Saturday, August 31, 2013

Green things

The season shifts. Figs are appearing all over Brooklyn.

The self-sown hardy begonia is beginning to bloom. Are they invasive, anywhere? 

The Heuchera has sent out new spires of flowers.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Mint, and a new way to eat it

His and hers. Black currant gin martini and Pimms.

Guess which is which?

My friend Eric recently told me to make this salad (taught to him by Sina, a mutual friend, who is Iranian): watercress and mint - but more mint; feta (we all like the French feta from Sahadi's); lavash - that very flat bread that looks and feels like linen napkins; olive oil.

Wrap the oil-moistened leaves with some cheese in bites of the lavash. Eat.

That is all.

Last night I made it without the feta, and did shake some sherry vinegar over the leaves, contrary to instructions. It was wonderful.

Tonight, we'll eat it precisely as instructed.

Clematis - going up

I have four Clematis on the terrace. Three are in bloom now. 

Bee's Jubilee last week, and yesterday, below. It still has a few flowers high up in the New Dawn's thorny canes. This Clematis shares a pot with a hardy begonia, a Gloriosa lily and a primrose. The pot is in complete shade but the climbers make their way up into the sun via the bare lower canes of the climbing rose.

On the opposite side of the terrace the Etoile Violette is in its second flush after being cut right back down six weeks ago. It shares a pot with two Gloriosa lilies, two Turkscap lilies and some Thai basil. And that grass you can see. Oops.

The flowers are much smaller than they are during the first, spring round - though I missed those, this year - and are opening in a funny way, with clasped and pale petal tips. It must mean something.

High up, Ramona watches over the cat, who watches over the basil, which watches over the wild strawberries, which keep an eye on the fig.

Nice plants. Little trouble. 

Unexpected flowers in difficult places.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Strangers on a train

The 4 train to Brooklyn. The little boy and the man had never met, but got on pretty well, with the help of the man's smartphone. The little boy's grandfather is sitting just to his other side.

Life in the big, bad city.

Call it smile-at-your-neighbour Thursday.

Inspiration from above

Distracted by other things, I had not shopped for supper by the time supper time rolled around. Our supplies yielded the tail end of a steak, some baldo rice, Greek yogurt... Then I remembered the eggplants on the roof, and went to check on them. I had noticed a promising specimen the previous night, when I fertilized the farm (I found my organic fertilizer at Tony's Hardware eventually, after a fruitless search earlier in the week. I feed the whole farm rose food!).

Three were ready to pick, and I found the first ripe tomato, too, and a couple of small cucumbers. Mediterranean ideas... I roasted the eggplants in a hot oven after pricking them all over - after an hour they were soft. I seared slices of the raw steak, seasoning the meat liberally with cumin, sumac, salt and pepper. I smashed some garlic and mixed it into the Greek yogurt, with a little salt. The baldo was cooking.

The pulp of the eggplant was tender and soft and very mild. I slit each one down the middle, seasoned it with salt and sumac, and piled some of the brown pieces of meat on top, spooning a dollop of garlicky yogurt over both. The tomato (sweet) and cucumbers (crisp) were sliced and strewn with terrace mint.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ginny, very ginny

Opinions, please:

I am straining and decanting my black and red currant gins (also the sumac vodka). I am spattered with amber and amethyst juices and the cat is looking at me funny.

The question is, what to do with this very alcoholic fruit? I can't just chuck these gin-rich currants. They cost a packet and, well, they're delicious! Hic. Jam is the obvious answer, about a cake?

I think these currants would adapt very well to the Nigel Slater-inspired peach and blueberry cake recipe. But if anyone who tastes it is on the wagon, these currants would knock them straight off.

The etiquette of caking baking...

Fig cutting

Good news and bad news.

You may remember those fig cuttings I wrote about in the early spring?

The good news is that one survived.

The bad news is that six did not. We were away too long in mid spring and the cuttings I took succumbed to slime and neglect on my part, and just this one clung to life. Over the last month it has put out good roots, and I have just potted it up. It will continue the legacy of The Nameless Fig, whose own fruit is now hard and green, and will ripen towards the end of September.

That's the good news.

But it means that the folks in line for successfully rooted cuttings must be denied. I am very sorry. I will try again.

I should really start  a blog about figs. Everybody wants one. (Figs, I mean.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Persian cucumbers

To recap: the roof farm was planted late. Mid July. And I tucked these seeds in last, as an afterthought. Persian cucumbers, the kind I snap up almost every week at Mr Kim's on Atlantic. Small and smooth - I love them. And of all the plants on the roof, they are doing the best (with an eggplant exception; I think those may take over the world).

