Monday, September 30, 2013

I went out walking

I took a Sunday walk.

Self-sown golden rod had jumped the fence at Pier 6, at 2.22pm

Trees waited to be planted at what may become Pier 4.

Ilex verticillata (winter berry) at Pier 1 at 2.42pm.

Earthworks between the already designed and planted parts of Brooklyn Bridge Park's piers.

Beaches for them and beaches for us.

2.54 pm on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade,

The Atlantic Antic at full surge at 3.19pm. 

Home followed, three minutes later.

And as I wrap my head around taking leave of the neighborhood I have known for almost ten years, here is another walk, in another season (plus one of the best poems every written):

Sunday, September 29, 2013

DWP - Drinking while planning

Red currant gin, this time, to give the black currant a break. And the more I drink the less we have to carry to Harlem, yes?

I sit amidst boxes, while the Frenchman goes for his run over the Brooklyn Bridge and down to Manhattan's southern tip, and back again. While I went for a walk this afternoon to straighten my head out about various things (it always works) Vince packed many books and clothes. When I came back there was a neat low wall of boxes in the living room, draped in a red kikoi. A new work surface, very intriguing to the cat. There is a tower of plastic bins in the bedroom. Our new apartment has no shelves and I'd love a wall that is a bookshelf. Nothing makes a room look as good as books. I wonder if a carpenter would be willing to barter. How many dinners is a wall of shelves worth?

Late this afternoon we lowered all the bags of dead plants and debris I have cleared from the roof farm's pots over the last week, and took down some empty and cleaned plastic pots that will not make the journey. While functional and light on the roof, I still can't bear to look at plastic that actually resembles plastic. It depresses me. No plastic looks good in a photo, either. So we will be buying a few more pots, I think - probably terra cotta, unless I snag some oldish or vintage metal planters or ambiguous containers that can have holes punched in them for drainage. Anyone have an old coal scuttle?

The wrap-around wooden planter boxes, maybe about 40 feet of them - on the new terrace's low wall will give a lot of built-in planting space. They are about 10" wide. I'll take photos. But I think they will take smaller perennials and herbs - maybe the strawberries. It will be fun to work out. I know already I'd like some Dicentra eximia, which blooms forever and will like the shadier bits. There will still be lilies, but they'll go on the deck level. I love hostas and will have a bit more space for their square-foot-consuming leaves, now.

Now, and I won't push this, but: I wonder if I could paint those wooden boxes...66  Square Feet pink?

Or should it be a clean break?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cutting loose

I have been dismantling the roof farm. Many plastic pots will stay behind, to be adopted from the sidewalk.

I collected pear tomatoes, from the last, blighted bush. The black raspberry will move to Harlem with us.

The rosemary will come, too. 

And we will not forget the cat.

But we will have to leave her behind.

Friday, September 27, 2013


I have never really gone in for half measures.

A New Jersey cauliflower, acquired at the Borough Hall Farmers market.

Last night's main course.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


The sun sets on some black currant gin and tonic.

There is so much to say and do, I'll say no more.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Hello, Harlem.

Our new home is nearby.

That's right.

Our space will be a high-ceilinged parlor level floor. About twice-and-half the current apartment size. I am already having irrational thoughts about the Long Table I have always dreamed of (part kitchen, part work, part friends-for-dinner). Downstairs, are our very nice new landlord and his family, with a grape vine and a sour cherry in their back garden. Upstairs, a photographer. Outside our bedroom, a 300 square foot decked terrace, with planter boxes built by the landlord for the previous tenant who gardened, and sometimes sang in in the speakeasy that will now be our living space.

You know I fell in love.

Included with the application questions he sent us, our landlord said.

...historically most of our tenants play musical instruments or sing, whether professionally or as 
a hobby. If the faint sound of someone playing 2 floors away is problematic for you during 
reasonable hours (10-7-ish, very occasionally later), you should probably choose another 
neighborhood than Harlem, which is filled with the sound of people playing music coming 
from every building. Not speaking of blaring recorded music at obscenely amplified volumes, 
of course.

I think we'll be OK.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The water

Wherever we land, we will probably not have a view of this harbor.

I have loved lying sometimes on the silvertop, flat, under the big New York sky. And when I sit up, or look out, this water is in the west. This water. Loved by poets. There is something of the crossing of the elephants about it. The way the water traffic moves, as if nothing else had ever existed.

