Monday, October 31, 2011

Green-wood in October Snow

It's interesting to see snow lying amongst trees whose leaves have only just begun to turn.

Green-wood was breathtakingly beautiful yesterday. I managed to retrace our steps from two weeks ago, uncannily precisely, from tree to tree, and path to path. Off-path, many times, too. I recognized things as I came upon them: the pine tree with white sap bleeding from cut branches, the beech with nut husks deep around its base, the smartweed I'd photographed then, now buried, but for some bent flowerheads. I found the trees where we'd gathered hen of the woods, and the massive compost pile, which was steaming.

I saw few other people. Several were wandering on their own, as I was; one man with  a map asked me for directions to a tomb - I couldn't help. You're just exploring, he observed. Yes, I said.

I stopped in front of a group of small gravestones because their dates seemed strange. They had all died young. I have been surprised by the relatively long lives that many of our 19th century burgers lived. Then I looked again at these graves' dates -  all dead in 1864 or '65: the Civil War.

The snow damage to trees here seemed limited. Perhaps the wind blew the wet snow from the branches before the load became too great, as it did on our street. Many smaller branches had come down, and had already been moved off the roads, but there is nothing like the devastation reported from Central Park, where 1,000 trees are estimated to have been lost in this one wet-snow storm.

In a week the autumn colours will be perfect, I think. But this uncommon combination of white snow with green and gold and the blue above was wonderful.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sweet fern syrup

Happy Sunday night. Tomorrow it begins all over again.

Syrup infused with sweet fern (Comptonia peregrina) and topped with an ice cold, sparkling Californian blanc de blancs. Preferably sipped on a cold roof, after a long walk, with a good sunset and a flight of pigeons wheeling overhead.

Politically incorrect food

Two words: foie + gras.

Liver + fat.

I bought the two slices at Staubitz, on Court Street, cut to order. Quite impressive.

A slice for each of us for my birthday. It is alarming to cook because it melts before your eyes and as the goose fat in the pan rises you see dollar bills floating around in it. You whip it off before it has disappeared entirely. Sweetango apples (what a terrible name - they are a cross between fabled Honey Crisps and Zestar) have been caramelizing slowly with a reduction of apple cider vinegar, chestnut honey and butter.

The bread is silly. We do not need the toasted baguette. The knife slides through the foie gras. It is delicious.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


The snow came, a day early. It is wet and very heavy and the two minutes I spent on the terrace, tying up three crashed canes of the New Dawn made me heavy and wet, too, with mobile slushies insinuating themselves between collar and neck.

The supple branches of one of the fully-leafed oaks across the road are bent, after just an hour of snow, and I predict a crash for the Bergen Street callery pears (those of the weak crotch, snort), who lost one of their number entirely last winter. They are a beautiful spring street tree, but lose branches regularly; the fact that most of our trees are still full of leaves adds to the problem - more surface area for the soggy flakes to cling to.

If your car is parked under a pear today, move it.

There will be lots to clean up afterwards, for all of us, but for now...let it snow.

And I forgot to mention: Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Also, what's up with the thunder??? 

So. Earthquake, check. Hurricane? Check. Snow before November? Check.

Happy sigh.

Snow in October, and some other things

Locust trees on Clinton Street

Storm coming! A freeze. Snow in October. Well I hope they are right. I like weather.

Last night the soft duvet was on the bed for the first time since last winter, and the cat deigned to stay on it, making his first buns of the season. Tonight the kitchen smells deliciously of sweet fern syrup on the stove - Comptonia peregrina is not a fern at all, and is actually related to bayberry - both are in the family Myricaceae - but this leaf is far more fragrant: hold it to your nose and the impression is one of very fresh hay. I toasted beautyberries, Callicarpa americana, very jammy when heated, which are now floating in vodka. Dried spiceberries (Lindera benzoin) have been covered in cognac; more sweet fern floats like seaweed in a clear sea of gin (below), and some fresh bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is thinking about things in a quantity of Stolichnaya. This time I did not include the slim bayberry branches, which were probably responsible for the tannin I did not like in summer's test batch. The juneberries have at last been strained from their calvados, which is now very almondy indeed, after four months. I might make an alcoholic jelly from the liquor-saturated berries; it seems a waste to throw them out.

