Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

For breakfast we ate the hot cross buns I baked last night, then had a little Easter egg hunt on the terrace with the cat, who was more interested in his sprouting catnip than in chocolate and marzipan bunnies. Yesterday I planted my instant spring primroses and mossy rockfoil (below), and some pansies, too. For supper we'll have a roast lamb leg - and that will be our Easter celebration. Now, it's about flowers and food, and not about religious dogma. Although, with my Christian background,  I always think of Jesus as the original terrorist. Of ideas. A freedom fighter. He would be so very unimpressed by us: our immature insistence on owning handguns and automatic rifles, our wars for profit, and our denial of equal rights to all human beings.

There endeth the lesson. 

Now, I have field garlic to turn into marmalade.

(April 1st at 9am EST: registration opens for my May 19th foraging class and walk at the BBG) 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A foraging picnic

The woods of Inwood had barely woken up yet, when Clare, Pritha and I walked into them yesterday on a quest for field garlic. The spicebush had not broken bud.

We did find snowdrops - not native at all, but pretty.

And moss on the enormous rocks. There were birds: a woodpecker, its high primitive percussion somewhere in the bare trees, cardinals, titmice, and a pair of beautiful blue and white nut hatches. 

After finding some likely foraging grounds we settled in the middle of them, high on a rock, looking out over the leaf littered woods and occasional dog walker.

I broke out the pâté, cucumber sandwiches and gins and tonics. My fellow picnickers were impressed by the ice and lemon slices. 

I was impressed by their willingness to dive in and experience a new taste without any finickiness. To the left of Clare, below - that vertical twig? Poison ivy...

...And by Clare's freshly baked cheese scones and wonderful lemon curd - both made that very morning.

We were camping right on top of garlic mustard, an edible invasive that has taken over these woods, crowding out just about every other wildflower.

To help out, we ate it on the spot. Thanks to Pritha for the styling.  She works for a think tank and she sat and thought very fast and came up with some wonderful wild food ideas.

Apart from thinking, she also contributed some excellent quiches and fruit tarts from a bakery in Fort Greene.

After lunch we got down to business, hauling fat field garlic from the ground. The best bulbs are a little larger than thumbnail-size.

The walk back to the subway took us past the Henry Hudson Bridge. The Bronx is on the other side...

I'll return in a few weeks. Maybe a month. I love to see these trees in young leaf.

And the field garlic will still be there.

And the riders on the A train will be as engulfed by field garlic fumes as they were yesterday. Sorry about that...

Friday, March 29, 2013

To the woods!

March 2012

I am about to leave the house en route to the woods of northern Manhattan. Yes, we have them. Woods.

Clare (a fellow South African), Pritha and I will be looking for field garlic and watching out for young poison ivy. And picnicking.

I have no idea what to expect, actually. It's a late-spring; at least, later than last year. And yesterday the pear blossoms started to pop. Just a little. Actual white showing from the buds. Tomorrow they will open, in 50'F weather. I hope to find the spicebush in bloom, as above - that was March 24th, last year.

Dicentra cucullaria - Dutchman's breeches

I have a small picnic. Cucumber sandwiches on soft and entirely unwholesome white bread. Chicken liver mousse. Crackers.

And gin and tonic to celebrate the first real foraging outing of the year.  Of course I have ice.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Watercress in New York City

 Watercress and pomelo salad with crisp shallot

Edible Brooklyn's spring edition is here! It is all about Water.

If you like green things, here is a sneak peak at my story about city watercress and the other two cresses that are a better foraging bet in these urban surrounds.

Barbarea verna (winter cress, yellowrocket)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cosmo's Moon

Cosmo's moon rose over Brooklyn last night. No doubt you saw it, too.

Do you know we live on the same street as the bakery in Moonstruck? 

Sometimes I wonder if Nick Cage is down there, baking bread! bread! bread!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Go to Chinatown. Go on, now. There's good food, there.

And the Frenchman's pictures are good. So very much better than mine...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sunday supper

I get a little nervous when raw leaves or vegetables do not feature in a meal. They are a daily medicine.

