Thursday, October 31, 2013

Lock up your cats

A black cat's Halloween begins. We are grateful - just this evening - that our buzzer does not work, or we might be besieged by small angry children demanding candy. One shoved aside a nun (a real nun) at the cash register at The Wild Olive earlier (most stores have buckets of cheap candy at the ready) - we were buying leaves and tamarind, to offset our hugely unhealthy and deeply satisfying Dagwood supper, later. Anyone know what Dagwood is? When we were little, we pronounced it Dagword. My mother produced it rarely, as a treat.

Vince says that if aliens are watching us from outer space today they'll be puzzled by the roar of tears that rises, rolling East Coast to West Coast in about...3 minutes from now.

My own private island

For fun, we had supper at our new kitchen island. The cat wondered why we were so high up. Very inconvenient for chicken morsels. The levitating pan in the background contains hen of the woods/maitake mushrooms, waiting for the oven to cool a little so they can go on drying out. Today they will be pulverized and whipped into butter. Then I will feed them to a WNYC team. If they taste good enough. Also hen of the woods pâté. The soup...well, that's quite a long story.

The little grey knobs on the cabinets must be switched out. I can't use the pretty orange ones I have as they'd look horrible on that colour wood. Anyone want some door knobs? There are twelve, vaguely Moroccon.

We're getting there, inching along.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Late October in the City

The North Woods, Central Park.

The great, green, greasy Gowanus Canal.

Green-Wood Cemetery.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mushroom soup

Finally. Mushroom soup weather. And October is hen of the woods season.

I have yet to figure out how to take decent pictures in the new kitchen - it's a light thing. Working on it. The overhead light is cold and I think we'll have to put in some lights under the cupboards above the counter. So for now, here is some mushroom soup from last October in Brooklyn.

The recipe is next door, at (The Food). If you don't have hen of the woods, don't gnash you teeth. Button mushrooms will do.

I am looking forward to a new arrival here on 127th Street, today. A  k i t c h e n   i s l a n d. Break out the palm trees. If I'm lucky, the Singer sewing factory stools might arrive, too.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Conservatory Garden in fall

A surprise. Returning yesterday afternoon from a long ramble in Central Park's North Woods, a small splash of colour in the distance caught the Frenchman's eye. I guessed that the flowers might be chrysanthemums, planted in the Conservatory Garden, around the fountain (remember spring tulips? And I write about this garden in the April chapter of A Delicious Life, when my mother and I picnicked under drifts of crabapple blossom). But I shuddered at the thought of all those artificially round mounds that infest the fall landscape in Northeastern parts.

But there were no mounds. Instead, there were these lovely, leggy creatures. Looking the way plants should, despite the monoculture of their planting. It was hugely impressive, in terms of impact. I'll be back, I hope, this week, when there are fewer people.

On foot, this garden and its southern parts, which we did not visit today, are just fifteen minutes away.

If you can, go. This is really something to see.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Harlem sidewalk garden

On Mt Morris Park West. Beautiful houses on these streets - true brownstones.  This was on my return from the woods walk the other day, just opposite Marcus Garvey Park, which used to be called Mt Morris Park. And the mount is a hill - craggy schist -  not flattened when the grid was laid flat up on Manhattan island.

I am a year older, and considerably wiser, today. The last year has encompassed a steep learning curve, in terms of publishing and what it means, and does not mean. What seemed insurmountable then (writing a book, and the logistics of having it published? Impossible!) is now simply a skill, acquired. Muscles taught to do new things. And the bar shifts higher, accordingly. Damn bar. It is never quite within reach.

