Saturday, December 31, 2011

Menu for a Summer Lunch

Our menu for our Tweede Nuwe Jaar lunch under the tree is taking shape. January 2nd, "Second New Year", is the traditional day when the Cape Minstrels take to the streets to parade in Mardi Gras-like colours and garb, playing and singing in the New Year. Perhaps I can get out the gramophone for our own musical tribute. All it needs is cranking. Except that rain threatens. If it's wet we'll make a plan, but it will be Interesting.

So lunch is looking like this, based on what my early morning shopping turned up:

Tweede Nuwe Jaar Menu

Chilled Bing Cherry and Buttermilk Soup with Sparkling Rosé


Red Pepper Mousse

Burrata with Cherry Tomatoes and Purple Basil


Baby Chickens Roasted with Garden Herb Stuffing

Fennel, Fig, Goat Cheese and Preserved Lemon Salad with Fresh Lemon Dressing

Nectarine and Basil Salad with Shallot Dressing

Marinated Vegetables


Warm Blackberry Crumble with Thick Cream

Grenadilla Crunchy-Sugar Pavlova

(Or should I make a delicate black chocolate tart instead? Or an almond and chocolate tart? Help!)

Friday, December 30, 2011


There were gooseberries in the garden I grew up in, in Bloemfontein. A big bush, hung with little lanterns. There are always gooseberries in plastic clamshells at Woolworths, in Cape Town.

My mother has always loved them. I have not. Tart. Puckery.

Then I discovered two leggy gooseberry bushes growing in pots next to the swimming pool here at No. 9, and I could not resist picking a handful of white papery husks, indicators of the ripe fruit. I ate one. It was big and plump and deep orange. And sweet. Not even a hint of acidity. Big surprise.

So now I want my own gooseberry bush. To join the miscellany of edible plants amongst the satellite dishes on the Brooklyn rooftop. Because I have seen the light.

Mimi update

Last week Chris emailed me to let me know that when he went back to visit Mimi the young lady cat and Jamie (aka Dragon) at their home under the expressway in the Bronx, no one, and nothing,  had been there. No Mimi, no Jamie, no gang of friend (below), no bedding, no camp. All gone. Bad news.

Turns out that they had been cleared out by the Department of Sanitation. Then, a few days later, they were all back, including Mimi, and fairly mum about the details of what had happened. Apparently that is part of life on the street. Such a home as you may create, might suddenly disappear.

So Mimi is back on schedule to be spayed, probably next Wednesday, if all goes well and everyone stays put.

Chris is collecting blankets to take with him, as all the blankets disappeared, too, and did not reappear after the removal. If you can get blankets to Brooklyn, please leave a note in the comments...

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Testing my new, Christmas present 50mm lens from Vince. Be very careful about what you say around the Frenchman. If you admire the shirt he is wearing he is liable to take it off and give it to you (it would smell perfectly nice, too). So when I oohed at the photos he had taken with this little lens, the lens suddenly was mine. And I like it. 

This was a small lunch for three under the tree. On Monday it will be a lunch for fourteen, and I'm still figuring out what to feed everyone. We are flooded with good fruit: white nectarines, bing cherries, perfect blackberries, perfumed grenadillas (passion fruit). The house is piled high with Cape lemons and the garden is full of herbs. But I am searching for real tomatoes.

My father, coaxed to pose with a bottle of local bubbly - Pierre Jourdin brut rose. The man is in his 80th year. Actually, he's never been camera shy. That would be my mother and me.

The hand holding the neck of the bottle barely shows the only injury he sustained in a bad car wreck a few weeks ago. The car he and a colleague were traveling in, colleague driving, was totaled. My father walked away with an injured finger, nothing more. My aunt and uncle were in a serious smash more recently, rear ended. And of course they lost their grand daughter Jessica, my cousin,  two years ago this Sunday, New Year,  to a car accident. We all fear flying but it's our driving that claims the most lives.

So, drink bubbly, take pictures, drive safely. Not in that order.


Long promised, only now delivered, there is a pizza recipe over at 66 Square Feet (the Food).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Summer's drink

Summer in Cape Town, that is. Still one of the best drinks there is. In this case muddled sugar and garden mint, white rum, fresh lime juice, ice, soda water. And I'm about to have me one:

Today I set foot in a gym for the first time in, oh (mumblemumbleinaudible) years. To give you an idea, the last time I was a member there, at the erstwhile Constantia Health and Racquet Club, now one of a zillion Virgin Active clubs scattered across this country, I think there were only a couple of faces that were not white.  That was an Indian family. Today, my instructor, whose services were complementary with the basic membership, was black. And he laughed as I sweated. After weighing me, measuring my body fat and taking my blood pressure, he put me through my paces. I thought I would hate being at the gym, but considered it a necessary evil - or the lesser of two weevils - I always put on weight in South Africa. Back, way back, in the day, I was a regular and in superb shape. Now...gasp, I have a long way to go. But I liked it. Hard to believe. It's a very sophisticated fitness place, filled with natural light and sweating, suffering people, all on two levels around a pool in the middle, where sleek bodies swim laps. I huffed and puffed on my circuit - a series of numbered machines around an aerobics station, and something American gyms seem never to have heard of - and wondered if a gym is a good enough reason to cross an ocean.

