Thursday, May 31, 2012

Where are we?

A little mystery for you.

Where was this picture taken?

And yes, there is a book in it for you if you are interested in urban greening: Carrot City - Creating Places for Urban Agriculture, published by Monacelli Press. The publishers sent it to me some time ago and I wrote about it here.

Boerum Hill's fences

This looks to me like Betty Corning...a clematis I would love to own. The rose garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a beautiful example growing over a wire bower, there, but this understated specimen was lovelier for its unexpectedness on Pacific Street in Boerum Hill. A very pretty stretch, actually. I was on my way to find a small boxwood, kindly ordered for me by the people at Dig, on Atlantic Avenue. I may also have bought some wild pink and peach agastache at GRDN, after I failed to find chives. One must find comfort, somewhere...

Mustn't one?

It is the last day of May.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer's coming

If you are feeling perverse and want to test your marriage, do this:

Have one spouse go onto the Internet to buy a new air conditioner. When it is delivered, install it.  It's too small. Also dented. Pack it up again and send it back to Amazon.

Once the refund clears, double check all measurements and  have the other spouse go out and buy an air conditioner in person from an appliance store. Make it the Rolls Royce of air conditioners. Have it delivered and installed when the temperature is above 90'F indoors. It is too big, by a quarter inch, not listed on the specs for the unit. The delivery men pack it back up and remove it. You tip them and apologize. You have words on the phone with the salesperson.

Now, for the ultimate test, on the very same day, have the first spouse go back out in the evening and purchase a third air conditioner, bring it home in a yellow cab, carry it up four flights of stairs, unpack it and find that it, too, is dented.  Install it anyway. This takes longer than you might anticipate. The spouse is tired and has sore arms.

If, by morning, you find yourself in the same bed with the same spouse, there is nothing more in life that can test that bond. Nothing.

Remember to mop up the blood and send gifts to the neighbors and donuts to the responding precinct.

End of May terrace

I am happy with the colour of the red Munstead Wood. I was worried that it would be a flat, electric scarlet, but it has dark black shadows within the cupped petals. My chives are mess, though. Not sure what's going on with them. Possibly too much rain. The strawberries have almost finished their first fruiting. And I think I need another boxwood. One is not enough.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

And how shall it continue?

Well, Memorial Day did not kid around. Yesterday it kicked off summer with a kick in our pants, remarkably well aimed. The fan did its best. Munstead Wood, above, fared remarkably well, far better than Pat Austin (RIP), who would have keeled over, petals fried.

In a bid to escape our fourth floor level of heat hell (as we walk downstairs it cools, incrementally), we left the apartment and walked to Red Hook, two neighbourhoods south. On the way we detoured to the nearby piers to look at the beautiful ships at anchor for Fleet Week and OpSail 2012 (the latter commemorating the war of 1812). Spain and Mexico had sailing vessels. Japan a deadly grey thing. The UK a huge ship, a former tanker requisitioned as a supply and hospital ship for the Falklands War. The smart sailors, the heavy cables and fluttering flags, the lethal, loaded choppers on board, the pretty trappings of war. Bang, you're dead. Let us mop you.

On Columbia Street later, melting just a little, we passed a window that belongs to Little Pheasant (Denise), a blogging floral designer.

We passed Christina's community garden with sweet peas and poppies. 

Then comes a long, barren stretch, relieved at last by ivy and graffiti. You can bet that ivy lowers their cooling bill.

I was aiming for a garden and a mentally noted patch of milkweed. But someone had removed the lush milkweed patch of last summer. So no flowers now, redolant of milkshakes and electric with bees. Instead, the weedy patch beside the leaning house on the cobbled street is filled with wild lettuce and thistles and mugwort.

We put our names on a list for a lunch spot at Hope and Anchor and while waiting we walked some more.

At the bar of Hope and Anchor, a fixture on Van Brunt Street whose prices have not risen in years (thank you) I chewed on a Vietnamese chopped salad and Vincent on a banh mi burger. Mine was good, his disappointing. I sipped an iced G&T. Before sitting down I soused my arms beneath the very cold water in the bathroom, which was amply supplied with kitchen towels (thank you, again). I put wet towels on my hot neck.

We went home to rescue the hot, furred cat who had wedged himself between two cool pots on the hated gravel. Inside the apartment, the fan did its best.

I cleaned milkweed buds, discovered on Staten Island on Sunday, to accompany our braaied chicken.

While the chicken sizzled over the coals I drank a trashy drink. Cuba Libre. Rum and Coke. I know. I enjoyed it. A lot. I may have had another one.