On Sunday night - in a Sunday mood, which calls for counter measures - I cut up mango, beetroot and carrot, blanched some unseasonal green beans, and pulled apart the leaves of a head of endive. Added a dressing of lemon juice, sugar, fish sauce, raw ginger and chile, and nerves-be-gone. Shoo.

There may have been a side of sticky pieces of chicken roasted with chopped up cilantro stems, more lemon, more ginger, more fish sauce, and just a little sugar.

And a KILLER crème brûlée for dessert.

Thank goodness for those vegetables.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Chilly spring

We sat at the stone table this morning and ate a weekend breakfast. A China blue sky, cardinals, blue jays, a mockingbird and two unidentified song birds calling. The Iceberg rose's new green leaves are beginning to show, but the New Dawn is still a week behind. Vince is off on an expedition and I am making some adjustments to the latest incarnation of the book (yes, you can preorder 66 Square Feet - a Delicious Life on Amazon despite the fact that the cover has not been chosen, yet! Good price, if you do, too).

Tweak, tweak, fiddle, fiddle, and soon it will be out of my hands again.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The earliest spring flowers

The brown and crispy Ocean Avenue entrance to Prospect Park, the one I used for that year of cleaning litter in the woods, reached by the Q train,  revealed these tiny white flowers like small butterflies resting on the arched branches of the winter honeysuckle shrubs. Why are sprays of it not sold at flower stores? I'd buy  a bunch and roll around in the sweet lemon scent for nights on end.

Back at Borough Hall, across the street from the post office, where an hour before I had come close to implosion, I rose to the early cold evening and found the winter cherry beginning to bloom again, after its tentative December fling.

Nearby, outside the fortified court buildings, the Cornelian cherry had broken bud. As I turned from taking its picture with my cheap telephoto I came face to face with a cop, scrutinising me. Flowers, I lisped... He smiled vacantly. A benign expression reserved for the half cracked and unpredictable.

Who is the man that breaks into loud and raspy voiced song, channeled from his earpieces, no doubt, as he cycles fast past our block at 3am in the morning? It's been happening for a week. I don't hear him coming or going, so I take it personally. To aggravate my leaping into wakefulness, I only catch a few seconds of the song and lie for minutes trying to place it.

I am dying to water him. Should I lie in wait, shivering in the dark?

It is very provocative.

Related Posts:

Central Park Spring, 31 March 2009
Battery Park, 26 March 2011

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grey March

I think I am beginning to understand the English. How excited they get when the sun appears. Why they throw off all their clothes and lie in parks in the sun turning pink. The last many weeks in New York have been unusually grey.

Today there is another white out. A high white glare that sucks colour out of everything. White on the ground is one thing. But white in the sky is oppressive.

Two evenings ago, while I was completing my errand route, the sun came out. I dashed home, shook the Frenchman, barked, Roof! mixed two drinks, and we shot up the ladder before the sun disappeared again. We sat there, like two contemplative lemmings considering the abyss, and watched the cat prowl the rooftops, the ferries cross the harbor. The local cardinal was in full voice. In the distance over Jersey a haze moved towards us, and when I went to tend the braai fire on the terrace, I discovered that sleet was falling. I looked up. I could see stars in a clear sky. Precipitation continued to hiss into the coals. I held an umbrella over our steak and looked at the blue night. To the Northeast, past the Brooklyn skyline, that haze bank - the edge of a big New England storm - moved toward the Atlantic at an angle, and brushed us with ice.

Last night, at 2am, I heard the geese, two flights passing north, on the second day of spring.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Breakfast. This espresso maker. The creaminess of the coffee it produces.

Addiction interests me. I spent years working for and physically beside an addict (opioid painkillers) who was perpetually running after the wagon from which he had dropped. That was a crash course in what drug dependence can do, and what it looks like. I have had other brushes with the affliction, in close relationships and friendships, and know that is has far less to do with willpower than it does DNA and environment. I keep a sharp eye out for it in myself, but am relatively free of the most damaging of urges. But this coffee. That's a weak spot. I feel quite miserable if I can't have a good cup of coffee in the morning. I loathe drip coffee, no matter how good the beans (or how good Coop made it look and sound in Twin Peaks - there's another addiction). And it makes me jittery, where espresso does not. When we go camping, a stovetop espresso maker goes camping, too.

