Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why picnic?

Sometimes, I think I picnic to stay sane.

One might think that plates of pretty food are an indication of a sunny outlook. I say, look deeper.

I say, the peeling and the chopping and the dressing and the arranging and the packing and the carrying and the sitting in a place where the air moves in a way that it never can indoors, are a last resort, the culinary equivalent of a rooftop-howling wolf inconsolable in its grief at the state of things. I picnic to let it all out. To say if we have nothing else, we have this. Goddamnit.

Just a thought.

Strange fruit


Update: 2.10pm

I think some more clues are necessary:

Tropical aroma. Tastes like passion fruit, with lemon and pineapple thrown in.

...and, once upon a time, I thought the seeds would kill me.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Save the Philippi Farmlands, now (hours left)

There is a petition on Avaaz right now that requires urgent signatures. Briefly, agricultural land within Cape Town's still-impoverished Cape Flats, in an area called Philippi, is about to be rezoned. It will lose its agricultural status and be sold to developers.

There is no doubt that more housing is needed on the Cape Flats, where shanty towns still dominate the landscape, but there is other land available for redevelopment. Philippi is a haven for microfarmers and gardeners from the community who grow crops for sale in Cape Town, as well as to feed themselves and their communities.

I heard about this crisis via Abalimi bezekhaya, the inspiring and effective NGO - whose bona fides are solid, whose support of urban agriculture in Cape Town's poorest communities has been painstaking, and about which I have written extensively.

When Abalimi farmers have the skills and support to sell commercially, this is precisely the area where they would obtain one hectare plots for farming.

The decision will be made in Cape Town, tomorrow, July 31st. There are only a few hours left to sign this petition. Please do so, and - this is vital -  share the link with as many people as you can.

Sign: Cape Town's Bread Basket and Vital Aquifer Under Serious Threat

Monday, July 29, 2013

Figs in July

Stacey asked me recently about the origin of these figs.

Not the terrace, for sure. I bought them at Mr Kim's on Atlantic, a box for $3.99 and assumed they had trekked across the country, racking up carbon miles. However, they may have come from this coast - I looked at my terrace posts from last year and see I ate my own breba figs from our little tree last June. Breba is that first, less abundant crop that a fig produces, from old wood. The main crop grows from new green branches, produced this year - and because my main crop was so small last year, I hacked the fig back this February (and then spent five months wringing my hands and wailing, What have I done?*).

So, back to these figs. I don't know where they came from. But they were very good, sweet, with  a hint of tartness. And yes, I peel figs.

Don't you?

There is a fig salad recipe in my book. Not quite like this one.

* I should add that our fig is fine and pushing out lots of new growth, as well as small, green figs. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lamb burgers on Sunday night

You look up and it's 7.41pm and you realize the day has gone and you'd better do something about supper.

While I was out today, talking about edible plants in Prospect Park, the Frenchman went shopping. His favourite food, and I mean on the face of the earth, is The Hamburger (closely followed by Fondue and then, interestingly, by Broccoli).

Go figure.

So he had sourced the holy quinity: lamb (because ever since loving them at Prune we have loved lamb burgers, and my mom makes some mean, ones, too), English muffins, an onion for the must-have slow-caramelized onions that top the patty, Swiss cheese, with holes (he says it has to be Swiss, in this case, Gruyere), and...ketchup.

Ketchup. I have some ketchup stories but I'm not really ready to tell them.

The onions are caramelizing, outside it is raining lightly, and I should turn my attention to searing some lamb.


Date plum

Here is a tree I would grow, if I had the space, and if nurseries stocked it. The date plum. It is a persimmon: Diospyros lotus. I first met it two years ago at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, when I tasted it, ripe (below). I noticed the tree again on Friday, when I saw the unripe, powdery green fruit  loading the branches. It is thought that the (very ripe) fruit may have been the source of Homer's Lotus Eaters, in his Odyssey. The Chinese call these persimmons black dates and I have seen them dried, in Chinatown.

The fat orange persimmons we see in early winter trays at greengrocers are probably mostly cultivars of Diospyros kaki, and there is a native American persimmon, too - Diospyros virginiana. Ebony is the heartwood of a tropical persimmon - Diospyros ebenum.

When ripe the small sweet date plums - about the size of a fat thimble - are as freshly sweet as chewable toffee. I'll visit again when the weather turns cold.

