Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Henry Street townhouses

 April 30th, 2013

Two years and counting...

They say you should write about what you know. I'll just show you.

Today, air conditioners are being delivered to the Henry Street townhouses.

On the street, there is much digging. My wake up call was a pneumatic drill. My lunchtime distraction was a pneumatic drill. The background music for my editing was a pneumatic drill. 

The cat is beginning to purr like a pneum...

April 30, 2013 

I think today might be the day that they finally kill one of the oak trees on the sidewalk. I love those trees - and for the houses' new owners, out of pocket several million dollars ($4,600 and $4,800, apparently) after purchase, they are important for privacy, too. A trench is being dug right beside the tree farthest to the left (below).

The trees have never been protected.

In a sense, I have not minded the construction - this is New York. Whaddayagonnado? It did become problematic last year while I was writing my book, as the noise was profound, but once summer arrived and  the sliding door to the terrace was shut and the airconditioner on, it all disappeared into a white noise hum.

Naturally, as it is spring, the door is open again, the noise is back. Ironically, when it is all finally done, it might be time for us to move on.

April 30th, 2013 - the oak's death knell?

What has been very aggravating in the last couple of months, has been the water main breaks. There had never been houses on the site before, so everything had to be laid from scratch. Sewers, water, gas, electricity. Water to our building has been shut off without warning, for hours, and when it comes back on it is dark brown and filled with mud. This kills the laundry that is in the machine at the time. Like, dead. And drinking tap water seems unappealing, for a while.

So, here's a little construction tour, going back in time to 2011, from my very subjective and usually elevated point of view.

April 16, 2013 - next door, the new outdoor shower. Neighbours will be friendly...

April 2, 2013 - dig, dig, dig

March 15, 2013 - gas lines

February 27, 2013 - water, dig, dig, dig

 January 9, 2013 -  the penthouse level gets sliding doors

September 27, 2012 - the oaks give us all some privacy

July 6, 2012 - top floor shells are done

April 3, 2012 - the basement walls are in

April 3, 2012 - it was a noisy time...

March 20, 2012 - delivery

March 13, 2013 - some concrete cutting action next door at the former Amity Street Horror 

March 12, 2013 - the first floors going in

March 1, 2013 - basement walls are in

February 17, 2013 - we need some concrete

December 20, 2011 - once home to feral cats, now home to tractor cats. Dig, dig, dig.

November 9, 2011 - steel I-beam delivery

Noise - from the first new townhouse, around the corner, on Amity Street

February 28, 2011 - the empty site, brooding

I had imagined designing a garden, in this neglected space here, before the so-called Amity Street Horror (otherwise known as The Lamm Institute) was sold by Long Island College Hospital and turned from a care facility for children with disabilities, to future residence of the well heeled

Ain't no space for gardens, now. 

And I wonder where the children went?

I'll just leave you with a little construction lullaby, courtesy of a few minutes ago:


Monday, April 29, 2013


A recent defrosting and clearing of the freezer led to a delicious drink: Peach slices were thawed and whizzed into a puree, then shaken with a little gin, poured into a coupe and topped with cold prosecco.

So its not exactly a Bellini, which is just the peach and prosecco.

But, Mamma. It's good.

The first spring posy from the terrace. The nemesias are quite heavily scented (like vanilla) - I had no idea. 

The New York Botanic Garden in April

We rode Metro-North's local Harlem line from Grand Central. The train was packed. The woman sitting beside me chatted, saying she was going back to her old hood, the Bronx. That when she had been a teenager she'd gone to the NYBG every day after school, when it had been free. "It was my backyard," she said.

That's some yard.

It also turned out that she has written many books about Africa, and has traveled overland from Morocco to Kenya, camping all the way. We had a lot to talk about. 

The line to get in was long. Even members had to wait. On the NYBG website there had been no way to find out the cost of an All Garden Pass. The price is simply not listed, anywhere. The website does advertize the $10, Grounds Only Pass. 

But at the gate the only price touted was a $25 All Garden Pass, with the $10 option written in fine print at the bottom. Funny. That kind of detail turns me off. But I chose the $25 pass so that I could see the Rock Garden, which is off limits, otherwise. In retrospect, the less expensive option would have been perfect as there was so much to see, anyway.

Once inside the spectacular grounds this was the first sign I saw:

I am still so surprised by the alliance of professional gardeners and gardens with a synthetic chemical giant whose links to other giants like Monsanto are common knowledge. I live in a local, seasonal, mostly (but not exclusively) organic food culture, in both my professional and private lives. It is a world where consequences, cause and effect, are a big topic. This kind of kind of association, which seems so counter-intuitive to me, is deeply frowned upon in that edible world.