I picked the first ones last night. We ate them very simply, sliced lengthwise, in a salad.

 And perhaps there was one in my Pimms. It's traditional.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gloriosa superba - climbers for strange places

Although all five Gloriosa tubers were planted at the same time on the terrace, this one, in the shadier corner, has only just begun to bloom, weeks after the rest, which - just eleven feet north - lay down and expired.

Add them to your list of easy climbers. They seem fine in pots, and I plant them with perennials and other vertical growers, like clematis, near something that will support their long, searching stems. In this case the leaf hooks clasp the stems and leaves of tall lilies that bloomed in July.

I find them fuss-free, and love the evolution of their flowers from creepy, pale green beaked monsters to full-flared and racy red flowers, with no touch of menace remaining in their arch petals

I had never noticed this, before: the pistil, I think - shooting off at a right angle.Very strange.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

A way to end

I think we'll do this, tonight.

What will you do?

How do we sleep when our beds are not burning?

Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

It was a beautiful day yesterday, on and off the water. We caught the free orange ferry to Staten Island, and then the subway, which isn't sub at all, and we walked through a green forest, and weed ridden fields, and saw yellow and blue songbirds, and later sat on a bench in the grass under an American oak to eat our sandwiches and drink our split beer. The bench bore a plaque in memory of a sailor born 1956, and who had died in 1980. 24 years old. The bench from his navy friends, who said they missed him.

Downtown Brooklyn

At night after supper these days I watch The Winds of War on Netflix. It's my break from Boardwalk Empire, whose brilliance is marred by excruciating violence, about which I was beginning to dream. 

The Winds of War was made in 1983 and I had not thought it would stand watching in 2013. But the sheer scale of the epic soap opera - each episode is feature length -  is still remarkable: the self-indulgently long takes, the crowd scenes, the sometimes mediocre but often good and occasionally superb acting, with some stunningly off exceptions (Ali McGraw...just, why?), the quaint battleship scenes (models bobbing in a tank of fake waves), the real war footage, the context of shot-on-location geography and the revisiting of half-forgotten facts and real horror. 

I realize that I am being entertained by stories of war, and understand that we all are at some point. But it becomes impossible, while watching, not to imagine the stories, the ones happening right now, as I type, and you read, and as I do so often these days, of the unsolvable Middle East - of Syria, which has refused to go away; of T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom; of Egypt, which has been bumped out of the headlines for a bit by these new, old crises, Lebanon leaping up. We've all but forgotten about Iraq and Afghanistan - they lurk in tiny footnotes on unread newspaper pages. But they are still there. At what cost to us? To them? To what end? 

Brooklyn Heights

Every time I drink a glass of water, or wash my face, or pick some herbs, or lie down on the clean bed, or carry out the trash, or hear a cricket, I think, I am not being bombed, or shot or hunted or starved. Or gassed. 

And I wonder, if we were in trouble like that, who would come to our aid?

Would they all just wait, and watch, and redefine, the crossing, and re-crossing of that thin red line?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A cat's life

When evening approaches the sleeping cat stretches, pats the sliding door with his paw, and asks to be let out.

Then he goes up to the roof, and begins his vigil.

Sometime in the night he comes back, beating the sliding door or the screen again to be let in. It is opened, and he shimmies inside, his fur now thick and soft and always somehow puffed from the air outside. He is in a good mood, tail straight up, blinking at us and squinting a little.

We pick him up. He purrs.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weeds 'n roses

Name of my new band.

This is the rose I moved to the roof so it could live out its last days. But then it refused to die. The amaranth that germinates in its pot every summer shows solidarity. Amarathus retroflexus, pigweed. Lucky pigs. We have become so stupid about what we eat. It's an excellent vegetable, scoring high nutrition, flavor and texture points.

The amaranth seeds have spread to other pots and I leave the plants to grow to long arms before I cut them back and carry them into the kitchen.

The Frenchman - not big on salads, as a rule - wolfed a recent Caprese incarnation. We have perhpas a week of farmer's market tomatoes every night , and I am partial to the giant green ones, with yellow blotches, whose name I have forgotten. Their flavour is slightly sharp, and they are very juicy.

For this salad I sauteed the finely chopped leaves and seedheads of the amaranth with some thinly sliced preserved lemon, allowed the mixture to cool, and topped the usual tomatoes and mozzarella with the lemony green relish. The last of the purslane finished it off.