And if it does not rain on us, I'll lead my foraging walkers past the tree early this afternoon. It deserves to be better known.

What fruit would you grow, if you could?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Supper for two, six years later

I grilled some pork chops with preserved Meyer lemons last night, and plenty of rosemary from the pot on the roof, and garlic. As they cooled, I dressed them with extra preserved lemon, fresh lemon juice, and olive oil. Then they were sliced, and eaten at roof temperature. Really, really good... I served them with fresh figs.

As I wandered in Prospect Park yesterday, doing some reconnaissance for tomorrow's foraging walk for the BBG, it occurred to me that I wanted to eat a sweetish yet spicy carrot salad for supper. So at home I cooked some carrots cut into half moons, and then added them to sauteed garlic, toasted coriander, powdered ginger, and a spoonful of chestnut honey. Finished that all with lemon juice, sliced hot green chiles, lots of mint form the terrace, and olive oil. It was wonderful.

The stressed Iceberg is doing a little better and has put out a tentative second flush.

The sky was beautiful.

Vince just reminded me that six years ago today, I left a comment on his blog.

Which reminded me that things could be a lot worse.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Blueberry and peach cake

This is an old favourite, ever since Nigel Slater first wrote about it for The Guardian. My latest version - yesterday's - has been tweaked even more.

Butter and sugar content were, well, not exactly slashed, but trimmed. Blueberries increased, since I have bagfuls in the freezer from early July's bounty on the roof, which the Frenchman thoughtfully froze for me. The berries are huge. Also, some black raspberries from the roof made it in. But those were incidental.

The updated recipe is at 66 Square Feet (the Food).

This is such good cake. Moist, fruity; excellent for breakfast, tea, coffee or crisis.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Picnic while ye may

A rather predictable, but still enjoyable summer picnic: deviled eggs - the warm, almost-hard yolks taken out and mixed with the brilliant green field garlic oil that lives in the fridge, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes with basil from the terrace, good old saucisson, a stinky chees, and a sourdough baguette...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013



Vince and I sat on the roof last night, the sun still high, the hose nozzle set to mist to keep us cool, and sipped our drinks and talked about things: Red Hook (the water, the old streets, the bad public transport, shopping at Fairway). The South African Consulate. The apartment next door. Staying put. Our basic necessities. Outdoor space and plants for me, also sunlight and a horizon. A place to run for him, and the all-important commute to work (soon to be the Empire State Building, when his company moves north, from the Financial District).

While we talked, I burned supper. It was celery, destined for a sauce for pasta, braising gently but too long, down below. I knew the minute I walked in the door. Sniff, sniff.

I had nothing else fresh in the fridge. In the Light of Uncertainty, I have imposed new austerity measures in the kitchen and I was using those outer celery ribs rather self righteously (the heart went into a recent chopped salad). Nothing edible on the roof, yet, either, except...pigweed.

Up I went, armed with a bowl and a pair of scissors.

Down I came with luscious weeds. I really do like them. It's not an act.

I scooped the gelatinous pulp from a preserved Meyer lemon, and sliced the skin into ribbons before chopping it finely. I wilted the pigweed in a hot pan with some butter and olive oil and lemon juice. In the blender I put the lemon, pigweed, pine nuts, more butter, a raw garlic clove, a few tablespoons of field garlic oil from the long-ago spring, finely rasped parmesan from the L-shaped heel of cheese, and pressed Destruct.

Boiled some tender egg tagliatelle. Drained, mixed and plated.

I'm glad the celery burned.

We ate supper on the terrace and watched huge cumulus clouds turn pink beyond the skyline of downtown Brooklyn. Later they lit up within as an electrical storm let loose, a silent morse in light. Above the terrace the sky was dark blue and clear with stars. I looked at the sky very carefully, as if it might break. I looked at the church spire in the east, beyond the silver roofs, and at the tendrils of the autumn clematis growing through the New Dawn rose in the corner, the mint like a forest in the gravel. 

Then I took myself back inside, also carefully.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New appreciation for a tiny tomato

Before the farm, there was one tomato plant: an heirloom Mexican cherry tomato. I planted it on the terrace, in the sunniest corner, and it grew and grew. The next year, there were seedlings, popping out of the gravel of the terrace floor. So I potted them up in old coffee cans.