Because one needs to be a happy camper.


What? You don't play with toys when you have breakfast?

That bunny needs a cab!

So...what are your guilty little secrets? Big or small. Wack me upside the head.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Vinegar Hill pâté, Fort Defiance pâté, Balthazar pâté?

...the same pâté. Give or take a goose liver or two.

It may be a well known phenomenon, explained by alumni of, I would guess, Balthazar, branching out into their own establishments in Brooklyn. One minute of Googling may reveal all. But I have always thought that these three restaurant's pâté's are remarkably similar. The same, even. The Balthazar one, served with caramelized, vinegary onions, and slices of charred bread, has long been an occasional treat for me. An affordable and perfect one-person lunch. Vinegar Hill's is served in a mason jar, with a scattering of pistachios, with a side charred bread, and is very similar to the one served at Fort Defiance with...charred bread and an oniony relish.

The silky texture. The lightness. I wasn't thinking. I should have cast my mind back to my early cooking days and Raymond Blanc's sinful, fat-laden chicken liver mousse, poached in a bain marie.

Instead, I found You Tube. And a video through which I fast forwarded to get to the kitchen, in Vinegar Hill. 
In one gesture the secret was laid bare: The chef poured raw chicken livers into a blender. Yes! Raymond Blanc's method came rushing back and I bounced into the kitchen, all of three feet away. Then I remembered the Balthazar Cookbook and bounced back to the laptop. Their chicken liver mousse recipe calls for the same raw livers, and half a pound of butter. That's two sticks. I decided to halve butter and make up the difference with cream. 

In the meantime, the graupel falling outside started to turn to snow. I didn't know what graupel was, either. Now I do. Snow pellets. Kind of. But it's very technical.

While I melted the butter on the stove I decided to infuse it with some garlic slivers. And I stripped the stalks of thyme so that the leaves went into the hot butter, too. I can't imagine making chicken liver pâté without thyme. I whooshed the cleaned livers with cream and butter until smooth. Added salt, quite a lot. And  beach-plum infused gin in lieu of the more traditional cognac. After the whooshing, the mixture had turned weirdly gelatinous and a quick reading of my Organic Valley cream carton revealed the culprit (I think): carrageenan. Drat. Better than xanthan gum, but really. Cream should be cream.

Into my motley crew of jars (I think this may be an excellent May foraging class snack ahead of the foraging walk- hence the transportable Mason jars) and then into the oven in a warm bath of water.

My Brooklyn Botanic Garden  foraging class and walk? Registration opens on April 1st.

I tasted the results early - it was still warm. I could not wait, hence the still-grainy texture, but I swear it was as smooth as the smoothest smooth thing you have ever tasted.

Today it is chilled and I'll test it again - the seasoning will be muted, and I may fiddle with it. I think this would be wonderful made with young, tender bayberry leaves, served with field garlic relish. Instant foraging class bona fides.

And after that, I made dinner. Spinach tagliatelle with wilted spinach and a few chopped livers sautéed with shallots and finished with Meyer lemons ('tis the season) for good measure.

The cat sat at our feet, feeling better than he has for a while, and helped us with the pieces of liver, and we drank wine and talked about camping recipes and fires and animals and just how cold we might feel at night in the Kruger Park in June.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Constantia Garden

Here are some more pictures of my mother's summer garden, taken in December, when we were in Constantia for a week. Speaking of Constantia - the Cape Town suburb and wine-growing region where my parents live - there was an article in The New York Times a few weeks ago that focused purely on Constantia (rather than Cape Town in general) as a getaway. European visitors have known this for a while, but now the American bobcat is out of the bag. I actually wrote to The Times to suggest a small correction - the article talks about the Alphen Trail that goes right past my parents house, and say that it ends on the Constantiaberg. It doesn't. No matter. Apparently their guide was also confused, and so was a local website to which they referred me.

There are many mountains. And it is funny to think of that trail - used primarily by dog walkers who never scoop their poop - a terrible South African practise, as a destination.

