Saturday, June 30, 2012

Broad Channel A train mayhem

The subway platform at Broad Channel this evening. Beach goers waiting for the A train to take them home from the Rockaways. We had been to the Jamaica Bay Wildife Refuge (many giant egrets, osprey, milkweed and yucca flower and sea rocket pictures later) and joined this happy, sweaty throng.

Cops arrived. A girl passed out. My back cried, Hold, enough! I think we were the only un-inked denizens of the train when it arrived at very, very long last. Never seen so many tattoos. A scorpion held the pole beside me. A flying goose, passing cormorant and stand of Typha chatted in the doorway. A crab's exoskeleton consulted its phone. Pink, waving cats were enigmatic behind tinted glasses.

Summer in the city.

Nothing a Cuba Libre can't fix.

That was June

July is upon us. Goodbye, black raspberries and white currants.

Hello basil.

Hello heliotrope...It does not like to dry out. In Cape Town it is a shrub outside my window. On the terrace they are petite.

There are a few more days left for Silk Road.

The breba figs have been eaten.

Prosecco has been sipped. 

It is getting too hot to eat outside.

But jalapenos put a little zip in our burgers.

The first cocozelle.

Calabacita! These, too, do not appreciate being underwatered.

And drinks to usher a storm in. Frozen lemon and gin. 

July? Be gentle. Please.

I know.

Fat chance.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Kitchen chaos

Kitchen chaos. I snapped this picture yesterday while putting together last night's picnic.

The sumac, up front, was for the lamb meatballs. The onion went into the smoked trout pâté. The blue nail polish was bought on a whim, applied to toes, and promptly removed (anyone need blue nail polish? It's a very good blue but it makes me look like a dead person). The Lindt chocolate was because I thought I might make a little chocolate mousse to take to the picnic. I made a chocolate roulade instead, using cocoa powder. The scissors...oh, for cutting parchment paper for the roulade. Into the empty mason jar went some green olives with a marinade of lemon zest and garlic and thyme. I ate the cherries. The Noilly Prat is a permanent fixture for Vince's martinis. That's the weekend coffee pot lurking in the back. I use a smaller one just for me in the week. Kitchen paper. I can't live without kitchen paper.

The End.

Oh! Nasturtium leaves. For our crustless picnic sandwiches, with butter and the first cucumber from the roof.

The End. Again.

Guacamole fixings stir.

(Recipe next door.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wandering Red Hook

If you haven't a horse to ride the plains, you have to settle for a stroll through Red Hook, starting at the docks of the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Coreopsis poking through the fence at the Gowanus Nursery (which is now very far from Gowanus). The nursery had some small, beautifully-shaped peach trees in stock. I was tempted. I walked away.

Red Hook is always good for random wires against blue sky.

A South African herb in an American oil drum - Helichrysum, known as curry bush (no relation to curry leaf). The scent of childhood summers and alleged provider of good dreams if you stuff it in your pillow...

Friends out for a paddle.

Sidewalk hollyhocks on Van Brunt Street.

And the garden at Pier 44, above the pebbly beach at the end of Connover Street. You know the tell tale combo by now, yes? Yucca plus spirea plus catnip plus purple berberis balls equals..? Anyone?


Yes! Lynden Miller. Very good! Have a cookie (it has nuts in it).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Picnic season has opened

Silk Road is blooming under our interesting skies. This was yesterday evening. Today is transparently blue.

I am taking a break from writing and obsessively photographing everything I cook - well, no, that part's not true - and am preparing not one but two picnics for tomorrow. A rough 'n ready picnic that can travel on a subway and train and in hand, to carry out to Dead Horse Bay with Ellen, who has never been there (she is bringing elderflower champagne) - I thought the champagne warranted cucumber sandwiches, and I have a couple ripening on the roof. And then a more elegant and fullblown one for tomorrow evening at Pier One, Brooklyn Bridge Park with the lovely Stephen Orr and his partner, Chad.

Now I'm off to have my hair snipped for summer. An hour in a chair with a little shoulder massage from Izumi (the best part) will give me time to figure out picnic menus.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wine punch

I have loved the idea of punch ever since my mother made it for  my 11th and then 12th birthday parties. They were evening parties. Very grown up.  The punch was ginger ale, and fizzy lemonade and selzer water and sliced fruit. It felt wicked and sophisticated and premature, all at the same time. It sat in a big, big, glass bowl. It was scooped out into our glasses. It fizzed.

About a decade later we recreated that punch, for a lunch under the Constantia tree; except the ginger ale was Champagne and the fruit - fat black cherries and sweet slices of yellow peach - was macerated in old cognac. At least one guest has not forgiven us. Fortunately he was one of the few that did not drive home.

Punch still makes me think of fringed, short skirts, of crushed linen pants, of shade under cool Lost
Generation summer trees. It is very wishful thinking. Which pretty much sums up my approach to life.

