Monday, May 31, 2010

Amelanchiers for dessert

The first amelanchier (juneberry, serviceberry, shadbush) I ever saw consciously was in Ayvalik, Turkey. It grew in Lale's garden, and was full of berries (above). I stood beside it and ate as many as I felt I could, politely. I didn't know, then, what it was.

Then Lale fed us a memorably beautiful lunch under her jasmine arbour. That was in 2005.

In 2007 Marijke visited New York and one day announced that there were these delicious red berries growing in the park in Dumbo, and that we should go and pick them. I rode my bike over the Brooklyn Bridge from work, we met, we picked, and so was born my love for this beautiful and useful shrub and tree, native to North America. White blossoms, red fruit, orange fall colour.

I picked my berries on Friday evening at about 6.30. No one bothered me, and no one stared obviously. New Yorkers are good at staring without seeming to. A German man walking two dogs stopped and tasted after asking me what I was doing, but was unimpressed by the flavour. He pointed out three shrubs and said he thought those were blueberries, but they were also amelanchier. Not quite ripe yet. In fact I hope the berries will continue to ripen for the next couple of weeks, because I'd like to go back. More recipes to play with, ideas to find... I made pâte sablée biscuits, heart-shaped for my tired husband, whose work schedule has him coming home just before daybreak some nights. I used some almond flour for the first time - this is the Roux Brothers' recipe - and, as they say, it is a less crumbly biscuit than the no-almond flour version I usually make, but consequently less fragile too. And good.

I wanted to make something very simple with the berries. So, the crisp biscuit (or cookie, depending on where you are), a dollop of whipped cream into which some berry syrup had been whisked, and a spoonful of lightly cooked amelanchier berries on top.

Their almond essence flavour comes through after heating, and I dribbled just a little of the syrup on afterwards.

The rest of the syrup I am keeping for prosecco. Constanza will be in the house next Saturday, and I think that will be a good celebratory drink.

Now I must just find the mulberries...

See my recipe for mulberry tarts at 66 Square Feet (the Food)...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Amelanchiers in the city

On Friday evening I heard part of an interview on WNYC with Ava Chin, who writes a foraging blog for the NYTimes and she said, Blablabla mulberries.

Doh! I'd forgotten that the time is Now.

It was 6pm but I packed a bag and rushed out, heading for the park between the bridges where Eric and Mimi told me I'd find a tree. I need pictures for a piece I'm working on. I didn't find the tree. But I did find my June berries. I grazed and picked, and no one bothered me.

I will bake something.

(I miss you, Marijks)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Abraham Darby, pure beauty

I announced earlier in the year that this rose, my favourite, was dead and would be replaced. It made so many flowers for me last year, and there it was, shriveled sticks. I ordered two David Austin roses.

Then the dead rose made two small, burgundy-coloured, tender, hopeless shoots, sprouting from the base. The shoots grew. My conscience grew heavy. I watched. The two shoots became small branches, each with a tiny bud at the end.

They opened.

To enjoy them, I cut them, leaving the two branches...

...which have now each made two additional shoots (the weeds are lamb's quarters - they are for a Project). Now what do I do?

I put the roses' stems in boiling water for a few minutes as my mother taught me to do when I was small, and then into cold water in a Woodstock tumbler. I find them breathtakingly beautiful.

Last night I paused the movie I was watching so that I could look at the roses, which kept distracting me. Oh, for a Dutch still life artist...Hmmm, that would be a nice present. I love those still lives: flowers, fruit, a lobster, a beetle.

This morning, the petals had fallen.

...and I remain utterly, utterly entranced. I am almost tortured by the impossibility of reproducing this perfection. My eyes drink them.


Above: Ella Bella at the 50th Moomba Masters, Australia.

A shout out to my beautiful niece, South African junior waterskier Gabriella Viljoen who skied this morning in the 51st Masters Waterski Tournament at Callaway Gardens, Florida, and who is now officially the 18th Juniors Masters Slalom runner up, despite an interesting bikini incident in a crash...