Must be those happy exercise hormones talking.

Now, about that drink...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What to do with apricots

I bought beautiful apricots - plump, sweet, pink-blushed. On a whim I mixed a batter of butter, sugar, eggs and self raising flour, folded in the sliced fruit and baked it in a spring form pan to make a rustic cake to eat after our trout supper. I sprinkled castor sugar on it while it was still warm.


A walk in the garden

Day 1 in my mother's garden, soon after coffee, and I point the camera at flowers.  Agapanthus in great abundance, as well as variety. This flower is ubiquitous in the Western Cape, a municipal cliche, a mass of blue bloom in the summer months, and now available in cultivars that make acquiring more impossible to resist. There is a problem, though, and I think it may be a big one. More about that later, when I have amassed pictures and information. A moth, a caterpillar, and a long dark tunnel to destruction.

Below, Dietes grandiflora, each bloom luminous for a day, and also used often in 'landscaping'. Drought tolerant and low maintenance, like the agapanthus.

More natives - Cotyledon orbiculata is a sunbird favourite.

I have never seen sunflowers in this garden. Something new.

I noticed this huge scabiosa in the fridge at Seaport Flowers on Henry Street a few weeks ago, and here it is, 8,000 miles away - Scabiosa "Fama Blue". The seed came from Chilterns, UK.

Always pretty, shasta daisies - "Montawk" in the Northeast.

Yesterday the spider lilies in pots in the shade began to open -  Hymenocallis festalis, known as Peruvian daffodils.

Not to eat but to bloom - artichokes.

A plant from my childhood summers beside the Indian Ocean - Fuchsia magellanica. This shrub on the patio grows in a pot and is about 6 feet tall.

Rosa mutabilis is 7 feet high and at least as many wide.

The tree tomato, Cyphomandra betacea,  has lots of new green fruit, and I have already eaten a plateful of the remaining ripe ones - cut in half, scooped out with a teaspoon.

This is Charlie, the pin tailed whydah (Vidua macroura).  He is a small, officious bird with a fancy tail and he patrols the feeding area, dive bombing all comers, who ignore him. Charlie has Issues. And OCD. Perhaps the loss of his long feathers out of breeding season gives him a perpetual sense of midlife crisis. If he were a man, he'd drive a red Mustang.

A Cape turtle dove (Streptopelia capicola) sunning itself.

An olive thrush, Turdus olivaceus, and a white eye - Zosterops lateralis, breakfasting on banana.

Below,  Mrs Charlie, with her therapist.

Right now the mountain is covered in a huge blanket of cloud, and upcountry it is raining. I have not ventured beyond the borders of the garden in two days and will travel farther today, sniffing out seasonal menu possibilities for a blogging lunch under the tree on the 2nd of January, known here in the Cape as Tweede Nuwe Jaar, or second new year.

I'm still adapting to the switch from cool weather greens and root vegetables to abundant fresh green herbs, berries and apricots. There are worse problems.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas at No. 9

Christmas dinner - my mom made pretty little cakes which were packed up and sent off as doggy bags, later. A starter of smoked Norwegian salmon was silky and creamy with caper berries and shaved fennel and lemon salad - raw lemon meat and preserved lemon rind. Then my carrot and buttermilk soup, cold, and then roast lamb leg, rather overdone - I need more lamb leg practise - with thin crispy potatoes that cooked in its drippings. Dessert a very good pavlova made by my brother, Francois.

Sunday, December 25, 2011


A long, long journey, but at last I saw familiar landscape far below our wings. In Dubai, in the waiting area near our flight's gate, South African voices had eased me into the homecoming. Strangers from every corner of the globe, gathered here at this hub, compared notes on favourite rusk recipes, the merits of rooibos tea versus coffee for dunking, the best sort of biltong, and when they would enjoy their first braai.

Outside my bedroom window, the garden in bloom.

My welcome lunch under the tree. Ham, salad with sweet pineapple, the small, golden kind I can never find in New York, delicious bubbly, cherries that my brother picked in Ceres earlier in the week. After lunch I passed out for hours and was woken for supper: braaied lamb chops and wors, a bottle of Nelson Estate shiraz, 2004, opened in honour of the Missing Frenchman, whose absence is keenly felt.