My walk around the neighbourhood this afternoon revealed autumn in the oaks, in the orange sumacs, the red juneberries and in the bright chill off the chalky, choppy East River. My ears got cold. It felt good to be out and moving. On the Promenade above a gardener was planting some fall anemones.


That would make me very, very happy. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Etoile Violette

Last of the clematis...

Cut back after her first flush in summer, the vine sent out a lot of new growth and this second flush has been about two months long.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday's child

So...we were going to have dinner tonight at The Grocery, and just cancelled that. I still sound a like a V8 and Vince thinks he feels a sore throat coming on. If it's anything like mine last Sunday, that's not funny.

It's wet. It's Thursday. And, ahem, it's my birthday. I was born on a Thursday, too. And it rained, then. It feels silly writing about it but, when I think about it some more, it feels even sillier not writing about it. Like ignoring the variegated elephant on the terrace. I'm not big into birthdays. Perhaps an inherited trait. My parents made and make little fuss about theirs, though I still remember what my mother made for some of my little-girl birthday parties (cherry cake! red, dog-shaped jelly (?)! fruit punch! snoek pate! breadsticks!).

It is a time when I wish I had a very big, very strong, very long table. And the right room to put it in. Or right tree to put it under. Or grape arbour. So that I could make food for all the people I love and like and miss and fit them all around it quite comfortably. And of course they'd have to be flown in from all the corners of our cornerless world. And from this very hood, too, of course.

But what we're going to do, is this: clear this table in this apartment, give it a cloth, or maybe just some linen place mats. Arrange Vince's flowers, light candles, rub the silver clean. And eat a sliver each of foie gras and toast, and then a good old roast chicken, perhaps with herbs and ricotta stuffed under the skin. Perhaps with wild rice stuffing inside. We'll drink Champagne with a capital C. I'll make a cake - but I'm not sure what sort yet. Perhaps plum.

And if I can find small candles for the cake, I'll blow them out, and make a wish.

Now? To make ze shoppeeng...

Pink impatienzzzz?

I use impatiens as fillers in some very small pots. As tired as they are, as day in day out and used in the most awful colour combinations, in full sun, in oceans of red mulch, I still have a soft spot for them.

And this is the plant I looked for in the summer, palest of pinks with a fuchsia eye. I could not find it anywhere. So I had to settle for the other, slightly gauche pink.

And then in July this one came up after all, in the gravel of the terrace, alone survivor from a summer flown by. So I hope she sets seed.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Smith Street

Smith Street Tuesday afternoon. I walked out to do some shopping; house-bound with flu for three days, I needed to stretch my legs.

It's the only time I have left my butcher not smiling. Tony, in his white coat, was on the customers' side of the long counter and he chatted to me for a long time. His back is bad, he is bent double. He's always kind to me. The boots I was wearing made him want to talk about horses, and I left much later with images of his pet horse who would let no one else on her back, of his bombed house, of the animals that 'the soldiers' shot and ate, of the girls and womenfolk molested, of their father and husband who lost his mind, and the town of Monte Cassino that he never wants to see again.

It was 1944, he was 14.

War is terrible, he said. There was not more I could do than listen, he didn't need to be cheered up, and who am I to say something bright like, you're safe, you're here, when I have not seen what he has? He did not want to be cheered up, he was thinking of other things, other people.

Later on Court Street, and then on Atlantic, I bought Honey Crisp apples, parsley, carrots, cashew nuts, and carried them home to the dark apartment, where the warm lamp light revealed walls that were still standing, a sleeping cat, a working stove, and a terrace of quiet, cold plants above which much later several flights of geese passed, still flying south.

Monday, October 24, 2011

13th Litter Mob postponed

Prospect Park 2 November 2010

Due to its instigator's indisposition, the next - and 13th - Litter Mob is on Tuesday the 24th of October the 1st of November at 9am.

In fact, it was about last November that I started my freak-out about the amount of litter in the Prospect Park woods. It seems long ago, and far away...

Blogging from Bed

A kind email from Jane reminded me that it is Monday and there is no new blog post. It is very unMarie, she said.

She's right. The earth stood still.

It's been quite a week and culminated in a very sore throat which had me whispering to Vince yesterday inbetween drinking gallons of hot ginger and thyme tea, typing furiously away at a project, and sipping chicken soup laced with powdered ancho peppers. Then I took some time off to watch an instant movie and Netflix promptly crashed. Oh, universe. So I was forced to watch the minutely tedious Andromeda Strain, one of the few titles Netflix was able to offer while rebooting their system. I tried Precious, but that was far too much reality and way too close to home. I chose the bug from outer space.