Native plants for shade

Above: Geranium maculatum

Well, only six, but it's a start, at AOL's Shelterpop blog. All photographs were taken in the BBG's Native Garden.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Grand Cafe, Cape Town

Vincent and my dad had to pick up their official race numbers and goody bags a couple of days before the Cape Argus Cycle Tour at the Good Hope Centre (a white elephant of the architectural un-scene) in midtown, Cape Town. So we decided to go en masse, meet fellow-cyclist-friends Benita and Herbert Raubenheimer, pick up the necessary and then go on for early evening drinks to the Grand Cafe in Granger Bay. My mom and I cooled our heels in the Good Hope, thinking optimistically of the promised drinks which lay ahead while studying some of the 35,000 registered cyclists, young and old, thin and fat. We felt sedentary.

My good friend Marijke has said that she refuses to visit the Grand. It occupies the renovated boathouse that had been the last free, public slipway for ordinary (i.e. not rich) local fishermen, gentrifying an institution which had enjoyed a mostly non white patronage. It is now an expensive joint, with pretensions at fusing a South Beach, French Riviera, Cape Town aesthetic.

It is very good to look at:

...once you've negotiated the raw bones, sand parking lot. Once you've wrestled the waiter to the deck, held him down and forced him to take your drinks order. This takes about 15 minutes. Once you've held up the bar at gunpoint, 20 minutes later, demanding said drinks, of which nobody has heard. Once you've explained to an entirely new waiter what the recipe is for a Mojito. Seriously. Once you have been told, upon arrival, by the maitre d', who is freaking out visibly and rushing out the little table in the centre of the sand (and attention - brilliant theatre) ready for two VIP guests, with red roses and Moet on ice - and survived the telling - that you HAVE to vacate your deck table table in 30 minutes because a party has booked it. You don't have your drinks yet but ja well, no fine.

You think about New York, your nice 'private' McNally empire phone number, the table on Saturday night at Minetta Tavern that (you feel certain) is yours to command and you sigh loudly and long-sufferingly, and think rude thoughts. And probably look as insufferable as you feel.

But this is Cape Town. Service is extremely spotty. They fawn all over you, then they disappear. It is a disease which every restaurant seems to suffer.

A woman next to us was casing the place for a possible future party. After she'd seen the shenanigans she got up and left saying, No way.

And then it all changed.

At the appointed hour, we moved off the deck, to the sand, where many tables are set up, with candles. Being treated abominably had made us want to stay.

And Jacob arrived. From Côte d'Ivoire, he had a smile like the sun, charm to match, and fixed everything.

This is the power of one human being, and why, at their best, I love waiters (and barpersons). The previous two, lily white, limp-wristed, incompetent cretins had disappeared and Jacob brought us in quick succession, fresh drinks, menus and food. We shared a pizza, which my parents had enjoyed on a previous visit, and then went berserk and ordered steaks and a Cape lobster pasta for the carbo-loading cyclists. The steak was cooked well, if slightly underdone, and the promised French fries were Cape chips: blond and slightly slap.

I have yet to meet a decent French fry in South Africa. They just can't do it. Maybe they are not double-fried. Not sure. New York is awash in the real thing.

As the evening drew on beautifully embroidered shawls materialized for the three ladies. A naked man also materialized. He stood on the sand stage centre and was escorted out by off-guard security.

People still sat on the sand in overstuffed lounge chairs and uncomfortable-looking chaises near the water. Ships and boats passed. The lights on the other side of Table Bay came on. The VIP girl relaxed and took off her baseball cap.

Would I go back? It's a good place for a drink if you can get it. Call ahead and see if Jacob is working that day. If he isn't, don't go. If you do, you will want to shoot yourself.

The Grand.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Crops in containers

Crop is a big word for some small plants, and yet I do snip them every day and we do eat them. Above, the sterile chives: I'm curious to see what happens now. Chives self seed freely if allowed to, and reproduce quickly underground too, so can be a problem. Not so much in a roof garden, but no doubt seedlings are coming up in nearby patches of earth. The calamintha and savoury are even worse. I pull out volunteers every day. So this year I will dead head both.

The strawberries are coming along nicely, and I hope no animal finds them. Some bloody bird tried the figs about 5 weeks too early. But it is the first crop, which often falls off, anyway. I have high hopes for the second. I don't know whether the raccoon is still in residence and I must investigate his house so that I can write that story.

Now I'm off to rake, weed and mulch. And dead head. It's going to be hot.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And age shall not weary them...

If it is best for the young and beautiful to remain young and beautiful, and not to experience the vicissitudes of old age, it is best for us that they persevere and grow old ahead of us, casting rose petals as they go, to show the way.