It is, of course, about money. 

So. That was rather a sad start.

We walked through the forest, which is gorgeous in early springtime. The structure of the trees is still visible, with only the earliest greening in evidence. Above, cutleaf toothwort, which I learned to identify last year in Pelham Bay Park, also in the Bronx.

The scale of the grounds is far larger than the familiar Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, but we found it quite manageable. It was wonderful to see the Bronx River flowing by. Above, golden ragwort.

Out of the forest and into the cherry trees - a grove of low hills and gentle dips.

And a secret lawn with secret crabapple trees. The whole of New York seemed to be in the garden (I bumped right into my friend Deb, better known as BonBon, as I walked into the bathrooms) - but there was no one here, under the trees smelling like snow and spice. 

By far my favourite spot. 

The climate is a little cooler up here, on the mainland, and while Brooklyn's daffodils have had their day, the Bronx's daffodils are at their peak.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Prospect Park - there are meals in them thar hills...

I rambled through Prospect Park the other day, after an appointment at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Above, not pictured, but just to my left, a grandfather coached a very small boy in baseball. In Hindi-inflected English he said to the tiny little man, who was not much longer than his baseball bat: You really need to organize your game!

I smiled, and wondered whether the grandfather would prefer to be teaching his grandson cricket.

I love that copse of trees, up there.

There were violets, everywhere. 

In the woods where we cleaned for that year, there were may apples amongst the trash and condoms, and a familiar patch of ostrich fern.

And everywhere, Norway maples in bloom. 

I was heading for a hill, but on the way I was side tracked by garlic mustard, and picked a bunch. Yes, far from the trash and condoms. And from dogs. 

Prospect Park allows foraging walks and tours on the condition that no plant material is removed from the park. I have asked to lead expeditions where we 'harvest' weeds openly and have been turned down.. It is very frustrating. So one forages furtively, which is ridiculous:

This noxious weed is so well evolved that  it prevents other plants from growing nearby by sending out chemicals which are a botanical equivalent of Keep Out signs, followed by Uzzi fire. No magazine limit, either. And garlic mustard is all over the park. The park hasn't the resources to control it.

It is also delicious. And pretty nutritious, too.

A big bunch joined some field garlic in my bag, and was recently turned into very good pesto. The recipe is next door, at 66 Square Feet (the Food). It will be fed to my late-morning foraging class on the 19th, at the BBG.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


In the blue light of the evening terrace, a picnic last night, ready for transport to the roof (always slightly fraught, after the Flying Pig incident). The last of our home-cured duck breast, freshly pickled field garlic from the March batch, my chicken liver mousse (in the jar), just-made garlic mustard pesto - which will be fed to my BBG foraging class, too; the obilgatory saucisson (since Vince and I really met because of saucisson) and greens from the roof, dressed with very good, syrupy balsamic vinegar.

I found myself eating my own, surreptitious picnic at lunch, yesterday. Soft white bread - left over from my cucumber sandwich craving early in the week - spread with some mayonnaise, rolled up around single spears of canned white asparagus. This funny, 50's era snack belongs to one time and place: an annual family picnic at Maynardville, in Cape Town, which always preceded an outdoor production of Shakespeare. When I was a teenager, the only thing that gave me courage for the play was the prospect of this picnic, with coffee (and brandy!) at half time. My Aunt Yvonne and Uncle Reg would drive in from Paarl in their diesel Mercedes, and Yvonne always made a large tupperware container full  of these white bread, mayonnaise and asparagus sandwiches. I used to wolf them. I loved them.

I craved them yesterday, and made three roll ups for myself.

Forty-five minutes later I learned that my Uncle Reg had just passed away, in Paarl.

So it was a sad picnic. We looked out over the water, at the harbor, the boats, the air cold after the sun had set, and sipped our wine and looked at planes landing and flying far away, and at the earliest stars.

Every time he saw me, Reg would say, with delight, So how's Brooklyn? And without waiting for an answer would tell me about the time he had visited Brooklyn, when he was in the navy, long, long ago.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Our bleeding hearts

Bleeding heart, on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, on a recent evening.

As pretty as it is, I actually prefer a native alternative,  Dicentra eximia, or fringed bleeding heart - a Northeastern wildflower which continues to bloom through to chilly weather, unlike many of its indigenous and ephemeral spring brethren, such as trout lilies, woodland phlox, trillium and Virginia bluebells (to name a small, lovely handful), which retreat beneath the earth once warm weather starts.