I am now going to bed, with more ginger and thyme tea: slice a quarter of a cup of fresh ginger, and pour a cup of boiling water over it. Add a handful of fresh thyme and steep for five minutes before drinking. I sweeten mine with some chestnut honey.

I'll take my laptop with me...I promised a malva pudding recipe.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Malva pudding

Sometimes, dessert is warranted. I thought I'd make a treat for the Frenchman: Friday night, weekend ahead, two days of no 5am wake up calls. And he loves, loves, malva pudding. Which is kind of funny. It's a very English sort of pudding: spongy, a little sticky, warm, eaten with custard. 

You can't look at a menu in 85% of South African restaurants without seeing and later meeting some version of it. 

Last year, in Cape Town, I went off on a cyber search for the origin of malva pudding, hoping to conclude that a local rose-scented pelargonium had lent its name to the moist dessert. Via that search we met David Pepler, whose mother Maggie baked it at the behest, so he says, of Michael Olivier, at Boschendal, the legendary wine estate between Stellenbosch and Franschoek, and where the buffets (Maggie's buffets) were famous. All very interesting.

But it took me a while to figure out the recipe that resembled, as closely as possible, the mass-produced but delicious malva pudding sold by the high end South African supermarket chain, Woolworths. Go figure. But here it is, or there it was, last night, at last. A little more butter, a little more vinegar, a quarter cup less sugar.

The malva pudding recipe is up at 66 Square Feet (the Food).

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mushroom Q and A

New York-based mycologist and renowned mushroomer Gary Lincoff is answering mushroom questions in the Times' CityRoom. The first answers are up today, along with photographs. They are fascinating. You'll see my image of an 'old man of the woods' (Strobilomyces that Freudian?) in Slide 9. I could not ID them when we were on Staten Island nearly two months ago, as I had only ever seen their old, shaggy form;  so I walked past about  a dozen edible specimens! Anyway, visit the piece, there are some wonderful images.

For more New York mushroom news, read Andy Newman's great story in the Times about the New York Mycological Society's annual hunt at Woodlawn Cemetary in the Bronx. You see! I am not the only weirdo in town.


I had not realized until I really looked at this satellite image that Green-wood, above left, is about as big as Prospect Park, right. Click on the link above to see them in relation to each other. Once you are within its unexpected hills, and endless views of more hills, and and more trees, you feel as though you have landed somewhere very green and quite foreign. 

Last weekend we spotted  pink carpets of persicaria.

Just a few trees had started to turn.

There were the mushrooms, of course.

And then there were the parrots.

Parrot gargoyles? 

Forgive the poor-quality up-feather pictures but I could not resist. Parrots in Brooklyn. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


An interesting early week, in the (attributed) Chinese sense.

So, as a prophylactic against more interestingness, supper is going to be one that I threaten to have more often than we do: a bottle of Backsberg shiraz, from the home country, bought at the Brooklyn Wine Exchange, which has one very tiny shelf, about six bottles wide, dedicated to South Africa. But it's better than nothing. Two cheeses, a triple cream brie, and a cave-aged Gruyere. Sweet butter. Still-warm baguette from Sahadi's. Mr Sahadi himself packed my bag and I wondered to myself what he eats at home and whether he might let me in to see and write about it. So that is supper: wine, bread, cheese. Honey crisp apples for after.

At home I debriefed the cat - he always needs debriefing, read more about raccoons online and poured myself a drink. Vermouth and cassis, with a slice of lemon and two ice cubes, if you're dying with curiosity. I watered the roof farm and collected leaves for a mustardy salad with our white bread and cheese supper, and forgot to water the terrace. A red sunset was obscured up there by a bank of cloud coming in over Jersey and a bird of prey flapped past overhead. From the apartment the warm light of the darkening fall season lit up the interior and I could see the black cat staring up at my footsteps. Planes made their final approach to La Guardia, a child cried on the sidewalk, something heavy thumped on a faraway street. I muttered at the new squirrel holes in my troughs. I have not protected them, yet.

Perhaps I should bake the Honey Crisp apples, and stuff them with cinnamon and raisins. We'll eat one raw and then one each, baked. And then I'll watch the end of Breaking Bad, my current Netflix obsession. And on that note, some music from the same:

And then it will be Wednesday.