Last night at a dinner to honour volunteers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 89 year-old Elizabeth Scholtz, Director Emeritus (top, right) bestowed upon her friend, Esther "Faity" Tuttle, 99, an award for a lifetime of service to the BBG.

What both of these women seem to have in common, is a capacity for joy. They are interested. Willing to be pleased and consequently, pleasing. To both, the concept of retiring is anathema.

On the other hand, a psychotherapist at my table (she introduced herself as: Hello, I'm so-and-so and I'm a psychotherapist) asked me, Why would you volunteer at the BBG to do what you do every day, anyway? This with a cold gleam in her eye, before she tore her chicken dinner apart in her hands.

Because I enjoy it, I said.

It seems like a busman's holiday, she said, looking as though she had scored a point.

I smiled and thought, busperson?

But tell me so I understand, she persisted, speaking while gnawing, Don't you have enough of it, every day, for your work?

No, I said.

And continued eating my chicken. Neatly.

Fragrant Gardens

Fragrance in the Garden went up on Shelterpop the week before last - I forgot to link to's a list of my favourites for scent - and no list can be complete, or the only right one, but hopefully it will encourage people to make their own lists.

A Stew or a Story

"It seems incredible that normal human beings not only tolerate the average American restaurant food, but actually prefer it to eating at home. The only possible explanation for such deliberate mass poisoning, a kind of suicide of the spirit as well as the body is that meals in the immediacy of the dining room or kitchen are unbearable.

...There can be no warm, rich home life anywhere else if it does not exist at table."

MFK Fisher, Love in a Dish (House Beautiful, 1948)

Vince and I have not been married for very long, and we have lived together for less time than that. But sitting down and sharing our evening meal is a high point of the day, when it happens - we have divergent schedules. But we do not find each other's company unbearable. Today we realized that we have not eaten out together once this year since returning from Cape Town in March. And we haven't missed it. We eat at home. And the food is very good. I shop almost every day for the small details of each meal, and few take more than 30 minutes to prepare. I mention this because a new wave of helpful cooks is telling us that dinner is possible with 30 minutes' work. So what's new? Saying it is in itself a sort of inflicted pressure. Like being told to grow edible things even though we've been doing that for years. It's just that now that They have found out about it, We feel under pressure to do it more...loudly?

Of course for the cooking at home you need a basic pantry (mine is about 2 cubic feet), and of course you need a freezer and a fridge to cut down on your shopping time. But it is the daily lemon, or bunch of parsley, or single red onion, or perfect pineapple, that lends the magic to what you already have. I do not have meal plans. I have desire.

And what you need for that dinner, above all, is the willingness to please and to be pleased.

"The way in which mealtimes are passed is most important to what happiness we find in life."

Brillat Savarin

I bought a volume of MFK's hitherto uncollected works, A Stew or a Story (2007). I had no idea there was anything by this woman that I had not read. In fact I'd been on a diet for years. I haven't read any of her work, or her letters, for at least five years. I think I was afraid of beginning to absorb her by osmosis, and to lose track of where she ended and I began. Where does one's own shape begin? Where do our teacher's shapes end?

But now there's more to read, and I will lose myself in recognition, dog-earing pages like mad, and stopping at the butchers to buy a big steak...

"...slapped onto a grill as hot as hell-fire and as searing. No turning fork would ever prick it and when it would finally be carved into long thin slices at the table, its juices would gush from it the color of garnets."

..and turning the town upside down for some perfect watercress.

And that is how I cook a steak. And yet it was Hemingway who taught me about the watercress, long before I knew anything. About how shocked the French were that these cafes would dare to serve bifsteak with watercress. No sauce!

He could write about food. I haven't read Hemingway in ten years; almost: eight. His sentences became so short. So I read Faulkner as an antidote. Hemingway ate better.

Yet I never used an MFK recipe. Quite the opposite with Elizabeth David, whose writing sang in the recipes. MFK writes about food and humans, Elizabeth David teaches technique without ever letting on that she is doing so. Imagine them both at the same table. I am not aware that they ever mentioned the other. Singular, brilliant, beautiful women. They would hate each other. Why?

And I have lost my drift. I'm just happy to have found the book. And just a little afraid. I might find a lot of Mary Frances in the things that I had begun to think of as Marie.