Our punch is tamer. Messier. But its spirit is alive. A collection of pale wines accumulates in the fridge. A bit of this, a bit of that. A French rose, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Semillon from Oregon. They clutter up the fridge. So into the tall, chilled glass carafe they go, poured on top of sliced apricots. They are followed by a gulp of vermouth and a circumspection of St Germain, sparkling water for fizz, ice and some mint.

And it is very good.

Monday, June 25, 2012

English roses and old milk bottles

These flowers are not in the house, technically. They are outside, on the terrace. They come from the terrace, too. The Verbena bonariensis is very invasive so I try to cut its flowers before they drop and blow their seed all over the place. I should probably not pick the roses, but I can't help it, really.

Find more flowers in other houses at Small but Charming.

Pok Pok, Red Hook

Pok Pok is a much-chattered about Thai restaurant, recently landed in our hood. I knew it had a small wing outpost in town (to me, Manhattan is "town"), on the Lower East Side, but I did not know - until I fell over it the other day - that it is now also five blok bloks away, on Columbia Street, beyond the BQE (The Great Divide) in the early parts of Red Hook.

I had been mourning the end of Long Tan, on 5th Avenue in Park Slope, and had been telling old, frayed stories about Phat Pong, on East 7th Street, and wishing loudly for a decent Thai joint nearby. Or anywhere.

Now there is one.

The hype is interesting. Because it implies that good Thai just does not exist beyond the Pok Pokosphere. Yet I cook/chop/prepare SE Asian food often at home with some integrity. Armed with hunger, desire, good herbs, memory and excellent books. So why is it hard to recreate? I can't answer that.

And what you get at Pok Pok is good, perfumed, frank food. Not always strictly speaking Thai, but who cares? The herbs, the salty, the sour, the sweet and the well-sourced are there. Sticky rice in plastic bags inside bamboo baskets. Persicaria odorata (Vietnamese mint, laksa, phak pai) - a funky-fragrant garnish. Tamarind leaf salad.

Contrary to predictions we walked straight in and were seated at an outdoor table, reached by a broad side alley. Maybe were lucky. On another visit, the wait was an hour. For us, living so close by, not worth it. 

We ordered gin and tonics to start, with lime leaf-infused gin. They tasted bizarre. Like drinking lime leaf air. Gulp, gulp - nothing. Conclusion: Seltzer water instead of tonic. Flat seltzer water. Um. An inauspicious start. But they were taken away by our genuinely nice waiter and returned to us, tonic-d up, and they did not make to our bill, at all. That was nice. 

The cocktail list is impressive. We did not venture into the drinking-vinegar zone. Maybe at lunch.

Yes, I liked the celebritised chicken wings. What's not to like? Sticky, bone sucking, very sweet. Very sweet. A bit too sweet, for me, but Vince loved them. I'm pretty sure the spicy version we ordered was not delivered: No trace of chile. The fish sauce must have been there, hiding, because I drank water for hours,  afterwards. I preferred the more interesting salad of beef flank steak, high on mint and lemon grass; the curried barbecued sausage, the charred ribs, both with real off-the-coals flavour. The papaya salad looked insipid, despite its chopped up yard long beans but blew my head off. It was fine, and I still miss Phat Pong's.  More herbs? Or herbs on the table, to choose from?

Dessert - a delectable condensed milk ice cream in a pool of coffee. A clever riff on affogato and Vietnamese coffee, in which condensed milk is requisite.

The garden, beneath its sunshine yellow Singha umbrellas and wrapped in cheap bamboo screens, is bright and appealing. Tables are separated generously by staggered stacks of red and yellow and blue milk crates housing blocks of grasses - miscanthus, blue fescue. This space was designed by Thomas Kosbau, of Ore Design, of DeKalb Market fame, whom we met briefly recently at a friend's birthday.

A New York Times photographer was all over the place, and hard to ignore. Vince, very slow to be riled up, eventually raised  a hand and asked him to desist (well, he could have asked). So watch that space...

One thing: there is one toilet. And you have to leave the garden and the large "waiting tent" (where you can have drink, prior to being seated), go back up the alley and in the front door, past the queue of waiting people, to find it. You might as well have I Need to Pee written on your fore head. Inside the bathroom, a sign requests your expedience.

Again, very happy to be living nearby. 

The waiting is not fun. But the food is more-ish, more than satisfies the longing for the SE Asian peninsula and the service is appealing. Not for a minute did we feel rushed.

We'll be back. Soon.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Red currants are in

Vince carrying our haul of red currants back from the Borough Hall Farmers Market. They were grown by Wilklow Orchards in the Hudson Valley. We were too late for the black currants, which had sold out, but I'll be back early next week for those. They make an intense jam. Half of these currants are turning a quantity of gin pink. I may freeze some, in sauce-form, for future tarts. Still thinking. It takes a while to pull them from their stalks, but I reward myself with a fat currant from every third or fourth bunch.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Edible Brooklyn Cover

My shot of our roof-grown cucuzza is on the cover of this summer's Edible Brooklyn...

Summer life

The terrace from the top: perfectly tranquil.