What this new apartment and attendant sense of discomfort forespell for me, I think, is a renewed exploration of the world beyond my domestic walls. I have been a homebound hermit for too long, content with my little garden and the sunny apartment, wrapped in a writing and interior and roof farming world. Before that period of seclusion Vince and I roamed, actively pursuing photos for the book: Mt Loretto Park, High Rock Park, Jamaica Bay, the Rockaways, Pelham Bay Park, Inwood Hill Park, Central Park, Prospect Park, The Battery Conservancy...If there was a snowstorm, we went out into it. I was in South Africa when it snowed one January, and I asked Vince to trek out to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. The spectacular, austere photos he took that day open the first chapter of the book. If I sensed the first crocuses opening, I rushed to find them. My book's botanical clock ticked loudly, and I rushed to keep up.

Today we will walk head out - back to those North Woods of Central Park and go deeper (and perhaps find an illicit hot dog for lunch, somewhere, as I was stupid enough not to make tomato soup and sandwiches in advance).Tonight we will dine at a new neighbourhood joint, The Cecil, ten blocks south and west of us.

And tomorrow is tomorrow. In my childhood, bible-reading days, I read something about, if you take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself (ring a bell, anyone?), and those are words I have actually lived by. I am by nature a worrier, and tomorrow scares the living daylights out of me.

But I believe that Now is what matters, and what you do with it will have everything to do with how tomorrow turns out.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Harlem woods

I left our laundry going roundandroundandround a block away from home, and walked south through Marcus Garvey* Park. It has some nice old trees. I didn't linger on the hilltop in the middle - it was empty apart from two men drinking on a stone wall and I still don't know the 'hood well enough to have automatic radar. I'm still programming it, and it said turnaround. I scanned trees as I walked down,  thinking about mushrooms, always curious about what grows where. The ground was so dry it was dusty.

[Earlier, I called this McCarren Park. Which is in Brooklyn. Call me sleep-deprived.]

Leaving the fallen maple leaves I continued straight south, on these high reaches of 5th Avenue, and within ten minutes was at the top of Central Park, whose northern limit is 110th Street.

Here, ladies were collecting stinky gingko nuts. I suppose I should clean and roast them just once. The nuts. Not the ladies.

The woods here are a lot like the Ramble, but I don't know them at all. I didn't have much time to linger or travel far - the drying laundry called -  but caught sight some of some young oyster mushrooms near the path. A good sign. Chipmunks whistled, birds scratched amongst the dry leaves.

On my way out, on a narrow side path down a hill,  I passed what had to be a prostitute and two johns, waiting for me to pass, with a third man keeping watch, looking away from me, down the path. I approached him so quietly that he jumped in surprise as I passed and I could not resist saying, without expression: "Boo."


The colours will be very good in a week. I'll take the Frenchman to go and see them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Men at table

Bad behaviour? 

But it keeps us sane. 

The cat earns big therapy bucks.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Darkness and light

I cleaned the old apartment yesterday. I arrived in bright sunshine via the bluestone-sidewalked streets. The natural light in the tiny place made my heart sore.

While the fumes of oven cleaner choked the apartment, I stood on the bare terrace and wolfed a lunchtime pita stuffed with falafel from the Damascus Bakery.  

I gave up at 6.30, in the dark. I left everything sparkling. The place is worn after ten years of living, to be sure, but the bathroom, fridge, stove, counter and cupboards are very, very clean. 

On the way back to the 2 and 3 subway at Borough Hall, I stopped to buy flowers from outside Key Food - asters, for fall. 

And fresh things from Mr Kim's - thin green beans, watercress, mint and cilantro. And mountains of mustard seed from Sahadi's (I have committed pickled mustard left, right and center and my production rate has not kept up with my promises). And lavash.

And then I rode home. Surrounded by my bagsful of memories.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cheap New York lunch

On a mission downtown the other day I found myself near the bottom of 1st Avenue. It was just after lunchtime and I was ravenous. There was only one thing to do: pop into La Puebla, a Mexican joint I used to patronize once a week with my co workers when I worked for years just south of it. We'd call the order in and pick it up twenty minutes later. 