For the rest of the week's blog I intend to get back to South Africa. We have mountain kingdoms and a frightening pass, flowers in the mist, racing dassies, dust roads and a flood, endless plains and their African light, and an utterly delicious tomato bredie cooked in the coals, as well as...the biker from Patensie.

See you there.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Flowers: on and above and behind the street

SoHo window boxes above Sullivan Street.

Two levels of garden behind Prince Street, SoHo.

Lafayette Street.

Bergen Street, Brooklyn - a campanula (?) I have not seen before. * See comments

The Congress Street roses.

Supper on the terrace

In the privacy of our four walls, things happen:

The man tells the cat stories, that the cat pretends to believe...

We fill our glasses to the top...

I met our terrace neighbour. She popped up like a meerkat while I was potting up the basil plants in the dusk and introduced herself. She is Danielle, and a criminal defence lawyer. With both of us standing on chairs to see over our respective walls, we talked about roses and gardenias, identified her camellia, and I threw over a baggy of Rose Tone for her plants. She plays baseball, so catches well.

Mexican heirloom tomato almost ready for a new home. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Heart's ease

I hardened my heart and pulled out my violas. I needed the pots for basil: cinnamon, Thai, lemon and purple. And the little pansies have just reached that lovely, loose, ruffled phase...

When I was little, we called them Heart's ease. Except I imagined it as Heartsies. They had tiny flowers, with more yellow, and they grew wild in the lawn of Rawdon's Hotel in the Natal Midlands, where we stayed when we visited my brother Francois once a year for his school's Speech Day. Poor Francois. Far from home. There was mist in the mornings in this green part of Natal, and I remember walking in the dewy grass to a pond and picking the tiny flowers.

There is a post about mangoes over on the (the Food). I've decided to keep food there, so check on it once in a while.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gowanus Garden

This pipe in the Gowanus Canal has superfund written all over it. Has the cleaning begun?[* see comments]

We walked over the bridge and looked at the garden in the sidewalk.

There is a red rose I have not seen here before. But I see it growing in the front gardens on Union Street...

And all the yellow loosestrife: Lysimachia punctata. Do not confuse with purple loosestrife (Lythrum - do not plant).

If you like this garden, here are some of my previous posts about it:

Gowanus Garden in Peril
Gowanus Garden, winter.
Sunflowers at the Drawbridge

The other side of the web

Someone landed on my site today by googling for something horrible. I have spent an hour online trying to find out how to report matters relating to child pornography to the appropriate authorities; knowing, all the while, that a search is not illegal. But anyone searching for this has a history. So I've made my report to the police in the UK. For what it's worth.

Meanwhile the schmuck is there, in Hampshire, searching, and, presumably, finding.

I look at Feedjit and Sitemeter to see where people are, what they are looking for - most of the time it's just interesting. Sometimes it's funny - a lot of foot fetishists out here (Feet in the title doesn't help). And then you get the garbage. Rarely, thank God.

I have no room for compassion when it comes to hurting, exploiting, taking advantage of, or neglecting children. I get very Dirty Harry about it. But it's just hard to get biblical on someone who is a shadow on Internet. It makes my blood boil.


Surf Rider, 1968

When Sarah Owens, the rosarian in charge of the Rose Garden at the BBG, asked what I hoped to learn while volunteering there (one day a week, flexible hours), I think I looked a bit blank. There I was, thinking I could contribute, and I was being asked what I would like to be taught...

, every additional hour I spend pulling out a weed or raking some mulch, glancing over my shoulder at yet another rose, or mulling over a question a visitor asked me that I could not quite answer (what exactly is a moss rose?) - I realize that I know less and less. Which is great! There is so much to learn.

One of the unexpected benefits for me is talking to visitors, because everyone stops to ask questions. Happily, there are many I am able to answer. And it also struck me that every person I saw that day wanted to be there. Almost every person I saw bent down to smell the roses.

I can't wait to weed some more.

It's nice being a pupil, in a way. I am used to being in charge, making big decisions, painting with broad botanical sweeps. Sarah is a wonderful teacher, and I am looking forward to Asking Questions.

Variegata di Bologna Rouge, 1984

Suzanne, 1950

Golden Wings, 1956

Autumn Damask, 1819

If you have questions about the volunteer program at the Garden, please contact Lou Cesario, Director of Visitor Services and Volunteers at 718-623-7260 or loucesario(at)bbg(dot)org.