With smoke spicing the air the cat roused himself and retired to the cooling rooftops.

Today, at home, the much anticipated new air conditioner arrived, not a moment too soon. A big, very heavy expensive thing.

It was too big.

It was returned.

The two kind, sweating Mexican guys who hauled it up the stairs appeared not to hold a grudge. But I feel like a fool. I did not double check with my own tape measure in the store. I am not sure you appreciate the depth of my disappointment with all things Marie at the moment.

It is summer, Stateside. Let the games begin. May the best measurer win.

Speaking of measuring: Tonight, the setting sun lines up with the Manhattan street grid. It is known as Manhattanhenge. We'll be on the roof, dancing for better days.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Greens from the roof

A salad for one: the perk and pepper of nasturtium, the  sweet crunch of fava bean leaves, the soft spots of trout lettuce. And some lamb's quarters (a.k.a. yet another 'pigweed'), thrown in. I like my forays to the roof.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Long weekend

Usually this tray, which my mother gave me a couple of years ago, is brought to me, in bed, with breakfast, on Saturdays and Sundays. During the week I have my coffee and toast in front of the computer or on the terrace, as Vince is out of the house by 6am, but at the weekend he makes breakfast and we have it together, me reading whatever I'm reading, in bed, and he reading whatever he's reading, on his computer. It's quiet, and it's nice. After breakfast we plan our day. But this weekend he is sick, and after a day-and-a-half of lying flat he had not eaten much. He felt a little better on Saturday night and I made him a small salad for Saturday supper, and this time he got the tray. He polished it off. Not the tray, the salad. Well, he had to: I grated some parmesan over the top. I know. Sneaky.

I also shopped for a new air conditioner and while we wait for it to be delivered we experience a little of what is to come. Heavy, damp air. The cat stretches on the floor, as long as he can make himself, legs and tail in opposite directions. The big fan is brought from The Hole, where it has been since...(Hm. I don't know when we put it away. Early fall?) and whirrs nonstop again. Its blades sound like the props of a small plane, beating silver air. It is time to pack away the duvet. Thunderstorms throw fat raindrops at us every day. The climbing roses have been deadheaded.

The chicken I had planned to grill on Friday must be grilled tonight, on the fire on the terrace, Frenchman or no Frenchman. So if you smell something smoky, something like rosemary, with some lemon and garlic just beneath that, that will be me: cooling off by cooking outside, waiting for the air conditioner, toasting the beautiful ships in the harbour for Fleet Week, waiting for the heliotrope to grow.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Etoile Violette

...takes flight.

[Boring Blogger news: I have changed the settings for Comments, disabling Anonymous and Name/Urls. This is to see whether it discourages the deluge of foreign spam comments the blog has received in the last two weeks. Blogger is superb at catching them, so 99% of them are not published. But I do receive an email notification every time a comment is left, and I check every single one, which is time consuming. Occasionally they sneak through. Moderating is not an option as it takes as much time and slows everything down, too. So, my apologies - it is inconvenient for some of you, I know, if you do not have a Google account. I hope it is temporary. The alternative is to use word verification again, but I find it very user unfriendly; I hate it. But if people who leave comments prefer it to the current set up, I'll think again.]

Friday, May 25, 2012

Making omelettes

If I had made a list of things I wanted to do before I bit the dust this would be on it: Make a proper omelette.

I have been able to make many things for a long time. Soufflés and roasts and tarts and pizzas and consommés and jellies and pâtés and pies. But omelettes...they just never worked. They stuck, they broke, they refused to slide from the pan. And I knew that that probably meant that I was No Good. I felt guilty and frustrated. And a little confused. Because you judge a good cook by their salad and by their, yes, omelette.

When I was little my mother would, as a special treat, make me a jam omelette. It was slightly foamy in the middle, the apricot jam just beginning to caramelize near the barely brown edges of the egg. I was not a fan of any kind of whisked or mixed, cooked egg. While I loved boiled eggs with toast soldiers or tiny Marmite squares, I loathed scrambled eggs. I can still remember the aeroplane strategy employed by mother to try and get them into my mouth. Gah. But this confection was an exception.

A couple of years after we moved to Cape Town, we met Tipsy Titoti, who has worked for my parents now for...almost 30 years. Tipsy was a competent cook when she arrived, but because my mom always cooked dinner for us, she was never really called upon to show off her skills unless my mom was away from home. When she did cook, it was omelettes, or roast chickens or meat loaf, or lamb ribs. All good. But the omelettes were in a category of their own. They were perfect. They remain the best I have eaten, anywhere. Tender, barely filled, delicate things; not the gross, overstuffed and overcooked monsters of diners and hotels, everywhere. Hers were French in style, handled with finesse and restraint.

