Thursday, February 28, 2013

Goodbye, KLM

Vince, the natural-born pilot and lover of planes already dislikes KLM. He hates what he sees as their sloppy onboard service and he hates their expensive seat upgrades for extra leg room and he hates what he calls their 'antiquated' video system.

Don't even ask Ellen what she thinks of KLM (remember the nightmare trip to South Africa?).

I was far more ambivalent.

But now I hate them, too.

I often have to make one date change to my return ticket to South Africa.  In fact I've been making that change for over a decade. There's a penalty, of course, always about $150. Not chicken feed, but worth it.

Today, I noticed that I could not make that change online. So I called. A woman answered the phone and uttered these fatal words: "Delta Airlines?"

Slow motion, N-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

Oh, no. An unholy partnership. One I should have remembered better because of this Delta travel nightmare.

KLM codeshares with Delta. And whenever you deal with Delta, things go squirrely. My e-ticket was issued by Delta.

And squirrely things went.

How much to change the ticket?

Fve minutes of muzak later:

"$1,000, " she says.

Me: "One. Thousand. DOLLARS?"

Maybe she meant cents.

She did not.

That's it. Goodbye, KLM.

Hasta la effing vista.

The floating farm

Does this look like a likely site for a kitchen garden?

I met an interesting man last week. A man who wants to grow edible plants to include in on-board dinners enjoyed by his customers who cruise the waters around Manhattan as the lights start to shimmer in the dark skyline. He wants to start small, right upon the deck of his floating office space on the Hudson River. Boxes will be built, irrigation installed and plants planted.

But first I must deliver my proposed growing schedule. I think we'll start with herbs, because the space needed for crops to supply ingredients for 150 covers a night is larger than this first area can supply. That will all be explained. So far, it is has all been percolating in my head. If this small test patch is successful, it will expand to a wonderful, sunny expanse of elevated and unused walkway.

But what he wants, and this is what makes him special, and very unusual, in this city, is for his staff to be involved in the gardening, because "it will be good for them". Last year they practised on tomatoes in two small, repurposed life boats. He grew up on another island, far away, and his father farmed.

I really hope to be able to show an after picture, sometime in late summer. I am very excited.

As I sat in his carpeted office the building suddenly moved and I started. Earthquake! The executive chef and hospitality manager both eyed me. Then I remembered that we were afloat and that I didn't have to dive under the substantial desk for cover. Apparently some employees had to be moved to offices on dry land on account of sea sickness.

Vince and I have an invitation to dine on board, anytime, to cruise New York Harbor and see first hand what it is all about.

Have I mentioned that this is an interesting man?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pruning the fig

You may remember that I pruned the branches of the fig for the first time ever (at least since it had been an infuriatingly unnamed cutting in some nursery on Long Island) about ten days ago. Of course, where the new shoots will pop out is anyone's guess and I am alarmed at the thought that its carefully cultivated shape will go to hell.

Yesterday, after Vince lifted the pot down for me, I attacked the roots. It took longer than in previous years, with me sawing down onto the root mass, along all the edges and then pulling on the fig to coax it out of the pot, and then sawing some more, and then pulling. At one point I was balanced on one leg, the other foot pressed against the pot on the table, one arm pulling, the other hand sawing. Quite a picture. Especially since I was wearing a new Quebecois hat with furry ear flaps.

At last I was able to free the newly shorn root mass, and then, once it was on the stone table, free of its pot, I sawed some more, cutting some rather large roots from the edges, and loosening as many as possible. I removed about one third of the total root ball.

Then back it went, with some Espoma Organic Potting Mix (in February, it is harder than usual to find potting soil in the hood). I watered it in thoroughly, although the freezing deluge we enjoyed last night would have done it for me.

When the weather warms, I will start to feed it. Hopefully it will look like this, again, soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Into the madding crowd

After an appointment yesterday at the extremity of 42nd Street, on the water (literally, the office floated) of the Hudson, I walked across town, through the heart of Manhattan.

...and stopping and ducking back underground when I reached East 42nd and Park Avenue.

...Grand Central.

Where I met Vince for some oysters and a martini.

Kumomotos for me, Rockies for him - local parlance for Oysters Rockefeller (read Dinner at Antoine's to make you hungry for a plateful). It's a good place to go, once in a while. Wildly overpriced, and the food is actually not particularly good. But if you stick the oysters, and sit either at the bar or at one of communal horseshoes rather than in the red-checked tablecloth section, you tend to be pretty happy.

We were.