Blue mushrooms

Vince spotted them in the grass, and somehow I just knew (or wanted them to be, which can be mistaken for the same thing, and is frankly a state of mind to be avoided when mushrooming): blewits - Clitocybe nuda, also still called Lepista nuda.

The beautiful blue mushroom we'd photographed in Staten Island's High Rock Park in September had also whispered enticingly to me. I had never yet seen a blewit and had heard how good they are to eat; but it soon became apparent that it was a Cortinarius, and not good to eat at all. Poisonous. So do not pounce on and consume the first blue-tinted mushroom you see. 

I took a spore print. Always take a spore print. The spores were somewhere between pink and buff, and not the dark brown of the Cortinarius.

After consulting two books, four websites and three mushroom experts, and checking on the spore print, I cooked them.

The usual. Butter, a little salt, some pepper, nice brown toast. They were very moist, but did not have the pronounced flavour that I was expecting. The meadow mushrooms of August were more memorable, but I am splitting hairs.

Local mycologist Gary Lincoff will be answering mushroom questions in the New York Times, soon, and you may still post any questions you may have.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hen of the woods

You never know. 

Green-wood is huge, and is graced by the most beautiful trees I have seen in the city. 

I have been keeping an eye out for hen of the woods, maitake, Grifola frondosa, for weeks in Prospect Park, but not a thing. The woods were bereft. And I have more than mixed feelings, now, about foraging at the base of large trees in that park. So when I saw these distinctive, dead leaf-like mounds on Saturday, far from that stomping ground, I yelped. Thrice cried she, as they appeared beneath three different trees, including beech. They are usually parasitic on oaks.

There's Vince's hand for scale. While there were no condoms, no human scat, and no dogs allowed (all unlike Prospect Park and good, good and good!) there was a lot of raccoon poo around one tree, which made the Frenchie particularly thoughtful. Well, I assume it's raccoon. Skunk?

*Update. Raccoon faeces can carry a parasite, very dangerous to humans. High heat kills its microscopic eggs if they are present, but always check the base of the tree to see if it used as a raccoon latrine. Clearly, the idea is avoid exposure.

Back at home. And no, we did not take all we found. I'll write another post about the blue mushrooms - blewits. Aren't they pretty? The three smaller hen clumps in the front are the first I collected, not realizing that I'd find younger, larger ones later.

As with many other mushrooms (even store-bought button mushrooms), studies find that maitake have anti-carcinogenic properties.

Here: a cross section of the largest clump, showing the woody heart. This is what I could not bear to waste, so I cut it up and started drying the slices in batches in a very low oven [sigh]. The test batch smelled nutty and  inviting, and the dried slices had the texture of silky chips. I'll use them for making mushroom stock, and perhaps in risotto, too. The stock will be used for cooking rice for risotto, pasta (then reduced and added to the sauce), adding to stews as the cooking liquor, or reduced and used as a sauce-base.

I washed the cut up pieces in warm water with a lot of salt and some vinegar. I found no critters, but they had to be washed well, as there were bits of grit and grass inbetween the curls of the fungus. 

I saved the "ears" for cooking and kept all the white bits for drying.

One trayful yielded a small, rustling cup of dried hen of the woods. Weighing them before and after, I found that they list 90% of their volume, exactly.

For our first mushroom supper I made a pizza. Why? Something about a Saturday. While the dough rose I sauteed the hens with butter, thyme and a little lemon.

Instead of using tomato sauce I made a white cheese sauce - adding finely grated parmigiano to a bechamel. To push it over the top I dotted that with pieces of buffalo mozzarella, and then added the sauteed mushrooms.

For our second mushroom dinner it was chicken, onion, whole garlic cloves, the mushrooms, bayberry leaves, a squeeze of lemon, a good slosh of dry vermouth, and the last of our chicken/rabbit/duck stock.

As I write this, there are four large bowls of cleaned hen of the woods waiting in the fridge. I have frozen two bagsful, and am not sure what to do with the rest. I'm not big fan of frozen food. But surely I'll be happy to have them in a dry month? And I will deliver within reason. Holler now if you're in the hood.

There are also three racks of mushroom slices drying in the oven, making the apartment smell wonderful, and probably quite unlike anyone's idea of a typical New York scent.

If June smells like linden blossoms, and August like Chinatown, then October smells like maitake.