Vince had never tasted one. So one lunch time I asked for a special favour: two omelettes, please, and this time I was going to watch and take pictures. Because it had to end. This Achilles heel of mine. I needed to know how this magic happened. At the last minute my mom joined us for lunch, and suddenly three omelettes were required. Cooked not in wafer thin pans but in cast iron. You try it. Not easy.

And I learned. About the right amount of butter, and just how foamy it should be, and swirled round the sides of the pan. About the heat. And on that electric stove the right temperature is no easy thing. I hate that stove. Everything happens an eon after you need it and it is inconsistent. And about what to do when the edges begin to turn pale. And I learned about Tipsy. I watched three omelettes take shape, her hands flying. I had never seen her in this kind of high stress cooking action before. Plates had to be warmed, 12 eggs whisked, in their own bowls, with milk, and seasoned, cheese grated and ready, three pans at just the right temperature. Three omelettes shuttled into the pans and watched and tended until the crucial moment when they had to be slid and folded and guided intact onto a hot plate. And she was not happy with the way that second one folded. I was in the way, and taking bad pictures.

This quiet, kind, understated person turned fierce in action, focused and utterly in charge, radiating the command and slight neurosis that belong to a professional cook. If her life in apartheid South Africa had not steered her, as so many black women's still are and were, into domestic work after an impoverished childhood and a sad farce of an education, she could have been right at home leading and steering a crew in a serious kitchen, perhaps her own. Or writing novels. She is a born story teller.

I am deeply grateful she found us at last. And it was 'at last.' Her life is a book waiting to be written. But for now, here is the omelette she taught me to make, which I ate here in Brooklyn for breakfast, on my own, and very far from that home.

And they are easy. But I had to be shown how.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Burdock for dinner?

There is some pretty interesting food next door at 66 Square Feet (the Food). Burdock stems are high on my foraging "keeper" list. (Milkweed is also moving up on that list, and pokeweed down. Interesting.)

What's potting up top?

Two days of solid rain were followed by some real humidity. Things are growing. I am falling behind, with some tomatoes still to plant out...I was consumed by pigweed all day yesterday - long story, oink - and must get back up to the roof this evening with another pot or two and some soil. Then there's that impulse-buy heliotrope that needs potting up on the terrace. And do I have enough basil?  

The nasturtiums are settling in and I have to hold back. I steal a leaf or two every night for a salad.

There are the potatoes. Those pots will be free at the end of June. What shall I put in them? Perhaps the pasilla peppers, slower to take off than most.

The roof strawberries are all ripe. 

And there are the cocozelle, round summer squash, direct-sown. I think they may take over the rooftop.

I left half a dozen fava beans  to see what would happen. They are very happy. I evicted the others, as I needed the pots for tomatoes and cucumbers. I pick these almost every day, for salad, but I'll see what happens in terms of actual beans, now.

June approaches. How did that happen?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Roses at the BBG

If you like roses, you need to see these. Now.

Leaving home

I had cabin fever yesterday. So I put on my gumboots (it has been very wet) and left the house with an air of defiance. Walked down to the East River, where I found the first red Juneberries. They often start in May.  They tasted like apples. Instead of ticketing me a Pier One staffer waved at me. I waved back. I also noted, in The Noisiest Park in the World, next door, that we might have a bumper crop of beach plums this year. We shall have to return to the seashore to gather them in July.

Then I got on the subway and went for a walk in the woods. The goutweed is beginning to bloom.

I found burdock leaves as big as umbrellas. With stalks. I'll make some more burdocky dishes and see what works best. Also heaps of tender lambs quarters. Perhaps a tart. Or a quiche. What's the difference? I walked until I was tired, and then I got onto another subway back to our hood and visited the butcher, which is always a good idea when one is feeling iffy, because butchers are cheerful.

And then I came home.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tarrytown: between the woods and the weeds

We walked into the green woods across the road from Gabrielle's house in Tarrytown. Gabrielle, her three year old daughter Bess, and Vincent. Gabrielle is my editor at Edible Manhattan and -Brooklyn, and she and her husband Craig Haney live in the Hudson Valley to be near Craig's office. If you can call the idyllic, pastoral fields and Pocantico Hills of Stone Barns an office. Craig is the livestock manager - his office workers are lambs and cows and chickens and geese. And pigs. Really big, black Berkshire pigs.