I always ordered the chicken and spinach burrito, with hot green sauce and sour cream. Never tried anything else. The bits of chicken were crispy at the edges, the spinach copious and still bright green, only just-cooked, the hot sauce zinging through my sinuses.

I last ate here in 2009. I saw no reason to change my order.

I was the the only person in the storefront shop, and listened while the lady cook sizzled my pieces of shredded chicken breast in the kitchen. I sat at a window counter and watched 1st Avenue and its East Village people go by.

My $8.95 burrito arrived under a pillow of sour cream, tucked up like it was ready for bed. Something got lost in translation of my hot sauce was not the green kind, but was still hot enough and good enough to satisfy the unforgiving standards of Memory.  

This is not a light lunch. The chicken breast - crispy at the edges, from the pan, the spinach, the rice and beans, the cream, and the cutting sauce. It gives you the sniffles in the best way. 

If you find yourself in the hood, go. I speak only for this burrito, never having tried anything else.

If you want beer, you can buy it nearby and bring it to one of the tables. But I recommend sitting at the bar counter in the window, to watch the zoo go by.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October blue

5th Avenue, Harlem.

125th Street.

5th Avenue, Greenwich Village.

East 2nd Street.

Houston Street.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A new garden

Here it is, photographed from two floors up. The cable guy's visit the other day, slinging cable from the roof for our Internet, inspired me to pop the hatch for a contextual picture.

So here are the bones, with the accessories we brought from Brooklyn, as well as a couple of planters that were already on site.

I spent yesterday evening gardening without direction, but cleaning and turning the existing soil in the built-in wooden planters on the southern (top of picture ) side, and dividing the overgrown irises in a couple of them. I looked up as a small movement caught my eye. Two tiny songbirds were looking at me from the branches of the cherry.

I felt a lot better.

I love iris, but they need more space - so I have replanted some, and perhaps the others can be put up for adoption. The soil is like dust, and I have no idea where to came from, originally. It is probably not too bad. I added some Garden Tone (Espoma, and organic), which comes with its own list of soil microbes, and watered everything, even though there were virtually no plants. I want soil life to return, and that requires moisture.

I will order some extra bags of good potting soil from the Urban Garden Center (whose Dimitri Gatanas has sent me a kind email recently, offering me a tour of the hood) to top up the level of the wooden planters, which is low.

Our landlord's garden is below, with the sour cherry on the right, and many grapes. And a black cat. Not ours. This block has lots of feral cats.

I have been tempted by suggestions of a hedge, for privacy, but despite their impressive depth, at 10.5" across, the southern planters aren't wide enough to support a healthy hedge (low boxwood, perhaps - but slow-growing and expensive). So I think it's going to be a collection of perennials, occasional boxwood, perhaps another squeezed-in blueberry, and shade grasses. I have not figured the herbs out, yet. Currently they are still in their own pots on the western (right hand) side. In summer the sun may be high enough for them. But I must decide whether to keep them on the deck, or to plant them out in the wooden planters. The fig will be planted in the sunniest corner, in a bigger pot.

There are the siren songs of shade-tolerant flowering shrubs, for medium-sized pots. 'Mohawk' viburnum - sweetly scented in early spring; hydrangeas, paniculata and macrophylla - late-blooming but long-lasting; cammelias, daphne, witch hazel. Maybe even serviceberry. I wish that roses had semi-shade counterparts that re-bloomed every three weeks. I am jealous of space, and a shrub that blooms for just two weeks better have some other seasons of interest.

I will be taking on a new garden design client: Me.

There will be sketches and plant lists. I sense that my new client is both high maintenance and opinionated and in possession of a very thin skin. I know how to pick them.

But I hear she likes flowers and does not mind watering. Silver lining.

I may be able to help her.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


The feeling I knew (in theory) to expect flooded over me as I lay in the white bed in the big bedroom in our new apartment last night.


