly made last year (thanks to Rachel's recipe - her jelly was perfect, mine was overcooked), new potatoes with butter, salad of trout lettuce (Hudson Valley Seeds that my mom planted), fresh chervil and local olive oil. Dessert was raspberries and creme fraiche sprinkled with brown sugar. Wine? - a treat. Remember the Daggaboer Padstal? Well, Charl Pansegrouw very generously sent us a case of his daughter's wine, and last night we drank the Syrah, 2009. A bit early, but a deep plum colour, fine structure, and all the spice that Syrah promises. I can't wait to try the Sauvignon blanc/Semillon. Baie dankie, Charl!

I woke promptly at 3.40 am this morning and waited for the birds, who started at 4.49. The first was a stranger to me: a quick melody, immediately repeated in a minor key, and returned by another bird farther away. This continued until 4.59, when some robins started to twitter. A hadeda flew over, wahahaha, and the peacocks down the greenbelt cried, Miaoooooow! But at 5.08 it was the bedlam of the dawn chorus, everyone joining in.  I read my Steinbeck, and at 6-something fell asleep again. I woke at lunchtime, had coffee and a mince pie while my mom sipped her Red Hook rose and ate rice cakes and thin ham.

 Rosa 'Peach Sunsation '

This vegetable marrow will become part of individual ratatouilles at Christmas. We will start with potted prawns with Melba toast, followed by chilled celery soup, the ratatouilles, then Nigel Slater's leg of lamb whose juice drips onto potatoes beneath, with fresh herb sauce, and finally a pavlova that my brother Francois will bring.

Better pictures to come as I snap out of my jet-fug.

Tomorrow I will visit Kirstenbosch, our national botanic garden, and talk to Ernst van Jaarsveld, the curator of the spectacular Conservatory there (and after whom Plectranthus ernstii is named), and the author of, most recently, the beautiful The Southern African Plectranthus (Fernwood Press, 2006). I've mentioned it before, but the well known 'Mona Lavender' (whose cuttings sit on top of my Brooklyn fridge in a jam jar, as we speak, rooting)  was developed at Kirstenbosch.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Black cat graffiti

Prince Street Black Cats

And on that note, adieu from New York, from Brooklyn, from the terrace, from the tiny kitchen, for the time being. I shall land in Cape Town after flying in a high straight line from the East Coast, across the Atlantic, past Dakar in Senegal on the bulge of Africa, over the Guinea and Angola Basins, back over the land somewhere in Angola, sideways down the southern continent, and into Johannesburg. A change of planes, my first taste of Appletizer as we fly down to Cape Town, and then suddenly, it will be summer. 

There is a lot to do when I arrive: corgis to greet, photographs to take of a garden for a magazine, Stateside; Christmas dinner to cook, a husband to fetch at the airport, bloggers to meet for the first time (the writers of Voer - jvdh is stuck at Heathrow as we speak, barred from flying to SA by snow - and The Sourcerer) at a New Year's lunch under the tree, and More. The More is very nice but until I know how it turns out, I shall restrain myself. But it is exciting...

The next post will be out of Cape Town, sometime. Thank you for visiting. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Other people's breakfasts

Picture: Bevan Christie

In my email today:

'Some of us have biscuits (a misnomer: biscuit means twice cooked) for breakfast; others of us have Turkish coffee and Giorgio della Cia's Spirit de Muscat.'

Mr Christie

I like having friends who know significantly more than I do on many and in Bevan's case, any, given topic. Perhaps the best friends we have share not only some of our interests but flesh out our own personalities, adding to ourselves the qualities we lack? I know someone who cultivates friends who know significantly less than he does, and I think he finds pleasure in his obvious supremacy. To me that must be sheer boredom.

What do these knowledgeable friends of mine see in me, you ask? Well, I feed them. It is barter, pure and simple.

Back to biscuits. In all of the English-speaking world, bar the US of A, biscuits are crispy, thin, hard, yet febrile things - crackers, in this country. Indeed, a quick delving into etymology does reveal twice-cooked, from the 14th century French word bescuit, derived from the Latin words bis (twice) and coquere (to cook), and, hence, means "twice-cooked."

Apparently it took the War of Independence, on our soil (actually, I am sitting right on top of that soil, here in Cobble Hill!) to adopt, formally, the American word cookie, that refers to what is in the Commonwealth, a sweet biscuit! Go to Wikipedia for the whole drama (and give them $10 at the same time...).

Gifts from nature

I interpreted my theme rather loosely over at Shelterpop, but there you'll find a list of pretty, delicious, interesting things that caught my eye this year, or which are established favourites, and that I think are a worthy gift or present to yourself.

I was happy to be able to include three bloggers as inspiration: From Massachusetts, Thomas, of A Gardening Tradition, whose flourishing Meyer lemons call to me in high lemony voices in the night; Greenpoint, Brooklyn-based Bonbon of Your Destiny is Stone Golden, whose smoothly tactile animal-ornamented money clips (she has very nice leafy earrings, too) intrigue me, and Susan, in beautiful Nova Scotia,  of 29 Black Street, who takes gorgeous photos and makes beautiful stationary.

All yours via the Internet.

And of course there is some alcohol! Black currants...yum.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hot buttered biscuits

I made these yesterday morning for breakfast before meeting family friends for lunch at Pulino's. The biscuits were a wonderful start to the day, Pulino's was disappointing (spotty service and lettuce aswim in a vinaigrette whose chief ingredient was water - both anomalous in the McNally empire, of which I am otherwise a great fan), and we had very good time talking to someone I practically grew up with but hardly knew.

Anyway, the biscuit: Flour, baking powder, butter, rubbed in until it looks like fine sand (I remember my mother teaching me this when I made scones. I think seeing it done is important). Some milk. Baked till golden. I have no recipe for it yet because I have been measuring them by sight, figuring out how they work.

The dough, once it has been pulled together, is suggestively soft and alive and delicate, as though too much touching will ruin it - and it will. I cut out the shapes with my remaining thin green glass, from the wonderful French kitchen shop on Mott Street, below Prince, closed sooner after 9/11.

I prefer calling them biscuits, now. The American word  has so much rich, buttery, emotional history. Women are forever whipping up batches of hot biscuits in novels and stories and films of the South. Because the biscuit is an English (and consequently South African) scone. There is no difference, except in how - and why - they are eaten:

Biscuits are breakfast and lunch and dinner. Scones are tea. Biscuits are black eyed peas and ham and grits and coffee-laced gravy...Biscuits are a foundation. Scones are ornament. Biscuits are coffee. Scones are tea. Biscuits are sliced ham and early morning on the prairie. Scones are jam and thick cream and an English church at 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Sometimes, scones are Clifton beach at tea time in winter, with teapots and China cups.

But that was a long time ago.

Now that I'm thinking about biscuits, I wonder about quotations. I am sure Cormac McCarthy must have a few. And Faulkner. I shall start searching. If anyone stumbles over a nice one, please send  it this way.

Y'all come back real soon, now, y'hear?

Kenny Scharf

Mural on Houston and the Bowery