                          Fleabane - Erigeron philadelphicus, growing in a sunny opening amongst the trees.

I was expecting a stroll of an hour or so - Gabrielle wanted me to sniff out some edible weeds, and I walked with my eyes scanning the undergrowth. These are very clean woods. Not in the litter sense, but free of what I call plant rubbish - invasives such as porcelain berry and cat briar and lots of garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed (as much as I like eating the last two). This was real, clear, beautiful deciduous woodland. The air streamed down from the first perfectly blue sky of the spring, filtering to us through oak branches and leaves and green by the time it pooled at our feet.

Geranium macullatum - cranesbill, growing in another grassy clearing. These woods are within the Rockefeller State Park. Next door, Stone Barns, the farm, is a former Rockefeller estate, and was created by David Rockefeller, his daughter, Peggy Dulany and James Ford. So let's not be too hard on the 1%.

I have never seen native Jack-in-the-pulpit in the wild. Arisaema triphyllum. The corm is edible when dried and cooked, but it's not one I will be trying. Raw, it is stuffed with oxalic acid. Read more about it at Eat the Weeds (though this is hardly a weed).

Young cinnamon ferns - Osmunda cinnamomea.

The plant above confused me. Milkweed. Common milkweed? Those are red stems, and the common milkweed - Asclepias syriaca - I know has pale green stems. And the branching? Feel free to chime in.

[Update: my first encounter with dogbane, Apocynum cannabinum. Notorious common milkweed lookalike.]

This is another plant I do not recognize. Neither do several foragers I have polled. Steve Brill says it is a mustard, but that he has not been able to ID it, yet. It is about three feet tall, and about to bloom, growing in dappled shade. Its leaves reminded me of Polemium, or Jacob's ladder...

Broad swathes of skunk cabbage in boggy parts. The young spring leaves, still upright and furled,  are edible when boiled in many changes of water. But really, why bother? I love these prehistoric-looking plants.

Near a lake the woods gave way to meadows and clear water. Vince found a salamander. Vince always finds a salamander.

A single and delicate Sisyrinchium - blue-eyed grass. Not sure what species.

My knowledge of meadow grasses approaches nil. But I love them.

Above: a real squeal moment. Watercress!

And near those giant Berkshire pigs, whose camps move around in the shady woods, pokeweed.

Oddly, I did not take pictures around the beautiful buildings of Stone Barns. It was lunch time, and the light was bright and hard. The buildings and layout reminded me rather of an English estate. A beautiful kitchen garden, vibrant honeysuckle in bloom, a small farmers market, where Vince and I bought empanadas while Gabrielle went home to fetch a stroller for the short-legged Bess. Our stroll was well into its third hour.

We met Craig, on the job in jeans and and work boots, and went to meet some lambs; who were lying down with lions. Or, at least, Maremma sheepdogs. Two big dogs passed out in the middle of the flock but still very alert. A stressed baah came from the end of the field and one dogs stood up at once and looked, came to a conclusion, then sighed and lay down again. Bess said, Will we eat Little Black, Mamma? (That's Little Black, above). The sheep are not named but Little Black kind of stood out.

"Don't e-e-e-e-e-eat me! I am not a ch-o-o-o-o-op!"

The sheep graze on meadow grass, as sheep should, and the fields are rotated so that plants can grow back inbetween croppings. We picked some chamomile from the middle of a dirt track that ran through one resting pasture. We now had a bagful of milkweed shoots, pokeweed, watercress and lambs quarters. No, not woolly lambs quarters.


Having walked in pastureland for a while we returned to the woods, heading home.

At home, at least, our home for the night, I dunked our leafy spoils in cool water to revive them. The prickly stems in the middle are devil's walking stick shoots. It's a fast-growing flexible tree - Aralia spinosa - with vicious thorns. First time I had seen them, though I knew about the shoots. Edible when very young and tender.

Watercress and lambs quarter salad. And mandolined radishes. I want a mandoline.

Our sauteed milkweed stems.

And lamb burgers with pita bread that Gabrielle had made earlier in the day. Supper outside under the spreading stars. Lemon ice cream, freshly churned, for dessert.

The three-year-old (well, three and three months)  looked up and announced: You need a telescope to see the rings of Saturn.

Just 24 hours, but a profound break from our rooftop and apartment and city life. We rode back on the train beside the Hudson, heading for home and my class at the BBG, with green leaves in our heads and weeds in our tummies and a sense of wonder at modern toddlerhood.