Christmas breakfast this morning on the patio table, accompanied by many birds. My mom had made our traditional Christmas bread stuffed with candied fruit and nuts. Later I walked the garden, sniffing flowers and taking pictures. So familiar, so very different.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Alley Pond Park wetlands

A park, in parting. The next post will be from the southern hemisphere. 

I had wanted to visit Alley Pond Park for a while. I surf over New York on Google Earth, looking for patches of green, and this one was large, on the northern edge of Queens, right up against the Long Island Sound, complete with wetland and woods. The NYC Parks website looked promising. Different sources recommend different ways of getting there, and I chose the most simple: Long Island Railroad to Douglaston, $12 roundtrip, off peak, departing Penn Station, then a half-ish mile walk. We headed out last Saturday, the coldest day we've had so far, with temperatures just below freezing. The view above was stunning, south over the wetlands, from a pretty little bridge.

We checked in at the Alley Pond Environmental Center to pick up a map and I asked about the new-looking waterworks built nearby: Vince had asked me as we arrived, What's that? Looks like a sewage plant, I answered. And that's precisely what it was, though the lady with red nails at reception spoke delicately and vaguely about a filtration plant for 'runoff'. A sign at the end of newly constructed boardwalk made it clear, though.

I was pleased to see it being treated at last before the water heads out into the Sound. 

The view from the end of the boardwalk. Alley Creek, dense stands of invasive phragmites, a heron, ducks. This was as good as it got. But we didn't know that, then.

We headed back to find the trail around the wetlands and to work our way south to the largest part of the park, shown on the map on the other side of some serious freeways.

Phragmites. A pretty problem.

The first ice of the season. The path was in very poor repair and churned with mud, so we were grateful for the freeze, which kept our feet from sinking in. In the winter bareness the undergrowth was stripped, but it hinted at impenetrable and depressing tangles of invasives.

Many robins. Sometimes eating crabapples, and here with bittersweet berries. The roar of a freeway, the Cross Island Parkway, came closer, until soon we were walking feet away from it.


At last we found an unsignposted path up an embankment and down to several underpasses, our way, we thought, to the southern arm of the park.

I had to laugh. Now it was like the park at the end of the world, post apocalyptic, perfect for Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The end of everything.

Hedges of tall weeds. From the Parks Department website:

"In its zeal to convert the area for recreational uses and through the construction of the Long Island Expressway and Cross Island Parkway in the 1930s, Parks filled in much of the marshland. This land now is now recognized as a vital link in nature’s ecosystem. In 1974, Parks created the Wetlands Reclamation Project and began rehabilitating the natural wetlands of the park. The Alley Pond Environmental Center opened in 1976 to provide the public with an understanding of the park’s history and ecology."

Back to the freeway again, heading, according to the map, for Alley Pond itself.. 

This park is managed, if that is the right word, by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. I mean, is this agency now one in name only? Where is the money?  Mr Mayor? Mr Mayor? (Is this thing on?)

This, and that, is Alley Pond. Fringed by weeds, populated by some happy geese, surrounded by decrepit signs warning of thin ice. Girdled by traffic. Thank you, Robert Moses.

And there we got stuck. No way on to that fabled greenness on the map. Trapped between the Long Island Expressway and a wish for access. There is no mention of this on the websites. This is not a contiguous park and if there is an effort to join the disparate parts, "the vital link in nature's ecosystem,",no mention of it. No signs, terrible trails, no visible maintenance at all. To abuse JM Coetzee: Disgrace.

Back to the website:

"Alley Pond Park offers glimpses into New York’s geologic past, its colonial history, and its current conservation efforts. Because of its glacier-formed moraine, the park has numerous unique natural features, like its freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows, and forests, which create a diverse ecosystem and support abundant bird life."

A pretty picture.

I learned later, after a series of emails to and from Irene Scheid,  the executive director of the Alley Pond Environmental Center that:

1. The sewage works at the northern end were installed and paid for by the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, who also built the new boardwalk and paid for the wetland rehabilitation we saw at the beginning of our adventure.
2. APEC is a small non-profit organization which maintains that northern part of the park as best it can.
3. The land the center is on is owned by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation.
4. The southern part of the park, actively managed by Parks, and which we could not reach, is accessible by subway and bus, but not on foot from its northern arm. That southern part is generally known as Alley Pond Park, even though the whole park is technically Alley Pond Park.

I had hoped to come away excited by a beautiful green jewel in the city's crown. Under layers of grime and muck and neglect there is certainly something very sparkly there. But you have to be looking for it, and you have to want to see it. This place needs cash. Lots of it. And a healthy does of activism. And a sprinkling of rage.

If you live near the park or have money to spare, the APEC is trying to raise $10,000, to match an amount offered by our mayor. $20,000 will help them staff their center.

It is a drop in the creek. This park needs millions.

And some municipal respect.