The Frenchman licked his plate.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Red like candy

Do you know what these are? About the size of a small fingernail....

Taxus fruit. Drupe-like, as opposed to like berries (cherries, peaches, apricots, and almonds are also drupes). They are in fact arils. If you want to drive yourself crazy with the right names for the right fruit types, follow this link.

Candy, with caution.

Taxus as in yew tree, or shrub. Quite dignified and beautiful evergreens often abused in the badly maintained hedges that pass for 'landscaping' in so many American front yards. And the fruit is ripening now, if you live in this late summer hemisphere.

The red flesh is wonderful - very sweet, and like jelly. Avoid the seed, which is toxic. It's potentially easier to crunch up than the armoured shells of cherry, apricot and peach kernels, which each have their own secret weapons lurking in their little, exposed hearts (don't we all)?

Taxol, derived from the bark and needles of yew trees, is a potent weapon in the chemotherapy arsenal. Discovered and named in the late 60's, questions about the sustainable harvest of yews to produce taxol arose two decades later:  "Three [Taxus brevifolia, Pacfic yew] trees are needed to provide enough taxol to treat one patient, meaning that about 38,000 trees a year would have to be destroyed to treat ovarian cancer patients in the United States..." (New York Times, 1992).

Taxus species other than the marginalized Pacific yew were targeted, and a synthetic form of the drug, was developed.

I love the way the seed is wrapped by the fruit, like a present. I collected this small handful yesterday from a hedge around the corner.

Today I will collect some more.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pink drink season

They're ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-ck. But don't call this a girly drink. I'll bristle. My bristles are always ready to rock and roll.

I have unstoppered the currant-infused gins. They are the perfect drink to sip on the silver roof just when the humidity has decided to return to New York. This one is black currant gin, Bitter lemon, and some highly alcoholic black currants bobbing around. You've to to watch those currants.

Point, not pluck

This is Samson, waiting for a fare, on Central Park South. He ate a carrot while he waited. Poor Samson. I met him the other day after doing some reconnaissance for a foraging walk I will lead this morning in the park for guests of the Peninsula Hotel, under the auspices of their Academy Program, which gives visitors to New York a(n exclusive) taste of the real city.

We will not spend much time here, on The Mall.

But here. Where the green (and red) things are.

And we will be looking, not picking. I counted 30 edible plants the other day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Life goes on

The Frenchman takes macro shots.

The cats sleeps.

The firemen look for fires.

The scented terrace

The Abyssinian gladiolus (Acidanthera murielae) do not survive winter reliably in this climate. They did one year. The next, they did not. So now I plant new corms every late spring. 

They have a faintly detectable scent during the day, but at night it becomes powerful.

Plant for pleasure in your own particular darkness.

Monday, August 19, 2013

The English roses like Brooklyn

The temperatures over the last two weeks, more reminiscent of September than of August, have been kind to the English roses.

The two new roses, gifts from Michael Marriott, the rosarian at David Austin, have begun to show off. Lady Emma Hamilton - above -  in her second flush since we returned from South Africa in early July, is no longer flat orange and pinched, but nuanced and supple. The colour of the younger flower is rich, tending paler pink as the bloom ages. They are beautiful, and have lasted well. The stems are long.

Windermere has long stems and perfect ivory cabbage-shaped flowers. The blooms are small, but exquisite, and as you see each stem has multiple buds. They hate the heat and wilt fast. The scent is delicious, but not as strong as Abraham Darby's. I've been feeding them Espoma's Rose Tone and they seem to like it.

More will open today.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

On a summer evening

...we gathered for a rooftop picnic, and spread ourselves out on the giant kikoi.

        Basil from the terrace, tomatoes from Jersey, and burrata from Vermont.

                                          And the sun going down, in bubbles.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Clematis Ramona

The name Ramona makes me think of an actress in a 50's movie, in a poofy skirt and serious lipstick, setting down a plate of spaghetti in front of a man with slicked back hair, his tie loosened at the neck, and a fan blowing in the window of a walk up. 

In fact, just like home, minus the slicked back hair and poofy skirt.

Thanks to reader Kathy Lilleskov for steering me to the forgotten name of this clematis, which I bought this spring. It was grown by Jim Glover out on the North Fork.

It is one of the Group 2 clematis - the three groups refer to their blooming and pruning schedules. Group 2's are cut back hard in late winter, and then again after their first flush of flower in spring.

Bee's Jubilee has also opened, on the other side of the terrace. Pictures to follow. She's the really gaudy one. Louder than Ramona.

More like Lucy.