They appear every year. In truth, the tiny fruit are too small to excite me very much, now that I have tasted the Black Krims and Green Zebras and Striped Germans. But this year they are the only ripe tomato where before the tomato orchard would be about to explode.

Our late spring absence meant no mid summer bounty waiting for us. So the volunteer is welcome, and I eat the cherry tomatoes every time I go up to water.

One of the worst things about our possible move is that I look at the collection of young plants growing and the seeds I have sown in the last couple of weeks and want to cry. The summer squash plants, the pumpkins, the Beefsteaks. I think about the blueberry I have mulched with fresh coffee, and fed, and pruned, for next year, the black raspberry's newly trained canes, the fig's tender green branches. Gardening is as much about the present as it is about the future. There is always something to look forward to. What you do now, pays off later. If you cut off that future, the present and its investment become an existential crisis. What if you cannot reap what you have sown?

But we've discovered that our lease is up only at the end of October - whose crops are beautiful. So there is more time than we had thought.

And that might make all the difference.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I, in my house-under-threat,  have leaf wraps, cold beer, and some zinnias. And hyssop.

Flowers. We needs them.

(Also...lettuce. Important.)

Beer traps for slugs

They came and partied.

And a brief newsflash.

Our new lease has arrived. Brian Elgart has raised our rent from $1,900 per month to $2,500. This is the guy who yells at you if you ask for a repair.

And suddenly the lease allows no cats.

We do what other New Yorkers do - cocoon ourselves in a personal space that speaks to and reflects our values and taste, while living in a larger context of ethical and aesthetic anarchy.

But that can get old.

Our plan was always to move on, once my book was written. The book is essentially a tribute to this city that I love, and to the spirit within all of us that makes habitable the uninhabitable, if we only choose to pay attention to the details.

[Footnote. We moved. To Harlem. We left it all behind. And our apartment stood empty for nine months.]

Sunday, July 21, 2013

July on a small, hot terrrace

The hot days are unkind to the David Austin hybrid roses who gasp, This is not England! They are smaller, they last a day. They turn crisp. But if you point the camera at them, you keep them much longer. Days, years, even. Forever. These photos will swirl in the Internet long after we and the terrace have been long forgotten.

Above, Munstead Wood, waiting for the cooler weather to return. Its heyday is October.

Lilies and a fall (Japanese) anemone. FALL. Last year they bloomed in August, which was bad enough.

...I worried that there would be nothing flowering on the terrace in fall. But then they sent up stems and buds again. Very unusual, for a once-blooming perennial.

The Scheherazades are billed for bloom in August, and have, reliably. This is a very funny year.

A mutation, Silver Scheherazade, new this year.

And some instant echinacea, bought a couple of weeks ago from GRDN

Seafarer, one of my favourites. Some of the flowers this year succumbed, for the first time ever, to slugs. I've never known slugs to eat lily flowers. More about that, later.

And the Gloriosa in the corner (I write it with a capital letter because it is the genus name, as well as the common name. Common names don't take caps. Botanical names do. Here endeth the lesson - well, it is Sunday.) The other Gloriosas had flopped and were lost in a tangle of terrace undergrowth, but have regained a sense of purpose after being supported, and will open in a couple of weeks. Interestingly, the floppedness in the shade retarded their bud formation.

Smoky. The beginning of an evening fire for our supper. Not great for fossil fuel emmissions, but is turning the oven on any better?

And finally:

Dear Slugs

You are cordially invited to an evening of beer and drinking songs.

Come thirsty.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Picnic on a hot night

It was a warm day. It was a warm kitchen. I slipped the skins off the peaches after dipping them into the bubbling wine. Later I poached them in it. Then took them out while I reduced the white wine to a pink syrup with Thai basil leaves from the terrace.

The green tomatoes and onions and watercress were for a raw green soup, with a pile of purslane leaves, picked off the stems the night before

A chicken roasted in the oven, with preserved lemon and terrace thyme and parsley stuffed under its skin.

We debated staying indoors to eat, while we sipped the cold Champagne that our excellent friends had brought. The air was hot. But Deb and I reconnoitered the roof, which I had watered first, to cool it down. In case. We decided to stay. 