Anyhoo: above - butterflies (garden acraea) at home on the Confederate jasmine that festoons the arbour over the patio every early summer.

Bulbine, indigenous to South Africa, is something I'd love to grow here. Impossibly, my friend Dan plants it as an annual on Fire Island. I have no idea where he finds it. I suppose I should ask.  Its succulent, gel-oozing leaves have wonderful healing properties for skin ailments, and I think it makes a very good cut flower. Witness the flowers for my dad's 80th birthday (actually, you can barely see them in the linked pictures: there was precisely one in each vase. I kept stealing flowers from the garden and decided my mother would kill me if I took more!)

Cannas and fuchsias grow at the bottom of the garden.

The David Austin rose Graham Thomas is about eight feet tall.

My niece Rebecca gave this protea (a hybrid called Pink Ice, I think) to my mom, and it does surprisingly well. Proteas can be fussy in gardens, but this one is in the right spot, with excellent drainage. 

Gorgeous opium poppies...

A nameless and flourishing orchid.

And a little piece of England? With Asia thrown in, in the form of day lilies...the mixed border in front of the large tree tomato. I love the bronze fennel in the middle of everything else.

I think my mom's garden will be open* to the public again next year, when her garden club hosts its biennial Open Gardens Weekend, a fund raiser and spectacularly successful event which attracts thousands of garden visitors. Money raised is donated to two local not-for-profits (Abalimi bezekhaya and Soil for Life) which support edible gardens on the Cape Flats.

* Update: Nope, I'm wrong, hers will not be. But the dates for next year's Open Garden weekend are November 14th and 15th, 2014

The view from my bedroom window

But before then I'll see it this May - late autumn for the garden. I have not seen the garden, or Cape Town, at this time of year since I left South Africa for what was meant to be a six month study trip. Many, many years ago.

I really can't wait.

Related Posts:

Kirstenbosch in 80 Minutes

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Brooklyn, of a Caturday

I have been cheating on Estorbo this week. First, there was that tortoiseshell kitty at Floyd Bennett Field, who ate my lunch. Then, yesterday, there was this gorgeous tabby at...Home Depot (hushed voice).

Being in Home Depot is like being in enemy territory and wanting to eat the enemy's supper. And seeing in the enemy someone who looks remarkably like yourself.  The enemy has things I want. Like this cat, who lives in the garden - if you can call it that - section, flanked by Round Up and Miracle Gro and peat moss and boxes of bulbs grown with petrochemically rich chemical fertilizers and that you try not to look at, but ogle, anyway. This cat is called, simply, Home Depot, and apparently lives there with three other strays. S/he was in very good condition and very friendly.

We were there to look for soaker hoses - a solution to roof farm watering while we are away in early summer, and our local hardware stores do not carry them.  We found one, and I also slinked (slunk?) out with a bag of Martha's (!) Abyssinian gladiolus (some of mine have turned to mush) and crocosmia corms (which will turn to mush, but I love them, and have never grown my own - and they are South African).

We left the industrial (for how long?) neighborhood and walked in wet snowflakes across the drawbridge over the mouth of the Gowanus Canal (where the hapless dolphin entered that putrid waterway, some weeks ago, to die under the gaze of so many of us). We were headed for Red Hook, about twenty minutes south.  And we happened to surface in it just one block from Fort Defiance.

What was a person to do?

...pull a stool up at the bar and order a cocktail, of course. And a plate of creamy chicken liver pâté with charred sourdough (one of the best deals in town, I think, at $8), and perhaps follow that up with some vinegary shrimp on a bed of matchsticked celeriac...

On our walk back to Cobble Hill the snow turned to persistent mist, and on Columbia Street in the dark we passed Eshete (speaking of Abyssinians - he is Ethiopean) and his coterie of cats, eating their dinner, while he watched. He takes care of them rain or shine, night or day.

We came home, fed our own cat, and then I dived deep into the Internet and came up for air many hours and visions later, with our trip booked to the Kruger Park in June, and dreamed all night of camp sites and beetles and perhaps even a backlit hedgehog or two.