What you don't see or hear is the roar of the new air conditioner. We are fast approaching the troubled terrace season, when we weigh up the pros and cons of eating outside. If we eat outside we tend to turn off the AC, or we sit with its hot blast of air too close for comfort. Not very peaceful. Then the apartment heats up again. And the new unit send its hot air straight up, resulting in a very unhappy climbing Iceberg rose. I had to cut it back quite hard a few days ago. Some of the branches died. And I diverted a gloriosa lily, whose pained expression said clearly, I know I come from the temperate part of South Africa, but this is ridiculous!  The previous unit was actually meant for a window, not a wall, with venting at the sides (meaning it didn't cool as well as it could've). But after the multiple failed attempts at buying and installing a new one I'm not too sad about the rose. Being hot makes me sadder.

The vicissitudes of a poorly insulated top floor apartment life in a sticky climate. 

Wonderful compensation, however, is grilled shrimp. Cooked over fire, outside. I am still sorry that I can't buy entire shrimp, with heads and bodies still attached*. They taste much better. But after marinating in fish sauce and lime and cilantro stems they are pretty good. I made these when I was experimenting with an avocado terrine/aspic. The leftover shrimp are perfect for it.

*Head-on shrimp are available in Chinatown, of course. These shrimp come from Fish Tales, down the road. I haven't shopped in Chinatown for a while. The first time I bought shrimp there they were still alive and one leaped out of the bag back in the kitchen on Flatbush Avenue, when I lowered it to the floor to show the cat. Before I could blink the cat had leaped on the shrimp and swallowed it. Within minutes, though, the cat grew contemplative, and then troubled, and very soon the shrimp was returned, intact, to the floor. The cat looked at it, disgusted.

I keep shrimp shells, and freeze them in little bags, against the day when I need to make a strong and rich fish broth for bouillabaisse. Nothing like shrimp shells for flavour.

There endeth the lesson. Happy Saturday. Go forth and grill.

Friday, June 22, 2012


On the roof I watched it coming in from the southwest, over Jersey, over New York Harbor, beyond Governor's Island.

After five minutes of this the first fat drops fell on the roof, and I disappeared down the hatch, battening it behind me. Then it burst over our heads. Thunder that penetrated to the bone and rattled the teeth. One of the lightning strikes was loud and so close that I jumped and lost the memory card I was holding. It's still missing. Rain sweeping from the west and then wheeling to fly in through the open door, from the east. I suppose this is what one expects after the intense and sullen heat of the last two days, but it is still very gratifying.

That was a long line of storms. This is the weather map from Who are still posting the wrong temperature.

The temperature has dropped, according to intellicast, by almost 20 degrees, from 92'F to 73'F. 


It is a beautiful silence, without the roar of the air conditioner.

Interesting thing about the cat. While I jumped every time lightning struck, he dozed. He is unfazed by thunder and by fireworks, which we hear often. Perhaps because he grew up in Manhattan, which is noisy and used to storms. All the South African pets I've known have been driven demented by rockets and storms, even hard rain (well, my parents do have a corrugated iron-hybrid roof, which amplifies rain).

What do your pets do?

Day lily season

Maybe we'll ride up to Inwood on Sunday to gather day lilies, and maybe we won't.

If you have a local flock of Hemerocallis fulva and would not mind parting with some buds, let me know.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The longest day

Yesterday: At last there was some action on the roof farm. The first Cocozelle squash (basically a zucchini on steroids) is beginning to show its racing stripes.

A German Striped tomato appeared.

A Tatuma squash - quite tiny - is developing.

I dug out my pot of potatoes.

Vince and I sat, far hotter than we felt like being, and sipped cold G and T's as the sun - still high well past 6.30pm - sliding down the glaring sky. 

An hour later we watched it, a red and sinking balloon, dip below the horizon, beyond Jersey. The longest day. All gone. The heat still a cloud wrapped around us. Our picnic? Tuna mousse, ajo blanco (almond and garlic soup) with ice and grapes, and a spicy mango salad.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Stories kitchens tell...

Do you ever have days like this?

Cool against the Sizzle

These cool, late afternoon pictures belie the heat situation. Today is our first superhot summer day since, oh...when did we have that bizarre heatwave? March? 

Right now the gravel on the terrace is baking, too hot for bare feet, that geranium (Rozanne) is drooping, and the jewelweed Impatiens capensis, lifted as one seedling from Inwood Hill Park two springs ago, now selfseeding and voluntary), below, has flopped its leaves, asking if I did not get the memo about it being a dappled forest shade plant? 

It is currently 31'C/88'F and will reach about 36'/96'F.  More of the same tomorrow.

Yes. The holes. Guess who came to dinner?

Well, guess who came for lumber, really, not dinner: The leafcutter bees use the leafbits for nests. Usually it is the roses they cut, but not this time. I wonder why.

The new air conditioner is cranked and is A-OK, the cat is unzipping his fur, and by a day's end I must come up with ideas for a cold supper.

Perhaps a wobbly tuna mousse.