I had wondered why I had not felt worse, packing up the terrace and the Brooklyn apartment. My feeling then, was: I am done. I am ready to go. I had seen this new Harlem place at 2pm, in streaming autumn sunlight. It is one of the three hours of direct and moving sunshine that the southern, terrace side receives. I had not, then, woken in the gloomy mornings - two tall buildings sandwich this townhouse east and west, and, inside, the apartment looks long and dark, even if the sky is crystal blue. I had not heard the creaking footsteps walking back and forth on the next floor overhead, I had not walked like a stranger on streets where I do not fit as easily and naturally as I did the streets of Cobble Hill. I had not realized, then, that my full sun garden-in-pots cannot thrive on this bigger terrace, which dictates a garden designed for shade. I had not wanted to step out onto the new terrace in the morning, wearing nothing but a bathrobe, with a cup of coffee, only to realize that I could not do so without my movements being subject to scrutiny.

I mean, I knew all that in theory. Practise is always something else. And I know that everything will get better. Inch by inch and piece by piece.

But last night I felt lost, homeless, bereft. And when Vince woke in the night with a sharp coughing fit I leaped awake from a dream of swimming easily in deep seas, ready to perform a Heimlich, thinking in the panic of half-sleep, if I lose you now, I have nothing. I have lost the terrace. My sunny morning home. And I am afraid I will lose the desire to write this blog daily. I am rudderless. I have been living with something for many years, and am just now coming to terms with what it meant to me and what it did for me.

This morning, in bed, the Frenchman brought me breakfast on a tray - the banana bread I made last night, and coffee. An old weekend ritual. I had nothing to read, all the books are still packed, so he brought me a copy of my own book, which was at hand. I have not really read it since it was published. I started in January. I ended in April. And it settled me down. I did a good job. I like it. It is the book I wrote for myself. About this city, about the seasons, about that improbable little terrace that helped steer me. I wrote about paying attention to the details.

Now, the details threaten to overwhelm me.

Taken one by one, one bathroom cabinet, one kilim, one chair at a time - perhaps order can be restored. To that end we visited Ikea in New Jersey, Zipcarring out and back in (with guilty bags of frozen Swedish meatballs at our feet) to come to a red-light halt on 125th Street, near the Hudson River Fairway, where first a sprinting young man, and then two sprinting policemen crossed in front of us. I've never seen a New York cop run, before. Didn't know they could. These could. Four more cops joined the chase (tailed by a really fat one, lumbering in the rear), which split in the intersection as another runner dodged across the choked traffic. One running cop now had a drawn weapon. I felt like a coconut at a funfair, and slid down in my seat. One of the kids surrendered and was cuffed without incident, the other was prone, being told shut the eff up, surrounded by uniforms.

We drove by, turned up north, just ahead of The Apollo Theater, east a little, down brownstoned streets where locust trees have turned yellow, past the truck I have noted before, that sells large bunches of good-looking kale and branches of broccoli, then around, and down our tree lined street, and we were home.

It will be home. One day.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Here, and there, and back again

That's right. I am going to go on posting coy pictures of the cat until we get our bearings.

There are distractions that delay turning the garden and home photogenic.

And if anyone ever thought showering in a clawfoot bath is romantic (like I did), think again.

But we are inching along.

Last night's book party at The Wythe seemed to go very well. If you were there, thank you for coming! I baked four loaves of brown bread (see the October chapter of the book) and turned the November menu's  pork belly into rillettes, or potted pig, Five jars of potted pig were hoovered up over the course of two hours. The pickled mustard disappeared in a flash. Everyone wanted to know more about it. Also November's menu. The bread ran out. The hotel's restaurant very kindly sent over two of their own long brown loaves to fill the gap.