Monday, February 25, 2013

After the kale train has left the station

I missed the kale craze.

I mean, I was aware of it, but it annoyed me enough (phases, crazes and fleeting fashion have that effect on me) to make me duck under the kale radar and keep on doing my usual, leafy thing. The fact that I have kale growing on the roof through winter is another story!

But Mr Kim's has had these lovely bunches of narrow-leafed kale recently, posies of quilted leaves. It is Nero Toscano, lacinato, cavolo nero, dinosaur kale - all of those names, and more. I don't know whether to capitalize because the only one I've seen grown as a cultivar name is Nero Toscano. Feel free to chime in and educate me.

But it's lovely - tender enough to eat raw. So I tear it up and do just that.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


In willing, but tongue-in-cheek honour of what we learned was National Margarita Day (...) we celebrated last night.

The Persian limes at Mr Kims were not the juicy ones, so I had to choose lemons, instead. No matter. I dipped the rims of the glasses in the sticky, lemony-salty syrup from the jar of preserved lemons (almost ready to taste - maybe this weekend) and then squeezed fresh lemons like a fiend. Equal parts Cointreau, a very nice reposado Tequila (meaning it has rested, just a bit - light amber in colour - called El Jimador), and the juice. Shaken, and poured, milky yellow, suspension of miniscule bubbles.

The Margarita has a bad reputation. It is potentially one of the nastiest, most abused cocktails out there. Bad liquor, awful sour mix from a bottle, swimming pool-sized glasses...? = visions of herds of wildebeest (it's a long story, going back to university days, and I'm pretty sure it lurks somewhere on this blog, already).

But made with respect, it is one of the finest cocktails invented on this planet.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Terrace in House and Leisure

House and Leisure's homepage

My mother was the food editor of House and Leisure, a glossy South African magazine, in the 90's. She cooked, she styled the food, she wrote the recipes. I still have all the editions with her food inside, right here in Brooklyn. If anyone was going to write a book, it should have been she.

Anyway, House and Leisure contacted me a little while ago and asked for an interview about my gardening life in New York, and the result is now on their very good looking website. Also some new pictures - a sneak peak at the book to come, and a little bit more about 66 Square Feet, the book.

I am acutely and guiltily aware that to regular readers of this blog, some of the information 'revealed' in the interview is probably becoming rather repetitive.

"We KNOW she met her husband through her blog. We KNOW she got the damn whooping cough. We KNOW she has a darn fig tree! Bla bla bla."


But I am asked the same questions, because not everyone knows, and so I have to answer them. I will change the tune as fast as I can, I promise. I would prefer never to mention whooping cough again Really. Boring.  It's my fault for having such career path.

But there is some fresh content, too, I promise, and if for nothing else, go and look at the pictures. I like them! Also surf around the House and Leisure website. South African magazines are awfully well put together in my opinion.

Here's the interview:

A New York Terrace

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Garden Advice

Would you like you like to grow your own salads? Chances are you can. How about serviceberry orchard on the 17th floor. Or do you prefer blueberries? Maybe you just like lilies. Or have always wanted a rose garden.

You have a shady back lot and a native woodland garden appeals, but you don't know where to begin. And in full sun you'd like to boost the morale of local pollinators by introducing appealing indigenous perennials. But which?

 Maybe your fire escape is the extent of your square feet and you're wondering what will work.

Or you'd like a calendar of what edibles to plant when. And what will grow into a green privacy screen for summer?

What I do: Assess your available garden in terms of aspect and microclimate: sun/shade ratio, challenges specific to your site, such as deep shade pockets, or orientation with regards to winter winds.

We'll talk about what sort of garden you need: edible, ornamental, native? To live in or to look at? What about perennials and shrubs and trees? We'll discuss how much gardening you will be able to commit to personally.

While I'll have on-the-spot suggestions, I also provide detailed plant lists and seasonal care schedules. I can go shopping with you to local nurseries and help pick out the plants that will thrive in your garden. Or you can point at plants you like and I'll say yes, no, yes, no... My involvement may last an hour or a year.

Rates upon inquiry.

 Please contact me via the Find Follow link.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gin Sour, with a boost

So, a coupe like this Woodstock glass holds five ounces of liquid, which is about ten tablespoons. I rarely measure when I pour my liquors and liquids into the little silver cocktail shaker, but am delighted every time the drink, after shaking, comes right to the rim of the glass. I have a dead eye. With cocktails, anyway.