We have six weeks left on our lease, and may move before then - limbo settles somewhere above us.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The fall season - things are afoot

The haul, yesterday evening. Plus martini with pickled field garlic, from springtime in Inwood. It was chilly on the roof, in a strong breeze off the water, but two sets of neighbors appeared on their own roofs while I worked, scrambling around and up from their small terraces. The silvertop farthest from us supported a circle of friends drinking sundowners, and next door Danielle and her boyfriend drank wine while he played the guitar. I cut back tomato plants, shrieking only once when I touched a hornworm caterpillar covered in wasp larvae: the uber-horror. (The cat refers to them as zombies).

Brooklyn evening.

I am beginning to dismantle the farm, piece by piece.

For a supper side dish, we ate fried green tomatoes.

And in a seasonal round-up of stuff:

September 28th: I'll be at Powerhouse in the South Slope to sign books. Melissa Vaughan will be testing and serving a couple of recipes from 66 Square Feet - A Delicious Life, and signing copies of her book, too.
October 13th: my Wild Edibles Walk in Prospect Park. Tickets are $30.
October 17th: the Abrams Brooklyn Bash at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg: Ginger ale pig, Brooklyn-brewed hooch and more.

I still have a few free spots to assign for this invitation-only event. If you'd like to be on the guest list please email me (click on my profile photo in the blog's sidebar) or leave a trail of crumbs in the comments..

And November 28th: that will be a Cape Town book party. Save the date. Book your passage. (And also get in touch if you'd like to be included on that mailing list!)

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Haven't made pizza in a while. Used the dough recipe from the book (December's Wild Mushroom Pizza), very simple tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies.

Crazy-hot oven.


A congested country

Hours after my visit to Brooklyn's arcadian Clinton Hill on Friday, I was in Manhattan to meet a realtor who would show me two small apartments on the Upper East Side (UES in local lingo).

But not before a reported signal malfunction caused a spectacular rush hour snarl up on the uptown-bound 4 trains, and platforms were packed, up and down the lines that are shared by the 4, 5 and 6 lines. (According to the MTA, in 2012, an average of 5,380,184 people rode the subway every weekday.)

Forty-five minutes late, I changed trains, took the F, waited forever at Bleecker and then headed uptown on a 6 train, pressed flat like a squooshed anchovy in an oil packed can, whizzing past stations where people watched the passing train - suddenly express, not local -  with open mouthed disgust... A trying start to many weekends.

The realtor, Ana-from-Serbia, was very nice (we've encountered some real lizards), but the apartments were not for us. I'd have been sawing at my wrists within weeks.

Our budget just does not deliver UES bang for the buck, and, in all likelihood, we'll land somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens.

Or Harlem. I hope Harlem. But that is today's adventure.

I leave you with Upper East Side blue. Eat your heart out, Beijing.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Beautiful Clinton Hill

Another Brooklyn tour: heading north from Cobble Hill, again, this time to Clinton Hill, near the Pratt Institute. Not to apartment-hunt, as it happened, but for a garden appointment. But it gave me the opportunity to reconnoiter another neighbourhood I hardly know.

If we found a place here I'd be happy, though I've seen very few available.

Parts of the neighbourhood are stately, with ragged pockets scattered inbetween. There is a mix of anonymous brown brick public housing and wide-sidewalked, beautifully-boned homes. There are old trees. 

If I could have that terrace up there? Heaven. And the lumpy begonias would be gone before you could say fish fertilizer.

Or that one...

There was a lot of beautiful colour and texture.

There were apple tees. [Hang on...those may be quinces - what do you think?]

Forests of Japanese knotweed. 

And, thanks to Pratt, art, and gardens.

And yes, Clinton Hill is a hill. All of 95 feet above sea level.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Winter Gold Nugget Squash

It was about the size of my hand, fingers outstretched. It was one of two squash plants in a pot, only one of which had set fruit. The plant looked like it was at the end of its tether (yellow leaves, a sense of desperation), so I picked the squash.

Inside, some of the flesh was a beautiful dark green, just below the skin. I peeled, sliced and cooked it till just-tender in simmering water, then added some butter and many sage leaves to the drained and hot saucepan. The squash was delicious - buttery and soft. We ate it with our bayleaf-grilled roadkill chicken. No, not real roadkill. See page 97 of A Delicious Life, for a how-to.

Though we did wonder about wrapping a chicken in plastic and placing it in the middle of Henry Street, and waving the next truck or ambulance over it.