Then we packed up again and zipped up the BQE and over Randall's Island and onto Harlem River Drive and home to Harlem.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Harlem butcher

Rico Cirignano, Harlem Shambles

I ran around yesterday. In pursuit of pigs. Having given up the Upper West Side as LOST in terms of butchers, I came back home, checked on a recommendation from a friend, and then hoofed it on foot (, cloven hoof) eleven blocks south and a couple of long blocks over, and  found my pork belly at last at what will be our new butcher shop, post Brooklyn: Harlem Shambles. They source meat locally (as much as I loved Paisanos, they usually did not).

I came home with ma belly and a picnic shoulder, and they cooked last night with fennel seeds and lemon and the last of Frank's garlic. We ate a small portion-for-two at the stone table in The Fishbowl again, with a man sitting out on a fire escape opposite laughing like a hyena. For a long time. Until someone called him in and told him to shut up. Perhaps it was very funny. Candles, dinner. I don't know. 

Today, having cooked forever and cooled,  the pork will be shredded and turned into potted pig, aka rillettes, and this evening taken by Zipcar, with fresh-pickled mustard and warm brown bread, to the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, where my publishers are hosting a party for 250 (gulp): a Brooklyn Bash - for four Brooklyn-born books, mine included. 

In the middle of our move a social engagement with lots of prep has made our unpacking and organizing grind to a halt, and, if I could find the damn things - there are moments when I would throw all my toys out of the cot and onto 127th Street.

But, we have a butcher. It's no small thing.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The edge is wearing off

The relentless Now of an animal's life can make living with a distressed creature almost unbearable. There is no comforting them. There is no tomorrow, no explanation, only the tyranny of the present.

But on Day 3 in Harlem, the cat has begun to find his bearings. He no longer huddles behind the bathroom sink, where I put him the first day while the movers were still busy and to which he returned at every new affront. He no longer slinks desperately to a corner when he hears footsteps overhead. He does sleep on the bed, which he has not done in years.

Last night he ate supper with us on the new terrace. Live gospel music pumped out from a nearby building as we licked our fingers, sticky from the ribs I had grilled on our first fire. The unusual flames had brought people to windows. I am used to living in utter privacy in my garden space - this is very different: Lights, camera, action. I should buy movie-pajamas, for my morning coffee, and those '40's sunglasses. Maybe I should take to drinking those photogenic Bloody Mary's.

We are inching along, in terms of settling in. Curtains would be nice. So would a nice, comfy chair, a kitchen island and another four kilims. But for now we hit pause while I find and prepare some Ginger Ale Hams (see November, in the book) for a big Abrams book party in Willamsburg on Thursday (I bought smart black high heels, and everything). Vince and I will transport the pig/s (if I can find them) from Harlem to Brooklyn by cab and carve them for 300 guests. Wish us luck.

And then we will unpack some more boxes.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dinner, frozen in time

If you had told me that the garlic mustard pesto I made in the spring in Brooklyn would be eaten for dinner in Harlem in autumn...

But it was.

We are all shook up. To our respective cores.

But we have not been eating badly.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A taste of spring

Ben Syversen, with dandelions

In foraging terms, we are enjoying a little spring. And I am borrowing that idea from Pascal Baudar, a friend and seriously inspiring forager-cook based in California with his girlfriend, Mia Wasilovich, whose own wild edible creativity and plating skills set the bar very, very high. Come autumn, and the first rains, Pascal gets a little excited.

Cool weather, a bit of rain, and the plants, laid low by summer, come back. It's a good time to look for wild greens. Not as good as spring (at least in the Northeast, which has wet summers), but much better than summer. In California, of course, it's a far more dramatic story - rain after months of drought, pillows of chickweed, waterways of watercress.

In Brooklyn's Prospect Park we saw it in action in the posy of dandelion greens, above, gathered by a young man who managed to make it to yesterday's foraging walk and then tucked right in, after a night that ended just before dawn and which saw the launching of his band's third album. My kind of people.

We were standing in a patch of weeds in a seldom-used part of the park, and under my feet were these young, fresh leaves, a few stray dandelion flowers, violets in bloom, new dock leaves and field garlic. In other words, spring. In October.