But with the writing of the book I started measuring, pretty fast, deconstructing after the event, and then reconstructing, to make sure the ratios given in each month's cocktail or aperitif recipes were spot on.

This one is not in the book. It should be. The preserved lemons gave me an idea. And it is not exactly a gin sour, either. More like a gin salty and sour. Any ideas for a better name?

2 oz gin
2 oz sumac-infused vodka (this is in the book)
1 oz lemon juice
1 tsp lemon syrup from a jar of preserved lemons

Shaken like the blazes with ice. Tart, a hint of salt, the juniper and sour sumac coming through.

If you'll excuse me, I'm about to sip one, now.

Baked potatoes door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Union Market chicken follow up

My January 31st post on the post-dated chicken at Union Market on Court Street received this response from Union Market yesterday:

"It’s never easy for a retailer to hear of a customer experience such as yours, much less read about it on the web. We can promise you that it’s contrary to all Union Market policy to deliberately mislead a customer, or even to fake information if you don’t know the answer to a question. Beyond that, it’s a clear violation of the law to willfully mislabel fresh product on the stand, and in the Internet era it’s suicidal to intentionally embark on such a practice.

"The Murray’s Chicken that you found on the stand at Court Street had been labeled by a relatively new employee, who used the wrong scale labels (they were labeled as Smart Chicken) and then placed the labels incorrectly, and inappropriately, on the packages, as you’ve described. We regard this less as the employee’s fault and more a failure of management to properly explain the task at hand, and to follow-up on how the job was done. The staffer has been shown the right way, and the department head has been spoken to, and the butcher on duty has been reprimanded for his attitude and actions. We apologize for the poor treatment you received.

"Our store manager’s response to you, about how this was an “accident,” may have been impulsive, but it was not disingenuous, for the reasons stated above: misrepresentation of product in any way is the polar opposite of Union Market’s policies and practices.

"We will contact you directly so that we can speak personally about this, if you’d like, in hopes of answering any further questions and addressing any other concerns or observations that you have.

"Again, our regrets that this happened, and our thanks for bringing it to our attention."

Monday, February 18, 2013


So, Einstein (I say to Myself), why do you think this jug holding your fig cuttings is sitting in a puddle of water?

Hm, says Myself, it hasn't rained...In fact it's a sunny, blue day. A bit like the jug.

Indeed, I say.

It must be leaking, says Myself.

Wow, I say.

But...did the wind blow it over? The one that railed in the night?

It's still upright and where you left it, I say.

Myself picks it up. A long hairline crack running top to bottom. Oh, says Myself, and a small white chip of porcelain on the stone table.


Could the wind that lifted a deck chair from the roof have jarred it against the wall? says Myself.

Look inside, I say.

(Looks inside.)


Ice. What happens to water below freezing. Your figsticks have been out here overnight and it is freezing, as you well know, since you shuffled off to the gym late yesterday wearing sweats in 12'F/ -11'C weather. What did you think was going to happen???

I didn't, says Myself.

My point, I say.

It was my favourite Cornish Blue jug, says Myself, sadly. From Dean and Deluca.

It was your only Cornish Blue jug, I say. From Dean and Deluca.

My thoughts are wheeling pigeons, individuals peeling off and taking flight alone while the flock follows the white stick being waved by the man on the roof of the brownstone on Henry Street

I leave doors open, or locked with keys in the outside, lose knives small and large, and throw away cellphones.

But those are other stories.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Preserved lemons

Thought not.

(* Thank you, Monty Python)

Above, the Meyer lemons I put into salt two weeks ago. I am curious. I've never preserved such thin-skinned lemons before, and can't help wondering whether the best flavour might not come from the thicker pith of others. The part you use, in the end, is just the sticky, soft skin, and not the overly salty pulp. Below, photographed today - a lot of moisture drawn out, but not ready yet.

( I added more lemon juice after this photo was taken.)

A tagine is in the offing. Although the lemons can be bent towards any culinary tradition. Finely chopped and mixed with fresh herbs they are a delicious rub for just about anything, and I would also make wonderful sorbets and addition to cocktails.

Aged tequila? Preserved lemming? Yes, please.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flowers for Jane's House

Flowers for Jane

Blogs are funny places. Hearts on sleeves.

You meet people, but you have never met them. You fall in love with someone whose hand you have never held. I was in love with Vince before we met in person. The cab ride to Newark International was the most tense, the most exciting ride of my life. AND we got lost on Staten Island, on the way, the yellow cab driver as excited and distracted as I was, giving me advice about this auspicious meeting, and marriage, all the way. He was crushed when, at the airport, after I'd found Vince, tall, dressed in black (I was, too!) we decided to stay there for our coffee date instead of riding back to Brooklyn immediately in his cab. I still wish I could find him to tell him how it turned out. He was the rare New Yorker.