Photo: Deborah Stein, aka Bonbon Oiseau

I handed everything up from the terrace, Jim and Vince hoisting. The old maple syrup bucket filled with ice and prosecco was heavy. 

Men with coupes.

Happy picnic.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cucumber and purslane soup

I don't usually post recipes here, as you'll know if you visit often, but there's a red currant jam enjoying some attention at (The Food), and I feel bad bumping it into second place. Also, it's hotternhell in New York today, so cold soup is an emergency presence.

Late yesterday I came back, plodding like a hot mule, dripping like a faucet, from the farmers market, with bags of currants, red gooseberries, peaches, cucumbers and...purslane. That delicious, nutritious weed is at its peak, complete with young seeds, where most of its record-busting Omega 3's probably live.

Nothing is cooked, so no heat in the kitchen. And all the nutrients are intact. This cold soup is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, probiotics, roughage. Da woiks.

This made enough to feed Two.

Into the blender put:

3 Persian cucumbers, not skinned, and chopped roughly (about 2.5 cups)
1 green tomato, roughly chopped (1/3 cup)
1 medium young onion - or 2 scallions, or green garlic (1/3 cup)
3 young garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup purslane leaves and tips
1/2 a long fresh green chile
3/4 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Large pinch of salt
1/2 a stale pita bread, broken to pieces (substitute 1/4 cup ground almonds)
2 tablespoons really nice extra virgin olive oil

(I did not add mint but it would have been a good idea...)

Pop all of that into a blender and push the button. When it is smooth dip into it and taste. More salt? Sugar? Add a little water if you feel it is too thick - but the cucumbers should have provided the moisture necessary.

Chill, and serve in cups or tumblers or just drink it straight out of the jug, in front of the fridge, in the middle of the night.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Books and black currants

Later, this very hot day, I'll sweat my way back to the farmers market to see if I can scoop up some more currants. I'll have missed the black ones, I am sure, because word is out and they are being sold by the trayful (...ahem) in the early morning. No, I was not there in the early morning.

But the red ones make for wunnerful gin and I need more infusions. I am stock piling. You never know when you might need to pour a lot of pink gin.

For a book party on September 7th, at 4pm, perhaps. Wanna come? Book Court.

Here's some jam. I will post a recipe later on (The Food). But first I must start to write a story about this bread! bread! bread! [in the video, stick around till 0:58].

Stay cool. This city is melting.

And if you live near a glacier, please roll in it for me. Don't let it run you over.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


We had a quiet evening on the roof.

...eating more of the sunflower sprouts, and drinking the dregs of the ajo blanco. The dregs are the best.

And watching the water.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sunflower salads

These are easy. Sprinkle sunflower seeds into some nice potting soil, cover lightly, water, and wait a few days. Mine are on the roof, but they can be grown on a windowsill, too. Very accommodating.

I have already started to snip the wobbly and succulent stems, to pile on top of salads of shaved beetroot and fanned avocado. What's in them? Lots of Vitamin A, B, E and zinc. And protein. Eat your sprouts...

I ordered my sunflower seeds from Botanical Interests (as usual, creature of habit) - I'm not sure what the germination rate would be on store-bought seeds, made for eating.

People sometimes chew those seeds - still shelled - on the subway. Chomp, chomp, chomp. Food for gerbils.

Then they spit the hulls neatly into a loose fist, or right onto the floor.

Noo York, Noo York, it's a wonderful town!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer farmers market

Borough Hall itself. Seat of Brooklyn power. The cafe tables and chairs arrived about a year ago, I think, and turned the unused and paved piazza into a place where people wanted to be. Even in sticky summer.

I was hunting black currants, again. But they had all been snapped up by a man who had told the vendor that his wife smashed them with sugar, kept them in the fridge and that they spread them on bread. Sounds like a Swede, don't you think? So I will try again tomorrow. "Come early," said the man.

Dill flowers.

And too-far-gone-for-me male squash blossoms (the females turn into squash. Huh: Don't we all, if we are not careful? I have to go back to gym.) Very fresh blossoms are easier to stuff, but these wilted petals are too hard, if not impossible, to separate. They would still be fine as a cooked vegetable.

Nice Legs! I mean, Nice Market! What can I say? He ran into my picture.

Oh. I am wary of those big red tomatoes. I think they are too early. They have tunnel written all over them.