When - if - we ever settle into our new place, I look forward to being much closer to my Inwood foraging grounds, and the northern parts of Central Park, now just a skip away. We are also just a block from a Metro North stop, so the Hudson Valley beckons in  away it never did, before.

For now, my immediate foraging is limited to finding the nearest place to buy organic milk and to sourcing a chicken that had a life, albeit a brief one.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Home is where the boxes are

We are in Harlem.

At least, I am back in Harlem after leading an early fall foraging walk in Brooklyn. And the Frenchman is delivering a Ziptruck back to Brooklyn, after fetching the balance of the terrace pots and delivering them here, to West 127th Street, our new digs.

The next block over is called Langston Hughes Place, and as I type (on my phone - slight cable mishap this morning) I can hear 1. A dog that sounds like six jackals having a fight, on the sidewalk, and 2. A saxophone streaming through an open window.

Also (3.) our new fridge, which is noisy, and which last night held an ice bucket of prosecco and two chilled flutes, from our landlord, Graham.

There is a lot to absorb and process, and more to do. New sounds, our own - the floor is old and creaks - and those of our new neighbors. An anxious kitty who miaowed all night and who slinks around staring fearfully up at the three ceiling fans. Endless boxes and utter disorganization.

So I should get started.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Noise, headed this way

Something heavy is coming to Henry Street. All the street trees on a three block stretch - our block is in the middle - have been given wooden cages.

The Henry Street townhouses opposite us, still not complete, had no construction cages around their oaks, for at least thirteen months (a really rickety one appeared after my last whiney post about it).

But whoever is about to start digging up the road and sidewalks is doing things a little better.

The tar has been spray painted. Trenches will be dug. It's anyone's guess. All I ask is space for our movers to park their truck on Saturday.

I think we are leaving in the nick of time.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The original smart car

I have spent the day with small cars. This one, around the corner, in Cobble Hill, was very sweet.

Then I was chauffered - yes - to Central Park in one of the fleet of Mini Coopers that belongs to the Peninsula Hotel. That Mini has wifi, should you want it. I was accompanying a reporter on the wild edibles walk that the Peninsula offers its guests, and I left him tucking into a little picnic set up just for him. Other pic
nickers were dotted about on the grass of the wide lawn, and few yards away a homeless person slumbered.

Now, back to changing our utility bills and services to our new address, packing a few more boxes, processing some photos, writing some gardening tips for Botanical Interests' seed catalog, some point, thinking about supper.

Three days to go.

The roof: T - 4 and counting

Sundown, October. It always does this.

More boxes have been packed. We are down to one pot and one pan in the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to pot

No, this is not a gardening post.

Potted Anything is what you take on picnics. Or whip from the freezer where the other pots lurk, and thaw for an easy appetizer or lunch. Potting turns leftovers into a class act.

All you need is the pot (ramekin, really), and small bits of leftover pork belly, say, or cooked shrimp, or smoked fish - chopped or shredded, and finally something to bind the bits: fat or butter.

Spread on bread or crackers cold, or at room or park temperature, the flavours are more muted than when warm, so I season that which I pot, highly.

Potting also encourages laborious use of English. It is so English.

This was: smoked mackerel left over from one of the several sambals I had made to photograph for the October menu for the book, last year. It is a riff on the Cape snoek sambal - but in New York I use mackerel or trout. The fish had been finely shredded (I use two forks to do this, in a bowl), already, then mixed with lemon juice to taste, and then I pressed it into ramekins. No salt needed in this case, because it was already very salty. I melted butter and poured it over the top, before chilling the pots to set the mixture.

The satisfying part is cutting a thick wedge out with your knife later, to press down onto a slice of good brown bread. And yes, October's book also has a recipe for Good Brown Bread. In fact, I may make some, later. Talking  about this has made very hungry.

Does anyone have a spare mackerel?