I was terrified on that ride because I was worried that Vince and I would not click in person, that the chemistry would not be there. But it was. No doubt. Five alarm fire.

So that worked out.

And then there is Jane, whose Small but Charming I've been reading since she started it in 2009, after I got to know her on this blog. She is a natural-born writer (I'm still waiting for the book) and has captured the hearts of friends all over the planet, with stories of her life in Arlington, before Arlington, her garden, her Flowers in the House on Mondays, her cooking, the flower shop, the lab, the new kittens, her struggle to quit smoking, to lose - not much - weight (achieved, and achieved) and, always, everything infused with her love for her girlfriend and partner, GG.

So when I opened a new post of Jane's last night and read that GG is leaving, out the door, it felt like a kick in my own guts. My poor friend. I wanted to get on a plane or a train and go south immediately. How I know that feeling. That horrible feeling. And if it happened to me now? It does not bear thinking about.

Today, we will talk for the first time. And next month I'll visit. And I'm not worried about the chemistry. I'm just worried about my friend. I love her, too.

We have you surrounded, Jane.

Blueberries in winter

More pruning tidbits. It's only when I learned to cut the blueberry back after it had born fruit in July-ish, that I began to appreciate its winter interest - these winter-red branches that grow after the summer pruning. They are every bit as pretty as red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) - a shrub that is sometimes planted in an institutional reflex, without much thought to its position in terms of background and light.

Blueberries are more interesting, too, because they have, well...blueberries, as well as stunning fall foliage.

I gave it a mulch of freshly ground coffee (yes, I did, and it smelled wonderful), and promised it some food, come early spring.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Pruning the fig tree

Well, I've gone and done it.

I can hardly bear to post a picture of the pruned tree. I am used to pruning roses, clematis, blueberries, even raspberries, and I barely blink at cutting them back hard, once I understand when they bloom and on what growth. For instance, I wouldn't want to prune the blueberry now, or I'd lose a lot of berries, this year. Instead, it was pruned after it fruited, last summer, and had time to put out new growth, on which it will bear fruit this year...

But I have never pruned a fig tree. Instead, I satisfied myself with pruning this fig's roots. Last year, however,  the tree had fewer fruit than usual and the leaf-growth was restricted to the very ends of the branches. It needed renewal. The scary thing is that visible growth always happens at the tips of the branches. After today's activities, there are no tips of branches. It seems impossible that new shoots will break out of the most mature grey wood that is left.

The pruning definitely means that there will be no breba crop - that's the first, smaller crop that forms on older wood. But, in theory at least, there will be plenty of new, green growth in the spring and summer, and that is where the main crop forms.


Not a very encouraging sight. I hope to have a wonderful After picture. One day.

In the meantime, I'll be learning about rooting fig cuttings.

Anybody want a baby fig tree?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Please, Sir...?

Snow, I mean. I miss it already.

Almond croissants (very good!), from Sahadi's. Who knew? Now I do. Dangerous.
Coffee? Danish Supreme, also Sahadi's. 
Tulips: Clinton Street.
Snow: sky.

Cat? Dominican bodega.

Don't ask awkward questions about the butter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rabbit terrine

This is the rabbit terrine I made last week for a snowed-out dinner party. After it came out of the oven I pressed it, putting a little reed mat over foil on the surface, and weighing it down with several cans and a small sack of black beans (reminder to self: make Terence Hills' beans this weekend, while Vince is in Montreal -  he doesn't do beans).

The weighing down served to push the meaty bits below the surrounding and melted layer of fat from the apple wood-smoked bacon, and compressed everything into a brick shape, very easy for slicing, once chilled.

The pale bits you see are white meat from the rabbit, the darker bits are chopped-up liver and kidneys, and er, well...rabbit sausage. Patricia Wells said to season with juniper - which seemed a great fit for rabbit, and Richard Olney recommended a bread crumb paste with garlic, so I added that, too. The terrace provided lots of thyme.

I was trying to remember when I ate my first slice of terrine; ever, I mean. It was probably in Constantia, at home - every year we had a big 'Spring Breakfast,' lasting from about 11am till late. Days and days were spent cooking for a spread the likes of which Cape Town has probably not seen since. My mom always made chicken liver terrines - in texture practically indistinguishable from a pâté except that they were baked in a terrine dish in a bain marie in a low oven. Raymond Blanc's recipe in particular was creamy and silky and slightly alcoholic, with a fat content that does not bear thinking about - lethal in large doses. And absolutely delicious, spread onto thin toasts.