But that would be Art, right?

And all we wanted was supper.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New frontiers - we look north

We are exploring.

Bumped out of my Cobble Hill comfort zone by the rapacious landlord, I am feeling twinges of provincialism as I begin to discover parts of Brooklyn so other they may as well be new countries. I think it is Elizabeth Strout - novelist - who says that New Yorkers are provincial. They just don't know it.

We are so attached to the neighbourhood. Its borders, its manners, its sounds, its commodities.

Yesterday I visited the southern edges of Bushwick. It was a flawless day, which helped.

A sixteen block walk north from the C, with the northern edges of notorious Brownsville at my back, took me through an area I would not negotiate at night. I passed some projects, three schools letting out, people sitting on the sidewalk in folding chairs, some offering a friendly greeting as I passed, a community garden, some drug dealers, a police station (83rd Precinct), and countless storefront churches and tiny nail salons.

I walked with my New Yorker rolled into a nice, aggressive-feeling tube. Later, the Frenchman found that very funny, and recommended keys as a first line of defense and gave me a brief tutorial (the Frenchman's more French father was friends with foreign legionnaires and Marseilles hoodlums). I exaggerate the threat level, but I hardly blended in, and my skin tingled. So that part of the homework was done: Don't take the C.

[Doing more homework on the neighbourhood, later, I learned about the Brooklyn Bike Patrol, a group of volunteers who escort women home safely at night. It has a good reputation in the neighbourhood. Its founder recently suffered from two heart attacks and needed help raising money to pay his hospital bills.]

Once I reached and crossed Broadway and its thundering overhead subway, I was officially in Bushwick - though neighbourhoods have no set borders, rather, they align roughly with zip codes and community boards. Did I feel a stirring of my colonial roots? French and Huguenot settlers made a village here in 1660. The houses were suddenly and unexpectedly beautiful. It was in one of them (not pictured here) that new apartments were being advertised, after a gut renovation, which has given them all nice, new finishes. We are tired, really tired, of old, dirty and derelict (ironic in genteel Cobble Hill). What we will lose in terms of neighbourhood luxuries like Sahadi's and cheese shops and wine shops and waterside parks, we will gain in the domestic bliss of a clean building, new appliances, touch pad entry systems, a real laundry and more space. Indoor and outdoor.

Still...not sure. Crime is barely an issue where we live, but it would on our radar at this address. And the green spaces...

It was promising. Not perfect. But promising. And the prospect of a new living experience is potentially exciting. I toured a local supermarket, oohing like a slack-jawed tourist at the guavas and strange tubers and roots, and cactus paddles. And the staple organic salad leaves and eggs and milk and butter were there, as well as buckets of Cafe Bustelo. For serious food - organic poultry, say - we'd have to shop elsewhere.

After my long walk there, I took a short one, to a different subway, the J, and was in Manhattan in ten minutes, right beneath the wonderful Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side - more food shopping potential.

Today's place had the major flaw of no outdoor water source. Which was vexing. And I'm not sure how soon the thrill of the different would wear off. There is the added complication of being viewed as gentrifiers, more affluent than long-time residents.

Who knows. We are still looking. But I am now hopeful, rather than bereft. Although I suppose that could turn on a dime, too.

It's a speciality of mine.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This one's for the bees

Calamintha - still going strong. Most popular terrace plant, amongst bees, by far.

Infusions to make the heart glow

Left to right:

Sumac vodka
Apricot bourbon
Black currant gin
Red currant gin

In general, this year, I have used much less sugar in the infusions. Very little, in fact, and none in the red currant. I am still wild about the black currant's complex flavor. The sumac is astringent, and excellent for cocktail-mixing.

A rough recipe for sumac vodka is as follows - it depends on how much you're making:

Enough fresh, ripe (bright red/orange) sumac to fill a jar
Enough vodka to cover

Use smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) if you can as you'll have no hairs to strain out, after. With scissors cut the smaller branchlets from the thick green parts. Remove as much green as you can - these turn the vodka bitter. Pack a clean jar to the top with sumac, and cover with vodka (I like the Polish-made Wodka, or Stoli). Leave for two weeks and strain. You can leave it longer but it will become more tannic.

The Frenchman, who dislikes bourbon, likes the apricot bourbon best, then the austere red currant gin.

But they're all pretty good.

I think I'll play with apples and quinces when fall really hits its stride.