This version above is more in the style of country terrine - rougher, robust, good for some very lucky peasants. Which always makes me think of my ancestor on my father's side, the first Francois Villon, who arrived in South Africa around 1679. What kind of France did he leave, fresh from wars that stripped Europe. What did he eat? Could he cook? Did men cook?

Had he ever eaten a rabbit terrine?


I love this picture. 

And th-th-th-that's all, folks. 

(Until the next snowfall. One can dream.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brooklyn Bridge Park under snow

At Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park I met a tall black man in a bright blue winter work suit beginning to build a very white snowman. 

I always wanted to build a snowman, he said.  

I had seen him from a couple of hundred yards off, and I knew he was building a snowman. I could see him forming the base, not by packing snow but by rolling snowploughed chunks on top of one another. I also knew he worked for the park; the blue suits are for employees of The Doe Fund, "Ready, Willing, and Able." He straightened up as I approached, smiling, and looking a bit sheepish, perhaps because I was smiling ( a 6'3 man all alone, building a snowman), and perhaps because he was on duty. I been in New York four weeks, he said. He said he was from Alabama. 

I haven't seen snow since 1986. I am 43 and I reckoned it was time to build me a snowman. 

I could have gone home, right then. Day made. But there was more snow to see. Welcome to New York,  I said, and went on with my walk.

I walked up the East River, to the loudest park in the word, the little one between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, where I pick service berries in June. From the bridges themselves icicles hung, hundreds of feet high and thick and sharp. I did not like walking under them.

On the way back I checked on the red witch hazels at Pier 1- they are in bud but not yet in bloom - and right there bumped into my friend the snowman builder again, who greeted me with a wave, as a flock of brants flew by above us. You get some good pictures? he asked. I hope so, I said. He was sweating under his wool cap. Working hard, he said, shoveling the paths. Till what time do you work? I asked. 8.30. Long day, I remarked, to be friendly. Work's good, he said, Good to be working.

The friendliest man in New York. I hope he makes it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Fort Tryon under Snow

On the A train on Saturday, we were heading for Inwood, at the end of the line, and the northern tip of Manhattan (and field garlic country, for this forager). At the last minute we changed our minds and decided to see Fort Tryon - an Olmsted-designed park - instead; it's two stops south of Inwood Hill Park.

The subway station at 190th Street is deep inside Manhattan schist and one climbs steeply to return to the light.

And what light.

There were a lot of people strolling, but the snow was clean, the air like champagne, and there was not a human being without a smile on its face. If the pulse of the city had been taken on this afternoon, it would would have been found to be vibrating at a pitch of happiness rare in town of 8.3 millions souls. United in a strange and wonderful whiteness we did what New Yorkers never do: greeted each other with smiles and nods as we passed.

Small, colds winds came off the water of the Hudson below and caused minute blizzards of ice crystals, flying from branches in the high sunlight. Pictured above and below is the Heather Garden - restored to Olmsted's design after serious 1970's and 80's neglect, and one of the first gardens resurrected by Bette Midler's New York Restoration Project.

Tobogganing was in full swing.

We climbed, heading towards The Cloisters, to the north (below), and passing snowboarders and snowman builders, and people just sitting, and looking.

And then we dipped again, and with the descent we lost the sunlight and were in a pale blue world of shadow and never-ending trees and more snow.

The Brueghel world beneath. 

And back up another hill. 

I had forgotten about the "suggested donation " at the Cloisters. $50, suggested the machine. I blanched. To put this in perspective, The Cloisters is located on a hill above Washington Heights, traditionally a lower income Dominican neighbourhood, with a smattering of yuppies and artists and  better-off residents. $50 for two. I thought that was rude, inappropriate and more than discriminatory. I felt guilty paying only $25. Welcome, neighbours.

The great, hushed rooms smelled of the orange blossom on the small trees with green oranges in an arcade of old stone and windows facing south. Icicles dripped in the courtyard.

With a cellphone message asking us for early help for an evening party, we turned back to the east and found our subway station again, entering a subterranean passage at the foot of the rocky hill, and riding the A train back to Brooklyn, under the cold and snowy length of the island of Manhattan, dipping beneath the East Rover, rising again to leave us at Borough Hall.